Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“Freedom... refer[s] to a social relationship among people -- namely, the absence of force as a prospective instrument of decision making. Freedom is reduced whenever a decision is made under threat of force, whether or not force actually materializes or is evident in retrospect.”     Thomas Sowell

December 4, 2006

F.A. Hayek On Conservatives vs. Classical Liberals

by Doug Mataconis

Given a few of my recent posts, I found myself re-reading this fabulous essay by Friedrich A. Hayek.

When I say that the conservative lacks principles, I do not mean to suggest that he lacks moral conviction. The typical conservative is indeed usually a man of very strong moral convictions. What I mean is that he has no political principles which enable him to work with people whose moral values differ from his own for a political order in which both can obey their convictions. It is the recognition of such principles that permits the coexistence of different sets of values that makes it possible to build a peaceful society with a minimum of force. The acceptance of such principles means that we agree to tolerate much that we dislike. There are many values of the conservative which appeal to me more than those of the socialists; yet for a liberal the importance he personally attaches to specific goals is no sufficient justification for forcing others to serve them. I have little doubt that some of my conservative friends will be shocked by what they will regard as “concessions” to modern views that I have made in Part III of this book. But, though I may dislike some of the measures concerned as much as they do and might vote against them, I know of no general principles to which I could appeal to persuade those of a different view that those measures are not permissible in the general kind of society which we both desire. To live and work successfully with others requires more than faithfulness to one’s concrete aims. It requires an intellectual commitment to a type of order in which, even on issues which to one are fundamental, others are allowed to pursue different ends.

It is for this reason that to the liberal neither moral nor religious ideals are proper objects of coercion, while both conservatives and socialists recognize no such limits. I sometimes feel that the most conspicuous attribute of liberalism that distinguishes it as much from conservatism as from socialism is the view that moral beliefs concerning matters of conduct which do not directly interfere with the protected sphere of other persons do not justify coercion. This may also explain why it seems to be so much easier for the repentant socialist to find a new spiritual home in the conservative fold than in the liberal.

In the last resort, the conservative position rests on the belief that in any society there are recognizably superior persons whose inherited standards and values and position ought to be protected and who should have a greater influence on public affairs than others. The liberal, of course, does not deny that there are some superior people – he is not an egalitarian – but he denies that anyone has authority to decide who these superior people are. While the conservative inclines to defend a particular established hierarchy and wishes authority to protect the status of those whom he values, the liberal feels that no respect for established values can justify the resort to privilege or monopoly or any other coercive power of the state in order to shelter such people against the forces of economic change. Though he is fully aware of the important role that cultural and intellectual elites have played in the evolution of civilization, he also believes that these elites have to prove themselves by their capacity to maintain their position under the same rules that apply to all others.

Well said then, and well said now.

Related Posts:

Should Libertarians Leave The GOP ?
Brock Lindsey’s “Liberaltarianism”

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3 Comments

  1. and here’s the damning indictment of American conservatives:

    It may well be asked whether the name really matters so much. In a country like the United States, which on the whole has free institutions and where, therefore, the defense of the existing is often a defense of freedom, it might not make so much difference if the defenders of freedom call themselves conservatives, although even here the association with the conservatives by disposition will often be embarrassing. Even when men approve of the same arrangements, it must be asked whether they approve of them because they exist or because they are desirable in themselves. The common resistance to the collectivist tide should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the belief in integral freedom is based on an essentially forward-looking attitude and not on any nostalgic longing for the past or a romantic admiration for what has been.

    But of course, terms like “liberal” and “conservative” will start meaning less and less over the next decade or so.

    Comment by Kevin — December 5, 2006 @ 9:15 pm
  2. Hell, they’ve been so distorted for so long that we had to come up with entirely new political terms for Liberals (Libertarians), Conservatives (Moderates), and Socialists (Liberals or Progressives). Orwell was frigging brilliant.

    Comment by Adam Selene — December 5, 2006 @ 10:13 pm
  3. [...] Liberals Matt Welch on Liberaltarians Bookmark to: Posted By: Doug Mataconis @ 8:08 am || Permalink || || Categories: Theory and Ideas, Politics TrackBack URI:http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2006/12/09/why-republicans-need-libertarians/trackback/ Read more posts from Doug Mataconis • • • [...]

    Pingback by The Liberty Papers»Blog Archive » Why Republicans Need Libertarians — December 9, 2006 @ 8:29 am

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