Habermas : Freud :: Hayek : Jung

While advocates of natural science have typically sought to renounce subjectivity, paradoxically, they have tended to assume that human subjectivity should fully comprehend and control the natural and social world. When the underlying values of the extreme positivist are exposed, they–modeling all of philosophy on natural science–are revealed as a Self-alienated and Other-alienated danger, looking upon the world as merely means for their ends—as something to be “predicted” and “controlled”.  Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno of the Frankfurt School understood this paradoxical attitude as the culmination of tendencies inherent in Enlightenment thought.  “Men pay for their increase of power with alienation from that over which they exercise power. Enlightenment behaves toward things as a dictator toward men. He knows them in so far as he can manipulate them” (Horkheimer and Adorno [1944] 1994, 9).  In the Frankfurt School’s mainline understanding, this hubris involves primarily the reduction of people and property to merely commodities and exchange values on the model of the market.  In the Hayekian understanding, this hubris involves the conceptual/judgmental reduction of people and property to merely “abilities” or “resources” and the normative/preferential treatment of people and property as simply standing reserve for “social construction” or “social engineering” by the state.  Both forms of hubris involve an uncritical implementation of the methods of the natural sciences within the social sciences—a tendency that has been aptly designated by the Frankfurt School as the perversion of instrumental reason.  Hence, where the tradition of the Frankfurt School understands the perversion of instrumental reason largely in terms of The Dialectic of Enlightenment of Adorno and Horkheimer, the Austrian School understands it largely in terms of Hayek’s The Counter-Revolution of Science.

On the one hand, while Sigmund Freud acknowledged the existence of the unconscious primarily to the extent that it was something unfavorable, something to be made conscious (“brought into consciousness”), Jürgen Habermas, loosely paralleling Freud—and, of course, following Marx—has acknowledged the existence of the social system, the realm of the influences and consequences of human action that are either unknown or unintended, primarily to the extent that it is also something unfavorable, something to be made known (“brought into discourse”). Therefore, although Freud and Habermas question the reach of ego-subjectivity, they struggle in order to extend and preserve its sovereignty.  On the other hand, while C. G. Jung acknowledged that the inherited potentials of the unconscious—the “archetypes” of the “collective unconscious”—are the product of evolutionary, phylogenetic experience, and are not the product of deliberate ego-subjectivity, and that they nevertheless were something to be acknowledged and respected, F. A. Hayek, following a similarly evolutionary approach, determined that the coordinating aspects of the social system—the socio-historical “spontaneous orders”—are the product of socio-historical experience, and are also not merely the product of deliberate ego-subjectivity, and that they nevertheless are something to be acknowledged and respected. Therefore, when Jung and Hayek challenge the grasp of ego-subjectivity, they discover and declare humanity’s need to maintain a dialogue (1) between the ego-subject and the unconscious [the unknown Self] and (2) between the Self and the socio-historical system [the unknown Other].

The traditions which F. A. Hayek and C. G. Jung developed and furthered were opposed to reductionistic materialism, which seeks to eliminate ego-subjectivity—especially the Other—altogether. Yet, at the same time, these gifted scholars insisted that the powers of deliberate ego-subjectivity were finite and fallible. That is, while Hayek and Jung fought to rescue subjectivity from the clutches of scientism, they also battled to save Self and Other from modernity’s tragic overestimation of conscious reason. Jung, concentrating predominantly on the relations between the ego-subject and the unconscious, has written the following:


Our European ego-consciousness is . . . inclined to swallow up the unconscious, and if this should not prove feasible we try to suppress it. But if we understand anything of the unconscious, we know that it cannot be swallowed. We also know that it is dangerous to suppress it, because the unconscious is life and this life turns against us if suppressed, as happens in neurosis.

Conscious and unconscious do not make a whole when one of them is suppressed and injured by the other. If they must contend, let it at least be a fair fight with equal rights on both sides. Both are aspects of life. Consciousness should defend its reason and protect itself, and the chaotic life of the unconscious should be given the chance of having its way too—as much of it as we can stand. This means open conflict and open collaboration at once. That, evidently, is the way human life should be. It is the old game of hammer and anvil: between them the patient iron is forged into an indestructible whole, an “individual.” (Jung [1939] 1980, 288)


It is important, of course, to grasp this passage within the full context of Jung’s analytical psychology; his valuation of the collective unconscious is far more favorable and less “chaotic” than this excerpt might lead one to believe. As mentioned above, Jung upholds the fundamental structure of the unconscious as primarily advantageous, being the product and wisdom of countless generations of phylogenetic, evolutionary experience. Like the basic anatomy of the body, the deep structure of the psyche—Jung’s “collective unconscious” or, in the improved terms of Jungian analyst Anthony Stevens (2003, 40 and 75), the phylogenetic psyche—”anticipates” the social and natural world, because it has evolved gradually within and around this world.

