Hey there! Sign in to join this conversationNew here? Join for free

What is Conservatism? - John Kekes Watch

    • Thread Starter
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    Quite an good essay on the political philosophy of Conservatism. It explains the problems someone with a conservative mindset faces and the best time of conservatism of overcoming these problems.

    Knowing that there are very little conservative political philosophers on here (mainly Libertarians or Liberals or Socialists), I expect and hope that there is a intelligent debate about the issue.

    What is Conservatism? - John Kekes
    Offline

    1
    ReputationRep:
    It's an interesting article, except I don't agree with much, for basically Hayek's reasons here. Is there anything in particular you wanted to discuss about it?
    • Thread Starter
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    On the subject of Hayek, article actually mentions Hayek with note number 12:

    "12This is one of the key ideas of Friedrich A. Hayek. See his Law, Legislation and Liberty, Vols. 1-3, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982) and Chandran Kukathas, Hayek and Modern Liberalism, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), pp. 174-191 on the complicated connection between Hayek and conservatism."

    It seems to imply that Hayek has many similarities to Conservatives. He says that many changes to social life or traditions often have unpredictable consequences and that the complexity social life is often out of human control.

    What are your thoughts on the implied similarities of Hayek and Conservatives?

    I think it seems that Hayek admires the Conservative skepticism of change.
    Offline

    1
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by Don_Scott)
    On the subject of Hayek, article actually mentions Hayek with note number 12:

    It seems to imply that Hayek has many similarities to Conservatives. He says that many changes to social life or traditions often have unpredictable consequences and that the complexity social life is often out of human control.

    What are your thoughts on the implied similarities of Hayek and Conservatives?

    I think it seems that Hayek admires the Conservative skepticism of change.
    I saw that footnote; Hayek is interesting because there are periodically attempts from conservatives to 'claim' him; you would have thought that writing an essay called 'Why I am not a conservative' would settle the issue, but apparently not.

    Anyway, Hayek would certainly agree with the criticism of what he calls constructivist rationalism, the idea that social institutions can be consciously constructed by individuals to serve their purposes. But I think he recognised that precisely the same factors which mean that attempts to construct a society in this way will fail, namely, the fundamental limitations on human knowledge which we all face and which must necessarily be shared by any central administrator, also weigh heavily against the possibility of benevolent paternalistic government. In his own words:

    Let me return, however, to the main point, which is the characteristic complacency of the conservative toward the action of established authority and his prime concern that this authority be not weakened, rather than that its power be kept within bounds. This is difficult to reconcile with the preservation of liberty. In general, it can probably be said that the conservative does not object to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it is used for what he regards as the right purposes. He believes that if government is in the hands of decent men, it ought not to be too much restricted by rigid rules. Since he is essentially opportunist and lacks principles, his main hope must be that the wise and the good will rule – not merely by example, as we all must wish, but by authority given to them and enforced by them. Like the socialist, he is less concerned with the problem of how the powers of government should be limited than with that of who wields them; and, like the socialist, he regards himself as entitled to force the value he holds on other people.

    When I say that the conservative lacks principles, I do not mean to suggest that he lacks moral conviction. The typical conservative is indeed usually a man of very strong moral convictions. What I mean is that he has no political principles which enable him to work with people whose moral values differ from his own for a political order in which both can obey their convictions. It is the recognition of such principles that permits the coexistence of different sets of values that makes it possible to build a peaceful society with a minimum of force. The acceptance of such principles means that we agree to tolerate much that we dislike. There are many values of the conservative which appeal to me more than those of the socialists; yet for a liberal the importance he personally attaches to specific goals is no sufficient justification for forcing others to serve them.
    • Thread Starter
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by DrunkHamster)
    I saw that footnote; Hayek is interesting because there are periodically attempts from conservatives to 'claim' him; you would have thought that writing an essay called 'Why I am not a conservative' would settle the issue, but apparently not.

