Hayek’s Theory of Social Change

Social Change

In Hayek’s essay Intellectuals and Socialism, Hayek laid out a novel theory as to how society is changed. Rather than assuming that the social powers are what influence and change society, it is the novel thinkers and prolific writers that draft the beliefs of our society.

The Four Levels of Social Change

Pyramid of Social Change, Hayek
Pyramid of Social Change, Hayek
  1. Scholars develop ideas and theories.
  2. Intellectuals take these ideas and spread them through the populace.
  3. The populace adopts these ideas over time and assumes the values are natural and common sense.
  4. Politicians use these ideas as the shared values and canvas upon which to enact their agendas.


Theory Applied

Communism and Marx

The Scholar Karl Marx,  crafted new ideas and theories.  The Scholar’s role is to create a novel theory and provide core values.

The Intellectual is represented by teachers, public figures, or populist artists.  Their role is that they communicate the Scholars’ ideas to the general populace.

The Populace adopt the ideas and incorporate them into their general beliefs. This is a crucial step as it represents more than straightforward, platonic adoption of the ideas.  Instead, it requires the people incorporating  these values into their personal worldview.

The Politician base their agendas around the social landscape of preexisting values and ideas established by the intellectuals and scholars. Rather than being the initiators of change, the politician is a reactionary manipulator who must meet both the desires of the populace as well as push forward their own goals.


The language has been updated, for instance an intellectual seems to cover both the scholar and the Bill Mahers out there, yet the ideas how up.

Like any essay, Hayek’s basic theory is too simple and easy to side step.  Hayek fails to  point out the the interplay between these groups and how they operate with the others levels, As an example, a politician can over time influence his constituency and intellectuals can become composite messengers of their combined learning meaning that there is no one single scholar informing the intellectual of what message to share. In addition,  Hayek fails to recognize that the intellectual will inevitably inject his own opinion and thereby warp, adjust, and modify the scholar’s concepts. As examples of these two points, let’s look at Ron Paul and Stalin.

The Good and the Bad and Ugly

Ron Paul was technically a politician, and so should be the lowest level in the order. However Dr. Paul’s character and adamant commitment to free market values made him the first glimpse into libertarianism for many people. Ron Paul was thus a lousy politician, but an excellent intellectual.

Joseph Stalin on the other-hand is an excellent example of an Intellectual perverting the Scholar’s message. Karl Marx had a simple belief that everyone could live intellectually and socially fulfilling lives while  at the same time engaging in manual labor. (A fisher and painter in the morning, and a factory worker in the evening).

Stalin took Marx’s message of equality to create a social conviction in shared suffering and collective prosperity, meaning that the poor were truly destitute and that the rich were merely more “Equal”.  As Orwell noted, some are just more Equal than others.


If you want to make a difference in the world, focus on what works rather than tradition. Socialism became dominant not because it was a better idea but because it was taught to younger generations.

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