CLASSICAL LIBERALISM: THE BEST
OF POLITICAL CREEDS
Back to George's Views
It had been bothering me for some time now that I did not really have a clear grasp of the degree of separation between the conservative and the classical liberal. I suspected that it was not nearly as large as what some people made it out to be, and that both creeds dipped into the same pool of beliefs. Upon closer examination it becomes clear that to continue with the analogy they are dipping with differently-shaped ladles, made from different materials, and in opposite ends of the pool.
Being a self-proclaimed classical liberal, I had read with much attention George Watsons The Idea of Liberalism (1985); references in that book prompted me to look into the writings of two well-known, staunch British conservatives, Roger Scruton and Michael Oakeshott. Both men are quite forward and unambiguous in stating their beliefs and prejudices and they do not hesitate to criticize liberalism. For the expounder of the classical liberal view I turned to my favorite, Friedrich A. Hayek; I had his trilogy Law, Legislation and Liberty at hand from whence to draw quotations on the subject. I was surprised to discover that Hayek seldom even uses the term conservative, and rarely, if ever, engages in knocking it.
I was also fortunate to have on my shelf a
book of selected essays from the first twenty-five years of the quarterly Modern
Age. In there I found a very useful piece by Frank S. Meyer. While Scruton and
Oakeshott represent British conservatism, Meyer, a native of New Jersey, provides the
American flavor. Furthermore, Frank Meyer was for over a decade before and during WW
II a member of the Communist Party. After experiencing his intellectual and political
epiphany, he became a devoted and respected member of the American conservative movement.
Perhaps it is precisely because he came to conservatism in mid-life and as a convert from
the zealous ideology of communism that Meyer discerns conservatism and classical
liberalism without entrenched prejudice for or against either one. That makes his analysis
of the two philosophically related creeds the more honest and therefore very worthwhile.
To set the stage, then, I have drawn quotations from the following works, referred to in the text by numbers as shown below :
(1) The Meaning of Conservatism (1980), by
(1a) Chapter # 1 The Conservative Mind, and
(1b) Chapter #4 Law and Liberty
(2) Rationalism in Politics (1962), by
Essay: On being Conservative
(3) Freedom, Tradition, Conservatism (1960), by Frank S. Meyer
(4) Law, Legislation and Liberty (1973), by
Friedrich A. Hayek;
(4a) Vol. 1 Rules and Order
(4b) Vol. 2 The Mirage of Social Justice
(4c) Vol. 3 The Political Order of a Free People
I have also used a quote by W.E. Gladstone, from George Watsons The Idea of Liberalism, and a rare (for him) statement on conservatism by Friedrich A. Hayek, in the foreword to the 1976 edition of The Road to Serfdom.
Thousands of opinions, complimentary and inimical, have been expressed in thousands of different ways on what is conservatism and what is classical liberalism. Both sets of beliefs and attitudes are rather amorphous and lack easily definable dogmas. One can, as I am about to, start the discussion as one pleases.
Hayek characterizes classical liberalism as a doctrine that endeavors to guarantee individual liberty in a society governed by laws of just conduct.
(4a) Reason is merely a discipline, an insight into the limitations of the possibilities of successful action, which often will tell us only what not to do ... Liberalism for this reason restricts deliberate control of the overall order of society to the enforcement of such general rules as are necessary for the formation of a spontaneous order, the details of which we cannot foresee.
(4a) Classical liberalism rested on the belief that there existed discoverable principles of just conduct of universal applicability which could be recognized as just irrespective of the effects of their application on particular groups.
(4b) ... John Locke and his contemporaries derived the classical liberal conception of justice for which, as has been rightly said, it was only 'the way in which competition was carried on, not its results', that could be just or unjust.
The classical liberal values equal treatment under law as much as liberty. He is also keenly aware of one of the main vulnerabilities of democratic government which is to fall under the sway of influential special interests who hold some form of power in society and who therefore expect special privileges, including that of the right to rule. Hayek writes:
(4c) The most important of the crucial terms on which the meaning of the classical formulae of liberal constitution turned was the term 'Law'; ... To the founders of constitutionalism the term 'Law' had had a very precise narrow meaning. Only from limiting government by law in this sense was protection of individual liberty expected. The philosophers of law in the nineteenth century finally defined it as rules regulating the conduct of persons towards others, applicable to an unknown number of future instances and containing prohibitions delimiting (but of course not specifying) the boundaries of the protected domain of all persons and organized groups.
