Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hayek and Fusionism

The TCS Daily has an essay by Edward Feser on "Hayek and Fusionism". I have written some posts on Hayek. And I agree with Feser that Hayek's political thought offers the best ground for "fusionism"--the understanding of conservatism as combining traditionalism and libertarianism. But I would also argue that Darwinian conservatism offers the best way to support this shared commitment to individual liberty and traditional morality that constitutes fusionist conservatism.

Like Feser, I think it's significant that Hayek identified himself as a Burkean Whig, which suggests a union of the classical liberalism that began with the Whigs and the traditional conservatism that began with Burke.

I also agree with Feser in seeing this Hayekian union of liberty and tradition as rooted in Hayek's view of human knowledge as radically limited. Because human knowledge is limited, we cannot rely on central planning to secure either economic order or moral order. Free markets and moral traditions embody the dispersed knowledge and experience of millions of individuals over time in a way that is beyond the rational design of any economic planner or moral innovator.

Feser rightly points to Hayek's fundamental claim that economic and moral order arises from the working out of "the contingent facts of biological and cultural evolution." But Feser objects to Hayek's evolutionary account of order as denying the view "that traditional morality rests on a set of objective metaphysical truths knowable through reason."

As I have argued in previous posts, I don't see that conservatism requires a belief in eternal, cosmic purposes as sustaining economic and moral order. We can defend economic liberty and traditional morality as conforming to our evolved human nature. Whether that evolved human nature manifests the intelligent design of "Nature's God" is an open question that points to a fundamental mystery. Religious conservatives will see that evolved order of nature as manifesting a cosmic teleology of transcendent purposefulness. But skeptical conservatives like Hayek will be content to affirm that "life has no purpose but itself."

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