Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ayn Rand, Friedrich von Hayek and Glenn Reynolds

Sphere: Related Content

Retired Inquirer book reviewer Frank Wilson takes a stab at explaining the resurgence of book sales for Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. He gets the reasoning exactly wrong:

To attribute the surge in popularity of these books to "conservatives" seeking solace after a defeat at the polls is both tempting and easy. But it almost certainly has less to do with partisan politics than with fundamental principles.
While Glenn Reynolds, who is mentioned at the outset of the piece has had a great deal to do with the resurgence of Atlas Shrugged, he, nor any other person I've read has said it was because of "conservatives". Hell, Reynolds has a more libertarian streak then a conservative one. In my opinion, most essayists on the "right" tend to be more libertarian with a conservative tinge than outright conservative as historically described.

Some years after The Road to Serfdom, Hayek wrote an essay called "Why I Am Not a Conservative." In it, he describes "as liberal the position which I hold and which I believe differs as much from true conservatism as from socialism," and he proceeds to argue that "the liberal today must more positively oppose some of the basic conceptions which most conservatives share with the socialists." Of course, Hayek uses liberal in its classic sense, referring to someone whose aim is "to free the process of spontaneous growth from the obstacles and encumbrances that human folly has erected." (John Galt couldn't have put it better.)
Those encumbrances are the government and government policies and programs. We have seen more encumbrances in the last six-months put in our way than the fifty-years previous. Today's "liberal" is as far removed from classic sense as can be possible.

Moreover, what Hayek says about conservatives applies equally well to many who today call themselves progressives:

"Conservatives are inclined to use the powers of government to prevent change or to limit its rate. . . . They lack the faith in the spontaneous forces of adjustment. . . . The conservative feels safe and content only if he is assured that some higher wisdom watches and supervises change, only if he knows that some authority is charged with keeping the change 'orderly.' "
We on the right believe in reduced government and don't feel we need any authority to induce order. We want a president and a congress who enact legislation to deal with inherently governmental function including national security, a strong military, the progression of rights and liberty and after that, just get the hell out of the way.

Conservatives of today are not what they were even twenty five years ago. We are not against change and in fact champion it in many cases. We push for the freedom whereby businesses can thrive and create new and better products that make our lives easier. We wish for the meddling fingers of the government to be reduced to the lowest level possible. The idea that we fell safer with the thought of a "higher wisdom" is ludicrous and shows that Mr. Wilson's view of who and what the modern conservative is taken right out of The Nation and is so far from what the movement has become as to be inane. The modern Conservative is one who does not necessarily need anyone but himself and his wits to get ahead.

It is today's liberals who need a leader to keep thing "orderly" and by orderly they mean oppressive. They want the government controlling everything and that is not exclusive to Democrats. Republicans have strayed into that territory, most notably after taking over the Legislative branch and having total control.

In this view, neither today's "progressives" nor today's "conservatives" are liberal, which is to say committed, in Hayek's words, to the "set of ideals that has consistently opposed all arbitrary power."
Wilson opts to lump conservatives and "progressives" into one group when they are mutually exclusive ideologies. Conservatives of the libertarian bent tend to abhor government except for that government that is absolutely necessary to maintain civil order and national security. Modern Liberals loathe individual freedom and free thought, they want the government to tell us what to do.

Wilson is a liberal and one who tries to explain away the new-found success of these two books. He knows that an electorate that thinks like Hayek or Rand would be bad for the modern liberal movement and feels he has to quash any idea that these books are gaining in popularity because of the policies being thrust upon us on a daily basis. Hayek and Rand are the anti-liberals and in that respect make their ideas the enemies of current political hierarchy.

No comments: