Review of B. Caldwell and H. Klausinger, Hayek: A Life 1899-1950 (University of Chicago Press, 2023)

This is the first part of a two-volume biography of the Nobel Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek. It covers the period between Hayek’s birth in 1899 and 1950, when he left England and the London School of Economics for the United States and the University of Chicago. The authors are distinguished historians of economic thought and experts on Hayek’s work: Bruce Caldwell has been the General Editor of the Collected Works of F.A. Hayek for twenty years, editing several volumes himself as well as writing a highly-praised intellectual biography of Hayek (Caldwell 2004); Hansjoerg Klausinger edited two of the volumes in the Collected Work series and, significantly, is a German-speaker (thereby ensuring that the biography complies with Hayek’s insistence that his biography be written by someone fluent in that language). The authors enjoyed the cooperation of Hayek’s family, who granted them access to private correspondence between family members along with other materials. They also benefitted from access to other hitherto unavailable sources (perhaps most notably, transcripts of interviews of Hayek undertaken by W. W. Bartley III, the first General Editor of the Collected Works, in preparation for his never-completed biography).[1] The richness of the sources, documented in the Introduction to the volume and in a list of archival material found at its end (pp. 794-805), has enabled Caldwell and Klausinger “to try to tell as complete a story as possible…to situate Hayek in place and time and to integrate his life and his work, with ‘work’ including his intellectual contributions, his organisation-building, and his efforts to reach a wider public as a defender of liberal ideas” (p. 3).[2] In this aim, of writing “the definitive full biography of F. A. Hayek” (p. 3), they have succeeded to an impressive degree, combining to excellent effect discussions of the evolution of his ideas, and the intellectual and institutional context in which he developed them, with accounts of his personal life so as to “reveal what he did and said, and to explain what motivated him” (p. 8).

The book is divided into six parts. The first sets out Hayek’s family background and describes the context into which he was born. He grew up in an upper middle class, culturally-German household in fin-de-siècle Vienna. At that time, Vienna was one of great intellectual and cultural centres of Europe, the general character of which was memorably described in Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday. But the ‘Golden Age of Security’, as Zweig described it, enjoyed by Vienna before World War One was gradually being eroded, as the Austro-Hungarian Empire displayed increasingly destructive ethnic, religious and political tensions (including a growing anti-Semitism, discussed in chapter 4 of the book, that was shared by Hayek’s parents and other members of his family). Hayek was a precocious child, learning to read before he started school and possessing a pronounced independent streak. These attributes conspired to ensure that he performed poorly within the highly regimented Austrian school system, barely passing his final examinations, while at the same time developing a notable capacity for independent learning. By the time he left school in 1917, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been at war for three years, and Hayek joined the war effort on the Italian front. He served in a field artillery regiment, seeing some action, and losing one of his few close friends to illness.

Part II of the book recounts how, after World War One had ended, Hayek entered the University of Vienna. Like much of the rest of Vienne society, the university was tainted by growing anti-Semitism amongst both the student and the academic bodies. The circle of friends in which Hayek moved was, however, opposed to anti-Semitism as well as being in favour of social reform (but against Marxism). Whilst officially a law student, Hayek pursued his own interests in philosophy, psychology and (finally) economics (which, in Austrian universities of the time, was taught within Faculties of Law). It was towards the end of his law degree that Hayek become acquainted with the ideas of the Austrian School of economics, in particular the work of Friedrich Wieser and Carl Menger. He graduated with a doctorate in law in 1921 and then studied for an additional doctorate—in ‘state sciences’, with a focus on economics—in 1923. He then joined the Abrechnungsamt, a government office established to manage the clearing of Austria’s war debts, where he worked under the man who became his principal mentor in economics, Ludwig von Mises (whose work helped to disabuse Hayek of his youthful commitment to progressive economic reforms). It was also during this period (from late 1921) that, along with his close friend Herbert Fürth, Hayek established the Geistkreis, a regular discussion group covering a wide range of topics whose members included several men who became distinguished academics (including Felix Kaufmann, Fritz Machlup, Gottfried Haberler, Alfred Schütz and Oskar Morgenstern). Participation in the Geistkreis further broadened Hayek’s already wide intellectual horizons, serving to develop his interest in philosophy, history, and literature in particular. It also strengthened his liberal-cosmopolitan views.

