Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A random and apropos thought from Hayek

When I get the chance, I chip away at F.A. Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom."

When I get the chance: because there's so much to learn, so much to pursue, so much to do.
Chip away: not because it is unclear, but because it is so rich.  A mere paragraph gets my mind wandering and scribbling notes in the captions, then on post-its, then on to full blown writin.

From Chapter 6, "Planning and the Rule of Law"

Where the precise effects of government policy on particular people are known, where the government aims directly at such particular effects, it cannot help knowing these effects, and therefore it cannot be impartial.  It must, of necessity, take sides, impose its valuations upon people and, instead of assisting them in the advancement of their own ends, choose the ends for them.  As soon as the particular effects are foreseen at the time a law is made, it ceases to be a mere instrument to be used by the people and becomes instead an instrument used by the lawgiver upon the people and for his ends.  The state ceases to be a piece of utilitarian machinery intended to help individuals in the fullest development of their individual personality and becomes a "moral" institution - where "moral" is not used in contrast to immoral but describes an institution which imposes on its members its views on all moral questions, whether these views be moral or highly immoral.

Hayek earlier compares this type of law, these specific orders to general rules, genuine laws, where the precise results cannot be foreseen and which are by definition, impartial.

Let's pause, shall we? 

Were you to be concerned with right-wing religious zealots enforcing their morality upon you, you'd certainly see Hayek's point.  But what if you were concerned with left-wing secularists enforcing their morality upon you, such as the HHS mandate for insurance coverage of birth control?  Are these not the same concern?

Are we not becoming a "moral" state?  It seems every crisis or scandal is used for its circumstances to create new regulations and laws to prevent such a crisis, scandal, or wrongdoing from happening again.

Well. There are a lot of circumstances. Butterflies flap their wings in China and hurricanes occur in the Bahamas, you know?

Shall we have regulations for every circumstance where something goes wrong?  If so, the state becomes a moral power rather than a liberal one, where moral laws predetermine what is permissible rather than being a reliable, liberal framework in which possibilities are open for the citizens to pursue, take risk, succeed and fail.

Freedom from failure is not freedom.

Let's continue now and complete Hayek's paragraph, which encapsulates the point of the book- a warning in 1944- a warning in 2012- a warning in all times to those who yearn for freedom and the responsibility that goes with it rather than freedom from responsibility:

In this sense the Nazi or any other collectivist state is "moral" while the liberal state is not.
Here's to freedom.  Here's to classical liberalism. As opposed to, say social liberalism.  Or many of the other isms even Ferris Bueller was wise enough to be concerned about.


  1. Good post, Dennis, and a very good explanation of why all of this legislation is, in reality, social engineering. And social engineering, unlike -- say -- civil engineering, is bad.

  2. Bravo, Dennis! Here's to chipping away!

  3. AWESOME!!!! Thank you! That's why I believe they won't change the tax code...they won't have a carrot to dangle in front of us to get us to behave they way they want us to... There are so many things our government is doing to tell us what we should value! I really appreciate this post.

  4. Thanks to Cheryl for sharing this with the TJEd group. I'll be checking this book out now! I have just finished reading "Anatomy of Peace" by Emery Reves [are you familiar with it?] and my mind has been working overtime trying to digest all that was addressed and suggested and analyzed in that book... whew! It has really challenged my understanding of the role of law. I look forward to exploring Hayek's thoughts in comparison. I have been very hesitant to accept or encourage additional laws for the very reasons you address. Thanks again for sharing