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Samizdata quote of the day

If it is to survive, democracy must recognise that it is not the fountainhead of justice and that it needs to acknowledge a conception of justice which does not necessarily manifest itself in the popular view on every particular issue

– Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty

14 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • dearieme

    Even a Hayek fan must wonder exactly how “democracy” can “recognise”. Can anyone untangle the great man’s metaphor for me?

  • Fairly obviously it means supporters of a democratic system.

  • Kim du Toit

    Sad when so intelligent a man confuses a political system with a legal and philosophical abstract.

    Democracy is “the will of the people”, while justice is an abstract.

    OF COURSE the two will not always be congruent: they may not even be contiguous, on occasion.

    What’s more interesting, however, is that if the latter occurs, it’s not permanent: so while Hayek is occasionally correct, the injustice will, eventually, be corrected.

  • Kim, a great many people regard the democratic process itself as the source of all justice and anything with thwarts the democratic will therefore a bad thing. I, like Hayek, regard that as disasterously mistaken.

  • Pa Annoyed

    The quote is just arguing against popularism – the ‘tyranny of the majority’. Just because a majority would vote for capital punishment for paedophiles does not make it just, and democracy must be founded on an independently defined and fixed set of moral principles if it is to be stable and not led hither and thither by the mob. Morals are to guide people’s views; for their current views in turn to define morality would be circular reasoning.

    The question of course is where are the moral foundations to come from?

    I don’t know in detail exactly what Hayek proposed, but I would expect that justice, like the market economy or the spoken language, would be contructed by ‘evolutionary rationalism’ or ‘spontaneous order’. Not through central planning (constructive rationalism) nor arbitrarily at random, but through the distributed intelligence of millions of people working and living together. By its nature justice can only be defined by people, but nothing as simple as a majority vote.

    ‘Social justice’ on the other hand is the set of grand principles designed by the intellectuals and to be imposed on society in its own best interests. For the same reasons as the planned economy, social justice cannot cope with the complexity of the real world, and founders on the multitude of special cases and borderline exceptions. That’s why you need to be flexible, and set the minimum limitations necessary to get along, and tolerate others having different ideas about what is just or not. Hayek eventually concluded ‘social justice’ to be a meaningless concept in a free society.

    Some more quotes…

    “The conception that government should be guided by majority opinion makes sense only if that opinion is independent of government. The ideal of democracy rests on the belief that the view which will direct government emerges from an independent and spontaneous process. It requires, therefore, the existence of a large sphere independent of majority control in which the opinions of the individuals are formed.”
    The Road to Serfdom, (1944)

    “The ultimate decision about what is accepted as right and wrong will be made not by individual human wisdom but by the disappearance of the groups that have adhered to the ‘wrong’ beliefs.”
    Attributed to Hayek

  • Paul Marks

    Perry is correct. Many people do use the “will of the people” (by which they sometimes mean the votes of the people who vote for the least unpopular party) as a moral argument.

    Of course, some of them cheat. For example, Rousseau was supposedly a supporter of direct local democracy (he attacked the notion that just getting votes entitled a group of politicians to say that their actions were supported by the people), but he was careful to distingish the “will of all” from the “General Will”.

    The majority of people (or even almost all of them) might be mistaken about what was truly in “their will”, whereas the “General Will” was the will of their true selves.

    Yes Rousseau was playing this game long before Karl Marx (both he and 18th century Gemanic thinkers also played the alienation game long before Marx – pretending that a man who works for pay from someone else [especially in a factory where there is division of labour] is both unfree [and thus alienated from his true self] and alienated from the “product of his labour”).

    The idea that people can be “unfree” even if they are both legally free and think themselves free, and the idea that people can be mistaken about their “true” opinions (thus voting for what they do not really support) enables the left to support democracy (as a moral concept) and oppose democracy (or “false democracy” or “democracy controlled by the rich”) when it suites them.

    For example, if most voters support the Republicans on November 7th this will because they have been tricked (for example by Fox news) and any policy that the leftists do not like (such as keeping the cuts in capital gains tax rates, or getting rid of the death tax) will not be “democratic”.

    However, if most voters support the Democrats on November 7th their policies will be the “will of the people” (democracy not just being a system of government, but a moral argument – even if it is representative democracy in a diverse nation of 300 million people) which only an even rich person could oppose.

    One must also remember that “the rich” is, to a leftist, a metaphysical concept (it need not depend on how much money someone has). For example, I have very little money (no job, lives on savings earned as a security guard, went to state school, lives in government housing), but I am a member (or at least a representative of) “the rich”, whereas George Soros (and many other people who have vast amounts of money) are part of the “progressive classes”, “the people” or even (and very oddly) “the poor”. The media (and academia) will work night and day to try and get Republicans to discard their “antidemocratic” opinions and accept “the will of the people” should they lose on November 7th – there will be no such pressure on the Democrats if they lose.

    The same is true of the words “progressive” and “reactionary” and the word “modern”.

    A “progessive” or “modern” person is someone who (for example) supports higher taxes and this person is someone with a “democratic attitude”. A “reactionary” person who is “stuck in the past and refuses to make his peace with the modern world and the compassionate nature of the people” is someone who is (for example) in favour of lower taxes, such a person has an “antidemocratic attitude”.

    If one just took the Hayek line one would not truly understand the left. For example, if most people supported the death penalty for minor theft one would expect people who claim “democracy” as somehow a moral concept to support this demand – but they do not. They do not even support the death penalty for murder (Robespierre resigned from court work as a protest against the death penalty for murder – although he did support the death penalty for political offenses) – yet they do not say “on this issue I am against the will of the people”.

