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History of Political Economy 34.1 (2002) 255-260

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A Note on Hayek and Anti-Semitism

Ronald Hamowy

The winter 2000 issue of HOPE contains an article by Melvin W. Reder in which he seeks to show that several prominent twentieth-century economists were in reality anti-Semitic. The economists with whom Reder deals are John Maynard Keynes, Joseph Schumpeter, and F. A. Hayek. It is the charge leveled at Hayek that this note seeks to address.

The evidence pointing to Hayek's supposed anti-Semitism, Reder confesses, comes from only one source, an autobiographical account of Hayek's life and work given in a series of interviews that were published in Hayek on Hayek in 1994 as one of the volumes in his collected works. For those of us who knew Hayek, the charge that he was anti-Semitic can only seem perverse. Not only was he not anti-Semitic but in most regards he was in fact pro-Semitic. (I take anti-Semitism to mean the belief that Jews are in some way morally or socially inferior and/or that treating them as such either individually or collectively, as through the state, is legitimate.) Indeed, Reder admits as much when he quotes Hayek as saying:

It is difficult to overestimate how much I owe to the fact that, almost from the beginning of my university career, I became connected with a group of contemporaries who belonged to the best type of the Jewish [End Page 255] intelligentsia of Vienna and who proved to be far ahead of me in literary education and general precociousness. (845)

In what, then, does the evidence consist that leads Reder to conclude that Hayek was an anti-Semite? The totality of Reder's “evidence” lies in five quotations from Hayek on Hayek that touch on Jews in prewar Vienna. They are as follows:

1. Hayek recounts that Vienna tended to divide itself along religious lines in the 1920s and 1930s and as a result a three-part division took shape: on the one hand, Jews; on the other, Christians; and a third, middle group comprising, in the main, baptized Jews and Jews and Christians who were prepared to mingle with each other. It was to this group that Hayek belonged. Hayek goes on to note that those Jews who fell into the totally Jewish group did not fraternize with either Christians or members of the mixed group and that accounts for why it is out of the question that he could have met Freud, a member of the Jewish group (Kresge and Wenar 1994, 59).

This “perceived trichotomy” (Reder's term), in which two groups of Jews are distinguished, Reder finds suspect, although we are not told why there is something vaguely sinister in this account. What seems to particularly upset Reder is the fact that Hayek writes that Freud belonged to “the really Jewish group that was beyond my range of acquaintances.” What Reder fails to include in his quotation are Hayek's words immediately prior to this:

I became very much aware of this [“trichotomy”] quite recently, when I was asked whom of the great figures of Vienna I'd known at the time. For instance, Schrödinger, yes, of course; Wittgenstein, yes, of course; and so on. Then he came to Freud, and I couldn't possibly have known Freud. Why? Because he belonged to the really Jewish group, and that was beyond my range of acquaintances. (59)

2. Reder's second piece of evidence concerns Hayek's account of the precipitating factors behind the virulent anti-Semitism in Austria. Hayek notes that there were two groups of Jews in Vienna at the time he was growing up, an “old, established Jewish population . . ., partly of local origin, partly of Hungarian or Bohemian origin, who were fully accepted and recognized” and a group of more recent immigrants, “very primitive, poor Polish Jews [who had immigrated] before the war and partly in flight from the Russians during the war” (Reder 2000, 846). “Vienna,” [End Page 256] Hayek continues, “became filled with a type...


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