In the democratic political arena of the real world, there always are present special interest groups which compete for influence in, and control of, the legislative body. A politician of the classical liberal kind must therefore exercise vigilance in the interests of equal treatment under law for all citizens; this must inescapably color his politics with a shade of what is known as populism. George Watson explains in The Idea of Liberalism how W. E. Gladstone, the Liberal Prime Minister, saw the situation:
"All the world over," Gladstone proclaimed in a speech in Liverpool in 1886, "I will back the masses against the classes". Watson explains that: 'Neither term meant what it now means. By the masses Gladstone meant ordinary men, then recently enfranchised; by the classes, an establishment of entrenched interests such as professional bodies, elites, unions and clubs. Gladstone is rejecting the socialist doctrine of class, which could be Tory too. The remark notably summarizes democratic liberalism ...'.
The conservatives have also tried to define themselves. They too proclaim the same adherence to the rule of law, like the liberals, but their fealty stresses submission to its authority rather than its role as guardian of liberty .
(1b) Since the Enlightenment, it has seemed quite natural to suppose that the cause of individual liberty is what is at issue in every question of law the conservative is in no way forced to accept it. It is the quintessence of the Enlightenment concept that the well-being of man is freedom, and that all government is valid only as a means to that end. ... The conservative view begins from a conflicting premise, which is that the abstract ideal of autonomy, however admirable, is radically incomplete. Men have free will But the form of freedom requires a content. Freedom is of no use to a being who lacks the concepts with which to value things, who lives in a solipsistic vacuum, idly willing now this now that, but with no conception of an objective order that would be affected by his choice.
(1b) The conservative view of law will therefore pay special attention to the constitutional artifact known as the rule of law. The rule of law is the sign of a successful constitution for it is a sign that all exercise of power can be described and criticized in legal terms. It is an essential feature of the conservative state that this rule of law should prevail, because the power of state and the authority of law should be ultimately one and the same. The power of state achieves its full dressing of authority only when it is constituted in law. political dispute is always represented by conservatives in legal terms. ... it is through law that the conservative seeks his solution rather than through the confrontation of subject powers.
However, the conservative has always preferred enforcing the prevailing rules of conduct to amending them, if such amendments would threaten the entrenched power structure. They do not like, as characterized by Scruton, the chronic reform that a liberal supposedly engages in.
(1a) Conservatism is a stance that may be defined without identifying it with the policies of any party. Indeed, it may be a stance that appeals to a person for whom the whole idea of party is distasteful. In one of the first political manifestos of the English Conservative Party, appeal was explicitly made to that great and intelligent class of society which is far less interested in the contentions of party, than in the maintenance of order and the cause of good government (Peel, The Tamworth Manifesto, 1834). from this aversion to factional politics the Conservative Party grew. But it was an aversion rapidly overcome by another: that towards the chronic reform which only an organized party can successfully counter.
And, although conservatives may regard themselves, with some pride, as being without a definable dogma, they do hold a set of intrinsic values that actually echo with the traditions of a social hierarchy descending from ancient tribalism. They defer to the patricians that great and intelligent class of society. Theirs are very Platonic sentiments, disdainful of change.
(1a) One major difference between conservatism and liberalism consists, therefore, in the fact that, for the conservative, the value of individual liberty is not absolute, but stands subject to another and higher value, the authority of established government. what satisfies people politically is not freedom, but congenital government. Government is the primary need of every man subject to the discipline of social intercourse, and freedom the name of at least one of his anxieties.
(1a) It is through an ideal of authority that the conservative experiences the political world. His liberal opponent, whose view is likely to be ahistorical, will usually fail to understand that notion, he seeks to impose his rootless prejudices.
(1a) conservatism is characteristically inarticulate, unwilling (and indeed usually unable) to translate itself into formulae or maxims, loath to state its purpose or declare its view. conservatism becomes conscious only when forced to be so conservatism arises directly from the sense that one belongs to some continuing, and pre-existing social order, a club, society, class, community, church, regiment or nation a man may feel towards all these things that institutional stance in feeling thus engaged in the continuity of his social world a man stands in the current of some common life. The conservative instinct is founded in the individuals sense of his societys will to live.
