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Investigating Hayek’s Misquotes

[As] a research assistant on the collected works of Hayek […] I went over the footnotes of Hayek’s Counter-Revolution of Science […] So I would actually do line-by-line checks of the quotes. That was an interesting job ‘cause I found out that Hayek was really sloppy. [H]e would just quote from memory in multiple languages […], usually he would have the gist of it but it was quite shocking how […] poor the accuracy was. And then every now and then, he would […] omit a word that would completely reverse the meaning of the quote.

I set out to investigate Caplan’s claims about Hayek using my tool Quote Checker. I haven’t read any Hayek, but like Caplan, I went over the footnotes of Hayek’s The Counter-Revolution of Science. I more or less just picked quotes at random and found them to be misquotes almost every time I had access to the source.

The first misquote I found was of Carl Menger. You can find a detailed diff (and an explanation of how to do it correctly) here with a total of 8 issues. In short, Hayek introduces a grammatical error by omitting a comma (that error could then be easily and unfairly attributed to Menger), modernizes the text without indication (for example, Hayek changes the first ‘c’ in “Socialwissenschaften” to a ‘z’), and makes formatting changes without indication. He also mistranslates Menger.

Second, I found a misquote of Ernst Abbe (diff and explanation) with a total of 18 (!) issues. Hayek quotes from a secondary source (by Franz Schnabel) and even misspells the title! The correct title is Deutsche Geschichte im neunzehnten Jahrhundert but Hayek writes “Jahrbundert”, with a ‘b’ instead of an ‘h’. (To make sure this wasn’t just an issue with optical character recognition, I checked another edition, which contained the same error.) Hayek also changes things such that credit to the originator of an idea (Carl Zeiss) is missing, which could leave the mistaken impression that either Abbe or Schnabel plagiarized Zeiss. Hayek also introduces a bunch of typos, omits part-sentences, and changes punctuation, all without indication.

Third, Hayek misquotes Ludwig Feuerbach (diff and explanation) with a total of 9 issues. Hayek introduces a change that is not only a grammatical mistake but also breaks the meaning of the affected part-sentence. He modernizes older German spelling again, randomly adds a word, and randomly changes the Umlaut ‘ö’ to ‘oe’ even though he retains Umlauts everywhere else (meaning it can’t have been a matter of typing on an English rather than a German keyboard). All of this, as usual, without indication.

The introduction of grammatical mistakes is now also a pattern, as is the modernization of spelling without indication.

At this point, I figured maybe The Counter-Revolution of Science is just a particularly bad example. Maybe it’s poorly edited and Hayek’s other books are better. So I looked at the widely known The Road to Serfdom and promptly found another misquote (diff and explanation). This is a shorter quote with ‘only’ 3 issues. Hayek introduces a grammatical mistake once again, along with other mistakes.

While these four instances are all misquotes, Hayek at least provides the right source information in all of them. Could I find an example where he gets the source wrong? I did: the editor of another edition of The Road to Serfdom points out that Hayek originally misattributed a quote to the wrong page number, see here, p. 79 note 5.

I didn’t find the types of mistakes Caplan found, but it’s easy to see how Hayek could have made those mistakes, too. So Caplan is right: Hayek was sloppy and should not be trusted with quotes.

In the video quoted at the beginning of this article, Caplan complains of low standards in academia. Quote Checker can help academics improve those standards and make the kind of research Caplan did easier.

Thanks to Amaro Koberle for referring me to Caplan’s claim about Hayek.

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