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A critical view of liberalism

It is not smart to make responsible to a particular ideology of the period of current crisis, relying exclusively on perceptions or surface in sentimentality inoperative. I intend that the reader of these lines can make a reflection own on certain suggestions made from the field to a liberal, that beyond my own opinion, they take to assess whether or not they have been influential in the decisions taken by the leaders of the elite political-financial of the last 30 years in the western world. To do this, and taking as valid, scientifically speaking, the theory developed by considered one of the ideologists of liberalism, Friedrich Hayek, I’m going to target various postulates, that to the best of my understanding, underlie that praxis is cited.

Hayek understood the concept of “progress“, on the basis of their prior assumption of the postulates of the enlightened scotsmen, such as Hume, Smith and Ferguson1, as a result of a process of adaptation of individuals to the circumstances that surround them.2 there is No planning, but to adapt to the various events, and a selection of “darwinian”3 of the most effective and appropriate for the needs of the group. The positivación later of those behaviors on the part of individuals, not diluted the main premise of which is essential to preserve the confidence uncritical in behaviour that have proved useful in the past, without wanting to aspire to more.

The concept of “reason”, for Hayek, is similar to that advocated by Kant, in the sense that the man is not capable of knowing things and the world, as they are. There are insurmountable limits to the human mind, that comes to be a mere species of “device qualifier” of data, whose adaptability in this operation is given by cultural factors, never by natural factors of the human being as such4. As a correlative of this position hayekiana on the reason, your opinion about the “rationalism” in politics is very clear. All the ideologies that have based their doctrine on the value of the alleged rational faculties, can only be classified as pure arrogance, and so it is expressed in his last great work, The fatal arrogance.5 The limit that has Hayek to take into consideration an ideology, in this field, it is the degree which confers the same to his ability to dictate a reason “autonomous and autodeterminante”. That level of reason admitted by Hayek would be what Oakeshott defined as “traditional knowledge”.6

In terms of the concept “anthropology” of man, Hayek sees it as a “social animal”, but comes to do so after a consideration of the elaborate and critical individual skills. For him, the man has gone where he has gone, for their ability of cooperation, and therefore are social, not by any component vocational or essential. In a certain way, their model is closer to the “homo económicus” maximizing selfishly their own opportunities.7

Hayek understood the history as a succession of spontaneous acts, without the existence of a closed end of the same, as a good follower of the theories of Popper, which must be an influence early.. In his work Road of serfdom points out that “in the long run, we are the makers of our own destiny,” and that, “in social evolution nothing is inevitable”. However, his observations of societies differ, as the austrian of the years twenty and of the United Kingdom of the forties of the TWENTIETH century, leads him to conclude that it is admitted that there are many chances of a future similar events for the same.8

The vision of the policy, on the basis of the previous provisions, is that their existence is only understood as a necessary control of the evolutionary process spontaneous, especially when that process suffers from some type of brake or interference strange. Role is a fully subsidiary of such process9.

The “freedom” in the ideology hayekiano is “negative freedom” as an absolute, and within it, gives a preponderance hierarchical to economic freedom ahead of political freedom, clear and conclusive. That means that, in any circumstance, of different levels of ability or a natural endowment of individuals, it should not have any effect ever on your area of freedom, understood in this way. This trait starts to put his doctrine very far from true social liberalism, as advocated by John Rawls. The “coercion” means to him, any action designed to restrict the use of the skills or of the income of each individual, in order to transfer resources to others less fortunate, is a question to always avoid.

This perspective of freedom, bringing it to its maximum, it seems that leads to its own negation, if we understand it as “power”, what Hayek denies in his later writings, by preventing about the false prophets of freedom. Your paradigm is that freedom is a necessary condition for social progress, which validates the observation of his success, although that success does not describe him in particular, but as a “desideratum” that is achieved at higher amplitude in places where such freedom prevails, in contrast with the places where the political control overrides individuality.10

When Hayek speaks of “equality”, it does so under the umbrella of the legal approach, rather than formal. Equality before the law is the goal, because, only she, is compatible with the idea of personal freedom. There must be a framework of competition, between individuals and groups, homogeneous and stable, that is which ensures that the resources used will maximize the possibilities of each. Any other equality collides with their liberal vision, in seeing the equality of results totally inconsistent with it. And here comes a consequence of that legislation should be uncompromising in its application of absolute non-discriminatory manner: logically will tend to reproduce existing inequalities in the real stage of society.

