Drakopoulos, Pan: Hayek and Wittgenstein

The conversation in the officers’ carriage did not last long and, the worst of it was that it didn’t bring them any closer. They both, naturally, condemned the horrible and inhuman effects of capitalism and agreed that socialism was a necessity. . But what exactly did both terms mean? And in what way should an intellectual act in order to help the populace?

Wittgenstein made a comment of deep significance, something that he would later on repeat in Cambridge: “A philosopher must help Man to break his bounds, to enlighten him; he must help a fly to come out of a bottle”. But what a contradiction! On one hand, throughout his life, he wondered why mankind regarded Socrates as a great philosopher ( who, he believed, was not, since instead of confining himself to the use of words Socrates was looking for their definition), and on the other, he considered as the duty of philosophy and of an intellectual’s life the same duty that Socrates promoted in Plato’s “Republic”!…

Hayek promptly agreed –although I don’t know whether he knew how unvarnishedly Platonic that choice was. But that agreement in itself was not enough, for Wittgenstein insisted that it was necessary for an intellectual to go into retreat and lead an ascetic life, whilst Hayek vibrated with a missionary zeal.

However, in order not to be left hovering over an unbridged void, they did agree on their common appreciation of Ernst Mach’s theory of knowledge (a philosopher who then enchanted the intelligentsia of Vienna and against whom Lenin had written his book Materialism and Empioriocriticism, a book that its author intended to be pre-eminently philosophical although it only proved to be the work of a political conspirator –participating in the machination of concepts).

The end of the war was not the same for the two cousins. Ludwig, having been taken prisoner by the Italians, wrote to Russell from a camp near Monte Cassino where he was held, that he had with him the manuscript of “Tractatus”. Lord Russell acted at once, sending his friend John Maynard Keynes (the famous economist, then an adviser to the British Prime Minister Lloyd George) to fetch him the manuscript. In August 1919, Ludwig was freed and returned to Vienna; he took his manuscript from Russell and became acquainted with the second phase of an author’s ordeal: the awful experience of having finished a book, to be anxious for it to be immediately published, but instead, to face either being rejected with scorn or forced to queue up waiting your turn with scores of others hungry for the pleasures of publication.

Being discouraged and sure that he had nothing to say as a philosopher, Wittgenstein asked to be appointed as a teacher in a primary school. So, he retreated to a small village school in Austria where he taught little children –according to some rumors, he tortured them with his fits of anger.

Hayek, on the contrary, as soon as the war ended, launched himself like a tornado on the School of Law at the University of Vienna. In 1921 he finished his studies and gained his Ph.D. as well. But why the School of Law? Simply because then the prevalent impression was that the School of Law was the School of political action par excellence –scrive of socialist action. And it was not just an idle impression: it is a fact that in the Middle Ages the great disputes about Papal absolutism emerged in the Schools of Law, and since then the great propagandist issues continued to find support there. There, at the School of Law, Hayek had an encounter which was decisive for his life. For it was there that he first met his mentor, Ludwig von Mises. With the guidance of Mises, Hayek prepared his second thesis which was on the Political Sciences and it was accepted cum laude in 1923.

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