Tag Archives: Friedrich von Hayek

Ryan, and Mises, and Rand! Oh, my!

11 Aug

From the FB page of my graduate student Dan McCool

Paul Ryan: “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”

Ludwig von Mises to Ayn Rand: “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you.”

Update (9:15 pm)

Another FB friend, Kevin Fathi, points me to this letter from Cornell political scientist Ted Lowi to the New York Times, reminiscing about what Hayek said about Rand:

Back in 1961, Friedrich A. Hayek was visiting Cornell, and he graciously accepted my invitation to speak to my political economy class. His comments were not on the free market but rather on the rule of law. Afterward, he took questions, which were mostly about Ayn Rand and “Atlas Shrugged.” The leading questions were “What was Rand really like?” and “What is your evaluation of ‘Atlas Shrugged’?”

Hayek’s responses took on the style of a confession. “Although I tried seriously to read the book, I failed, because there was no romance in it,” he said. “I tried even more diligently to read that fellow John Galt’s hundred-page declaration of independence, and I knew I’d be questioned on all that, but I just couldn’t get through it.”

As for Rand, he said he had met her only once, quite recently, at a party given in their honor — “and you should never have two lions at the same party.” The host eagerly brought the two together for the introduction. Here are the results, to the best of my memory: “We had a very brief exchange. She swelled in anger and spun away, remaining only long enough to say, ‘You are a compromiser.’ ” Twenty-five years later, Stephen Newman, a professor of political science at York University in Canada, innocently provided the explanation for Rand’s animosity with the title of his book: “Liberalism at Wits’ End.”

Update (10:30 pm)

Dan McCool’s brother Jason gives us a pictorial representation.

Why the Left Gets Neoliberalism Wrong: It’s the Feudalism, Stupid!

19 Jul

Margaret ThatcherLeft critics of neoliberalism—or just plain old unregulated capitalism—often cite Margaret Thatcher’s famous declaration “There is no such thing as society” as evidence of neoliberalism’s hostility to all things collective. Neoliberalism, the story goes, unleashes the individual to fend for herself, denying her the supports of society (government, neighborhood solidarity, etc.) so that she can prove her mettle in the marketplace.

But these critics often ignore the fine print of what Thatcher actually said in that famous 1987 interview with, of all things, Woman’s OwnHere’s the buildup to that infamous quote:

Who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families…

It’s that last phrase (“and there are families”) that’s crucial.  Contrary to popular (or at least leftist) myth, neoliberals are not untrammeled individualists. In many ways, they’re not that different from traditional conservatives: that is, they see individuals embedded in social institutions like the church or the family or schools—all institutions, it should be said, that are hierarchical and undemocratic.

Thatcher isn’t alone in this.  For all their individualist bluster, libertarians—particularly those market-oriented libertarians who are rightly viewed as the leading theoreticians of neoliberalism—often make the same claim.  When these libertarians look out at society, they don’t always see isolated or autonomous individuals; they’re just as likely to see private hierarchies like the family or the workplace, where a father governs his family and an owner his employees.  And that, I suspect (though further research is certainly necessary), is what they think of and like about society: that it’s an archipelago of private governments.

Milton FriedmanHere’s Milton Friedman in Capitalism and Freedom:

The ultimate operative unit in our society is the family, not the individual. (32; also see 13)

And here’s Richard Epstein in a piece called “Libertarianism and Character” from a collection of essays about conservatism, edited by Peter Berkowitz:

It would be a mistake of major proportions to assume that legal rules are a dominant force in shaping individual character; family, school, and church are much more likely to be powerful influences.  The people who run these institutions will use their influence to advance whatever conception of the good they hold, no matter what the state of the law.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these texts as the boys debate neoliberalism versus social democracy, and what neoliberalism is all about.  What often gets lost in these debates is what I think is the real, or at least a main, thrust of neoliberalism, according to some of its most interesting and important theoreticians (and its actual practice): not to liberate the individual or to deregulate the marketplace, but to shift power from government (or at least those sectors of government like the legislature that make some claim to or pretense of democratic legitimacy; at a later point I plan to talk about Hayek’s brief on behalf of an unelected, unaccountable judiciary, which bears all the trappings of medieval judges applying the common law, similar to the “belated feudalism” of the 19th century American state, so brilliantly analyzed by Karen Orren here) to the private authority of fathers and owners.

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