I recently had the opportunity to read a whole boat load of F.A. Hayek. Constitution of Liberty; The Use of Knowledge in Society; Law, Legislation and Liberty; and more. This in depth rereading of Hayek helped me resolve a certain sociological puzzle concerning the Austrian economist’s reputation. How could he be the patron saint of laissez-faire while saying very nice things about welfare states and attracting positive commentary from a range of liberal and radical thinkers, such as Foucault?
Here is my answer: I think Hayek’s work resides on a boundary between libertarian social theory and modern liberalism. I’m going to argue that Hayek is the least libertarian you can be and still be, sort of, a libertarian. Because he is not a libertarian in the modern sense of grounding things strongly in terms of individual rights, it’s easy for non-libertarians to find a connection.
Exhibit A: Hayek never lays out a theory of freedom based on individual rights the way many libertarians do. For example, in Constitution of Liberty, he doesn’t start with natural rights and he doesn’t start with a utilitarian justification of freedom. Rather, for him, freedom is about autonomy. Given certain choices, does someone have a sphere of independent judgment free from coercion from others? Thus, this version of freedom is compatible with state policies that try to increase this private sphere of judgment. Also, he frequently emphasizes equality under the law and rule of law as prime virtues, even if they don’t enhance freedom in the everyday sense of the word.
Exhibit B: The Road to Serfdom. It’s a text that is more talked about than read. But if you read it, you discover that it is not an argument against every single form of state intervention. Rather, it’s mainly an argument against Soviet style command economies and Westerners who want to nationalize various industries in the name of equality. Secondarily, he also wants to reign in state regulators who wish to wish to coerce people for their own bureaucratically determined goals.
Exhibit C: In other writings, he endorsed a basic income. And he does argue for the legitimacy of taxation. See Matt Zwolinski’s essay on this topic. He argues that these policies were likely justified for Hayek because they increase personal autonomy (see Exhibit A) and I think they were ok in Hayek’s view because they were less about top down ordering of the economy or administrative tyranny and more about allocating resources to everyone in ways that could help them expand their freedom (Exhibit B).
Exhibit D: Spontaneous order theory. Basically, a whole lot of Hayek’s later social theory is about arguing why social structures can still work and are desirable if they are not top down command structures. That doesn’t lead immediately to libertarianism because you can have spontaneous order that has nothing to do with freedom in either Hayek’s view or the more modern libertarian view. For example, systems of race relations are not top down structures, but they often restrain people in cruel ways.
Taken together, Exhibits A, B, C and D paint an intellectual who has the following traits: (a) Very, very anti-socialist; (b) has a version of freedom that is very agnostic with respect to the wide range of policies that are not socialist; (c) provides grounds for both conservative and liberal policies via a respect for tradition/spontaneous order and freedom/autonomy expansion. It’s a very modest form of libertarianism that gives away a lot of ground to other philosophies.
Does that mean that we’ve all misunderstood Hayek? It depends. If you think that Hayek was this evil economist who advocated the most strict version of libertarianism, then that’s probably mistaken. But if you think of Hayek as a very mellow form of libertarianism that has overlap with other political traditions, you’re probably on target.
Hi, everyone! As the year winds up, I’d like to announce two book fora:
- March 2017: Catherine Turco’s Conversational Firm.
- May 2017: Mark Granovetter’s Society and Economy.*
Please order the books now!**
* Holy smokes, yes, the Granovetter book is coming out. We have heard of this sacred text for years and now… my precious… my precious…
** And yes, editors who read this blog should send me free copies!!
I’ve had the opportunity to meet a number of scholars who, by any conventional standard, are very productive and they aren’t stuffing the CV with obscure publications. And I’ve asked them, how do you manage to pull this off? Here are the answers that I get:
- Team work: Almost every star I’ve asked works in large groups. If you look at the CV’s, they have tons of co-authors.
- Division of Labor: A lot of them have told me that they are very good at assigning tasks. One of them told me he *never* does fund raising. He works with another prof who in a medical school who has access to funds.
- Shamelessness: Most academics sulk over rejections. These folks don’t. Soon as a paper gets rejected, they send it out ASAP.
- Recognizing diminishing marginal returns: A paper will improve between first and second drafts. These folks understand that obsession over the 2oth and 21st version is pointless.
- Attitude: Sounds corny, but every single one of these folks has an amazing forward looking attitude. They love what they do and they see the future as bright.
