Symposium on Free Market Fairness

Market Democracy and Dirty Ideal Theory

[Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a symposium on John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. For an introduction to the symposium, click here. For a list of all posts in the symposium, click here.]

Let me begin by saying that, according to any sensible system of classification, John and I share the same political philosophy, and that I consider Free Market Fairness (FMF) the best explication and defense of that philosophy to date. Our agreement is vast, our disagreement small. John is very much a man after my own heart, and his fusion of Rawls and Hayek in FMF warms this Rawlsekian’s cockles. Rawls and Hayek truly are two great tastes that taste great together. However, John’s particular blend doesn’t go down quite as smoothly as I’d hoped. I’d like to try to say why. Let me beg forgiveness in advance for going on so long. I couldn’t quite find the time to write something shorter.

John repeatedly expresses his desire to defend FMF on specifically moral grounds. That is to say, John wants FMF to win hearts and minds not on the grounds that it works better than the alternatives, but that it specifies a structure of institutions that would bring out the best us in and realize our highest moral ideals. John distinguishes “three levels of political argumentation.” They are: political philosophy, political theory, and public policy, in descending order of abstraction. By political philosophy, John has in mind a “purely moral discourse about political questions” which “focuses narrowly on the task of identifying the morally appropriate standard of evaluation of a society’s basic institutions.” Later, John argues, following Rawls, that the task of identification requires that we invoke “a series of modeling assumptions” which “require that we abstract away from many of the most stubborn facts of political life.” This includes, among other things, assuming that “the principles of justice, whatever they might turn out to be, will win the full motivational compliance of all citizens.” That is to say, “we run the evaluation by considering what social world those principles would tend to produce if everyone was willing to follow the rules correctly.” It follows that when doing political philosophy, as John conceives of  it, questions of feasibility fall entirely by the wayside. The question is how people ought to act, not how we think they will act. John follows David Estlund in seeking a path between “complacent realism” and “moral utopianism.” According to John, “the project of identifying normative political principles is the project of determining how things should turn out.” Fixating on how things actually will turn out — we’re looking at you public-choice economists — misses the point. It is to suffer “utopaphobia.”

Okay! Well, then. I guess we’d better start with an account of how people ideally ought to act. Where do we get one of those?

As Deidre McCloskey is right to point out, John doesn’t help us much here. He doesn’t first lay out detailed, substantive theory of the good and the right. Rather, he cobbles together a rather austere but nevertheless attractive moral ideal, “responsible self-authorship,” out of materials found in Rawls and other high liberals. But mostly in Rawls. Indeed, John takes on board a good deal of Rawlsian moral psychology. There’s the “two moral powers,” the “higher-order interest” in the development of moral personality, the need for the various “primary goods” among which the “social bases of self-respect” looms especially large. And so on. FMF is very Rawlsian. But also, I’m afraid, not Rawlsian enough.

As it happens, John doesn’t dwell overmuch on the really deep structure of Rawls’ theory of justice. It’s hard to blame him. It’s tedious, there’s a confusion of versions, and it’s not clear any of them are worth the trouble. Still, John’s relative neglect of the structure of Rawls’ theory leads him to take a bit of a Chinese menu approach to Rawlsian concepts. Thus, we’re left largely in the dark about the source of our normative ideals of right behavior, and the method of their justification because John omits Rawls’ moral anthropology, moral epistemology, the theoretical grounds for the various modeling assumptions, and the part of Rawlsian ideal theory that is concerned with feasibility.

I hate to do this, but I’m going to talk about Rawls in a simplified way perhaps insulting to the assembled panel of august scholars, but I swear it leads somewhere.