    Anyway, Hayek would certainly agree with the criticism of what he calls constructivist rationalism, the idea that social institutions can be consciously constructed by individuals to serve their purposes. But I think he recognised that precisely the same factors which mean that attempts to construct a society in this way will fail, namely, the fundamental limitations on human knowledge which we all face and which must necessarily be shared by any central administrator, also weigh heavily against the possibility of benevolent paternalistic government. In his own words:

    Let me return, however, to the main point, which is the characteristic complacency of the conservative toward the action of established authority and his prime concern that this authority be not weakened, rather than that its power be kept within bounds. This is difficult to reconcile with the preservation of liberty. In general, it can probably be said that the conservative does not object to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it is used for what he regards as the right purposes. He believes that if government is in the hands of decent men, it ought not to be too much restricted by rigid rules. Since he is essentially opportunist and lacks principles, his main hope must be that the wise and the good will rule – not merely by example, as we all must wish, but by authority given to them and enforced by them. Like the socialist, he is less concerned with the problem of how the powers of government should be limited than with that of who wields them; and, like the socialist, he regards himself as entitled to force the value he holds on other people.

    When I say that the conservative lacks principles, I do not mean to suggest that he lacks moral conviction. The typical conservative is indeed usually a man of very strong moral convictions. What I mean is that he has no political principles which enable him to work with people whose moral values differ from his own for a political order in which both can obey their convictions. It is the recognition of such principles that permits the coexistence of different sets of values that makes it possible to build a peaceful society with a minimum of force. The acceptance of such principles means that we agree to tolerate much that we dislike. There are many values of the conservative which appeal to me more than those of the socialists; yet for a liberal the importance he personally attaches to specific goals is no sufficient justification for forcing others to serve them.
    Yes, he is certainly right that Conservatives are far more lax about principles than Classical Liberals like Hayek.

    Would you agree that Hayek shares attributes that many Conservatives also share? The attributes I'm thinking of are anti-statism and social pluralism.

    Do you think that Hayek has those attributes and that many (especially American) Conservatives also share these attributes with him?
    Offline

    1
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by Don_Scott)
    Yes, he is certainly right that Conservatives are far more lax about principles than Classical Liberals like Hayek.

    Would you agree that Hayek shares attributes that many Conservatives also share? The attributes I'm thinking of are anti-statism and social pluralism.

    Do you think that Hayek has those attributes and that many (especially American) Conservatives also share these attributes with him?
    I hope you don't mind but I'll have a go tomorrow - I'm pretty damn tired right now
    Offline

    15
    ReputationRep:
    As a "Hayekist" -- I don't like to use that term as the man himself would have hated it, but he represents my views more than any other figure does -- I'll make a post but I'd be glad if DH were to make one too as he undoubtedly has a great understanding of the man that was Hayek.

    In terms of politics (Hayek himself, in his personal sphere, did share many conservative views;- he was anti gay marriage, actually, and seemingly despised the nouveau-riche: unsurprising, as many people don't know he bore the title "von" Hayek) Hayek does share some similar views to conservatives, but I think for different reasons. Economically, he was totally against them. The conservative principle, it seems, is that markets are good (with light touch regulation) except in areas where the State has an interest in security -- roads might be one, for instance, I know many conservatives who are anti-market in various other areas, defence being one.

    Hayek also opposed the typical representative democracy; "the omnipotent assembly" he claims, and was actually an advocate for non-partisan assemblies, which I discovered conveniently only after I began supporting the idea. He believed that Law, and equality under it, in individuals and governments, was primary to Liberty. Hayek believed that, above all, spontaneous order had and would triumph over designed order; that is, in a non-economic context the development of customs (the common law especially) and cultural norms over time by the free interaction between human beings. The ultimate opposite of Hayek was Pol Pot, who thought he could start his country from scratch and design a country from "Year Zero." All know how that panned out.

    So we can see that Hayek bears some similarities. He believed in traditions and customs, but not because they were intrinsically good things like conservatives often believe, or not for arbitrary reasons such as "they're British" or for self-serving reasons like "i'm at the top of the food chain" but because he believed spontaneous order; non-planned development that comes about as a result of the desires of individuals being merged into the greater scheme of things, is the only path to Liberty. Hayek's end was a utopian society, which sets him in opposition to conservatives; he wanted mankind to be united under one system of liberty where people were free to do as they pleased under the supremacy of the common law and under the market.

    In summary; Hayek likes tradition, but not for the same reason as conservatives, and not for the same ends. Conservatives liked markets, but not for the same reason as Hayek, and not for the same ends. They were allies because what they believed in was similar, but why they believed it and what they wanted the world to look like were very, very different things.

