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Tuesday, 07 July 2020 12:13

When Hayek Met Habermas

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The modern culture wars have their genesis in a most unfortunate marriage of convenience between two intellectual and political movements.  The proponents of economic liberty and the cultural marxists who emerged in the 1960s found common cause in radical individualism, in the 1980s.  And we have all suffered since.


I have no idea if Friedrich Hayek, the doyen of twentieth century classical liberal economist/philosophers, ever met Jurgen Habermas, eminence grise  of the leftist, postmodernist Frankfurt School of cultural Marxists and one of the two or three progenitors of neo-marxist revolution.  This is the revolution that inspired and plotted the so-called “long march through the institutions”, currently much discussed in these days of statue destruction and the cause of much of our current societal malaise.

I know a little about Hayek, having written a Masters thesis on him (and on the Harvard libertarian, well libertarian for a while, Robert Nozick) long ago, in my twenties.  I know almost nothing about Habermas, and have little desire to extend my limited knowledge of him.  But I do know that he is one of the go-to guys when seeking the primary sources for the leftist long march.  Habermas is a disciple of the Eurocommunist Theodor Adorno, and was a key figure in the intellectually imperialist post-World War two push by the European Frankfurt School into the USA and across the West.  (He has debated the meaning of life with none other than Joseph Ratzinger, his fellow German intellectual giant of quite a different intellectual persuasion).

No, Hayek and Habermas probably never physically “met”.

Yet, at some time, most likely in the nineteen-eighties and without anyone intending it or even noticing it at the time, the economic liberalism of Hayek and the broad “new right” of the day met philosophically with the social liberalism of the emerging, progressive new left of the post modernists and Marxists who were advocating the crushing of tradition. 

And they married!

It was a philosophical meeting of massive impact on the intellectual, social and political life of the West.  The principal progeny of this unfortunate meeting is the creation of a new, unexpected fusionism.  Far more potent than the ill-fated, faux fusionism of the 1950s National Review (magazine) set in the USA which surrounded William F Buckley Jr and which had so wished to create a “broad church” of conservatism that linked economic liberalism, anti-communism and traditionalism.  It worked for a while, certainly politically, as evidenced by the electoral success of Ronald Reagan, the fusionist candidate from central casting.  But it never worked philosophically, nor did it in any sense hold back the forces of the new, disastrous fusionism of economic and social liberalism.

What unifies the economic and social liberals?

In essence, it is radical individualism.  The economic liberals see the prime, perhaps the only key relationship as being that of the free individual and the state.  The key, indeed the only concern, of the economic liberal is the free market.  Radical individualism was the core idea of the eighteenth century Enlightenment.  The enemy was state, but also it was God, the Church, the family, the community, and traditional values.  Things that were seen to get in the way of individual freedom and an untrammelled economy.  So too the emerging cultural marxists, who saw, especially from the 1960s, the very same enemies getting in the way of the sexually and morally unconstrained individual. 

The postmodernists contributed a philosophical basis for radical freedom for the individual in the realm of culture and personal liberation, liberation from the constraints of tradition.  The cultural marxists supplied a masterful strategy for slipping their values into the mainstream of society and governance, without anyone noticing what they were up to.  This is the simple, core idea of “the long march”, a brilliant strategy of not destroying the institutions of Western power, but simply taking them over, slowly but surely, from within.  A monumental victory, with success beyond the imaginings of its creators. 

And the economic liberals simply waved it through, since they believed in most of the cultural liberation anyway, and saw to it that this cultural revolution had little impact on their own quest for economic liberation and the attainment of riches, free from economic regulation by the state.

An awful merger made in hell, as it happens.

What this new fusion has produced is the woke, left-liberal globalism that is the underpinning of the modern new left – progressive, at least partly pro-capitalist or at least accommodating of it, determined to exterminate the few remaining vestiges of traditional values and institutions.  Like family, marriage, patriotism, strong community and social institutions (Edmund Burke’s and Alexis de Tocqueville’s little platoons) and limited government. 

The fruits of the marriage are now everywhere to be seen – woke capitalism, the left liberalism of so-called conservative parties, supine governments fearful of ever challenging the new cultural left hegemony in the institutions they have colonised, Black Lives Matter, the destruction of Western cultural icons, cancel culture, the implosion of liberal learning in higher education, rampant globalism and so much more besides.

Yes, essentially all this is down to the intellectual and political marriage of convenience between economic and social liberals.  Joined together in unholy matrimony, these unexpected collaborators are together destroying our culture.  Who saw THAT coming?

There are ironies here, of course. 

Hayek personally had a healthy respect for traditionalism, describing himself as a “Burkean” liberal and underpinning his free market economic philosophy with recognition of the need for good behaviour by market players, the rule of law and  strong non-economic institutions for his economic vision to work.  What Hayek would now make of rich young leftie, greenie capitalists making common cause with pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, pro-homosexual marriage cultural Marxists is anyone’s guess.  But common cause the economic and cultural liberals have made. 

The personification of the new fusionism appears in the form of Malcolm Turnbull. 

One who could have joined either of the major political parties, without blinking.  Rich, with new money made in the tech revolution.  Links with the banking sector, luxuriating in the financialisation of the global economy and consuming their fruits.  Well networked, well connected with the elites of the media.  Having all the right views on the key matters of the day, at least the key matters for the elite.  Being on the “right side of history”.  A climate change suck hole, of course.  A warrior for renewable energy.  Selfies at the Mardi Gras.  Led the push for homosexual marriage in the parliament and in the Liberal Party.  Hater of arch conservatives like the “dangerous” Tony Abbott.  Married to yet more power and influence in the Emerald City.  Davos man.  Believer in global governance, the UN and the European Union.  And untrammelled, economically destructive globalisation that has destroyed the economic capability of nations.  Of course, anti-Brexit.  Anti-anything that reinforces patriotism, nationalism, tradition.  Trump hater.

