Something from the highways and byways of academic research. (nerd alert). The story is that some older members of the Economics department at Chicago like Knight and Viner thought that the subject was becoming too specialised and established another department called The Committee on Social Thought for broader studies. Hayek moved to the US in 1950 partly for financial reasons, he had a new wife and an ex wife to support. He did not get into the Economics school!
Hayek’s membership was refused by the Department – despite a grant which would have covered all expenses – and the Austrian economist joined the CST. This fact marked and started a sparkling period for the CST, when prominent intellectuals from all over the world joined the Committee, including, among others, T.S. Eliot, Mircea Eliade, Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, Saul Bellow, Robert Fogel etc. The main idea and the most important issue, developed by the paper is that the extraordinary flourishing of the CST was mostly due to a stir within the Department of Economics, between the old wing (Knight, Viner, Nef) and the younger fellows.
He was there from 1950 to 1962 writing The Constitution of Liberty. The first part is The Value of Freedom, the second is Freedom and the Law and the third is Freedom and the Welfare State. The Postscript is Why I Am Not a Conservative.
He has been roasted by libertarians ever since for compromising with the welfare state, possibly not a surprising move since he much earlier referred to “wooden-headed laissez faire” in The Road to Serfdom. I suppose he thought since the genie of the welfare state was out of the bottle the thing is to keep it under control as best we can and he worked through the range of issues to suggest what might be doe to preserve freedom and keep the state within limits. So he wrote about labour unions and employment, social security, taxation and redistribution, the monetary framework, housing and town planning, agriculture and natural resources, education and research. This is a 500 page book that never got to the top of my reading list although the postscript is important.
It should have been called ‘Why I am not a particular kind of conservative’ because none of the conservatives of my acquaintance fit the description of Hayek’s villain. He is looking at the likes of Malcolm Fraser who hated socialism but did not follow any instructions from his backbench dries and fitted Hayek’s description of the person who wanted leadership in the right hands without regard to the institutions required to limit the powers of the state and keep power under control when the wrong hands are on the tiller.
Robert Manne was a bit like Fraser, he had an honourable record of anti-communism when it was hard yards and that earned him a gig as editor of Quadrant until his anti-market stance and his championship of the stolen people myth and other leftwing themes indicated that he never belonged in that seat. See also Fraser’s support for Mugabe.
Hayek pointed out that the spectrum from radicals through good liberals to conservatives is unhelpful for locating people in ideological space. He sketched a triangle with leftwing radicals at one corner, the good guys at another corner and the wrong kind of conservatives at the third. His point was that those kind of conservatives were not economically literate enough to resist the pull from the radical corner and merely took on board prejudices from that direction over a period of time as the intellectual winds blew them. The result is the situation in the Liberal Party where there is a strong body of leftwing opinion (described as moderate) and the ideas of the good guys (us) are described as “hard right” (and very bad).
Hayek wants more pull from good guys in the third corner who he unhelpfully described as Old Whigs in this paper.