Hayek’s commitment to liberalism was reinforced by his first major overseas as trip, to America (from March 1923 until May 1924). In addition to meeting prominent American economists, perhaps most notably the institutionalist Wesley Clair Mitchell, Hayek spent a good deal of time reading the work of English-language historians, an experience which “converted me to a thoroughly English view on moral and political matters” to such a degree that “[i]n the sense of that Gladstonian liberalism, I am much more English than the English” (p. 185). Hayek’s visit to New York also had important consequences for his personal life. In the winter of 1919-20, he had become close to his (distant) cousin, Helene Bitterlich (known as ‘Lenerl’). However, while they continued to meet over the next few years, and while she would (she later said) have been happy to marry him then, Hayek did not propose (and, given the conventions of the time, she did not feel that she could take the initiative). By the time Hayek returned from the United States, Leneral had married someone else, an act that soon become a source of bitter regret to them both.

Part III of the book, ‘The Making of an Economist’, traces out the early stages of Hayek’s career, including his time as director of the Austrian Institute for Business Cycle Research, which had been established by Ludwig von Mises in 1927; his participation in Mises’ private seminar; his search for an academic position in Austria; and his early work on monetary economics—undertaken for his habilitation at the University of Vienna, awarded in 1929, and subsequently published in English as Monetary Theory and the Trade Cycle—where he developed the notion of intertemporal equilibrium and used it to analyse the behaviour of a money- and capital-using economy. It was during this period that Hayek married his first wife, Hella Fritsch, whom he had first met upon his return from America in 1924 whilst both were working at the Abrechnungsamt. She also—as Hayek later admitted and as the pictures reproduced in the book attest—closely resembled Lenerl. They were wed in 1926, having a daughter in 1929 and a son in 1934. Hayek married, as he later put it, “on the rebound”, after the person “who had been my most intimate friend since early childhood” married somebody else (quoted on p. 683). These events would continue to cause great pain and sadness decades later.

Part IV considers Hayek’s life in 1930s England. In part through the good offices of Lionel Robbins, Hayek was invited to deliver a series of four lectures at the LSE early in 1931. The lectures, which blended economic theory, the history of economic thought, and policy analysis to good effect, were so well received that Hayek was offered a one year visiting position (covering the 1931-32 academic year).[3] This subsequently became permanent with his appointment in 1932 to the Tooke Chair in Economic Science and Statistics (which had originally been located at King’s College London before being transferred to the LSE in 1919)[4]. Hayek thus came, whilst still in his early thirties, to join an institution that either already was, or became during Hayek’s time there, home to many notable economists, including—in addition Robbins—future Nobel Laureates J.R. Hicks, Ronald Coase and W. Arthur Lewis as well as to other distinguished scholars such as R.G.D. Allen, Nicholas Kaldor and Abba Lerner. And it was at the LSE in the 1930s, during what G.L.S. Shackle (1967) memorably described as ‘The Years of High Theory’, that some of the most important developments in economic theory, including what now is now called intermediate microeconomics, took place.

The 1930s also saw Hayek engage in two important controversies in economic theory. The first centred on his debates with Keynes over monetary economics and the trade cycle, beginning with his review of Keynes’s Treatise on Money, which Hayek criticised for a lack of adequate capital-theoretic foundations. Keynes’s response, published before the second half of Hayek’s two-part review had even appeared in print, saw him launch into an assault on Hayek’s own Prices and Production. The debate, which continued later in 1932 in correspondence between the two men, petered out when Keynes reported that he was attempting to reshape important parts of his analysis, a shift that four years later yielded The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money. Hayek’s own book on this topic, The Pure Theory of Capital, appeared five years after Keynes’s magnum opus, following a painful, decade-long gestation period in which Hayek sought, by his own admission not entirely successfully, to develop a satisfactory capital-theoretic foundation for his own monetary theory of the cycle (Hayek 2007). By then, however, Keynes’s ideas were in the ascendency, not just within the economic profession at large but even at the LSE. As one of Hayek’s students, Ludwig Lachmann, recounted, “When I came up to the LSE in the early 1930s, everybody was a Hayekian; at the end of the decade there were only two of us, Hayek and myself” (quoted on p. 271). The second key controversy centred on the possibility of centrally planning economic activity. Participation in the ‘socialist calculation debate’, as it came to be known, led Hayek to develop from the mid-to-late 1930s a novel account of the market as a process of discovery whereby, thanks to the information conveyed by market prices, people are able to coordinate their plans—as required for orderly economic activity to take place—even in the face of subjective and dispersed knowledge. This insight into the epistemic function of market prices, Hayek later stated, “was really the beginning of my looking at things in a new light” (quoted on p. 327), catalysing a novel and influential programme of research not just in economics but also in political philosophy.[5]

