Posted by: captainfalcon | March 12, 2010

Chris is fucking retarded (continued)

In Minor League II Chris asserts that he is insane. He is, I think, correct. The mark of insanity is to persist in making the same mistake over and over again in the expectation that something good will eventually eventuate. Chris’s favorite mistake – at least right now – is to conflate what is explicit and what is implicated. He does that in Minor League I, where he takes the fact that movement conservatives do not explicitly espouse (to adopt Christoph’s terminology) classical conservatism as evidence that movement conservatism doesn’t benefit from the (classical conservative) connotations conservatism still enjoys.

He does it, again, in Minor League II, correctly observing that Hayek “explicitly rejected classical conservatism.” Of course, the fact that Hayek didn’t explicitly accept the label conservative has no bearing on whether (i) his thought is actually conservative or (ii) conservatives have successfully claimed him as their own. (No bearing because there’s a cottage industry of thinkers rejecting the labels applied, sometimes initially self-applied, to their theories. Simon Blackburn, who coined the term quasi-realism is now uncomfortable with it. Charles Krauthammer likes to call himself a democratic realist instead of a neoconservative. And the list goes on.)

It is obvious that conservatives have successfully claimed Hayek – only the deliberately obtuse would say otherwise. So I win, right there. (Yes, yes. While true, it’s also a cheap shot. Please, if you respond, don’t belabor the point. Which request just guarantees you will. Sigh.  So tiresome.)

How about the conservatism of Hayek’s thought? I think this little post does a nice job identifying it:*

[A] resistance to taking society in any preconceived direction, and especially towards any earthly paradise. Those of this school try to keep society spontaneous, and oppose any attempts to impose ‘visions’ [liberal or libertarian or anarcho-capitalism – CF] upon it. Hayek said that conservatives had no goal, whereas his goal was for a free society. I suggested that conservatives have not only tried to retain the spontaneity of society, but also to restore it when it had been compromised. In seeking to preserve freedom, to extend it and restore it, Hayek fitted quite comfortably within that political tradition.

This conservatism is most clearly manifest in his manifesto to epistemological humility and his (related) view, which receives one expression in Volume I of Law, Legislation and Liberty, that human agency is limited. (We might also call this his “palpable recognition that man is a finite being”):

There are two ways of looking at the pattern of human activities which lead to very different conclusions concerning both its explanation and the possibilities of deliberately altering it. Of these, one is based on conceptions which are demonstrably false, yet are so pleasing to human vanity that they have gained great influence and are constantly employed even by people who know that they rest on a fiction…[This] view holds that human institutions will serve human purposes only if they have been deliberately designed for these purposes, often also that the fact that an institution exists is evidence of its having been created for a purpose and always that we should so re-design society and its institutions that all our actions will be wholly guided by known purposes. To most people these propositions seem almost self-evident…Yet the belief underlying them, that we owe all beneficial institutions to design…is largely false.

[snip]

The other view, which has slowly and gradually advanced since antiquity but for a time was almost entirely overwhelmed by the more glamorous constructivist view, was that that orderliness of society which greatly increased the effectiveness of individual action was not due solely to institutions and practices which had been invented or designed for that purpose, but was largely due to a process described at first as ‘growth’ and later as ‘evolution’…

I think it’s quite clear which view Hayek prefers.

The moral of the story, asides from the fact that Hayek is a classical conservative, Hayek is still thought of as a conservative thinker, so movement conservatives get unjustly saddled with his insights, is that Chris should acquaint himself with more than (one of) a thinker’s “greatest hits” before opining on what he says. In this Kohs and I are in agreement; a desultory afternoon on Wikipedia does not an expert make.

* I’m more doubtful of its characterization of Oakeshott’s thought; he didn’t “likes to keep familiar things as they are,” he liked to keep tried and true things – that is: things from back well before the Enlightenment as they are. To Oakeshott’s way of thinking, we lost the plot back when people like Locke, Machiavelli, etc. began writing (what he called) “cribs” to systematize how the state ought to work. These roadmap-y how-tos implicitly disparaged the need for habits and cultures of Court and suggested that just anybody could rule. This Oakeshott denied; he thought it took generations of practice and habituation to make a worthy king (or ruling class).

Update: As for why Andrew and I fixate on the semantics, it is for reasons I outlined in this exchange’s inaugural post. The semantics have political ramifications. As I put it back then, we aren’t just dealing with mere semantics. How is this confusing?

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