I find it useful to imagine the Rawls’ Original Position thought experiment as a sort of computer simulation with Rawls in the position of the programmer. The programmer’s first job is to whip up a group of simplified model people inside the computer. Rawls calls this the “model conception of the person” but I like to call the model person a “sim,” like the virtual folks in Sim City. So Rawls programs the sims to look like us in some ways – they have plans and project, hopes and dreams — and rather unlike us in others – the are purely instrumentally rational and have no sense of justice. Rawls then designs a virtual situation–the Original Position–with certain unusual, special features, such as the “veil of ignorance”– a device meant to model the alleged impartiality of our alleged flesh-and-blood moral sensibility working at its best. Next, the programmer throw the sims into the Original Position and offers them a choice between competing conception of justice. The task of the sims is to choose, “once and for all,” the principle of justice they prefer to govern the “basic structure” of the society they will live in once they emerge, unveiled, from the Original Position.

Now, as you might suspect, what comes out of the simulation is a function of what goes in. What’s the point of this elaborate exercise. Why should we trust its results?

So here’s how the we’re to validate the principles chosen by the sims. We (in the role of the programmer) check it against our real-person “considered moral judgments.” If the principles from the simulation clash with our actual moral judgments, that’s a sign we’re on the wrong track. But we can’t know in advance if the problem lies in our moral judgments or in the way we’ve set up the simulation. So we probe our moral judgments and revise the ones that seem, on reflection, more questionable than the principles generated by the simulation. And we go back into the program and tweak the parameters of the simulation to better reflect those judgments that seem to us most reasonable and secure upon consideration. We keep at this process of mutual adjustment until the simulation finally produces principles of justice that are in “reflective equilibrium” with our considered moral judgment.

According to Rawls, flesh and blood humans (but not the sims in the Original Position) have a “sense of justice” or “moral capacity,” which is the fundamental to the structure of his theory and his method of justification. (There’s some empirical evidence for a moral sense not that different from the one Rawls describes.) The sense of justice is supposed to have two functions. First, it produces moral judgments, such as “It is wrong to steal” or “It is obligatory to help this drowning child.” Second, the sense of justice motivates us to set aside self-interest, act according to our moral judgments, and to comply with fair terms of social cooperation. For now, don’t worry about moral motivation. Focus on the sense of justice as the source of moral judgments.

Rawls’ larger argument hinges on the idea that our sense of justice is sensitive to the institutional conditions under which we, and our moral capacities, have developed. We’re assuming from the start that our society is not already ideally just, otherwise we wouldn’t need a theory of justice. But the non-ideality of our current condition implies that our actually-existing sense of justice has not developed under ideal conditions, and is thus somewhat less than the best that it could be. This is one reason why it’s not good enough simply to sit around noodling on our moral intuitions until we arrive at principles of justice that just feel right. For one thing, different people are  going to come up with all sorts of different answers, but one of our goals is to come up with a principled way of concluding some important disagreements about justice. Furthermore, our untutored, purely intuitive theorizing will tend to reflect assumptions, norms, and conventions that we have absorbed in the daily business of life in a less than ideally just culture. If our principles simply mirror existing injustice, they’ll be useless. We need to find a way to stand far enough outside our conditioned moral sensibility in order to see clearly how the status quo falls short of justice. Sounding familiar, yes?

So the Original Position thought experiment and the process of reflective equilibrium is one ingenious way to try to thread the needle between complacent conservatism and utopian irrelevance. We try to model ourselves as we might be if we were a little more rational, as if we had grown up under conditions a little more favorable to the development of our moral sensibility. There is, of course, no way to avoid reliance on our moral intuitions, as tainted as they may be by the non-ideality of the status quo. But we can try minimize our dependence on them, and add rigor and structure to our reasoning, by building a device of the imagination that idealizes our rational and moral capacities in ways that seem reasonable, and then asks what kind of society such beings aspire to live in.

But even all that jazz that doesn’t get us all the way to the sort of “realistic utopia” Rawls, or John, is looking for. To fully justify our normative principles we’ve got to test them for a sort of feasibility: stability. For Rawls, this involves showing, at least, perfect compliance with the demands of justice do not stymie the individual’s ability to achieve her personal aims. Principles of justice that systematically interfered with our projects and plans would not win the affirmation and willing compliance needed for a stable, “well-ordered society.” Rawls’ arguments for stability depends crucially on the idea, again, that the institutions under which we are raised affect the development and calibration our moral sensibility and the content of our conceptions of the good. “[E]veryone recognizes,” Rawls contends, “that the institutional form of society affects its members and determines in large part the kind of persons they want to be as well as the kind of person they are.”

That is to say, we are to a large extent creatures of our institutional environment. If we have come up within and operate daily in a partially unjust set of institutions–and we most certainly have–then chances are that who we are to some degree reflects the injustice of our social milieu. Rawls goes on to observe that  “an economic regime, say, is not only an institutional scheme for satisfying desires and aspirations but a way of fashioning desires and aspirations in the future. More generally, the basic structure shapes the way the social system produces and reproduces over time a certain form of culture shared by persons with certain conceptions of their good.”

Great, but whoa! The upshot of this sort of thing would seem to be that our de facto moral judgments, even if hammered into reflective equilibrium with the help of clever thought experiments and modeling assumptions, are also going to be, to a very large extent, creatures of our environment. But what if we think our socio-political environment is, from a moral point of view, very bad indeed? Rawls’ impressive machinery is going to produce plausibly authoritative normative principles only if (a) we think the gap between our debased, non-ideal moral judgments in reflective equilibrium and the lofty moral ideals worth baking into our normative political principles is not too big , or (b) we have very modest expectations about identifying true or justified-once-and-for-all moral principles, and we’re happy to settle for marginal improvements toward the frontier of our meager moral imagination.

I’m okay with (a) because I’m happy with (b). But I think most Rawls fans aren’t happy with (b). It smacks of complacent realism. I suspect G.A. Cohen’s complaints to the effect that Rawlsian ideal theory isn’t all that ideal reflects something like the rejection of both (a) and (b). Now, I have no idea why Cohen thinks he can trust his gut, or his mind’s penetrating eye, or whatever it is he’s got. I haven’t got it. (I suspect it’s confidence.)  It seems to me that if you take Rawls’ point about the endogeneity of moral personality to institutional structure really seriously, which I do, we’d conclude that identifying normative principles very far afield from the ones we already recognize–in our fallen, non-ideal condition–is beyond our powers.

Here’s where Hayek comes in with a vengeance. And here’s where I’d like John to take Hayek more seriously. John loves spontaneous orders, as one should. Economies are spontaneous-ish orders. Natural languages are spontaneous orders. And so are the bodies of moral convention that provide the raw material for the heady normative content of high-altitude ideal theory. Spontaneous orders are so unpredictable because there are so many of them and they’re so often mutually determining. Economies are influenced by language and morality. Morality is influenced by language and economic structure. Language is shaped by economy and morality. And so forth. Open up a spontaneous order and find another spontaneous orders spontaneously ordering it, spontaneously.

One reason Hayek and Rawls can blend is that both reject rational choice or homo economicus assumptions about human action. Rawls and Hayek both endorse the idea that rational action in the broadest sense is not wholly instrumental, but rather requires the heeding of rules, norms, and conventions that constrain the pursuit of our interests. Both suspect that the general practice of heeding these sorts of constraints turn out to advances our interests on the whole. Rawls and Hayek even agree that following rules is not rational because it pays, but that following rules is, to some extent, what rationality is.

However, Hayek is much more radical than Rawls on this score, which speaks to important differences in their fundamental philosophical inclinations—differences which are reflected in their views of moral psychology and social order. When it comes to the nature of practical rationality Rawls is very much a Kantian, and accordingly displays typically Kantian instincts about the universality of reason and moral personality as well as typically Kantian skepticism about the relevance of empirical theories of human nature and sociality.

In rather dramatic contrast, and in a testament to his good judgment, Hayek is an ardent Humean, and was given to repeating Hume’s distinctly un-Kantian dictum that “the rules of morality are not the rules of our reason.” As opposed to the sometimes primly rationalist Rawls, Hayek positively reveled in the messiness and indeterminacy of empirical theories of human nature and sociality. But he brought to the subject his economist’s rigor and anticipated a great deal of the best contemporary thinking about the natural basis of morality. Moral rules, Hayek argues, emerge from a process of cultural evolution.