At the same time as these events were happening in his professional life, Hayek’s marriage was coming under increasing strain. Immediately after moving to England, Hayek and his family enjoyed a comfortable and harmonious life in north London’s Hampstead Garden Suburb. His then wife, Hella, ran the family home and sought to make Hayek’s domestic life as easy as possible so that he could devote himself to academic pursuits. However, for reasons that remain unclear, at some point late in 1932 or early in 1933, Hayek confessed to his wife his continued affection for Leneral, whilst also proposing to Hella that they keep up appearances and maintain their current domestic arrangements. In 1934, Hayek travelled to Austria and met Lenerl, at which point they made a commitment one day to be together (without, at that point in time, having firm plans for achieving that goal). Hella refused Hayek’s request for a divorce and Hayek continued to remain with her, only seeing Lenerl on his occasional visits to Vienna. As the 1930s progressed Hayek also experienced growing tensions in his relations with his mother and one of his brothers, Heinz, both of whom—in stark contrast to Hayek, who become naturalised as a British citizen in 1938—supported the Nazi regime.[6]

The challenge to liberalism posed by the economists who advocated planning, and (as Hayek saw it) by Keynesian economics, was only exacerbated by other intellectual currents in the 1930s. These stemmed from a variety of sources, including both Marxist social theory, as seen in the work of Hayek’s LSE colleague Harold Laski, and also the popular writings of the so-called ‘men of science’ (a group of natural scientists who contended that their expertise in scientific methods would facilitate the planning of economic activity). The ‘spirit of the age’, as Hayek put it in his inaugural lecture of the LSE, was increasingly sceptical of the merits of spontaneous market forces and in favour of the conscious control of social, including economic, processes. Hayek proposed to analyse the causes, and consequences, of such collectivist—or, as he would later term them, ‘constructivist rationalist’—ideas in a two-volume book project, to be entitled ‘The Abuse and Decline of Reason’. The book, upon which Hayek embarked in the late 1930s, would be directed against what he saw as the common thread connecting the various strands of collectivist thought, namely an exaggerated and unfounded faith in the powers of human reason (which had been bolstered by the success of the natural sciences in the previous century). The first volume would trace the origins of collectivist ideas back as far as the French Revolution and analyse how they subsequently spread from France to Germany, England, and America. The second would explore their damaging consequences in the twentieth century. While the project was never completed in the form Hayek originally envisaged, it did yield important publications. These included Hayek’s essays on ‘The Counter-Revolution of Science’, in which he explained how the interplay between socialist and positivist ideas since the eighteenth century had encouraged support for the reconstruction of society along supposedly more rational lines; his famous methodological piece on ‘Scientism and the Study of Society’, in which he inveighed against the uncritical use of methods drawn from the natural sciences for the study of society and outlined what he saw as more appropriate methods for analysing social life; and ‘Individualism: True and False’, which had originally been intended, under a different title, to be the introductory chapter of The Abuse and Decline of Reason. The offshoots also included, as we shall see, Hayek’s best-known book, The Road to Serfdom. Part V of Hayek, aptly entitled ‘Fighting the Spirit of the Age’, describes these developments in Hayek’s thinking, whilst also offering an account of his personal life in London and Cambridge—to which the LSE was evacuated during World War Two, and where he enjoyed the friendship of Keynes—in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Hayek’s work on history of socialism and scientism reflected his belief in the importance of ideas in shaping the course of human history. He often quoted Keynes’s famous dictum, made at the end of The General Theory, that “the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else.”[7] Hayek’s emphasis on the importance of ideas in shaping public opinion and thereby driving social change was readily apparent, not only in his analysis of the rise of collectivism, but also in his own efforts to restore the fortunes of liberalism. He had touched upon this issue in his inaugural lecture, where he had explored the relations between the ideas of economists and the state of public opinion. In subsequent years he had become convinced that “if liberalism … was to be successfully defended, it would need counterweights to the likes of Laski and the men of science, public intellectuals who wrote for a wide audience, who could capture and hold their attention” (p. 449). Hayek’s hopes in this regard received a considerable boost in 1936-37 when a diagnosis of the ills of liberalism similar to his own was advanced by the renowned American journalist, author and public intellectual Walter Lippmann. For Lippmann, as for Hayek, liberalism was far more than the negative and reactionary doctrine expounded by some of its nineteenth century advocates, who confined themselves to criticising misguided forms of intervention and maintained that freedom of contract alone provided an adequate foundation for policy. Lippman argued to the contrary that liberals needed to outline a positive agenda, for example by identifying how the state could help to establish a legal framework that would curb monopoly power and thereby help markets to work more effectively. This was quite consistent with the views expressed by Hayek in his inaugural lecture, where he had argued that one reason for the decline in the appeal of liberalism was the failure of its nineteenth century exponents to distinguish it from laissez-faire and to identify the areas “within which collective action is not only unobjectionable but actually a useful means of obtaining the desired ends” (quoted on p. 312). Hayek’s correspondence with Lippmann saw him advocate closer cooperation between the relatively small number of liberal intellectuals who remained, as a means of stimulating discussion and thereby catalysing the revival of liberal ideas.