Todays conservative expresses a strong antipathy toward everything liberal, with justification, insofar as it is directed at the perverted modern-day pseudo-liberalism. However, much of the criticism directed at classical liberalism is unwarranted. Scruton actually damns the liberal influence which he sees as having also polluted the aims of the Conservative Party, as is evident in the next quote. He also belittles the idea of freedom, calling it the great social artifact, and identifies liberalism (not socialism, for good reasons) as the principal enemy.
(1a) the Conservative Party has often acted in a way with which a conservative may find little sympathy. Most of all, it has begun to see itself as the defender of individual freedom against the encroachment of the state, concerned to return to the people their natural right of choice, and to inject into every corporate body the healing principle of democracy. These are passing fashions, well-meant, not always misguided, but by no means the intellectual expression of the conservative point of view. The result has been the wholesale adoption of the philosophy which I shall characterize in this book as the principal enemy of conservatism, the philosophy of liberalism, with all its attendant trappings of individual autonomy and the natural rights of man. In politics, the conservative attitude seeks above all for government, and regards no citizen as possessed of a natural right that transcends his obligation to be ruled.
(1b) Individual freedom is the great social artifact which, in trying to represent itself as nature alone, generates the myth of liberalism.
The American conservative, Meyer, is more moderate in his criticism, but nevertheless, the criticism is unfounded as far as classical liberalism is concerned. Meyer too bears animosity for the philosophy and Utopian constructions of classical liberalism.
(3) Closely related to the false antithesis between reason and tradition that distorts the dialogue between the libertarian emphasis and the traditional emphasis among conservatives is our historical inheritance of the nineteenth-century European struggle between classical liberalism and a conservatism that was too often rigidly authoritarian. Granted there is much in classical liberalism that conservatives must reject its philosophical foundations, its tendency towards Utopian constructions, its disregard (explicitly, though by no means implicitly) of tradition; granted that it is the source of much that is responsible for the plight of the twentieth century: but its championship of freedom and its development of political and economic theories directed towards the assurance of freedom have contributed to our heritage concepts which we need to conserve and develop as surely as we need to reject the utilitarian ethics and the secular progressivism that classical liberalism has also passed on to us.
Meyer, however, acknowledges that conservatism carries some unpleasant baggage, the same that Hayek describes in the foreword to The Road to Serfdom (1976).
(3) Nineteenth-century conservatism, with all its understanding of the pre-eminence of virtue and value, for all its piety towards the continuing tradition of mankind, was far too cavalier to the claims of freedom, far too ready to subordinate the individual person to the authority of state or society.
Hayek(1976): Conservatism, though a necessary element in any stable society, is not a social program; in its paternalistic, nationalistic, and power-adoring tendencies it is often closer to socialism than true liberalism; and with its traditionalistic, anti-intellectual, and often mystical propensities it will never, except in short periods of disillusionment, appeal to the young and all those others who believe that some changes are desirable if this world is to become a better place.
A conservative movement, by its very nature, is bound to be a defender of established privilege and to lean on the power of government for the protection of privilege. The essence of the liberal position, however, is the denial of all privilege, if privilege is understood in its proper and original meaning of the state granting and protecting rights to some which are not available on equal terms to others.
The most hurtful and outrageous attack by the conservatives on the classical liberals concerns societal and private morals: conservatives claim that classical liberalism has abetted their degradation. Yet, even as he throws these accusations at the liberal, one must wonder about the moral stance of the conservative himself. Judging from the contradictory quotes below, it appears that the conservative uses moral rules in a cynical, pragmatic, utilitarian fashion do as I say, not necessarily as I do as another tool to enforce order and good government. In the quotes below, a conservative is not concerned with moral right and wrong, he recognizes the utility of an official religion of the state that can be put to good use by government, and yet to him private morality and public decency are of urgent political concern.
On the one hand ...
(2) At all events the disposition to be conservative in respect of government is rooted in the belief that where government rests upon the acceptance of the current activities and beliefs of its subjects, the only appropriate manner of ruling is by making and enforcing rules of conduct. It is not concerned with moral right and wrong, it is not designed to make men good or even better; it is not indispensable on account of the natural depravity of mankind but merely because of their current disposition to be extravagant; its business is to keep its subjects at peace with one another in the activities in which they have chosen to seek their happiness. a government which does not sustain the loyalty of its subjects is worthless; and one which is indifferent to truth and error alike, and merely pursues peace, presents no obstacle to the necessary loyalty.
