How Is Liberty To Be Secured?


The Politicization of Society, edited by Kenneth S. Templeton, Jr. Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1979, 541 pp., $10.00/$4.50.

Liberty and the Rule of Law, edited by Robert L. Cunningham, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1979, 349 pp., $15.00.

What accounts for the decline and confusion of free societies in the 20th century? In his valuable introduction to The Politicization of Society, the distinguished economic historian R.M. Hartwell speculates that the decay of liberal civilization is due (in part, at any rate) to the rise of a new class of intellectuals. This is a class whose members' circumstance as salaried employees of State-supported institutions fosters an ignorant contempt for market processes and political aspirations involving grandiose schemes of social engineering. Hartwell's analysis suggests that political intervention in the market economy is facilitated by the growth of an intelligentsia whose unemployability in the free market breeds a pervasive anti-capitalist mentality.

This is an intriguing conjecture. Undeniably, academics as a class have done much to obscure the economic foundations of intellectual liberty. Certainly, while it cannot be the whole story, Hartwell's conjecture fills a large hole in liberal theory. So far, theorists of liberty have not been very successful in illuminating the sources of 20th-century interventionism. Nor have classical liberals and radical libertarians had much to say about how a reversion to collectivism is to be avoided once a free society has been restored.

Because these questions have been so badly neglected, The Politicization of Society is an extremely useful collection. Several of the 14 essays it contains are addressed directly to the reasons for the decline in liberal institutions, but it contains much else of value, as well. Robert Carneiro and Felix Morley write on the origins and growth of the State. Giovanni Sartori shows how the rule of law has been undermined by interventionist legislation. And Murray Rothbard contributes his famous essay "Freedom, Inequality, Primitivism, and the Division of Labor."

These other contributions aside, the chief interest of the collection lies in the efforts some of the contributors make to confront the sources of contemporary illiberalism. William Marina and Robert Nisbet argue forcefully that State power expands inexorably as a result of attempts to impose a pattern of equality—economic, cultural, and educational—on society. Herbert Butterfield shows how the perversion of historical inquiry for political purposes has served indirectly the cause of liberalism. These are useful contributions in that each of them shows how the moral commitments of the intelligentsia undermine liberty even as they are supposed to be extending it.

In what is arguably the finest essay in the collection, Michael Oakeshott gives a brilliant historical sketch of the emergence in early modern Europe of moral individualism and of its principal enemy, "the mass anti-individual." Oakeshott shows how the moral practice of individuality, arising from the long dissolution of the medieval order, was from the start accompanied by a tribalist backlash.

In part, Oakeshott's essay is a marvelously illuminating account of the germination of modern views of the State in this conflict in the moral character of European man. The spirit of European individualism is captured in the idea of the State as the guardian of civil association, with no purpose beyond that of preserving an impartial rule of law among free men, whereas the collectivist reaction expresses itself in the view of the State as a purposive, or enterprise, association imposing on society a hierarchy of goals. More importantly, Oakeshott's essay is a masterly contribution to the neglected subject of the psychology of liberty. His account of how the anti-individual comes to fear and hate free men and their ways deserves to be read by every person concerned about liberty.

In his capacity as a social philosopher, F.A. Hayek has always been centrally concerned with the relations of liberty with the rule of law, and his complex and controversial account of their connection is examined by 13 distinguished writers in Liberty and the Rule of Law. Not all of the papers are argued from a libertarian perspective, but all make a contribution to our understanding of Hayek's system. Rolf Sartorius gives a meticulously reasoned paper comparing Nozick's libertarianism with Hayek's and suggesting that Hayek's is less vulnerable to criticism than Nozick's. In a characteristically provocative argument, Ronald Dworkin defends the thesis that there is no general right to liberty. These are papers showing how Hayek's doctrine inspires thought even in those who do not share its basic postulates.

The key problem of Hayek's system is in the necessary connections it seeks to establish between liberty and the rule of law. Asserting such a relationship would seem to involve Hayek in endorsing at least some of the positions of the theorists of natural law, but this he steadfastly refuses to do. Instead, Hayek is inclined to treat the juridicial framework of the liberal order as the outcome of social evolution, enjoying a sort of moral privilege in virtue of its having so far survived competition with its rivals.

Hayek is on firm ground in his criticisms of the separation of law and morality and of the current view of law as the product of legislation or the invention of judges. Nevertheless, the curious and confused mixture of evolutionary ethics with utilitarianism that he offers as the basis of the defense of liberal society is utterly unsatisfactory. As Eugene Miller and Tibor Machan argue in their contributions to this volume, the logic of Hayek's skeptical Kantianism commits him to the view that liberal society can in the end be given no transcendental justification but must be embraced by those who are devoted to it as a matter of sheer moral commitment. Miller and Machan are probably right that the skeptical and relativist implication of Hayek's system (not consistently acknowledged by Hayek himself) can be avoided only if Hayek takes a step back from Kant to Aristotle. I am myself skeptical about the intellectual prospects of any revival of Aristotelian philosophy, but the papers of Miller and Machan add weight to what is in any case a notable collection.

Liberty and the Rule of Law warrants inclusion in the library of all scholars of Hayek, and it should be read by all who care about the intellectual foundations of liberty. It contains the right questions even if it offers no very persuasive answers to them.

John Gray is a fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University.