Essays

Friedrich Hayek and the Jews (Part 2 of 3)

Friedrich Hayek

Was Hayek Jewish?

by John I. Johnson

(Page numbers in parentheses refer to Stephen Kresge and Leif Wenar, eds., Hayek on Hayek: An Autobiographical Dialogue, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.)

SOME WRITERS — e.g., David Ramsay Steele in From Marx to Mises (1992) — have identified Hayek as Jewish. The apparent misidentification is due to his having been a cousin on his mother’s side of the “three-quarters Jewish” (61) (Hayek’s words; observe the nicety of ethnic discernment contained in that formulation) philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein through Wittgenstein’s one White grandparent, Hayek’s pre-WWII migration to England, his close friendships with Ludwig von Mises, Karl Popper, and other Jewish academics, and his leadership of the mostly-Jewish Austrian School of economics.

A native of Vienna and the son of liberal, non-practicing Catholics (when young Friedrich exhibited too great an interest in the Bible it suddenly “disappeared mysteriously”), Hayek was a product of Central Europe. His origins were primarily Czech or Bohemian rather than German. (Hence his unintentionally humorous statement, “I had in my first letter [to the London Times] deliberately dragged in the example of Czech [i.e., Jewish] immigration into Vienna before 1914 . . .” When Hayek tried to publicly defend himself from Jewish accusations of racism for his support of Margaret Thatcher’s immigration restriction proposal in 1978, Hayek insisted that his motives for opposing immigration into England were culture- rather than race-based.)

The name “Hayek” is Czech (Hájek). As an Austrian, it is not surprising that Hayek should have a Czech, or Bohemian, name. Bohemia was long a part of the Hapsburg domains of Austria-Hungary. Hayek observed that many Viennese Jews also originated from Bohemia: “There was an old, established Jewish population in Vienna, partly of local origin, partly of Hungarian or Bohemian origin, who were fully accepted and recognized” by the Austrian Germans. (61)

Hayek’s father, August von Hayek, was a medical doctor employed by the municipal health department, as well as a part-time botany lecturer at the University of Vienna. His paternal grandfather, Gustav Edler von Hayek, had been a naval officer before becoming a teacher of natural science at the Imperial Realobergymnasium (secondary school) in Vienna for thirty years. Gustav Hayek wrote systematic works in biology, some of which became relatively well known.

Hayek’s mother’s name was Felicitas Juraschek. His maternal grandfather, Franz von Juraschek, a former professor of constitutional law, was a leading economist in Austria, a close friend of Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, and an acquaintance of Friedrich von Wieser (two founders of the Austrian School of Economics). Franz Juraschek taught economist Joseph Schumpeter, and was president of the Statistical Commission of Austria. Through inheritance from his first wife (Felicitas’s mother), he became wealthy.

Hayek had two younger brothers, Heinrich and Erich. One became professor of anatomy at Vienna, the other professor of chemistry at Innsbruck. (Hayek’s daughter was a biologist and his son a bacteriologist.)

“If my father’s parents, however proud of their gentility and ancestry,” Hayek said, “lived in modest circumstances, my mother’s parents, the von Jurascheks — although from a ‘younger’ family and ennobled over a generation later — were definitely upper-class bourgeoisie and wealthier by far.” (39)

In Friedrich Hayek: A Biography (2001), Jewish biographer Alan Ebenstein explains, “‘Von’ was the fourth and lowest, as well as most common, of the second of two ranks of nobility in imperial Austria. The higher rank was composed of the royal families who ruled the Germanic world’s principalities for centuries, and the lesser rank were those such as the von Hayeks and von Jurascheks whose forebears were ennobled during the previous century or so. The English approximation of ‘von’ is ‘sir.’”

Interestingly, when an interviewer asked, “Another question I had was in the use of the word ‘von,’ as in ‘von Mises,’ ‘von Hayek,’ and so forth. I remember a story as to how Mises got his title, which as a Jew was rare, and it had something to do with his father’s getting the title and inheriting it down. What were the details?” Hayek launched into an extended general response that was in essence the same as Ebenstein’s. For some reason, he avoided addressing the Mises issue directly. (107)

Hayek evinced great interest in genealogy. Ebenstein writes that he “traced his ancestry to a ‘Hagek’ from Prague, who was an associate of the famous astronomer Tycho Brahe. Hayek liked to note that on some old maps of the moon there is a crater named ‘Hagetsius,’ after his probable ancestor. He observed that families with the name ‘Hayek’ or ‘Hagek’ can be traced in Bohemia (now principally the Czech Republic) from the 1500s, and that although his family spoke German for as long as he could ascertain, ‘Hayek’ is probably derived from the Czech word ‘Hájek,’ meaning ‘small wood.’” Josef Hayek, an administrator for an aristocrat, was ennobled in 1789 for developing the first Austrian textile factories, through which he became wealthy. His son Heinrich, Friedrich’s great-grandfather, was a civil servant in Vienna. In the 1860s Heinrich Hayek lost the family fortune, compelling his son Gustav — Friedrich’s grandfather — to become a teacher.