(2) what makes a conservative disposition in politics is nothing to do with a natural law or a providential order, nothing to do with morals or religion; it is the observation of our current manner of living combined with the belief (which from our point of view need be regarded as no more than a hypothesis) that government is a specific and limited activity, namely the provision and custody of general rules of conduct which it is appropriate to be conservative about. in respect of governing and the instruments of government a conservative disposition is to be found in the acceptance of the current condition of human circumstances
(2) Indeed, a disposition to be conservative in respect of government would seem to be preeminently appropriate to men who know the value of a rule which imposes orderliness without directing enterprise, a rule which concentrates duty so that room is left for delight. They might even be prepared to suffer a legally established ecclesiastical order; but it would not be because they believed it to represent some unassailable religious truth, but merely because it restrained the indecent competition of sects
... but, on the other hand ...
(1b) It is only an exaggeratedly liberal view of politics that can refuse to see that matters of private morality and public decency are connected, and that both are of urgent political concern.
(1b) a conservative stance towards civil society might begin to translate itself, without violence to its sense of the legitimate activity of state, into laws which seriously restrict what some would call the freedom of the citizen. And these laws make no reference to harmful consequences; or if they do it is only because harm is being redefined in the process. Men extend their idea of harm to cover such difficult conceptions as those of innocence and maturity we embody in the concept of harm precisely the moral and social sentiment which the liberal wished to remove from it. the sense of a common moral order is the greatest force which reconciles [the] majority to eccentricities that it can neither understand nor emulate. Pursued for its own sake, and in defiance of civil feeling, liberalization must breed resentment, whether in Christian Europe or in Islamic Iran.
Frank Meyer is less acerbic on the issue and ends with a statement urging reconciliation between conservatives and those who called themselves liberals in the nineteenth century. He is very wrong, however, to place Hayek and Mises in the previous century; both men are of this century and made their giant intellectual contributions to mankind in this century. And although Meyers use of the past tense with reference to these liberals suggests that they are now extinct, I fervently hope that classical liberalism will experience resurgence as a distinct political force, unfettered by the shackles of conservatism.
(3) As [classical liberalism] developed the economic and political doctrines of limited state power, the free-market economy and the freedom of the individual person, it sapped, by its utilitarianism, the foundations of belief in an organic moral order. But the only possible basis of respect for the integrity of the individual person and for the overriding value of his freedom is belief in an organic moral order. Without such belief, no doctrine of political and economic liberty can stand.
(3) On the other hand, the same error in reverse vitiated the thought of nineteenth-century conservatives. They respected the authority of God and of truth as conveyed in tradition, but too often they imbued the authoritarianism of men and institutions with the sacred aura of divine authority. They gave way to the temptation to make of tradition, which in its rightful role serves as a guide to the operation of reason, a weapon with which to suppress reason. Sound though they were on the essentials of mans being, on his destiny to virtue and his responsibility to seek it, on his duty in the moral order, they failed too often to realize that the political condition of moral fulfillment is freedom from coercion.
(3) The historical fact is and it adds to the complexity of our problems that the great tradition of the West has come to us through the nineteenth century, split, bifurcated, so that we must draw not only upon those who called themselves conservatives in that century but also upon those who called themselves liberals. The economists of the liberal British tradition, from Adam Smith through and beyond the vilified Manchesterians, like the Austrian economists from Menger and Boehm-Bawerk to Mises and Hayek, analyzed the conditions of industrial society and established the principles upon which the colossal power that it produces can be developed for the use of man without nurturing a monstrous Leviathan. Without their mighty intellectual endeavor, we should be disarmed before the collectivist economics of Marx, Keynes, and Galbraith. And in the sphere of political theory, who has surpassed the nineteenth-century liberals in their prophetic understanding of the looming dangers of the all-powerful state? Conservatives today can reject neither side of their nineteenth-century heritage; they must draw upon both.
Conservatives at least concede that it was the classical liberals who warned the world about the looming dangers of the all-powerful state in the economic domain, but they do not seem to be listening to what the classical liberals have to say about their attitude toward morality, and who they think are responsible for the degenerative trends in the morality of the public and of institutions. The following quotes from Hayek provide some insight into how a classical liberal views the problems that have afflicted liberalism in particular and democratic government in general. Classical liberalism is the victim and not the perpetrator of the ills that the conservatives ascribe to it.