In a nutshell, the Hayekian story is that rules that helped human groups meet the unique challenges of their particular physical and social environment allowed those communities to grow in number, widening the population guided by those rules. Conversely, groups acting according to less successful rules tended to dwindle relative population and become assimilated into more fecund and flourishing bands with more successfully adaptive rule. So their rules, their moralities, died out. We are cultural creatures, Hayek observes, biologically adapted to absorb culture through imitation. We follow moral rules basically for the same reason men in Texas talk about football: it’s just the done thing. But that doesn’t mean we’re naturally adept at identifying or explicitly articulating all the rules that guide us minute to minute. Of course there are explicit rules. And we know violations when we see them. But often we cannot say exactly what the relevant rules are. Even when we can, we generally don’t grasp how common adherence to a rule generates creates patterns of social activity that interact in complicated ways with other patterns created by common adherence to other rules. And if the moral rules work to coordinate behavior in a way that successfully serves the needs of our community, we can’t necessarily say how or why they were successful.

Hayek  believes that the rule-bound texture of social life is much subtler than we are inclined to imagine, and that the basis of our social order is to some extent inscrutable. If he’s right, this doesn’t bode well for the prospects for moral of political theorizing that attempts to transcend the facts and constraints of the contingent current dispensation. That’s why Hayek tends to flip his lid when puffed-up radicals come around with big ideas for rapid advances in social justice. As imperfect as our society may be, we’ve got a pretty good thing going, but mostly we don’t actually understand what’s keeps it going, or what makes its going so good. So we need to be careful not to screw it up. When we think about making a difference, we need to think small, or else anticipate a high probability of failure.

But Hayek takes it even further. He argues that we won’t necessarily find reason in the wild – at least not in the grand capital ‘R’ sense of the Enlightenment philosophers. It is neither universal nor inbuilt. It has a history. Reason is a set of largely inarticulable culturally-selected rules and constraints that guide the operation of thought, much as morality guides action. This provides a truly striking gloss on Hume’s dictum. The rules of morality cannot be the rules of reason because both sets of rules emerged from a similar process of cultural selection, and they have developed side by side, not one after the other. If morality were a spinoff of reason, reason would have had to come first. But Hayek says reason is a  relative newcomer, while adherence to some system of moral rules is ancient and primordial. Thus it is that Hayek says: “It is probably no more justified to claim that thinking man created his culture than that culture created his reason.”

How’s that for endogeneity? And where does that leave our attempts to rationally reconstruct our considered moral judgments into the regulative principles of realistically-utopian ideal regime types? Not so far from where we started.

In light of all this, I hope my misgivings about John’s sorta-Rawlsian, not-sufficiently-Hayekian method makes some kind of sense. I think I have a fairly solid feel, based in my no doubt idiosyncratic exegesis, of how Rawls’ argument hangs together, more or less. But I don’t yet have a fully clear sense of how John’s argument hangs together, because I’m not entirely clear about which Rawlsian notions he’s taking, leaving, and why. Why some but not all of Rawls moral psychology? Why responsible self-authorship but not, say, GLORY?

I completely understand why a useful political philosophy needs to aim for a sweet spot between complacent realism and pointless utopianism. Yet Hayek (and a certain strand of Rawls) makes it hard for me to see the point of bracketing most well-known regularities of social, economic, and political life when the normative content of our ideal political principles is inevitably drawn from regularities of conventional moral judgment produced by the very same non-ideal cultural and institutional milieu. Why think that under conditions of full information, perfect compliance, common knowledge of preference profiles, zero transactions costs, or whatever you like, any of us would still care about, say, “responsible self-authorship” in the way some of us do now? Why try to envision the socio-political realization of our homely ideals under fanciful  conditions? If our institutional arrangements were more than marginally different from the status quo, chances are some of our favorite moral principles would be more than marginally different, too. Do we want to achieve our some of moral aspirations or to use them as symbolic motifs in the design of highly innovative institutional schemes that would, if realized, probably make them obsolete? I doubt we can even comprehend what it would mean if we all were to behave a lot better than we do. A little better, we can imagine. Isn’t that ideal enough to concoct a useful, non-complacent picture of moral aspiration?

