But here he misses my point that it’s precisely this heterogeneity in how individuals rank their natural desires that makes liberal policies superior to illiberal policies, because while illiberal policies impose coercively a single ranking of desires, liberal policies do not impose a single ranking of desires on all. In a liberal, largely open society, individuals are free to choose how to rank their natural desires, as long as this respects the equal liberty of others in their ranking. Thus, liberal policies respect the natural heterogeneity of individuals, while illiberal policies do not.
As indicated by Victor Vanberg at the workshop, Hayek makes this same point when he distinguishes between two kinds of “social planning.” Illiberal planning organizes society by “a system of specific orders and prohibitions,” while liberal planning establishes “a rational system of law, under the rule of which people are free to follow their preferences.”
I largely agreed with what Vanberg said about Hayek and the need for “evolution within constraints.” I also agreed with him in criticizing Hayek’s suggestion that the market order requires a suppression of our natural human desires. This is what I have identified as Hayek’s Freudian theory of human evolution, in which civilization requires the repression of our evolved human instincts. Here is where Hayek’s argument for liberalism becomes incoherent.
If a liberal society is so painful because it requires the suppression of our deepest natural instincts, why does it succeed? And if a socialist society satisfies our deepest natural instincts, why does it fail?
As I have indicated in some previous posts, I see the same incoherence in the “mismatch theory” of Leda Cosmides and John Tooby. Last June, at the meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in the Galapagos Islands, Cosmides and Tooby indicated their agreement with Hayek on this point. At times, they seemed to say that Karl Marx was right about the “primitive communism” of hunter-gatherers, but at other times, they seemed to say that Marx was wrong, because even hunter-gatherers show only conditional sharing or reciprocation, and therefore their sharing is not indiscriminate. Moreover, Tooby and Cosmides seemed to agree with John Locke and Adam Smith in seeing trading behavior in hunter-gatherers that would provide the natural basis for the modern commercial society.
Understanding our evolution as moral animals requires that we understand the complex interaction between our moral nature, our moral culture, and our moral judgment. This interaction of nature, culture, and judgment was a theme in the paper presented by Margaret Shabas (Philosophy, University of British Columbia).
Schabas said that John Stuart Mill “believed that some of our traits are instinctive while others, our moral sense for example, are acquired. But they emanate out of our intrinsic nature and in that sense are organic to our species.” She then quoted from Mill’s Utilitarianism: “Like the other acquired capacities above referred to [speech and reason], the moral faculty, if not part of our nature, is a natural outgrowth from it; capable, like them, in a certain small degree, of springing up spontaneously; and susceptible of being brought by cultivation to a high degree of development.”
In his Descent of Man, Darwin quotes from this same passage in Mill’s Utilitarianism, which Darwin finds contradictory. Darwin argues that human morality is rooted in evolved social instincts. He finds Mill confusing on this point, because Mill seems to say that morality both is and is not naturally instinctive.
Darwin and Mill are actually in agreement, I think, in seeing that natural moral instincts are necessary but not sufficient for the full development of moral life. For Darwin, the first step in the evolution of morality is to have the social instincts that “lead an animal to take pleasure in the society of its fellows, to feel a certain amount of sympathy with them, and to perform various services for them.” But this is only the first step. The other steps include the mental capacity for deliberation, language that expresses social praise and blame, and social habituation.