The usually wrong Cass Sunstein writing with a flair for Hayek. The question is: How should the GOP govern on the heels of last Tuesday’s momentous victory?
It is tempting to answer by pointing to concrete policy proposals — reducing regulation, promoting free trade, cutting the federal budget. But does any general theory, or approach to government, unify those proposals? In a magnificent essay, one of modern conservatism’s greatest heroes, Friedrich Hayek, offered an answer. Published in 1960, Hayek’s “Why I Am Not A Conservative” deserves careful attention today, perhaps above all from Republicans.
Hayek had some admiring words for conservatives: He endorsed their skepticism about rapid change and about social engineering. He drew attention to “their loving and reverential study of the value of grown institutions,” and in particular their emphasis on how law, language and morals often grow up spontaneously, through the decisions of countless people rather through the actions of any social designer.
But most of Hayek’s assessment was scathing. Too often, he argued, conservatives foolishly object to novelty as such, because they “lack the courage to welcome the same undesigned change from which new tools of human endeavor will emerge.” And he complained that they are far too fond of established authority. “The conservative does not object to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it used for what he regards as the right purposes.”
Most damagingly, Hayek said, the conservative “has no political principles which enable him to work with people whose moral values differ from their own for a political order in which both can obey their convictions.” Sounding a lot like those who argue for the right to same-sex marriage, Hayek complained that conservatives insist that government should enlist their own moral convictions as a basis for law.
He also objected that conservatives are prone to embrace “a strident nationalism” — and that conservatism tends to be associated with anti-internationalism. He thought that good ideas have no boundaries and that “it is no real argument to say that an idea is un-American.”
Hayek worried that conservatives are obscurantists, prone to reject new knowledge merely because they dislike its consequences. “By refusing to face the facts, the conservative only weakens his own position.” (Climate change, anyone?)
Not so sure about that climate change business but I get the point.