That said, I certainly admire the rhetorical beauty of John’s dialectical jiu-jitsu. By exempting social-democratic high liberals from classical liberal feasibility objections, he takes away social-democratic feasibility objections to FMF. So what if actual capitalists poison the air and inflict constant indignities upon humiliated workers? Who cares? Ideal theory for all! My favorite thing about this move is that it may force some high-liberal ideal theorists to consider whether this sort of political philosophizing doesn’t have the virtue of theft over honest labor.

Puzzles of moral justification aside, if we think it would be simply terrific were folks to behave more cooperatively, more generously, more respectfully, more autonomously, and to enjoy a greater sense of personal dignity and responsible self-authorship  (because that’s what we learned at the dinner table, or in the third grade, or at Brown), well then that’s great. So what do we do about it? Try this. Look to see under what conditions, as a matter of empirical fact, things tend to turn out the way we like, and then promote those conditions–at least when that would actually help. I suspect Rawlsekian market democracy would hold up just fine in those terms. Maybe the dreamy high liberals wouldn’t be so impressed, but that scene’s busted anyway.

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  • Mark Pennington

    Will, I think this is a brilliant post. You’ve articulated a key problem with John’s book (and I agree – it is an excellent book). He identifies 3 conceptions of the person – utility maximiser (which he erroneously attributes to classical liberalism), self-owner (which he rightly attributes to libertarianism) and deliberative citizen (which he rightly attributes to Rawlsian social democracy). What he leaves out (oddly) is Hayek’s conception of the person – the non-deliberative evolutionary learner. In Hayek’s account it is the process of cultural evolution which replaces the role of the original position in Rawlsian thought. Given our cognitive limitations and uncertainty about the nature of reality we can never know enough to determine via a process of direct deliberation (hypothesised or actual) what the content of our moral sense should be.  

    • Will, I agree with Mark, who has articulated what I think is missing from John’s argument (thus far, not done with the book yet!) — evolution and learning, particularly in the Hayekian strand.

      Mark, your comment crystallizes why I don’t agree with John’s jettisoning the “utility-seeker” aspect of classical liberalism. It’s not that I think a consequentialist utilitarian is the universally correct way to think about the moral foundations of individuals and society. Rather, it’s that there’s a cognitive reality to incorporate into the theoretical foundation: individuals make choices by comparing alternatives and performing calculation (not entirely quantifiable calculation, though). Our perceptions of those tradeoffs inform how we make those calculations, and our moral frameworks inform those perceptions. The extent to which those moral frameworks persist is in part a function of how well those moral frameworks serve the individuals and their society evolutionarily. I think putting it that way captures the Hume-Hayek combination that helps us understand the process of evolutionary learning and what institutions persist or fade.

      I suppose my observation also relates to Deirdre’s post from earlier today; where she is encouraging us to bear in mind the empirical, historical experience in framing our moral arguments, I think we also must bear in mind the empirical, cognitive aspects of how humans make decisions resulting in changes in both outcomes and institutions over time as they learn the extent to which their decisions and their institutions are matched for fitness.

  • Kevin Vallier

    Brilliantly spoken like a true Gausian!

  • David_Ellerman

    Will, As you know, there is another left-libertarian take on these issues which unfortunately is not represented in this Symposium on Tomasi’s book. Since I have written a long review essay on the book for publication elsewhere, I will be posting the main parts on my blog starting today with: Listen Libertarians! Part I at:
    Tomasi’s book is valuable in showing how across the whole spectrum of responsible liberalism, from the right-libertarians to the high liberals, there is a set of misframings of the basic issues, so the question of where Tomasi should or should not have come down in his Hayek-Rawls remix is not the most fundamental question that might be debated.

