Having blogged on Hayek recently, and probably soon again, it seems necessary to acknowledge something that came up on the blogosphere today. The left wing blogger Corey Robin (I knew nothing of him before today) has posted damning stuff about Hayek’s apologia for the blood soaked thieving gangster known as Augusto Pinochet, past dictator of Chile. The ‘justification’ was that Pinochet overthrew the Marxist government of Salvador Allende, and that some of his policies were free market. No justification to my mind, and looking a the free market justification in isolation, it’s undermined by the way that Pinochet, his family and other state gangster low life used political power for self-enrichment. Salazar’s dictatorship in Portugal also comes up (follow all the relevant links from the page I linked to). If you follow links you can also find an exposure of Edmund Burke’s fanatical desire for terror and limitless war against Jacobinism. There is a connection with Hayek, because Hayek was a Burke fan, exposing a conservative element in his thought despite his famous paper ‘Why I am Not a Conservative’ (which I linked to in a recent post on Arendt and Hayek).
I saw the Robin material at a libertarian source, Marginal Revolution, where the lead blogger is Tyler Cowen (a very moderate libertarian economist and commentator). If you look in the comments you will see that I stuck my oar in with regard to condemning Hayek on this point. The left-wing group blog Crooked Timber also lined to Corey Robin and added some stuff about Apartheid in South Africa, which Hayek did not condone, but he failed to condemn its architects. Disgraceful. Anyway, Crooked Timber did not mention that Cowen had already linked. A pure accident that no reference was made to a libertarian being so quick to highlight the story of Hayek’s shame. I also stuck my oar in on the comment section over there.
Evidently some let wingers will not be able to resist the temptation to claim that the Hayek mess shows somehow that libertarianism is about favouring dictatorship. Well look at yourself, or your friends, who condoned all kinds of left wing dictatorships, and continue to condone Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, or the increasing dictatorial Chavez in Venezuela.
With regard to my own position, I think that Hayek’s general arguments are most compatible with democracy, and that is what he says himself on the whole. An element of ‘momocracy’, law and legal institutions turned into power centres not just centres for interpreting laws made by political bodies, does creep into Hayek. Though rule of law and constitutionalism are important, the institutions which interpret laws and constitutions, should not usurp the law making or constitution formulating functions.
The recent post on Hayek and Arendt explains that I think Hayek type liberalism is best taken with republican political thought, that is thought that emphases the activity of citizens in the political sphere. I would also add the thought of Michel Foucault for its many great insights into the nature of power, and possibilities of individual autonomy, amongst other things. Of course Foucault had his own problems with tyrannophilia for a while, he was a Mao fan (though not a Marxist!) for a time. So lots of fault to go round for fellow travelling with state terror.