Liberty Matters

And Goodwill toward All

Boettke's topic was "Hayek's Epistemic Liberalism."  So far in this discussion, we have given more attention to epistemics than liberalism.  In the end, Hayek's epistemics and Hayek's liberalism are not separable because liberalism is first and foremost a theory of society.  "The first thing that should be said" of "true individualism," Hayek insisted, "is that it is primarily a theory of society, an attempt to understand the forces which determine the social life of man, and only in the second instance a set of political maxims derived from this view of society." (Hayek 1948, 6)  A different epistemics would give us a different theory of society and, presumably, a different politics.  Thus, Hayek's epistemics imply Hayek's liberalism and not the other way about.  As a first approximation, we can say
TRUE: Hayekian epistemics →Hayekian liberalismFALSE: Hayekian liberalism →Hayekian epistemics
That's a first approximation.  I suppose there is a question of whether Hayekian epistemics is only a part of the large body of Hayekian social theory or the whole thing.  We have seen him say, for example, that the pure logic of choice is not empirical, while assumptions about knowledge transmission are empirical.  Thus, maybe we should consider the a-priori bit to be separate from the empirical bit.  But I can imagine some would argue against such a separation.  I doubt if it really matters whether we consider the "epistemic" part of Hayek's social theory to be just a part of his social theory or the whole thing.  Still, out of an abundance caution, I will offer the following, perhaps better approximation to the truth as I see it.
Hayekian epistemics + the rest of Hayekian social theory →Hayekian liberalism
But this approximation is still too crude.  The inference just given cannot be strictly valid because liberalism is "normative."  It is a set of ideas about what people should and should not do and about which social situations are better and which worse.  Liberalism is matter of ought and not is.  Epistemics and social theory, by contrast, are about is and not ought.  You can't get an ought from an is.  To make our inference logically valid, then, we need some sort of normative assumption.  That brings us to the following unsatisfactory formula.
Hayekian epistemics + the rest of Hayekian social theory + some sort of "liberal" normative assumption →Hayekian liberalism
Okay, but what sort of normative assumption works to make this inference valid?  Surprisingly, perhaps, a rather weak normative assumption is sufficient to imply (in conjunction with Hayekian social theory) Hayekian liberalism.  All we need is goodwill to humans.  Now, finally, we arrive at the valid inference so crudely approximated above.
Hayekian epistemics + the rest of Hayekian social theory + goodwill →Hayekian liberalism
Notice how far this inference is from the sort of thing we usually get on editorial pages and Sunday morning talk argument yelling-at-each-other shows.  The usual thing is to assert some value and demand that the government enforce it.  We quickly sink into culture wars.  Your values are evil.  My values are good.  Thus, the government should oppress your values.  It's a short step to demanding that the government oppress not just your values, but you and all the other people who uphold your evil values.  When we try to run the inference backward from political program to social theory, we start where we should end.  We start in a political program, whereas our reasoning should end in a political program, and it should do so only after we have considered what is and is not possible for governments to do. Socialism is a beautiful vision of a better world.  But if it is impossible, then we will do great harm by trying to implement it.  When we start at the end by reasoning from political program to social theory, we do more than just make a logically invalid inference.  We invite social conflict.  We invite the democratic electorate to divide itself into hostile camps in constant and, I fear, escalating war with each other.  If we begin at the beginning, however, and work out the consequences of different policies before choosing among them, we have a better chance of avoiding conflict and bad unintended consequences.  All this might seem like too much to ask because we will have to work out the values bit, and that's when run into conflict.  So it would seem.  But if liberalism is about right in its social theory, then the only value we need to agree on to resolve the great majority of policy disputes is simple goodwill.  Do you or do you not wish well upon others?
I have spoken breezily of goodwill.  This is not, perhaps, the moment to elaborate on the great difficulty of really and truly upholding universal goodwill.  I would note, however, that universal goodwill requires of us a "cosmopolitanism" that is often contrary to our spontaneous feelings.  Mises (1927, 105-06) explains the cosmopolitan demands of the sort of liberalism he and Hayek defended.
Liberal thinking always has the whole of humanity in view and not just parts. It does not stop at limited groups; it does not end at the border of the village, of the province, of the nation, or of the continent. Its thinking is cosmopolitan and ecumenical: it takes in all men and the whole world. Liberalism is, in this sense, humanism; and the liberal, a citizen of the world, a cosmopolite.
Cosmopolitan liberalism is a philosophy of universal goodwill.  It demands that we mortify our tribalist impulses and cultivate greater empathy for others, whom we might mistakenly tend to view spontaneously as somehow "other" and unlike us.  We must enrich our imagination to reach empathy for persons we do not know in places we do not go.  And we must suppress the visceral impulse to divide Us from Them.  The moral life of a liberal cosmopolite, though difficult, is spiritually uplifting and worthy of our utmost efforts.
Hayek, F.A. 1948. "Individualism: True and False," in Individualism and Economic Order, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mises, Ludwig von. 1927 [1985] Liberalism: In the Classical Tradition, San Francisco: Cobden Press. Online version: Ludwig von Mises, Liberalism: The Classical Tradition, trans. Ralph Raico, ed. Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). </titles/1463>.