    • You make a very good point in that piece. You distinguish a contract of subjection from an agency contract. In the former, I give someone authority over me irrevocably; in the latter, I give someone authority over me only until I decide to revoke the arrangement. Since it is conceivable that everyone bar Stalin should hand authority over themselves irrevocably to Stalin, a totalitarian regime could be based on consent. Therefore, it is a mistake to think that the defining difference between authoritarian and democratic regimes is that between coercion and consent.

      You say that democratic theory is based not on consent of the governed,
      but on a critique of the alienability of self-governance.  However that
      seems plainly false. The defining difference of democratic regimes is rather that they allow people (not individually, but as a group, and not at will, but only every so often) to dismiss their current rulers and submit instead to a different set. Democracy still involves a contract of subjection, since no one can ever take back his authority over himself; but it allows the subjects the possibility of replacing one set of bastards with another set. ‘One bastard goes in, another bastard comes out,’ to borrow Eli Wallach’s line (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly).

      You point out that Milton Friedman’s contrast between totalitarianism and markets in terms of coercion versus consent is mistaken because, as we noted above, it is conceivable that people should consent to totalitarian rule. Some libertarians already accept this point, more or less.  Walter Block, for example, maintains (I think correctly) that a free market would/should permit voluntary slave contracts. It would therefore be likely to contain pockets of totalitarian rule; but only pockets, since it is unlikely that everyone bar one should submit to an absolute ruler. You may gather that I do not accept ‘inalienable rights.’

      You criticise the employment contract because it is a contract of subjection rather than an agency contract. That is mistaken. It is true that the contract of employment is not an agency contract, in that the employer is not acting on behalf of the employee. But it is not a contract of subjection either, because the employee can revoke the employer’s control over the employee at any time, and because the employee does not have to be an employee (he could work instead as an independent contractor or he could start up his own business and be an employer, and he will in any case retire eventually, and if he earns enough in a relatively short space of time he can pack up work before retirement age).

      You say that liberals want to put political democracy and employment on one side and authoritarian regimes on the other, on the basis of the consent-coercion dichotomy, whereas you would put employment with authoritarianism on the basis of the alienation-delegation dichotomy. But this is confused. You are right to criticise the liberals on the ground that people could consent to an authoritarian regime. But even in your own terms, political democracy should be classed with authoritarianism, because it deprives people of self-sovereignty, and employment should be distinguished from the two because it involves only a temporary, partial and revocable alienation of self-sovereignty.

  • Greg Ransom

    Terrific, Will.

    I’ve been making these arguments for decades.

    My experience is that no one wants to deal with them — these arguments are simply not convenient to the academic project people want to pursue as professionals in the academic game.

    Note well that Rawls very directly acknowledges that his whole project depends on “the sense of justice”, just the thing which Hayek provides a scientific mechanism for understanding.

    And Rawls also admits all of science into his original position — which would put Hayek’s science of moral rules, institutions and social cooperation right in the brains of the “sims” in Rawls City.

    So on two of Rawls’s own grounds Rawls is not legitimately allowed to bracket out Hayek’s richer picture.

  • j_m_h

    I’m sure this is a paraphrase of some famous quote I’m not aware of but I recently hears some quip along the lines of  “I’ve achieved a compromise that left all parties unhappy. I think this must therefore be the closed to the truth of any compromise.”

    Seems like no one is very happy with FMF.

  • “…mostly we don’t actually understand what’s keeps [our society] going, or what makes its going so good. So we need to be careful not to screw it up. When we think about making a difference, we need to think small, or else anticipate a high probability of failure.” Yes. This is exactly why I am skeptical of attempts (from libertarians, socialists, or anyone else) to prove from supposedly self-evident first principles that our society as currently constituted is broken in some fundamental way and needs a radical overhaul to bring it into line with whatever conclusion’s been reached.