Jung’s sense of the collective unconscious has been vindicated by the work of evolutionary psychologists, and among others, the anthropologist Donald Brown (1991) and the analytical psychologist Anthony Stevens (2003). In order to fully comprehend the complexity of one’s Self, one must possess both (1) the capacity to apply the totality of one’s knowledge and experience as an observer and (2) the capacity to stand over and above the totality of one’s knowledge and experience as the observed; that is, one must possess a set of knowledge and experience more inclusive than that of one’s own; the fulfillment of this requirement, therefore, is impossible and absurd (Hayek 1967a, 62; 1952, 184-192). One is fooling oneself if he-she believes that his-her unconscious is within the full grasp of his-her ego-subjectivity; moreover, such self-deception is inevitably self-destructive. As Jung writes, “Man is not a machine that can be remodeled for quite other purposes as occasion demands, in the hope that it will go on functioning as regularly as before but in a quite different way.  He carries his whole history with him; in his very structure is written the history of [humankind]” (CW6, para. 570, as quoted in Stevens [2003]). Therefore, respect for the unconscious, which transcends the grasp of immediate ego-subjectivity, is important, not only for his analytical psychology, but for the fulfillment of every individual.

Hayek, on the other hand, concentrating predominantly on the relations between the Self and the socio-historical system, has written the following:


The universal demand for “conscious” control or direction of social processes is one of the most characteristic features of our generation. . . . That anything is not consciously directed as a whole is regarded as itself a blemish, a proof of its irrationality and of the need completely to replace it by a deliberately designed mechanism. . . .

This belief that processes which are consciously directed are necessarily superior to any spontaneous process is an unfounded superstition. . . . If it is true that the spontaneous interplay of social forces sometimes solves problems no individual mind could consciously solve, or perhaps even perceive, and if they thereby create an ordered structure which increases the power of individuals without having been designed by any one of them, they are superior to conscious action. Indeed, any social processes which deserve to be called “social” in distinction from the action of individuals are almost ex definitione not conscious [precisely because they transcend the reach and grasp of the individual mind]. (Hayek 1979, 153-154)


This passage is quintessential Hayek, and the theme it expresses runs throughout the whole of his work. As he explains, processes that are not subject to conscious control are not necessarily unfavorable or disordered. Rather, socio-historical spontaneous orders such as language, common law, and the price system have been highly beneficial because (1) they have coordinated and harmonized several persons actions and interactions and (2) their specific manifestations have transcended the reach and grasp of individual consciousness. While one may conceptualize the structure of these social formations in appropriately abstract terms, their concrete manifestations are the unintended consequence of persons’ actions and interactions; that is, they are the product of socio-historical evolution.

Because two persons constitute two sources of understanding rather than one, in order for one person to fully comprehend the complexity of possible relationships between his-her Self and simply one Other, this person must possess a capacity for understanding greater than that of one person; the fulfillment of this requirement, therefore, is impossible and absurd (Lucas 1970, 139-145). In this respect, contemporary developments within the hermeneutic tradition, which address the process of dialogue between the perspectives and understandings of individuals, take on particular relevance—for example, the works of Hans-Georg Gadamer ([1960] 1989).  While Hayek retains a distinct perspective, his approach also has some marked conceptual parallels with social-systems theory, which stems from the work of Talcott Parsons (1902-1981). As Hayek writes, “Insofar as such processes are capable of producing a useful order which could not have been produced by conscious direction, any attempt to make them subject to such direction would necessarily mean that we restrict what social activity can achieve to the inferior capacity of the individual mind” (Hayek 1979, 154). Therefore, respect for socio-historical spontaneous orders, which transcend the reach of deliberate ego-subjectivity, is also important, not only for Hayek’s critical theory, but for the advancement of every society.

Having offered this contrast between Habermas–via Marx and Freud–on the one hand and Hayek and Jung on the other, it is important not to fall into a conservative view that merely affirms existing society as the product of evolutionary outcomes.  In this respect, Jung’s sense of a balance between the conscious and the unconscious is representative of the evenhanded analysis we will propose.  By striving for a balance between designed and spontaneous orders, we are also reviving a research program that began with Carl Menger’s Investigations.  Therefore, while Jung incorporated Freudian theory into his understanding of the (personal) unconscious, the challenge for critical theory is to incorporate Habermasian insights into Hayekian understanding.

[References forthcoming.]