Hartz Brain Farts

From Louis Hartz’s bizarrely rambling and free-associative The Liberal Tradition in America (1955), for all you Austrians out there:

But Lippmann’s defense of liberalism, if it utilized the bogey of foreign totalitarianism, was for the most part devoid of American nationalism. It was theoretical, philosophic, relying, as we know, on the Austrian school of Von Mises and Hayek. And here is a most interesting set of relationships. The class-conscious Toryism of Europe could absorb only a bit, and even that incongruously, of the diehard John Brightism preached by the Austrians. Austria itself with its statist tradition found it for the most part irrelevant. But America, a liberal community, found it usable, so that Hayek after the Second World War scored himself a more vivid literary success here than Lippmann had during the New Deal. What they used to say about England, that it was the home of dead German philosophies, would have to be altered in this case to apply to America: it is the home of dead English philosophies retained by Austrian professors.

That is, in fact, a particularly coherent passage. After reading about ten pages, I thought I was inside a political theorist’s hallucination, where historical figures become grotesteque blabbering cartoons, and their “isms” become ruber balls that they juggle and throw, and which bounce around according to no sensibile physics. And even the isms have isms. Americanistic Hamiltonism is bouncing its repressed Algerist Whiggery off the skull of Herbert Spencer and Norman Thomas who have heads the size of watemelons and giant mouths yelling slogans and tiny bodies dressed in meticulous brown suits. Or, in other words, like reading a book-length Reihan Salam post, but without the rap. Harvard professors really used to write like this?

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center