The intermediate approach that retains the concept of “equality of opportunity”, is seen by Hayek with good eyes in their principles, but with the passing of time, is extremely skeptical of it, because it notes the difficulty of integrating it within the “character impersonal evolutionary process by which each one bears his fate” (how terrible statement!).11

Moving forward in its reasoning, the “social justice” is not permissible in the theory hayekiana. Incompatible with the rule of law and the concept of negative freedom. The “distributive justice is the Trojan horse of totalitarianism” comes to say. The “merit” or “need” are concepts too vague, almost impossible to gauge, in an application of his epistemology, by which, even if there is any criterion of merit, morality, there is no ability in the individual to apply it. The only mechanism distributive admissible is that which is given by one’s own perceptions of usefulness is subjective to each individual with respect to the other, although this might lead to situations in which his own notion of society is meritocratic is inconsistent with that system of rewards in the model of spontaneous evolution of progress, which he defends so earnestly. To overcome this contradiction, it simply proposes to ignore the concept of “justice” to address the issues of distribution of income derived from the free market. Justice and the market are incompatible.12 So clear.

When addressing the concept linked to “positive freedom and democracy”, you can say that does not give too much importance, which leads him to a finding concern: “a free people is not necessarily a people of free men”. The formality democratic is a level lower in consideration of the rights of the individual. His confidence in the role of the majority is very poor, looking very critically at the “general interest” as comparable with the “willing majority”, emptying of content the same essential component of the democratic logic. Not be in receipt of a defence predemocrática of liberalism, in the years in which he develops his activity, Hayek sets out a catalogue of actions that the State, as an expression of institutional in that “majority”, can operate, with a restrictive approach clear. Herein lies one of the axioms on which turns the current of economic policy: the thinning of everything from the character “state” or “public”.13

Among the functions that the State must exercise, according to Hayek, primacy of preserving the “·spontaneous order” of the evolutionary process. To see the people that it is helpful to that process, should not pose particular difficulty for such protection. If it were not so, the State must adopt another role, to ensure such a situation of accommodation to the model, by means of the instruments coercive indispensable to do this, police and justice. These instruments will be equipped with everything necessary for this, through a public investment, this yes, fully justifiable for the model hayekiano.

In order to preserve those goals, even it would be necessary to restrict nuclear elements of the political system of any free society, such as trade unions, to which Hayek sees as a real brake to the authentic freedom (of entrepreneurs, of course), they are also inefficient in the sense of restricting the market and the competition. Any decision, such as setting a minimum wage (current issue), undermines that freedom ideal.14

The economy, exerted on a statewide basis, and the model hayekiano, have a terrain collision, it is arranged conceptually by giving a kind of “safe havens” operating State, when it comes to improving the situation of certain individuals or groups. Public spending is valuable and beneficial whenever you go to enhance the market itself (a curious inconsistency). Among the actions supported are the creation, through legislation, of a framework of effective competition, to ensure the proper functioning of the market, the tasks of public utility in the private sector, for various reasons, does not find sufficient incentives to intervene (public works generally), which determine the future competitive market, and actions in the sectors of health and social security, conscious of the fact that the reality imposes that an important number of individuals I would not, by itself, to be able to cover that expense, but always, in a regime not a state monopoly of such benefits, and never at a price below its cost, on application complicated of his philosophy, which leads, in the end, a lot of people, even so, still unable to access the same.15

The “fight against poverty” is seen by Hayek as something to focus on, from the point of view of health care. It is not a question of rights, but a grant from the State, perhaps necessary. At this point, Hayek wants to separate conceptually from the other liberalism, represented by Dworkin or Rawls, who makes a separation between the criteria of production and distribution of capitalism, applying virtues to the first, and denoting defects in the second aspect. Hayek does not accept this kind of assumption of criteria socialists in the liberal ideology, does not support a position of shame in this land, ruled definitely on the conservative wing of liberalism.16