Other ancestors hailed from the Salzburg region of Austria. Many of these were government officials or salt producers. One such official Hayek identified lived 400 years ago. Later, members of this branch of the family also moved to Vienna.

Hayek’s motive for researching his family tree in such detail is a surprising one: “In Vienna there was a certain amount of speculation in the Jewish community [about whether my family was Jewish]. One of the things that amused me: My younger brother Heinz, who in every other respect had a face that could be much less Jewish than mine, actually had dark hair, black hair; and it so happened that in one of the summers that I spent in the Schwarzwalds’ summer home, I happened to overhear a conversation among the Jewish circle, when my brother arrived, to the effect that he looks Jewish.” (61-62)

My own curiosity about this led me to spend a great deal of time researching my ancestors. I have full information for five generations in all possible directions. And since they all happened to be first-born children, there’s more certainty that they derived from their parents; so as far back as I can trace it, I evidently had no Jewish ancestors whatever.” (62) (Emphasis added.)

When asked if he regarded himself among the “mixed” Christian-Jewish group in Vienna in the 1920s, Hayek responded, “Not my family, my family is on the purely Christian group” (61) — this, remember, from a non-religious man whose parents never took him to church, feuded with school authorities over compulsory attendance at worship service, and even caused little Friedrich’s Bible to disappear when he began displaying too much interest in it!

Two broad aspects of phenotype come into play here. The first is morphological (the external physical appearance of Hayek and his family); the second relates to mental and moral character in the broadest sense.

Physically, Hayek as a young man has been described as over six feet tall, blond and blue-eyed. As a child he collected natural specimens — insects, flowers, minerals. Later, the study of evolution and fossils absorbed his interest. Preferred recreational pursuits tended toward the vigorous, and generally took place out-of-doors: hiking, skiing, biking, photography, sailing, and mountain climbing. A photograph in Hayek on Hayek shows him dressed in lederhosen, lounging comfortably with pen and manuscript on a large rock high in the Austrian Tyrol where he spent most of his summers. The caption reads, “Hayek completing The Constitution of Liberty in the Alps, 1958.”

Nevertheless, some photographs of Hayek do reveal Jewish features. Photograph 12 in Hayek on Hayek — a boyhood portrait of Hayek and his two younger brothers taken in 1911 — is striking in this regard. Both Hayek and Heinz look distinctly Jewish. Heinz looks most Jewish, Hayek next, and Erich least. Photographs 11 and 14, though far from ideal for the purpose, suggest that the physiognomy in question may have been inherited from the mother — although it is not visible in her own parents’ photos.

Following are three photographs of Friedrich Hayek that can be viewed on the Web (Hayek lived to age 93):

Photo 1. Young Friedrich Hayek.

Photo 2. The older Hayek.

Photo 3. Hayek in old age. (Pronounced Ashkenazic-type features.)

As the complete range of photographs in Hayek on Hayek also attests, the “Jewish look” is by no means always evident. Nevertheless, the anomalies — selected photographic evidence, the fact that Jews believed his brother Heinz looked Jewish, and speculation within Vienna’s Jewish community as to the Hayeks’ ethnic origins — are puzzling, and at least suggestive of Jewish or part-Jewish ancestry. However, assuming Hayek’s genealogical statements are trustworthy, as I am inclined to believe they are, then Hayek was White.

It is worth noting that Hayek’s genealogical researches, his characterization of his distant cousin Wittgenstein as “three-quarters Jewish,” his allusion to a “Jewish face,” and so on, show clearly that Hayek regarded Jews as a biologically-related group, not merely adherents of a religion.

Furthermore, when we observe the undeniably brilliant, Nobel Prize-winning philosopher as a mature adult devoting “a great deal of time” to researching his family tree until he obtains “full information for five generations in all possible directions” “as far back as I can trace it,” for the express purpose of discovering whether or not he has any Jewish ancestry, we are entitled to wonder if it is indeed a sigh of relief we detect when he finally concludes, “I evidently had no Jewish ancestors whatever.”

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Source: Author

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