    I hope that was helpful.
    Offline

    15
    ReputationRep:
    P.S. I think I've misrepresented him on gay marriage. He'd be in favour of it now because our country is no longer homophobic but back in the 50s, our present society's views on gays were much different. We developed to be less homophobic than we were then.

    (by the way, Don, I've come to accept your claim that Classical Liberalism is not the same thing as Libertarianism, although for different reasons.)
    • Thread Starter
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by Bagration)
    P.S. I think I've misrepresented him on gay marriage. He'd be in favour of it now because our country is no longer homophobic but back in the 50s, our present society's views on gays were much different. We developed to be less homophobic than we were then.

    (by the way, Don, I've come to accept your claim that Classical Liberalism is not the same thing as Libertarianism, although for different reasons.)
    For what reasons may I ask?
    Offline

    15
    ReputationRep:
    Well, I'm going to keep that private until I've fully made my mind up. But to say shortly, the opinions of Libertarianism and Liberalism on Law & Legislation are different enough to be recognised, I think.
    Offline

    1
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by Bagration)
    Well, I'm going to keep that private until I've fully made my mind up. But to say shortly, the opinions of Libertarianism and Liberalism on Law & Legislation are different enough to be recognised, I think.
    I think I sort of know what you're getting at, because there is certainly a difference between, say, the writings of Hayek, in which the rule of law plays a fundamental role, and the work of people like Nozick or Rothbard where, for obvious reasons, it is played down. But although there is recognisably a difference, I'm not entirely certain that it's best explained by saying that libertarianism is not really liberalism; from what I can tell (and I am admittedly no historian of ideas) I see Nozick/Rothbard/the natural rights/ self-ownership school as the intellectual successors of Locke, while Hayek/modern classical liberals (if that makes any sense) work more in the tradition of Adam Smith/David Hume/Adam Ferguson/Edmund Burke, the 'spontaneous order tradition' as I've heard it nicely described. Now whether or not these traditions are within liberalism depends, of course, on what you take to be the defining features of liberalism, but Locke is certainly thought by most people of as one of its founding fathers. The upshot is that I think that it is possible to clearly trace the lineage of libertarianism back to the classical liberals, even if there is a difference of emphasis at times.

    Edit: and I think you're pretty much completely right on your interpretation of Hayek - with the exception of gay marriage (I think he'd be in favour of it - although there is admittedly a tension between his views on tradition/evolution of institutions.)
    Offline

    15
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by DrunkHamster)
    I think I sort of know what you're getting at, because there is certainly a difference between, say, the writings of Hayek, in which the rule of law plays a fundamental role, and the work of people like Nozick or Rothbard where, for obvious reasons, it is played down. But although there is recognisably a difference, I'm not entirely certain that it's best explained by saying that libertarianism is not really liberalism; from what I can tell (and I am admittedly no historian of ideas) I see Nozick/Rothbard/the natural rights/ self-ownership school as the intellectual successors of Locke, while Hayek/modern classical liberals (if that makes any sense) work more in the tradition of Adam Smith/David Hume/Adam Ferguson/Edmund Burke, the 'spontaneous order tradition' as I've heard it nicely described. Now whether or not these traditions are within liberalism depends, of course, on what you take to be the defining features of liberalism, but Locke is certainly thought by most people of as one of its founding fathers. The upshot is that I think that it is possible to clearly trace the lineage of libertarianism back to the classical liberals, even if there is a difference of emphasis at times.
    Good post. Unfortunately I'm really badly read on philosophy (You'll notice most of my posts are about economics or the social effects of things like gun control or drug control) so I can't comment much there. But from what little I know it sounds, well, apt.
    Offline

    14
    (Original post by DrunkHamster)
    Edit: and I think you're pretty much completely right on your interpretation of Hayek - with the exception of gay marriage (I think he'd be in favour of it - although there is admittedly a tension between his views on tradition/evolution of institutions.)
    i was discussing this with Bagration earlier...it seems to me that the question of gay marriage misses a far more fundamental change that would, for some people, render the question of gay marriage irrelevant -- the fundamental change being the removal of state incentives for marriage based on the desire for "spontaneous order" (to use Bagration's words). this change transforms the question because we must now ask about the order desired by society given that the state does not provide incentives for marriage -- my suggestion is that discourse on the questions surrounding gay marriage (be they the recognition of gay marriage or the removal of recognition of heterosexual marriage) must take place within that transformed state, rather than outside of it...and that it is possible the verdict of society on the tradition of marriage will be different from within that state of increased spontaneity.
    Offline

