Front Page Titles (by Subject) Hayek\'s Variant of Classical Liberalism: A Fusing of Libertarian & Traditionalistic Ideals? - Literature of Liberty, Winter 1982, vol. 5, No. 4
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Hayek's Variant of Classical Liberalism: A Fusing of Libertarian & Traditionalistic Ideals? - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Winter 1982, vol. 5, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Hayek's Variant of Classical Liberalism: A Fusing of Libertarian & Traditionalistic Ideals?
A contrast of Hayek's thought with that of Oakeshott revives one of the commonest criticisms of Hayek's work, namely, that it straddles incompatible conservative and libertarian standpoints. The upshot of my discussion thus far may support this standard criticism in that it suggests that Hayek's system is poised uneasily between the constructivist (but not uncritical) rationalism of a Buchanan and the out-and-out traditionalism of an Oakeshott.
At the same time, however, elements of Hayek's conception of social evolution via the competitive selection of rival traditions may provide a point of convergence, if not of fusion, for some libertarian and conservative concerns. One central argument in contemporary neo-conservatism, after all, is in the claim that the stability of the free society depends upon its containing strong supportive traditions. Modern neo-conservatives such as Irving Kristol and Daniel Bell take up the doubts expressed by writers of the Scottish Enlightenment such as Smith and Ferguson about the effect on society's moral traditions of the workings of the commercial marketplace itself. A major difficulty in the neo-conservative analysis is the lack of any very convincing prognosis: if free markets have corrosive effects in respect of the moral traditions which support them, so that capitalism institutions contain cultural contradictions which make them over the long run self-destroying, what is to be done?
This is an especially hard question if we recognize (as some of the neo-conservatives themselves sometimes fail to do) that merely capturing positions of power in the apparatus of the contemporary democratic state affords no longrun security for the market order.
Hayek's Voluntaristic Traditionalism: A Market in Traditions
There is in Hayek's work an argument for voluntaristic traditionalism which goes some way toward answering this question. Hayek sees that the principal cause of the erosion of definitive moral traditions in advanced societies is not so much the market itself, but rather interventionist policies sponsored by governments. Often with the support of business, governments have contributed to the erosion of moral traditions by their educational, housing, and welfare policies. Hayek's argument for a voluntaristic traditionalism distinguishes him from neo-conservatives, firstly in that he would argue that it is government interventionism which causes much of the contemporary moral malaise and because he would not seek to use government power to prop up faltering traditions. Rather, he seeks to establish something like a market in traditions, in the hope that the traditions which would emerge from an unhampered social life would be most congenial to the stability of the market order itself. In his argument for a competitive and voluntaristic traditionalism, Hayek plainly treats particular traditional communities as filter devices for social practices of the sort Robert Nozick discusses in his fascinating and profound account of the framework of utopia.99
It cannot be said unequivocably that Hayek's libertarian traditionalism answers the most profoundly disturbing doubts of the neo-conservatives. In particular, Hayek's advocacy of procedural justice, with the role of chance in distributing incomes being recognized clearly,100 confronts the difficulty that the moral defense of capitalism has chiefly been conducted by reference to the notion of desert. By comparison with this traditional defense, Hayek's apologia for the market order may be, as Kristol observes, “nihilistic.”101
Against this criticism Hayek may justifiably maintain that there is a sheer conflict between traditional sentiments of desert and merit and any clear-sighted defense of the market order—a conflict which the neo-conservative endorsement of the market order does nothing to resolve.
Kristol's criticism of Hayek has other, and perhaps profounder aspects, however. Hayek recognizes that contemporary moral sentiment is by no means uniformly, or even generally, favorable to the market order, and, both in his writings on Mandeville102 and elsewhere, Hayek has implicitly acknowledged that the spontaneous growth of moral norms may not, in fact, yield results congenial to a stable market order. At the same time, Hayek continues to advocate a strong form of moral conventionalism, resisting the claims of those who see modern morality as in need of radical reform. There is thus a tension, perhaps irresolvable in terms of Hayek's system, between his Mandevillian moral iconoclasm and his moral conservatism.
[99.] See Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Part Three.
[100.] See Hayek's Law, Legislation and Liberty, vol. II, Chapter Ten, for the clearest acknowledgement of the role of chance in the alembic of catallaxy.
[101.] See Irving Kristol, Two Cheers for Capitalism, New York, 1978, Chapter 7, “Capitalism, Socialism and Nihilism.”
[102.] See Hayek's “Dr. Bernard Mandeville,” New Studies, pp. 249-266; and his remarks on contemporary morality in the Epilogue to vol. III of Law, Legislation and Liberty, pp. 165-166.