    • I think you might have been prompted to too great a scepticism. An analytical moral enquiry may lead us to the conclusion that our society as currently constituted is broken in some fundamental way and needs a radical overhaul. But we need not jump from there to some wholesale restructuring. We could (I think, should) instead attempt to test our conclusions by making moderate or reversible steps in the direction of our conclusions and then seeing how these steps pan out. If they succeed, we can make further steps. If they fail in some way, we can make modifications or revisit our analysis. This may sound like Rawlsian ‘reflective equilibrium,’ but it is not, because it involves testing out theories using experiments in the real world.

      In short, utopias can be okay so long as they are regulative ideals (to use Kantian language), but not if they are treated as blueprints.

      •  Your point is reasonable; what you advocate is essentially a form of incrementally exploring the “fitness landscape“, to use a biological analogy. My main complaint is with those (again, whether libertarian, socialist, or whatever) who advocate trying to take us all from point A to point B in one big leap, and present that strategy as a moral necessity backed up by ironclad arguments.

        To continue the biological analogy, we may indeed be currently stuck at a local optimum that is inferior to some other hypothesized point in the fitness landscape, but (a) we don’t know for sure that such an alternative superior optimum exists, and (b) if we try to take a really big leap off into the unknown, chances are we’ll end up in a fitness valley and not a fitness peak.

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  • Helgard Muller

    Very interesting. I wonder how many people here are familiar with the work of John Dunne, Raymond Geuss and Bernard Williams on realist political theory? Geuss & co are very critical of “ethics first” / “applied morality” / abstract political moralizing. Rawlsian political liberalism is a fairly big target of their criticism with the emphasis on its Kantian apriori reasoning – the philosopher standing “outside” of actual real world politics. Instead they want to stand “inside” politics by taking into account history, institutional frameworks, social forces and power relations. They want to focus on the empirical “facts” of political practice.

    I am currently doing a research proposal (for a D in Political Science), evaluating Hayek’s political philosophy on these “realist” grounds. Hayek’s social theory, influenced by Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment, grounds the justification for its liberal principles in the nature of social life. The emphasis is on the limits of human reasoning, the inarticulate nature of much of human knowledge, the institutional arrangements that evolve to enable humans to make use of dispersed and tacit knowledge and the processes that hamper or foster the evolution of such institutions etc…(I am sure I don’t need to elaborate further and Mr. Wilkinson’s post captures aspect of his social theory brilliantly – especially the role of rules/evolution).

    So from this perspective it is grounded in Humean anti-rationalism and skepticism, as opposed to abstract moral principles. (It stands “inside” politics). You can add the other influences from Popper, Webber, Menger etc as well…

    However, a popular criticism against Hayek (see for instance Kukathras’ “Hayek and Modern Liberalism”) is that his political theory ultimately suffered from the strains between his Humean social theory and Kantian moral theory. At the end, in attempting to defend a liberal social order and justify liberal principles, Hayek evokes elements of the very Kantian rationalism that his Humean social theory seeks to avoid. (Same criticism can be made against Rawls’ Kantian “conception of justice” vs Humean “circumstances of justice”).

    All this ultimately makes me wonder about the prospects for developing a “realist” liberal political theory on Hayekian grounds and in turn what to make of the prospects for a “realist” liberal political theory in general. (Williams’ own liberal realist theory have been accused of not meeting these standards).

    I am more inclined personally, to be persuaded by Hayekian arguments, but being fairly new to political philosophy, I am wondering if you can escape political “moralizing”?

    • assman35

      It seems to me that both Rawls and Hayek are assholes. Rawls is an asshole because he wanted to create a way his system was better without actually dealing with empirical reality. This means regardless of what happens his theory is better because it is outside reality. Asshole.

      Hayek is an asshole because he wanted to make his preferred system immune from critique by claiming that our social order is unknowable and can’t be reasoned about.

      Both guys were basically trying to immunize there preferred systems from arguments, reason or critique. And that’s what makes them assholes.

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  • John Thrasher


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