In chapter 10 of The Road to Serfdom, Hayek describes how some of the worst people always end up rising to the top of the political heap. Continuing to touch on this theme in the eleventh chapter, Hayek digs even deeper and discusses the control of information and the very basis of truth in a planned society.
In a society where totalitarianism reigns, truth is found not in objective principles, but in a government’s desired ends. Once these ends have been established, all other forms of information are tailored to reinforce that “truth.” Reason is henceforth thrown out the window and the state’s version of truth is beyond contestation. As George Orwell wrote:
Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as “the truth” exists. … The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, “It never happened” – well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five – well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs.
But this on its own is not enough to sway entire nations. Instead of the people merely accepting these “truths” it is important that the state convince them that these truths are their own. When individuals begin to tie their interests to the state’s interests a terrifying unity occurs, the likes of which can be seen in almost every deceptive dictatorship throughout history.
As Hayek says:
The most effective way of making everybody serve the single system of ends toward which the social plan is directed is to make everybody believe in those ends. To make a totalitarian system function efficiently, it is not enough that everybody should be forced to work for the same ends. It is essential that the people should come to regard them as their own ends.
In order to do this, all propaganda is orchestrated to reinforce these ends in order to push individuals in the desired direction. Common themes and slogans are repeated over and over again in order beat these goals into the minds of the people. Anything contrary to the end goal must be squashed immediately. Anyone speaking out against them must too be destroyed in the name of national security. As Hayek says, “But the minority who will retain an inclination to criticize must also be silenced.”
And while most people associate propaganda with political posters and multimedia, there is no greater tool for propaganda than a nation’s education system.
No matter how intelligent an individual may be, almost every person is susceptible to propaganda. This is because, in many instances, most are unaware that they are falling prey to it. It seeps into our lives through all forms of entertainment but most especially through state-sponsored education.
In Nazi Germany, indoctrinating the youth was one of the easiest ways to ensure the fervent support of future generations. Adolf Hitler himself said, “He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” Children were forced into youth groups where their role in the Third Reich was reinforced continually. Germany even tailored toys, games, and books towards the desired ends of the Reich, ensuring that children would believe whatever they wanted them to believe.
If all the sources of current information are effectively under one single control, it is no longer a question of merely persuading the people of this or that. The skillful propagandist then has power to mold their minds in any direction he chooses, and even the most intelligent and independent people cannot entirely escape that influence if they are long isolated from all other sources of information.
And this was the aim of the Third Reich. If the German people were to not only accept but condone the acts of their government, there was no better way to do it then to teach them young, and lead them to believe that this has always been the case.
Touching on this, Hayek says:
The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they, or at least the best among them, have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognized before.
Or, to pull from Orwellian speak, the goal is to make these children believe that, “we have always been at war with Eastasia.”
But this deliberate molding of minds does not only occur in young students. In fact, once these children’s minds have been sufficiently indoctrinated, they are passed off to institutions of higher education where a belief in intellectual elitism is then instilled.
The Educated Elite
Trained to learn by rote methods rather than critical thinking, young adults, eager to assert their independence, were thrown into colleges and universities and told that they are now part of the intellectual elite. But from this comes the dangerous tendency to stop questioning the information that is presented to you. After all, your professors are highly regarded for their intellect. Why would they steer you in the wrong direction?
But when these professors begin to present state opinion as unquestioned truth, this is where the real problems arise.
The field of eugenics, for example, was once taught as if it were doctrinal truth. If racial superiority could be “scientifically” proven, or, rather, if the state could assert that this was fact, then questioning this doctrine became heresy.
As Hayek says:
The need for such official doctrines as an instrument of directing and rallying the efforts of the people has been clearly foreseen by the various theoreticians of the totalitarian system. Plato’s “noble lies” and Sorel’s “myths” serve the same purpose as the racial doctrine of the Nazis or the theory of the corporative state of Mussolini. They are all necessarily based on particular views about facts which are then elaborated into scientific theories in order to justify a preconceived opinion.
And, as has been seen throughout history, once a theory becomes part of the scientific narrative, it contributes to the direction of all societal ends. Hayek comments on this saying, “Thus a pseudoscientific theory becomes part of the official creed which to a greater or lesser degree directs everybody’s action.” While the eugenics example may seem rather extreme, it was very applicable to the time that Hayek was writing.
And while it is not easy in hindsight to understand how an entire population could fall for theories this callous, Hayek reminds us, “It is not difficult to deprive the great majority of independent thought.”
It may be easy to cast blame on the media and the entertainment industry for being natural propaganda machines, but history tells a different story. As we have now seen, state-controlled education is one of the worst and most effective propaganda tools that has ever existed.
Also published on Medium.