Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hayek's Law, Legislation, and Liberty

1. At various points Hayek sounds like a utilitarian, cultural relativist, Rawlsian, and natural rights theorist.  Partly, this is because he has an elliptical writing style and writes in almost 100% abstract language with very few examples.  He devotes considerable space attacking utilitarianism but he sounds like one himself in several places.  His cultural relativism comes across very clearly.  He says that one should not interfere with Eskimos who exile a relative to freeze to death after a certain age. 

2. Hayek gives undue regard to tradition.  He argues that cultural practices might have evolved over time and have a use that no one person articulates or knows now, but probably serve some useful purpose.  Therefore, one should proceed with caution overturning any tradition, especially by legislation.  This could justify any number of obviously immoral practices - spousal rape, teasing gay kids to the point of suicide, and slavery.  Once I read the work of Ayn Rand, I tried to go through my day asking why I did everything I was doing, and I was able to eliminate a lot of unnecessary baggage this way.  My life is much better for it and I wish I had been even more thorough.  I believe one should stop anything one is doing out of custom if one can't find a reason for it (even if it is just "It feels good and has no harm that I'm aware of"), and then go back to it if one suddenly finds a reason for it later.  But Hayek continually blasts at this sort of Cartesian philosophy, which he calls constructive rationalism.

Hayek never provides guidelines as to how quickly to jettison customs once people start doubting them. 

3. Hayek's defense of the spontaneous order can lead to the state.  Government regulations and bureaucracies are often responses to things that happened in the past and that people can no longer articulate.  He doesn't spend very much time at all outlining why coercive measures are worse than other kinds of responses to problems of the past.

4. Hayek writes in favor of state supported minimal housing, medical care, schooling, and a guaranteed income, albeit of the voucher variety.  He points out later that voters are seldom willing to fund poor people alone, and measures to help the poor are almost always followed by measures that fund the middle and upper classes, which create a burdensome state that hurts the poor.  Even from the point of view of buying off the poor in exchange for cooperation with capitalism,  it sounds like the poor are worse off as a result of such measures.

He specifically states he has no quarrel with Rawls at one point, although one of his guidelines of a good society is one in which a member picked at random will have the highest chances of attaining his subjective ends, while Rawls says what matters is that of the least well off member.

No comments:

Post a Comment