Hayek also put Lippmann in touch with the French liberal philosopher Louis Rougier, who in addition to publishing a translation of the book in which Lippmann set out his views, namely The Good Society, also arranged a conference—held in Paris in 1938—at which they would be discussed. The Colloque Lippmann, as it became known, saw a group that included Mises, the chemist Michael Polanyi and the ordo-liberal Wilhelm Röepke as well as Hayek and Lipmann discuss the nature and causes of liberalism’s decline, and the prospects for its revival, in what is now widely held to be a seminal event in the history of classical liberalism. As Caldwell and Klausinger note, what is perhaps most striking about the discussions that took place, transcripts of which have now been published,[8] was the variety of views on display. Whilst most attendees, with the notable exception of Mises, agreed that liberalism needed to be differentiated from nineteenth century Manchesterism, there was considerable disagreement where precisely the line of demarcation between acceptable and unacceptable forms of government intervention was to be drawn. Nor was there a consensus about how what the new version of liberalism should be called. As Caldwell and Klausinger rightly note, “In his preface to the published report, Rougier suggested the term ‘neo-liberalism’. Few used this term afterward, until it was revived by critics of liberalism later in the century’ (p. 461).[9]

By the Autumn of 1940, Hayek had completed the sections of the first volume of his proposed book on the contribution made by French thinkers, such as Saint-Simon and Comte, to the rise of scientism and socialism. Unable to face the prospect of working on the next section of volume—which would have required him “to deal with Hegel and Marx, and I couldn’t stand then once more diving into that dreadful stuff” (Hayek, quoted on p. 516)—Hayek choose to cease work on volume 1 of The Abuse and Decline of Reason and to turn instead, in 1941, to volume 2 (on the damaging consequences of collectivist ideas in the twentieth century). This would turn into the book for which Hayek would become most famous, namely The Road to Serfdom, a work intended for a more general audience—as distinct from a narrowly academic one—in which Hayek would challenge the advocates of planning and make the case for liberalism. The manuscript was completed in the spring of 1943, Hayek having worked hard at honing his prose so as to broaden the book’s appeal, and would eventually be published in England in 1944 and in the USA in 1945. In addition to sketching the book’s history, Caldwell and Klausinger provide a very helpful outline of its main arguments and also of its reception (including summaries both of contemporary reviews and also of common, long-standing criticisms of its arguments)