    15
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by Kolya)
    i was discussing this with Bagration earlier...it seems to me that the question of gay marriage misses a far more fundamental change that would, for some people, render the question of gay marriage irrelevant -- the fundamental change being the removal of state incentives for marriage based on the desire for "spontaneous order" (to use Bagration's words). this change transforms the question because we must now ask about the order desired by society given that the state does not provide incentives for marriage -- my suggestion is that discourse on the questions surrounding gay marriage (be they the recognition of gay marriage or the removal of recognition of heterosexual marriage) must take place within that transformed state, rather than outside of it...and that it is possible the verdict of society on the tradition of marriage will be different from within that state of increased spontaneity.
    I believe the scenario I gave went as follows:
    1. Incentives are holding back rapid change of a social institution. The state is being positivist. Hayek would be against.
    2. Incentives are not holding back particular change of a social institution. The state is being stupid. Hayek would be against.

    However, Hayek was also big on isonomia, legal equality... well, who knows?
    Offline

    1
    ReputationRep:
    There's a very interesting article on exactly this issue here: http://www.reason.com/news/show/29169.html
    Offline

    15
    ReputationRep:
    Here's the catch. "They thus would acknowledge that sometimes society must make changes in the name of fairness or decency, even if there are bound to be hidden costs." I think that the hidden costs of gay marriage are not so great that we may deny to the homosexual population a fair and decent treatment.
    Offline

    1
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by Bagration)
    Here's the catch. "They thus would acknowledge that sometimes society must make changes in the name of fairness or decency, even if there are bound to be hidden costs." I think that the hidden costs of gay marriage are not so great that we may deny to the homosexual population a fair and decent treatment.
    Oh I agree with you; I'm about 80% sure that Hayek would have argued against any state recognition of marriage (including tax credits, subsidies, next-of-kin rights, etc) whatsoever. The real interference with spontaneously generated institutions only arose once the state started meting out differential treatment to married/non-married couples, and this is what a Hayekian should oppose, not the drive to treat gays equally under the law.
    Offline

    15
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by DrunkHamster)
    Oh I agree with you; I'm about 80% sure that Hayek would have argued against any state recognition of marriage (including tax credits, subsidies, next-of-kin rights, etc) whatsoever. The real interference with spontaneously generated institutions only arose once the state started meting out differential treatment to married/non-married couples, and this is what a Hayekian should oppose, not the drive to treat gays equally under the law.
    Well, quite. Marriage ought to be a common law, not a legislature, issue...

    Btw, your Locke/Burke distinction of contemporary Libs; wasn't Hume an empiricist, and therefore be on the Lockean side? Or are there other reasons?
    • Thread Starter
    Offline

    0
    ReputationRep:
    (Original post by Bagration)
    Here's the catch. "They thus would acknowledge that sometimes society must make changes in the name of fairness or decency, even if there are bound to be hidden costs." I think that the hidden costs of gay marriage are not so great that we may deny to the homosexual population a fair and decent treatment.
    They are treated fairly. Thet can marry if they want...just to the opposite sex like everyone else.

    And Hume was a conservative not a Lockean.

    Here is an article of Hume's where he argue against Locke on human nature.
    Offline

    15
    ReputationRep:
    No, I'm not sure that's a contemporary or widespread idea of what fair is.
 
 
 
Reply
Submit reply
TSR Support Team

We have a brilliant team of more than 60 Support Team members looking after discussions on The Student Room, helping to make it a fun, safe and useful place to hang out.

Updated: July 27, 2009
  • See more of what you like on The Student Room

    You can personalise what you see on TSR. Tell us a little about yourself to get started.

  • Poll
    Brussels sprouts
    Useful resources
  • See more of what you like on The Student Room

    You can personalise what you see on TSR. Tell us a little about yourself to get started.

  • The Student Room, Get Revising and Marked by Teachers are trading names of The Student Room Group Ltd.

    Register Number: 04666380 (England and Wales), VAT No. 806 8067 22 Registered Office: International House, Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3XE

    Quick reply
    Reputation gems: You get these gems as you gain rep from other members for making good contributions and giving helpful advice.