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On Politics and Archetypes and the ‘Collective’ Failure to Mature: Part the Second

2010/07/28

The Road To Serfdom: F. A. Hayek

Hayek’s classic opus is edited by Bruce Caldwell in a superb edition.  It has been awaiting it’s turn on your host’s shelf for about a year.  Slow-going working through the pages.  Not that Hayek is abstruse or verbose, but rather so very accessible that a gazillion parallels and related thoughts pop to mind as one reads. […that is, if one is seriously ADD – Ed.]

First thoughts:  Hayek initially lays out context and definitions.  His principle ideas are Liberty (as Liberalism) and variants of Collectivism, especially Socialism (as both theoretical policy and applied method.)  He develops historical patterns of the imposition of socialist life in Germany and then Britain.

As an economist, Hayek doesn’t comment on the underlying causal psychological phenomena of collectivism but focusses instead on the political and economic manifestations of the disease. He also avoids discussion of Liberty’s underpinning in Faith.

There is nothing in the basic principles of liberalism to make it a stationary creed; there are no hard-and-fast rules fixed once and for all.  The fundamental principle that in the ordering of our affairs we should make as much use as possible of the spontaneous forces of society, and resort as little as possible to coercion, is capable of an infinite variety of application.” (p.70)

Two things: First, Hayek’s experiential European context was flooded with ideas of society and the social contract and of ordering…  For those of us with an American libertarian mindset, we would phrase it rather as “we should make as much use as possible of the emergent capabilities of the individual, and resort as little as possible to coercion, is capable of an infinite variety of application.”

Secondly, there is indeed a basic first-principle of Liberty, one that drives the debate between modern Conservatives and Libertarians:  Conservatives see the prerequisite for moral self-restraint according to the dictates of Faith.  Hayek’s understanding of liberalism would be more in fashion with variants of modern libertarianism sans discussion of faith or religiosity.

In his discussion of (classical) liberalism and socialism, he notes that both ideological viewpoints have in common a passion for freedom.  Well into Chapter Three, Hayek still has not described that critical difference, for it is not indeed a comparison.  In the conservative-libertarian view, freedom is the freedom to – to act with undue regulatory restraint or confiscatory taxation: In the collectivist view, freedom is the freedom from – especially from personal cost, from individual failure or responsibility.

At Chapter Three, Hayek is still not at the point of describing socialism for what it functionally is: A cynical marketing tool for acquisition of complete power.  (When comrade Stalin discussed the revolution’s “useful idiots” he succinctly described the entire game.)

To this point in the book Hayek’s strength has been in describing “planning” and it’s corrosive effects.  He also describes competition:  That modern liberty is about the freedom to compete.  For this alone the entire book is priceless.

Your host is still but a third of the way into the book. It has been the best read in many years. More later.  Cheers!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. 2010/07/28 14:05

    When you finish that, may I suggest Milton and Rose Friedman’s “Free to Choose”?

    (You’ve probably already read it. If so, my apologies.)

  2. 2010/07/29 16:46

    Interesting how two little words, to and from, can make such a critical difference .

    Quote: we should make as much use as possible of the spontaneous forces of society,

    Most convenient for those who can spontaneously grab power when the time is right.

    I’ll put this on my reading list. Ran, if you like to read about Israel and Palestine, I suggest Joan Peters’ From Time Immemorial. (not that you asked:-)

    • 2010/07/29 17:41

      Liberty Belle!
      Thanks for the input.

      Or… “we should make as much use as possible of the spontaneous farces of society,” rather. This farce is played-out enough that we, the audience, know the ending if we don’t stop the play. It isn’t about “social justice”, it’s about tyranny… that’s the farce. High time to fire the director, send home the clowns.

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