For these actions of the State resources are needed, and it is in the field of finance where they are attached to the concepts more operational and functional of the liberal ideology-conservative. Hayek goes on to say that, the best way to act is to “secure an adequate level of tax burden and then, not before, to decide how to spend the proceeds”. Of course, the income tax is an anathema to this way of seeing things. He criticizes both the progressive as the progressive increase of the tax rates. The progressivity leads, according to him, to a function, not only collection of the State, but to a true conformation of the own society, alien to the evolutionary development of natural of the same, mitigating the existing inequalities, which are connatural to a model of free competition. Also carries his criticism on the aspect of marginal progressivity, removing capacity of knowledge about the impact of the personal income TAX for high incomes, even admitting that their marginality-decreasing there, and opining that this may limit the expectations of higher growth, if the use of such excess of rent required to be used by their owners.. the increase in The types of assessment also contemplates as little recommended, for its effect “flight” and his subsequent impact on the whole of society. The money is more leveraged in the hands of their owners natural, for what he espouses, in principle, taxes are regressive, but in the face of its obvious impossibility, is proposing a proportional single assessment, tended to be reduced, of course, that Milton Friedman came to quantify a lower limit of 20%. The message is that the model of income TAX applied by the socialists or democrats is a condemnation in every rule.17

With all this assembly-be they ideological, and at this point, although not being exhaustive, the analysis carried out, we can conform as a scenario in which, in the heat of the theories described, much more elaborate, of course, is people indebted to this ideology, such as Milton Friedman and his Chicago School, have been developing actions, under the umbrella of the so-called “neo-liberalism”, have been achieved, mainly from the seventies and eighties, go dismantling much of what was built under the premises keynesian prevalent after the end of the 2nd World War.

I would like to expand, with the view of a liberal economist like James Buchanan, this reflection on the concepts of “liberalism” and “conservatism”. Buchanan asks if Hayek would not be a conservative, without more. It is possible that it is not so simple the answer. Liberalism is not homogeneous, although its origins yes it was. So rooted in the liberal authors that Hayek has been reviled, as he himself was. What happens is that he has decided to take the sector to the right more of the same. This same reasoning it should be for socialism, of course. Both Bernstein as Lenin or Mao, they are socialists, but different, both in the instruments as in the models definitive of society to which they aspired.

Hayek shows a perception of very weak capacity of the individual and his human nature, relies heavily on tradition and religion, as the guarantor of the same, observed democracy in a way accidental, minimizes the attention to the equality of opportunities and outcomes, excluding limited to the social justice of the liberal discourse.18

His work has been used greatly as a source of ideas for parties and governments, increased its height, under the appellation of “neo-liberalism” or “neo-conservatism”19, you become the thinker of the header of the principal architects of the socio-economic reality of the last few years, that has led us to the greatest crisis since the events of 1929, yes, in the midst of a media campaign to show the world that, the same as they were incapable of solving the problems of humanity by applying this ideology, are going to be that, or yes, give us the definitive solutions. That is the “culmination” of the hoax ideological carried out, under my short understanding, premeditated and organized, by a minority, against a majority that is attending, with indignation, to this unprecedented show in the History.20


Rafael Domingo Sanchez

January 15, 2012


  1. Baqués Quesada, J. (2005). Friedrich Hayek : at the crossroads liberal-conservative. Editorial Tecnos, p. 34 [↩]
  2. Ibid. p. 36 [↩]
  3. Ibid. p. 42. According to Hayek, such a similarity is moot. [↩]
  4. Ibid. page 46 [↩]
  5. Ibid. p. 49 [↩]
  6. Ibid. p. 59 [↩]
  7. Ibid. page 60-61 [↩]
  8. Ibid. page 63-64 [↩]
  9. Ibid. p. 69 [↩]
  10. Ibid. page 73 and ss. [↩]
  11. Ibid. p. 85 ff. [↩]
  12. Ibid. page 91 et seq. [↩]
  13. Ibid. p. 99, and ss. [↩]
  14. Ibid. page 126 et seq. [↩]
  15. Ibid. page 133 and ss. [↩]
  16. Ibid. page 138 and ss. [↩]
  17. Ibid. page 147 and ss. [↩]
  18. Ibid. p. 176-178 [↩]
  19. Ibid. page 178 [↩]
  20. Comment own of the author of the article. [↩]