The sixth and final part of the book, entitled ‘Changing Worlds’, recounts how in April 1945, Hayek set off for the United States, where he was scheduled embark on lectures at various universities in order to promote his new book. During his voyage across the Atlantic, a condensed version of the book was published by Reader’s Digest. This stimulated considerable public interest in Hayek’s book, and his itinerary was expanded to include additional interviews and public lectures. Hayek was himself becoming a public intellectual. At around the same time, he was also writing a series of papers—starting with ‘Historians and the Future of Europe’ ([1944] 1992) and also including ‘A Plan for the Future of Germany’ ([1945] 1992) and ‘The Prospects of Freedom ([1946] 2022)—in which he argued once again that the chances for a revival of liberalism would be greatly enhanced by the creation of a scholarly society designed to enable committed liberals to meet, debate key issues, learn from one another, and thereby develop a credible and appealing liberal alternative to collectivism. Using funds obtained through a chance meeting in 1945 with a Swiss businessman, Albert Hunold, and drawing also on contacts made through the Colloque Lippmann and during some of the trips to America he had made whilst publicising The Road to Serfdom, Hayek was able by 1947 to organise an international gathering of scholars committed to restoring the fortunes of liberalism. By the end of this meeting, the Mont Pèlerin Society had been created, with the purpose of facilitating the reconstruction of the foundations of liberal thought and thereby in the long-term helping to change the climate of ideas. Caldwell and Klausinger trace out the events leading up to this first meeting, sketch the backgrounds of the participants, and summarise the discussions that took place.[10] In the course of doing so, the authors bring out both Hayek’s skills in bringing into fruitful conversation with one another a rather disparate group of people, often holding quite different views and some of whom were rather awkward characters, and also its emphasis on changing the climate of opinion in the long-term (rather than pursuing short-term political goals).

What Caldwell and Klausinger’s accounts both of the Colloque Lippmann and also of the 1947 meeting also show—along similar lines to Burgin (2012)—is that the project of reviving liberalism was a much more variegated, contested, and uncertain one than some more recent accounts might suggest, being characterised by significant disagreement both about substantive policy commitments and also about what the new version of liberalism was to be called. It is, perhaps, for this reason that, as Caldwell and Klausinger report in the introduction of their book, one of the University of Chicago Press’s reviewers remarked that Hayek “indirectly (but intentionally) … offers a contemporary liberal critique of neoliberalism scholarship” (quoted on p. 8). This critique has been made more explicitly by Caldwell in his preface to the recently published transcripts of the 1947 meeting (Caldwell 2022). The fact that transcripts of the founding meeting of Mont Pèlerin Society, and also of the Colloque Lippmann, are now publicly availability will hopefully help to ensure that discussions of the rise, and nature, of ‘neo-liberalism’ are more firmly ground in what the participants in those gatherings actually said than has perhaps always been the case in the past.[11]

While Hayek had managed to maintain some contact with Lenerl during the war, it was not until a year after its end that he was able to visit Vienna and see her once again. On a second trip to Vienna, in January 1947, the two committed themselves to beginning a new life together. Given the need for an income sufficient to sustain two households, Hayek identified the United States as the appropriate place to seek a new position and to start a new life. By 1948, the William Volker Charities Fund, an American charitable foundation with whose representatives Hayek had made contact during his earlier trips to the USA to promote The Road to Serfdom, had agreed to fund a sufficiently high salary for Hayek to proceed with his plans. Hayek’s overtures to Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies ultimately came to nothing, whilst the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago showed little interest in hiring him. However, the economic historian John U. Nef, who had recently established the Committee on Social Thought at Chicago for the purpose of promoting interdisciplinary study at the graduate level, championed Hayek’s case and in October 1948 was able to offer him a job, to begin in the autumn of 1949.