Yes, if ever there was a child of the union of the new fusionism, it is Young Malcolm.  The apotheosis of the new liberalism, in human form.  The British equivalent is David Cameron, whose career goal was to free conservatism from what he and his confreres (like the egregious George Osborne) saw as it “toxic” core.  In other words, to free the British Conservative Party of conservatism!

The emerging populist conservative thinkers, like Yoram Hazony, the Israeli political philosopher whose 2018 book, The Virtue of Nationalism, has ignited an incipient counter-revolution in the Western right.  His fellow counter-revolutionaries include the author of The Hillbilly Elegy, JD Vance, the Fox News megastar Tucker Carlson, the political theorist Patrick Deneen (Why Liberalism Failed), and others associated with the Edmund Burke Foundation.

They have fellow travellers in the anti-never-Trump camp, like the traditionalist conservative Patrick Buchanan, who still lives to prosecute the case against the new ruling elites long after his unsuccessful attempts at the presidency in the 1990s. 

They are joined by Angelo Codevilla, whose treatise written in 2010, The Ruling Class, explained so much about the cultural decline of the past three decades.  Codevilla’s key contribution is to point out that the new ruling ideas of radical individualism, shared by economic and social liberals, have formed themselves into a CLASS.  A new class.  A new elite that spans all the major political parties and the deep state that they created and which supports them.

The estimable Daniel McCarthy is another to have contemplated the takeover of the American conservative movement by the libertarians and to have recognised its costs.  McCarthy edits the conservative movement’s house journal of thought, Modern Age, founded by the father of modern American conservatism, Russell Kirk.  McCarthy has opined that the seeds of modern left-liberalism were ALWAYS contained within classical liberalism’s radical individualism.  In other words, we were always asking for trouble.

Yes, you would have noticed – this is a decidedly American intellectual counter-revolution. 

There is no unified, coherent, intellectually grounded counter movement in Australia.  The conservative forces in Australia are conspicuously lacking in ideas, networks and fortitude, whether in the academy, the fourth estate or in the political realm.  Instead, we have Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer, and the whole gaggle of Senate opportunists who bargain their way to puny gains through tawdry deal-making in the Senate.  Not noted strategic, deep and independent thinkers, any of them.

There is no counter-revolution to speak of in the UK, either.

The disastrous fruits of the new fusionism are well appreciated by, and well known to, the conservative remnant, and have come to the attention of several emerging traditionalist think tanks and podcasters.  These new figures have noted, too, the failings of the 1980s conservative giants, Thatcher and Reagan, in constraining the emergence of the new class.

Sir Roger Scruton and Melanie Phillips have noted that “Thatcher made conservatism a purely economic doctrine”.  Yes, indeed.  If ever a culture warrior were needed, it was she, and she went missing on these issues.  Yes, she fought the fights that were in front of her, and fought them well.  They were economic battles and foreign policy battles, as she saw it.  But alas, she ignored the advice of Scruton and others who saw at the time what was unfolding beyond the formal institutions of the state.  Thatcher missed much.  Scruton, indeed, pins the emergence of the new fusionism to the 1980s.  In other words, on Thatcher’s watch.

And as Christopher Caldwell has argued in his recent masterpiece The Age of Entitlement, Reagan in office merely further embedded the 1960s creation of the super-welfare-state of Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights revolution to become a second, alternate US constitution.  With all of the awful fruits of that revolution, coming home to roost now in the latest, new and violent phase of the culture wars that many see as the anarchic end times.

There are two schools of thought about how political and cultural movements emerge.  One suggests the inherent power of ideas.  The other emphasises power structures.  Both are partly right.  The 1980s fusion of economic and social liberalism was perhaps the inevitable outcome of a shared radical liberalism which happened at the time to suit all concerned.  It was a perhaps accidental historical coming together of two powerful urges towards unmitigated freedom for the individual.  The cultural left wanted, and obtained, a free individual unconstrained by the limiting moral restraints of the past, and the economic liberals wanted deregulation, privatisation, low taxes and free markets.  It isn’t a perfect marriage, as the free marketers’ push for free speech and the reduction of the nanny state, which seems utterly antithetical to the wishes of the cultural left for state control of individual behaviour, reminds us.  The economic liberals may well be horrified at the outcomes of the fusion.  Too late, alas.

But all marriages have their problems.  And I suggest that Hayek, a deep and broad thinker, indeed a polymath, and a Burkean at heart, would be spinning in his grave.  Habermas, still with us, may well be smiling at the turn of events, and noting its irony.

Read 1827 times Last modified on Tuesday, 07 July 2020 12:52
Paul Collits

Paul Collits is a freelance writer and independent researcher who lives in Lismore New South Wales.  
He has worked in government, industry and the university sector, and has taught at tertiary level in three different disciplines - politics, geography and planning and business studies.  He spent over 25 years working in economic development and has published widely in Australian and international peer reviewed and other journals.  He has been a keynote speaker internationally on topics such as rural development, regional policy, entrepreneurship and innovation.  Much of his academic writing is available at
His recent writings on ideology, conservatism, politics, religion, culture, education and police corruption have been published in such journals as Quadrant, News Weekly and The Spectator Australia.
He has BA Hons and MA degrees in political science from the Australian National University and a PhD in geography and planning from the University of New England.  He currently has an adjunct Associate Professor position at a New Zealand Polytechnic.