(4a) Freedom will only prevail if it is accepted as a general principle whose application to particular instances requires no justification. It is thus a misunderstanding to blame classical liberalism for having been too doctrinaire. Its defect was not that it adhered too stubbornly to principles, but rather that it lacked principles sufficiently definite to provide clear guidance, and that it often appeared simply to accept the traditional functions of government and to oppose all new ones. Consistency is possible only if definite principles are accepted. But the concept of liberty with which the liberals of the nineteenth century operated was in many respects so vague that it did not provide clear guidance.
(4a) The expression liberty under the law, which at one time perhaps conveyed the essential point [of a free system] better then any other, has become almost meaningless because both liberty and law no longer have a clear meaning. And the only term that in the past was widely and correctly understood, namely liberalism has, as a supreme but unintended compliment been appropriated by the opponents of this ideal.
In the above two quotes Hayek implies that classical liberalism was actually very close to conservatism in that it too operated with vague, undefined concepts of freedom and liberty. It is not much of a stretch to speculate that it was precisely this doctrinal fuzziness that left liberalism undefended from invasion by the ideological left.
(4b) the main difference between the order of society at which classical liberalism aimed and the sort of society into which it is now being transformed is that the former was governed by principles of just individual conduct while the new society is to satisfy the demands for 'social justice' ... the former demanded just action by the individuals while the latter more and more places the duty of justice on authorities with power to command people what to do.
(4b) ... after a period of ascendancy of conceptions which have made the vision of an Open Society possible, we are relapsing rapidly into the conceptions of the tribal society from which we have been slowly emerging.
(4b) The submergence of classical liberalism under the inseparable forces of socialism and nationalism is the consequence of the revival of those tribal sentiments.
(4c) Socialist ideas have so deeply penetrated general thought that it is not even only those pseudo-liberals who merely disguise their socialism by the name they have assumed, but also many conservatives who have assumed socialist ideas and language and constantly employ them in the belief that they are an established part of current thought.
In the above four quotes Hayek identifies tribalism, socialism, its tool for coercion - social justice, and nationalism as the social poisons which have entered the political body of democracies. No parts of the body have been immune from it. That is why, with great irony, Hayek dedicated his famous work, The Road to Serfdom, to the socialists of all parties. As a matter of fact, the conservatives find the hierarchical and authoritarian aspects of tribalism appealing to their predisposition for traditional values. There is thus a nexus between conservatives and socialism which was openly acknowledged in the nineteenth century. Both the conservative and socialist sentiments have common roots in the frigid tribal totalitarianism of Plato (see The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 1, by Karl R. Popper).
The following several quotes deal with law and morals. Far from being the amoralists that conservatives accuse classical liberals to be, Hayeks statements stress the importance a liberal places in the moral rules of a society and their role in common law adjudication. And, with the conservative, the liberal draws a line beyond which the state cannot go to legislate private morality.
(4b) There can ... be no absolute system of morals independent of the kind of social order in which a person lives, and the obligation incumbent upon us, to follow certain rules derives from the benefits we owe to the order in which we live.
(4b) it is in no sense a necessary truth that laws reproduce or satisfy certain demands for morality ...
(4b) ... in some instances the judge may have to refer to the existing moral rules in order to find out what the law is ...
(4b) The law of all countries is full of such references to prevailing moral convictions to which the judge can give content only on the basis of his knowledge of these moral beliefs.
(4b) within a spontaneous order the use of coercion can be justified only where it is necessary to secure the private domain of the individual against interference by others, but that coercion should not be used to interfere in that private sphere where this is not necessary to protect others. Law serves a social order, i.e. the relations between individuals, and actions which affect nobody but the individuals who perform them ought not to be subject to the control of law, however strongly they may be regulated by custom and morals.
(4b) the difference between moral and legal rules is not between rules which have spontaneously grown and rules which have been deliberately made; for most of the rules of law also have not been deliberately made in the first instance. Rather, it is a distinction between rules to which the recognized procedure of enforcement by appointed authority ought to apply and those to which it should not.
The next set of many quotes clearly demonstrates Hayeks absolute antipathy to, and condemnation of, the concept of so-called social justice, which has become the fashionable moral hobby-horse for all politicians, including many a conservative. Hayeks kind of classical liberalism would given the chance declare the concept of social justice invalid and do away with it.
