Meredith L. Patterson (maradydd) wrote,
Meredith L. Patterson

The Quotable Hayek

I feel like the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek gets a bad rap from today's liberals and progressives, mainly because his support of free markets (particularly free global markets) made him the darling of Republicans from the beginning and especially the Reagan administration. I recently re-read his essay "Why I am Not A Conservative", which along with his famous The Road to Serfdom is what made me fall in love with him in the first place. Reading them, I came to realise that Hayek's principles place two values at the top: liberty and evidence-based reasoning. Reality is his ultimate arbiter, the scientific method his methodology, and maximising individual freedom his foremost goal. His support of free markets comes from a long, hard study of different societies, their economies, and the freedoms their citizens enjoy. He's not talking about the keep-the-poor-in-their-place "not with my tax dollars!" take on freedom that many tea-partiers espouse, either, as these quotes from The Road to Serfdom show:

There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision.

The preservation of competition [is not] incompatible with an extensive system of social services -- so long as the organization of those services is not designed in such a way as to make competition ineffective over wide fields.

I wanted to tweet a bunch of Hayek quotes, but he doesn't condense well. So that's what blogs are for. Imma let him finish, with the following choice bits from "Why I Am Not A Conservative". (Where he says "liberal" you may wish to read "libertarian", though that is not the term he would have used.)

On science, spirituality, and morality:

Though the liberal certainly does not regard all change as progress, he does regard the advance of knowledge as one of the chief aims of human effort and expects from it the gradual solution of such problems and difficulties as we can hope to solve. Without preferring the new merely because it is new, the liberal is aware that it is of the essence of human achievement that it produces something new; and he is prepared to come to terms with new knowledge, whether he likes its immediate effects or not.

I can have little patience with those who oppose, for instance, the theory of evolution or what are called "mechanistic" explanations of the phenomena of life because of certain moral consequences which at first seem to follow from these theories, and still less with those who regard it as irrelevant or impious to ask certain questions at all. By refusing to face the facts, the conservative only weakens his own position.

Should our moral beliefs really prove to be dependent on factual assumptions shown to be incorrect, it would hardly be moral to defend them by refusing to acknowledge facts.

What distinguishes the liberal from the conservative here is that, however profound his own spiritual beliefs, he will never regard himself as entitled to impose them on others and that for him the spiritual and the temporal are different sphere which ought not to be confused.

On diversity and tolerance:

When I say that the conservative lacks principles, I do not mean to suggest that he lacks moral conviction. The typical conservative is indeed usually a man of very strong moral convictions. What I mean is that he has no political principles which enable him to work with people whose moral values differ from his own for a political order in which both can obey their convictions. It is the recognition of such principles that permits the coexistence of different sets of values that makes it possible to build a peaceful society with a minimum of force. The acceptance of such principles means that we agree to tolerate much that we dislike.

I have little doubt that some of my conservative friends will be shocked by what they will regard as "concessions" to modern views that I have made in Part III of this book. But, though I may dislike some of the measures concerned as much as they do and might vote against them, I know of no general principles to which I could appeal to persuade those of a different view that those measures are not permissible in the general kind of society which we both desire.

[T]he most conspicuous attribute of liberalism that distinguishes it as much from conservatism as from socialism is the view that moral beliefs concerning matters of conduct which do not directly interfere with the protected sphere of other persons do not justify coercion.

[T]he more a person dislikes the strange and thinks his own ways superior, the more he tends to regard it as his mission to "civilize" other - not by the voluntary and unhampered intercourse which the liberal favors, but by bringing them the blessings of efficient government.

[T]he fact that I prefer and feel reverence for some of the traditions of my society need not be the cause of hostility to what is strange and different.

On institutionalised power, coercion, and privilege (in 1960, guys!):

While the conservative inclines to defend a particular established hierarchy and wishes authority to protect the status of those whom he values, the liberal feels that no respect for established values can justify the resort to privilege or monopoly or any other coercive power of the state in order to shelter such people against the forces of economic change.

On why you should choose your allies carefully:

This difference between liberalism and conservatism must not be obscured by the fact that in the United States it is still possible to defend individual liberty by defending long-established institutions. To the liberal they are valuable not mainly because they are long established or because they are American but because they correspond to the ideals which he cherishes.

On conservatives' resistance to change versus liberals' readiness to adapt to change:

[Conservatism] by its very nature cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing. The tug of war between conservatives and progressives can only affect the speed, not the direction, of contemporary developments. [....] What the liberal must ask, first of all, is not how fast or how far we should move, but where we should move.

The admiration of the conservatives for free growth generally applies only to the past. They typically lack the courage to welcome the same undesigned change from which new tools of human endeavors will emerge.

(Particularly relevant to the emergence of free/open-source software, neh? And along the same lines:)

[O]ne of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such, while the liberal position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead.
Tags: civics, economics, stuff i found on the internet

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