A Demand for Encompassment: a hayekian experimental parable about political psychology

Document Type



Durkheim; effervescence; encompassment; Friedrich Hayek; political psychology; the people’s romance; A13; H89; Z1

Identifier Data



Sage Journals

Publication Source

Rationality and Society, 27(1), 70-95


Emile Durkheim said that when all of the members of a tribe or clan come together, they can sanctify the sacred and experience a spiritual “effervescence.” Friedrich Hayek suggested that certain genes and instincts still dispose us toward the ethos and mentality of the hunter-gatherer band and that modern forms of political collectivism have, in part, been atavistic reassertions of such tendencies. Picking up on Hayek, Daniel Klein has suggested a combination of yearnings: (1) a yearning for coordinated sentiment (like Smithian sympathy) and (2) a yearning that the sentiment encompasses “the people,” that is, some focal and seemingly definitive set of “we.” This article reports on an experiment designed to explore the demand for encompassment by having subjects sing together. In each trial, one person in the room was designated not to sing unless every one of the others in the room had made a payment sufficient so as to have that person sing. Our evidence of a demand for encompassment is threefold: Subjects chose to sacrifice money to achieve encompassment 47.4% of the time, with 59.6% of the subjects doing so in at least one trial. An exit questionnaire showed that subjects’ chief reason for making such a sacrifice was a belief that the singing would be more enjoyable if it encompassed the whole group. Furthermore, the subjects reported significantly higher enjoyment when they had experienced encompassment. We are well aware of the significant differences between the situation of the experiment and the situation of actual political life. We nonetheless discuss the experiment as a parable for a penchant toward political collectivism, a parable that helps to clarify the role of encompassment in the sentimental facets of Hayek’s ideas about the psychology of political collectivism.