(4b) society, in the strict sense in which it must be distinguished from the apparatus of government, is incapable of acting for a specific purpose, and the demand for 'social justice' therefore becomes a demand that the members of society should organize themselves in a manner which makes it possible to assign particular shares of the product of society to the different individuals or groups. But the prior question is whether it is moral that men be subjected to the powers of direction that would have to be exercised in order that the benefits derived by the individuals could be meaningfully described as just or unjust.
(4b) The commitment to 'social justice' has in fact become the chief outlet for moral emotion, the distinguishing attribute of the good man, and the recognized sign of the possession of a moral conscience.
(4b) ... there can be no doubt that moral and religious beliefs can destroy a civilization and that, where such doctrines prevail, not only the most cherished beliefs but also the most revered moral leaders, sometimes saintly figures whose unselfishness is beyond question, may become grave dangers to the values which the same people regard as unshakable.
(4b) It seems to be widely believed that 'social justice' is just a new moral value which we must add to those that we recognized in the past ...
(4b) ... the striving for ['social justice'] will lead to the destruction of the indispensable environment in which the traditional moral values alone can flourish, namely personal freedom.
(4b) ... the kind of 'moral socialism' that is possible in the small group and often satisfies a deeply ingrained instinct may well be impossible in the Great Society.
(4b) ... the great moral adventure on which modern man has embarked when he launched into the Open Society is threatened when he is required to apply to all his fellow men rules which are appropriate only to the fellow members of a tribal group.
(4b) the ubiquitous dependence on other people's power, which the enforcement of any image of 'social justice' creates, inevitably destroys the freedom of personal decisions on which all morals must rest.
Hayek warns that what he calls the modern Great Society, or Open Society (Karl Poppers term) which classical liberalism had endeavored to build, is being dismantled in material and in moral terms by the popular pursuit of social justice.
(4b) ... the greatest crimes of our time have been committed by governments that had the enthusiastic support of millions of people who were guided by moral impulses. ... Some of them certainly believed that they were engaged in the creation of a just society in which the needs of the most deserving or 'socially most valuable' would be better cared for.
(4b) We ... regard it as really better to help one starving man we know than to relieve the acute need of a hundred men we do not know; but in fact we generally are doing most good by pursuing gain.
(4b) The moral progress by which we have moved towards the Open Society, that is, the extension of the obligation to treat alike, not only members of our tribe but persons of ever wider circles and ultimately all men, had to be bought at the price of an attenuation of the enforceable duty to aim deliberately at the well-being of the other members of the same group. When we can no longer know the others or the circumstances under which they live, such a duty becomes a psychological and intellectual impossibility. ... It would therefore not be really surprising if the first attempt of man to emerge from the tribal into an open society should fail because man is not yet ready to shed moral views developed for the tribal society; ...
(4b) the ideals of socialism (or of 'social justice') ... are an atavism, a vain attempt to impose upon the Open Society the morals of the tribal society which, if it prevails, must ... destroy the Great Society...
(4c) Only limited government can be decent government, because there does not exist (and cannot exist) general moral rules for the assignments of particular benefits ...
(4c) the necessity of constantly wooing splinter groups produces in the end purely fortuitous moral standards and often leads people to believe that the favoured social groups are really specially deserving because they are regularly singled out for special benefits.
(4c) Nobody with open eyes can any longer doubt that the danger to personal freedom comes chiefly from the left, not because of any particular ideals it pursues, but because the various socialist movements are the only large organized bodies which, for aims which appeal to many, want to impose upon society a preconceived design. This must lead to the extinction of all moral responsibility of the individual..
(4c) The only moral principle which has ever made the growth of an advanced civilization possible was the principle of individual freedom, which means that the individual is guided in his decisions by rules of just conduct and not by specific commands.
(4c) Ethics is not a matter of choice. We have not designed it and cannot design it. ... The rules which we learn to observe are the result of cultural evolution.
(4c) There is ... so far as present society is concerned, no 'natural goodness, because with his innate instincts man could never have built the civilization on which the numbers of present mankind depend for their lives. To be able to do so, he had to shed many sentiments that were good for the small band, and to submit to the sacrifices which the discipline of freedom demands but which he hates. The abstract society rests on learnt rules and not on pursuing perceived desirable common objects: and wanting to do good to known people will not achieve the most for the community, but only the observation of its abstract and seemingly purposeless rules.
