Drakopoulos, Pan: Hayek and Wittgenstein

Ludwig’s father, who hated the idea of classical learning and of being the successor to his father’s business (a dream of any Jewish father for his first-born son and an Esterhazy at that), almost escaped and went to America at the age of 17. But he returned to Vienna after two years when he knew for certain that he was not going to be forced to memorize Aristotle and Seneca. He found a job as an industrial designer and very soon he was able to plan a factory for steel-making. He supervised its construction and undertook its management. Within ten years, Karl Wittgenstein was at the head of a great steel company and in the first steel cartel in the empire. He, too, married the daughter of a Viennese banker ( so, keep cool Aryans, not of Jewish origin). They brought up their five sons and three daughters with the most rigid teutonic Roman-Catholic discipline –a prescription that, as it proved, is not to be recommended.

The Hayeks disliked or envied (let’s not psychoanalyze them now) the Wittgensteins because, apart from anything else, they were `provocatively rich’. The first time Friedrich got into a car –at six years old– was when Ludwig’s grandmother took him for a drive in her cabriolet along Ringstrasse (I hope you are courageous enough to imagine what that meant in society at the time). That drive pleased the boy enormously but displeased his parents more. So, the boy had to learn by receiving a few back-hand blows that he should never again ask to visit that grandmother! Anyhow, the Wittgensteins were a constant subject of unfavorable comment by the Hayeks. At their palace –because they certainly did not live in a simple house– famous musical soirees, which Brahms often joined in, would take place, but these events failed to impress the Hayeks, since they regarded them as showing off rather than culture.

An ironic advocate of the Hayeks’ views was the Wittgensteins’ depression which led the three older brothers of Ludwig to commit suicide. Moreover, Ludwig never managed to convince himself that he had, in fact, the right to live on and enjoy the possessions that God, or rather his father, gave him. Therefore, although he was not interested in politics, he believed that socialism was a fair system since it equally portioned out the same food; and according to the Hayeks, that was the reason why Ludwig abandoned everything and became a hermit in Norway. Of course, at the outbreak of war he certainly came back and joined the national army as a volunteer –but this was something that most socialists did at the time.

So, here was the topic for the two cousins to discuss on the night train from Bad Ischl to Vienna. Friedrich Hayek, a rebel against his family’s petit bourgeois philistinism, was ready to fight for socialism, justice and freedom. Didn’t the other rebel want the same? And since both were fighting for the same cause, couldn’t they shake hands?

But Friedrich in fact did not know much about the person he was talking with. The picture he had of his cousin had been created by gossip although he himself applauded whatever his family disapproved of.

He didn’t for instance know that his interlocutor, Ludwig Wittgenstein, had gone to study mechanics in Manchester and he had given up his aeronautical studies (as well as his designs for the construction of a new propeller) because he felt a compulsion to study mathematical logic; that he had gone to Cambridge to meet the Patriarch of logico-mathematical philosophy, Lord Bertrand Russell; that he had thrown himself into the study of logic, in this way avoiding (as he himself said) suicide, but without getting rid of the feeling that had not the right to live, since his very presence caused great inconvenience to his fellow men –a feeling that would seemingly be reversed in time: that is, he would find no reason to live in such an evil and stupid world. Friedrich did not know that Ludwig had spent hours on end at the house of his mentor-Lord where in the interludes between anger and despair over his existence he would expound his own theories and, unceasingly, would drink the cocoa that Lady Ottolein offered him whatever its powers, believing that all his psychological problems would be solved if he was fed better and became stronger (on the contrary, Lord Russell believed that the roots of Ludwig’s problems went much deeper than any level that cocoa might reach!) Friedrich neither knew that Ludwig had agreed to be hypnotized hoping that would solve the problems of logic nor that he had anonymously distributed a great part of his possessions to poor people and intellectuals (Rilke among them); or that he had left Cambridge to go and live on a farm in Norway, not only to write his first philosophical book but, mainly, to ponder about himself: (” My life without exaggeration”, he wrote to Russell, “has been full of hateful and worthless acts, and how can I be a logical philosopher without having before been a pure man? Above all then I should become a pure man”);nor did he know that the philosophical book he had started writing was to later become the famous `Tractatus’, the notes for which he had with him –in his tunic– that very evening that the unsuspecting adolescent Friedrich meant to spend with him talking.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

You may also like...