- Minimizing junk work: Some probably shirk teaching or admin work, but what I have observed is that they are ruthlessly efficient. They reuse course materials, borrow syllabi, and use teaching to deepen their knowledge of a topic.
- Recognizing the randomness of reviews: Most people complain about the randomness of reviewers. The star publishers draw the logical conclusion. If you can get random negatives, you get random positives.So just keep submitting until it you randomly pull positive reviews.
Bottom line: Sure, some people are geniuses, but a lot of productive people simply very good at time management and they don’t let the little things get to them.
This is the last post in my series about what I learned from teaching an intensive six week seminar for really, really, really ridiculously gifted and talented high school students. Here, I’ll describe the actual content of the course and what I learned from teaching it.
Content: The course had two goals. The first was to examine the different stages of Black civil rights from colonial times to the present. It included examining both arguments for and against slavery and segregation. Thus, we worked through examples from abolitionism, the Reconstruction era, desegregation/classic civil rights, Black Power, and contemporary America. Second, we insisted on an interdisciplinary approach. So we read fiction, essays, and scholarly work. We also viewed films and documentaries.
Take away #1: In my reading, the big issue post-Civil War was enforcement of rights. In reading after reading from Civil Rights era authors (going back to Plessy and before), the central issue was the massive gap between having political rights and having them enforced. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn’t actually introduce any new legal principles or rights into the American state, except perhaps to extend legal equality from state institutions (e.g., voting) to some areas of civil society (e.g., housing). But it didn’t really change the doctrinal terrain very much from what was enshrined in the 1st section of the 14th amendment.
What it did do was create a series of mechanisms for enforcing rights that were completely new, such as the EEOC. Once you realize this, then a lot of federal level domestic politics post-1970 makes sense. The goal of anti-Black politics, then, is to attack the various state mechanisms that exist for enforcing Black rights, whether they be in employment (slashing the EEOC budgets), voting (e.g., voter ID laws/felon disenfranchisement laws), or equality in the judicial process (e.g., not punishing police abuse, mass incarceration).
As a corollary, this also reinforces my long standing critique of conservative politics, which is that it really isn’t about small government at all. Rather, conservatives often use libertarian rhetoric to selectively criticize programs they don’t like while remaining silent on expansions of the state that they like. I strongly do not believe that conservativism is an ideology of racism, but in the post-Civil Rights era, it was way too easy to resist racial equality under the guise of resistance to state expansion.
Take away #2: The Civil Rights movement is a much deeper phenomenon than I had previously appreciated. A very long time ago, I had abandoned the view that the Civil Rights movement popped up in the 1940s and reached its peak in the 1960s. I knew that the NAACP itself dated to about 1910 and that there were strong movements against lynching and other racist actions.
What I did not appreciate was that people were doing “classic civil rights” actions a bit earlier than this narrative suggests. For example, when I was preparing for our discussion of Plessy, I read a little about the background of the cases. I learned that Plessy was a “staged” case – a New Orleans civil rights group, the “Comité des Citoyens of New Orleans,” wanted to challenge segregation of trains by getting a mixed raced, light skinned man arrested. He was supposed to be the Rosa Parks of the day. The Comité was a club of 18 New Orleans citizens, including a former Lieutenant Governor. This suggests to me that resistant to racial separation had deep roots, more than most people suspect.
Take away #3: I’ll finish this post with a brief comment about the role of education in post-Civil War Black rights. Today, we think of education as the epicenter for Civil Rights litigation, but that wasn’t quite right. The reason is that Jim Crow was built after the compromise of 1876, and even then, there were lots of moves to restrict Black rights before that point. However, the public school system as we know was built from about 1890 to 1930, when states started requiring attendance. Later, as schooling became a certification for the labor force, school segregation became a much more acute issue.
This comes out in multiple ways. For example, early Plessy era litigation, involved things like transportation and jobs. The “classic Civil Rights” cases that we now remember come about 40 to 60 years later. When you read historical accounts of Civil Rights strategy, you get the feeling that education segregation took Civil Rights attorneys by surprise in the early 1900s and this is even mentioned once or twice. Another data point: the way the NAACP got clients was to let people bring complaints to them about local issues. It was only until the 1940s or 1950s when you had lots of school based complaints, which you could then bundle into bigger cases like Brown. This suggests to me that while education based litigation is important for its intrinsic merit and usefulness for precedent, the bulk of racial segregation happens in other domains, like housing or employment or criminal justice.