(4c) ... if the illusion of social justice must be sooner or later disappointed, the most destructive of the constructivistic morals is egalitarianism. An egalitarian distribution would necessarily remove all basis for the individual's decision how they are to fit themselves into the pattern of general activities and leave only outright command as the foundation of all order.
(4c) While the realization of socialism would make the scope of private moral conduct dwindle, the political necessity of gratifying all demands of large groups must lead to the degeneration and destruction of all morals.
Finally, Hayek condemns the moral turpitude that afflicts our society today in the strongest terms, calling its product non-domesticated savages who represent themselves as alienated from something they have never learnt, and even undertake to construct a counter-culture.
(4c) Morals presuppose a striving for excellence and the recognition that in this some succeed better than others, without inquiring for the reasons which we can never know.
(4c) Democratic morals may demand a presumption that a person will conduct himself honestly and decently until he proves the contrary - but they cannot require us to suspend that essential discipline [rules of conduct] without destroying moral beliefs.
(4c) In 1946 the late [Canadian psychiatrist] Dr G. B. Chisholm in a work praised by high American legal authority, advocated 'the eradication of the concept of right and wrong which has been the basis of child training, the substitution of intelligent and rational thinking for the faith in the certainties of old people [...since] most psychiatrists and psychologists and many other respectable people have escaped from these moral chains and are able to observe and think freely.'
(4c) It is the harvest of these seeds which we are now gathering. Those non-domesticated savages who represent themselves as alienated from something they have never learnt, and even undertake to construct a 'counter-culture', are the necessary product of the permissive education which fails to pass on the burden of culture, and trusts to the natural instincts which are the instincts of the savage.
(4c) What can we expect from a generation who grew up during the fifty years during which the English intellectual scene was dominated by a figure [J. M. Keynes] who had publicly pronounced that he always had been and would remain an immoralist.
(4c) If our civilization survives, which it will do only if it renounces those [constructivistic rationalist] errors, I believe men will look back on our age as an age of superstition, chiefly connected with the names of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. I believe people will discover that the most widely held ideas which dominated the twentieth century, those of a planned economy with a just distribution, a freeing ourselves from repressions and conventional morals, of permissive education as a way to freedom, and the replacement of the market by a rational arrangement of a body with coercive powers, were all based on superstitions in the strict sense of the word ... the twentieth century was certainly an outstanding age of superstition. ... Ironically, these superstitions are largely an effect of our inheritance from the Age of Reason, the great enemy of all that it regarded as superstitions.
It is obvious that a classical liberal who thinks like Hayek (and that is the only kind worthy of the label) doesnt need to take lessons in morality private or public from anyone, least of all from the conservative whose predilection for authoritarian enforcement of morals is very much like that of the socialist, and where both conservative and socialist, each in their own way, are the modern-day disciples of Platonic tribal morality.
To conclude, I want to repeat, with modifications, portions of two quotes of Meyer. The first is that classical liberals not only developed, but continue to develop the economic and political doctrines of limited state power, the free-market economy and the freedom of the individual person. The second is that the conservatives still today respect the authority of God and of truth as conveyed in tradition, but imbue the authoritarianism of men and institutions with the sacred aura of divine authority.
One must wonder whether conservatism consists of anything more than a wish for the status quo and aversion to any change, no matter how salutary. Hayek calls it a necessary element in any stable society, but not a social program. Hayek notes that conservatism tends to be paternalistic, nationalistic, and power-adoring; so does socialism, but not classical liberalism. Conservatism is a necessary element in society, but it is only just that and no more, let alone a political doctrine.
Classical liberalism contains many conservative elements, but it is a proactive doctrine built around the core value of liberty under the rule of law. The classical liberal is prepared to innovate in order to improve the institutions which safeguard that core value. One major task for the classical liberals of the future is to take up the challenge posed by Karl R. Popper: in order to fortify our political institutions from misuse and abuse by bad rulers, we must re-construct them according to plans that first settle the question of How shall we guarantee control of the rulers? before the old traditional question of "Who shall be the rulers?" is considered.
Modern-day classical liberals have excelled
in governing, but they have had to do so under the conservative label. President Ronald
Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are both admirers and students of Hayek and
both are classical liberals in the truest sense. In the United States of America there are
literally thousands of politicians whose ideological trappings are drawn from classical
liberalism, but who, of necessity, must co-habit with arch-conservatives in the Republican
Party. It is to be hoped that classical liberals of the future will be able to march
proudly under their own political banner.
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