Upon learning of his plans Hella, who had at one point agreed to Hayek’s request for a divorce, informed him that she had changed her mind and was unwilling to discuss the matter further. Hayek was thereby forced to delay his departure for Chicago as he took legal advice about how to achieve a divorce in the face of Hella’s refusal to countenance one. The ‘solution’ to this problem involved him resigning his position at the LSE, taking a visiting position at the University of Arkansas from March to July 1950, and delaying his public acceptance of a position at Chicago so that he would count as being ‘domiciled’ in Arkansas and therefore eligible to take account of the state’s liberal divorce laws. After tough negotiations between his and Hella’s lawyers, Hayek’s divorce came through in July 1950. The cost was considerable, both financially and also in non-monetary terms: both Hayek and Hella came close to the brink of nervous breakdowns at various points in the process; and Hayek’s best friend, Lionel Robbins—who had at Hayek’s request provided considerable support to Hella throughout the whole unseemly process—broke with Hayek over his behaviour. As Caldwell and Klausinger summarise this sad tale, “No one (with the possible exception of Lionel Robbins) came out of it looking very good, and everyone at various points looked quite bad” (p. 589). Hayek and Lenerl were married in Vienna August 1950 and Hayek took up his appointment at Chicago later the same year.

This is indeed an impressive volume. Caldwell and Klauginer have succeeded to an admirable degree in their goal, namely: “to show the context in which [Hayek] developed his ideas, to identify to whom he was responding, and to suggest why he embraced some projects and abandoned others” (p. 8). As the authors note, for the most part they offer neither a critical assessment of Hayek’s ideas nor a response to his critics. This was surely a wise decision, given the book’s already considerable length. There is, perhaps, a little too much detail—at least for this reader’s liking—in the early parts of the book on Hayek’s family background (this notwithstanding the fact that some material on Hayek’s family history and on the circles in Vienna in which they moved was confined to online appendices). Caldwell and Klausinger’s prose is clear and important points in economic theory, such as the issues at stake in Hayek’s debates with Keynes and Pierro Sraffa over monetary economics and the trade cycle (pp. 294-300), his account of the economy’s capital stock as a structure of heterogenous capital goods (pp. 374-78), and his analysis of ‘The Meaning of Competition’ (pp. 609-11), are deftly explained. The authors clearly have an encyclopedic knowledge of the primary sources, as shown in particular in their account of Hayek’s divorce (where the material is handled as sensitively as possible given the subject-matter). The book has already deservedly begun to receive plaudits (having, for example, been listed as one of The Economist’s books of 2022). The second volume will focus on the remainder of Hayek’s life, from the inflection point of 1950 until his death in 1992. It is eagerly awaited.


Review by Paul Lewis
Department of Political Economy
King’s College London



1 Hayek’s family did not, however, vet the manuscript before publication.

2 All otherwise unattributed references are to the volume under review.

3 The lectures were published later the same year as Prices and Production (Hayek 2012: 167-283).

4 See Hayek (1946: 20-21).

5 The two key papers are, of course, ‘Economics and Knowledge” ([1937] 2014) and “The Use of Knowledge in Society” ([1945] 2014). Hayek contains an especially interesting discussion of the development of the latter (pp. 600-02).

6 Heinz was found guilty after the war of being a fellow traveller with the Nazis (pp. 634-35).

7 Hayek quotes Keynes’s words in, for example, Hayek ([1948] 2022: 91) and Hayek ([1946] 2022: 56-57).

8 See Reinhoudt and Audier (eds., 2018).

9 Hayek seldom used the term ‘neo-liberalism’ and, when he did, it was typically to refer specifically to ordo-liberal scholars such as Walter Eucken and Wilhelm Röpke (see, e.g., Hayek [1951] 2022: 53 and Hayek [1978] 2022: 34). To the best of this reviewer’s knowledge, he deployed the term in a broader sense, to refer to “a new school of liberalism” and a “neo-liberal movement” that encompassed other advocates of liberalism such as those based at the LSE or the University of Chicago, only once (see Hayek 1952: 729, 731).

10 Topics included ‘“Free” Enterprise or Competitive Order’, ‘Modern Historiography and Political Education’, ‘The Future of Germany’, ‘The Problems and Chances of European Federation’, and ‘Liberalism and Christianity’. For details, now see Caldwell (ed., 2022).

11 The importance of highlighting the contested nature of intellectual debates, such as those involved in attempts to revive liberalism, for avoiding teleological accounts of the history of ideas (such as neo-liberalism) has recently been discussed by Kumekawa (2023: 8-9).



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