Freemasonry and central banks will bring about the apocalypse, of course, but it's interesting to hear that from a book about the evolution of scientific thought from 1700 to 1825, isn't it?
The Enlightenment of the 1600's and 1700's saw more scientific advancement in the West in the space of 100 years than had been achieved by the preceeding seven centuries. Luminaries like Isaac Newton, Karl Gauss, Edmund Halley, Henry Cavendish, Antoine Lavoisier, and others demonstrated the power of observation and the scientific method to unravel nature's mysteries. The rapid developments in the natural sciences at this time is sometimes called "The Scientific Revolution" (in the company of the Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution). Two important consequences of this revolution were the advancement of technology (applied science), and its stimulation of market capitalism (and its political symbiote, democracy).
With most revolutions, there is a countercurrent of resistance- a counterrevolution. That's the topic of this book, although it wasn't what I thought it would be. I figured it would be reactionary forces of the Church, or the feudalism rebelling against Science. According to Hyek, the counterrevolution is represented by social philosophers who embraced, but misapplied the tools of science.
As the natural sciences rocketed by them, so-called "social philosophers" of the 18th century struggled to figure out how the scientific method could advance their own fields. These were the early beginnings of Sociology and Political Science. My apologies to any Sociologists or Political Scientists out there, but you should know this book completely rips into the foundations of your respective studies. I don't have a dog in that fight, but Hayek makes some interesting observations:
1) The natural sciences tend to observe behaviors of "the whole" (i.e. macroscopic bodies, such as chemical solutions, individual organisms, planets, etc) and to use these observations to deduce information about the "the components" (i.e. microscopic or molecular bodies, such as individual atoms, organs, etc) Conversely, social fields tend to observe the behavior individual persons (i.e. components) to deduce overarching principles about greater society (i.e. "the whole").
2) One of the premises in studying nature is the assumption of uniformity. Under similar conditions, every hydrogen atom (or whatever) in Wisconsin, in 2014, should be expected to behave exactly the same as every hydrogen atom did in France three hundred years ago. The study of people is much different; observations made about senior citizens in California in the 1950's may have no relevance to observations about senior citizens in New Zealand in 2000. There can be no assumptions of uniformity when dealing with people, cultural values, social mores, etc... which is one of the things which makes "social philosophies" so interesting, but which may lead to flawed conclusions, when rigorous scientific methods are applied. Even the same individual may behave differently, if observed at different times. People are capable of illogical, novel, and inconsistent behavior -a complication which the natural sciences has never needed to control for.
3) Context. One of the great breakthroughs in science has been the practice of making objective observations about phenomena. Observers try to completely divorce themselves from extraneous associations which tend to complicate the formation of hypotheses. For example, when Newton describes the behavior of masses in motion, it doesn't particularly matter whether the mass is a stone or a box full of apples, etc. When studying the behavior of people, it is impossible to remove cultural context from the study, because behaviors are shaped by all sorts of associations which are in part the SUBJECT of the study.
Well, that's interesting and all, but so what? Who cares if humanistic studies aren't as well-suited to scientific analysis as the natural world?
That's what the second half of the book is about. Hayek develops his thesis that it was the misapplication of scientific thinking (or "scientistic thinking", as Hayek calls it) which led influential "social philosophers" like Henry Saint-Simon, Auguste Compte ("Father of Modern Sociology"), and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel to come to grotesque and flawed conclusions about the nature and fate of mankind. Worse still, just as technology is the practical application of hard science, social policies, "social engineering", governance, propaganda/advertising, and studies of social manipulation are the practical application of social sciences. Resting as they do on a flawed foundation, Hayek takes issue with how these fields have developed.
The idea of looking at individuals as uniform components of a "whole" (society) drew their philosophies away from Enlightenment ideals of individualism and liberty, and towards a worldview where individuals were themselves only consequential as beign part of a medium for greater historical principles to manifest. Saint-Simon's utopianism envisioned a society based entirely on the applied scientific principles of scientistic social philosophy... policies and laws were elements of "social technology", or applied social science, aimed at achieving "scientifically objective" social good (whatever that could possibly mean), with no regard for the desires or aptitudes of the individual, or for cultural values science could not incorporate or account for. What we end up with are grand social engineering schemes, which by their very nature cannot help but be authoritarian.
Sure enough, Hayek links the scientistic misunderstanding of man to 20th century totalitarianism, by showing how profoundly Karl Marx was affected by Compte, Hegel and Saint-Simon. To a lesser degree, "secular humanism" and other philosophical spinoffs of scientistic Sociology are observed in the liberal democratic/capitalistic West.
It's fascinating stuff... a bit out of my area, and very dry reading in parts, but worthwhile food for thought. I'm sure some of this is bound to be controversial, but don't expect me to respond to comments below; I'm not sure how I feel about parts of this book, and I'm definitely not versed in it well enough to engage anybody in debate. Just read it and post your own review.
Oh yeah- the part about Freemasons and central banks bringing about the apocalypse: it's veiled, but it's in there.