Mercure Hotel Panorama
This is my second major conference this year on the intersection of evolutionary science and liberalism. The first was the meeting in June in the Galapagos Islands on "Evolution, the Human Sciences, and Liberty," which was sponsored by the Mont Pelerin Society and the Universidad San Francisco de Quito. Just as I wrote a series of posts on the Galapagos meeting in July, I will write another series of posts on the Freiburg meeting once I return.
It's appropriate that this workshop is being held in Freiburg. Friedrich Hayek was one of the leading thinkers bringing together Darwinian evolution and liberal thought, and he spent most of the last decades of his life in Freiburg, associated with the University of Freiburg (1962-1968, 1977-1992). Moreover, the sponsorship of the Walter Eucken Institut in Freiburg shows the influence of the Freiburg School of Ordo-liberalism. I will be giving the opening lecture at the workshop on "The Evolution of Darwinian Liberalism," and I plan to point out how similar my arguments are to the reasoning of the Freiburg School.
Viktor Vanberg has written a good paper on the intellectual history of the Freiburg School. This school of thought originated at the University of Freiburg in the 1930s through the work of economist Walter Eucken (1891-1950) and two jurists, Franz Bohm (1895-1977) and Hans Grossmann-Doerth (1894-1944).
The central concept of the Freiburg School was captured by the German word Ordnung or the Latin word Ordo. Liberalism, the Freiburg theorists argued, requires a market order that is a constitutional order, and thus true liberalism must be an ordo-liberalism. Some proponents of laissez-faire liberalism sometimes convey the impression that free markets can function best without any rules enforced by government, and indeed some of them (like Murray Rothbard, for example) have been anarchists. But the Freiburg ordo-liberals have argued that a free market order is not anarchistic, because it depends upon a constitutional framework that sets the rules of the game of free competition, in which all economic agents meet as legal equals and coordinate their activities through voluntary exchange and contract. This constitutional order of liberty includes both the informal norms that arise through cultural evolution and the formal norms of legal and political design.
This might seem to violate the classical liberal principle of spontaneous order as an unintended order that is free from governmental planning. But while arguing for the deliberate planning of a constitutional framework of general rules within which markets work spontaneously, the ordo-liberals argue against the attempt to deliberately plan an economy to achieve specific outcomes. The deliberate planning of the constitutional order can indirectly improve the economic order by facilitating the spontaneous emergence of free economic coordination, but this is very different from the effort of economic planning through specific interventions to achieve directly some desired outcome. Liberal planning creates general or abstract rules enforced equally over all individuals, so that government does not create special privileges for anyone. As Vanberg indicates, this ordo-liberalism is very similar to James Buchanan's "constitutional economics."
I would like to know more about how Eucken and others acted during the Nazi era--particularly, during the Rectorship of Martin Heidegger at the University of Freiberg, beginning in April of 1933. I have heard that they were linked to the resistance movement of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Is this true? Did they resist Heidegger's Nazification of the University? I don't know.
The influence of the Freiburg school on public policy was greatest in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when Ludwig Erhard--a product of the Freiburg school--was Finance Minister of Germany.
The liberal thought of the Freiburg School is the kind of classical liberalism that I defend in my paper for the Freiburg workshop. I argue that the fundamental idea of liberalism is that society is largely a self-regulating unintended order--a largely self-enforcing order created unintentionally by the free exchanges of individuals seeking to satisfy their individual desires. Darwinian evolutionary science supports that liberal idea by showing how human social order--morals, markets, laws, and politics--arises from the evolutionary interaction of the unintended orders of human nature and human culture and the intended order of human reason. Thus, social order is largely self-regulating as it emerges from the unintended evolution of human nature and human culture; but social order is not completely self-regulating insofar as it is influenced by the intentional choices and deliberate planning of human individuals, although those choices and planning are constrained by human nature and human culture. Governmental choices and planning are required to design the constitutional order that sets the general rules within which the spontaneous orders of life can arise.
And yet, as Vanberg indicates, this leaves the classical liberal with a dilemma: government is both the necessary guardian of the competitive order and the greatest threat to it, because we need government to enforce the abstract rules of a free society without granting special privileges to anyone, but government is always a target of interest groups seeking special privileges, and it's hard to devise constitutional rules to prevent privilege-seeking and privilege-granting (or "rent seeking," as the Public Choice economists call it). This is the great conundrum of liberal constitutionalism.
Some of these points have been elaborated in some previous posts here, here, here, here, and here.
Here's the schedule of speakers for the Freiburg conference.
Hotel “Mercure Panorama”, Freiburg, Germany
Friday, December 13
11:00 – 12:30 Margaret Schabas (Philosophy, University of British Columbia)
“John Stuart Mill: Economic Liberalism in an Evolutionary Context”
“Liberalism and the Teleological Turn in the Theory of Cultural Evolution”
11:00 – 12:30 Ken Binmore (Economics, University College London)
“Game Theory and the Social Contract”
“Classical Liberalism, Social Darwinism and the Ambivalence of Sympathy”
Systems’ Explain Real Totalitarian Regimes?”