    The people have been led away from their “true” opinion you see. So a “true” Democrat is opposed to the death penalty – as being opposed is the true “will of the people” (even if most people do not know it). It is the old game of “false consciousness”.

    Ditto with things like “gun control” (i.e. reserving firearms for the government and for criminals). Even suppposdely pro free market journals such as the “Economist” supprt “gun control” as the thing that a “progressive”, “democratic” person would support. The fact that the vast majority of Americans do not want a monopoly of firearms for the government and for criminals is beside the point – their opinion is not democratic (or will change in time as society “develops” or they become “better educated”).

    This is why one should look beyond a statement that a journal or a person is “pro free market” as this may simply mean pro certain business enterprises (especially ones that they are connected with). If someone says they are “compassionate”, “modern”, “progessive”, or “democratic” they should be treated with care. It may well turn out that they are in favour of the welfare state (“public services”) central banking (i.e. government support for the financial industry) and fiat (government command) money.

    It is often forgotten today that much of Edmund Burke’s “Reflections….” was not devoted to defending the Queen of France from threats to murder her (as the work is often presented), in fact more pages were devoted to attacking fiat money (and those things that are connected to it) than anything else.

    But, of course, as F.D.R. explained – fiat money is “democratic” whereas people who want gold (or any other commodity) as laid down in their contracts are “economic Royalists”.

    The people who wrote the Constitution of the United States (which gives only the power to “coin” money to the Congress [as a defence against the “Continentals” of the Revolutionary war] and holds that only gold and silver coin can be legal tender in any State) only THOUGHT they were Republicans you see (they were really “economic Royalists” of different sorts – but it is better if “enlightened” people do not talk about this openly as it would confuse “the masses”). The Constitution they wrote must be “interpreted” in the light of “democratic values”.

    Just as government agencies elected by nobody (such as, in F.D.R.’s time, the National Recovery Administration) must be allowed to make any “laws” they see fit – otherwise we are still in the “horse and buggy” age.

    “True” democracy (“progressive” democracy) depends on executive agencies being allowed to pass endless “laws” under the authority of vague enabling acts. In this way “educated” people can put into practice the true “will of the people”. Only “anti democratic” people can object to this.

  • ian

    Paul Marks said:

    One must also remember that “the rich” is, to a leftist, a metaphysical concept (it need not depend on how much money someone has). For example, I have very little money (no job, lives on savings earned as a security guard, went to state school, lives in government housing), but I am a member (or at least a representative of) “the rich”, whereas George Soros (and many other people who have vast amounts of money) are part of the “progressive classes”, “the people” or even (and very oddly) “the poor”.

    Such sweeping statements really need to be justified. Please point to one person who think Soros is a member of the ‘poor’ – and then tell me why you think this person’s view means anything at all given the reality (Link)they have clearly lost touch with…

  • Paul Marks

    Sure ian.

    Most broadcasting networks in both Britian and the United States presented (at the last election) the Bush Administration (and Republicans generally) as being supported by the rich and Senator Kerry and the Demcrats as representing the poor. So did most newspapers in the United States and many newspapers in Britian (I even remember such implications in articles in the Daily and Sunday Telegraph in Britian – not everyone who writes even for these newspapers is a nonleftist).

    This was in spite of the fact that not only did the Kerry family have a much higher income than the Bush family (although they managed to pay less in taxes) – but also that most billionaries in the United States supported Kerry.

    Mr Soros is not an isolated case you see.

    Of course one could be cynical and say that many of the super rich support such things as inheritance tax and “progressive” income taxes because they are confident that these will just hit other people (Warren Buffet loves inheritance tax because he can use it as a threat to make family owned business enterprises sell out to his organization “you can put the money we will pay you away for your children in a trustfund – but if you cling on to the business….”.) , or that they support government regualtions as a way of hitting anyone who might try and threaten their economic position – but (be that as it may) most of the billionaries were Kerry supporters, but this did not mean they were “the rich” (this being a metaphysical concept – or basically leftist language for “people we do not like, even if they are Rednecks with hardly a Dollar to their name”, by the way “Redneck” is an ethnic slur, but that does not bother leftists either).

    In this way such leftist claims as “we will only increase taxes on rich people” become quite honest – as long as one understands what is meant by “rich people”.

    Of course such things as increasing the top rate of income tax or capital gains tax hurt everyone (apart from tax lawyers and other such) not just the people they hit directly, but the left also wishes to increase taxes on all “antisocial” people (including those without much money).

    Almost needless to say the left are not totally confined to the Democratic party. indeed, long ago, most “Progressive” people were in the Republican party, and one can still find traces of this attitude – for example the cigarette taxes of New York City. Mayor Bloomburg did not shove these up as a subsidy to organized crime (athough that was one of the effects of the move) – he did it in order to be “Progressive” (or “modern” or whatever word you wish to use).

    Of course “Rednecks” have been opposing the tax on distilled spirit since the Civil War (when such taxes where reintroduced – having been got rid of by Jefferson), just as their Scots-Irish (although this group is not confined to any particular blood line these days) ancestors had opposed British taxes on such things since the 18th century (although the exise men did manage to destroy most of the stills in Scotland and Ireland).

    People who read the Bible as if the words on the page meant what they said (as opposed to what they are told Christianity means – as with the “Social Gospel” of God is the Welfare State) and read the Constitution of the United States the same way (as opposed to the “liberal” meaning they are told it has), dislike (to put it mildly) taxes, and trust to their firearms to protect them and their families (as opposed to trusting the goodwill of the enlightened elite) are the “Progressives” worst nightmare – and such people do not tend to have much money.

    But this does not stop the Progressives (or whatever other word you wish to use) calling their enemies “the rich”.

  • Paul Marks

    I should apologise for one thing I typed in my first comment. I typed “even rich” whereas I should have typed “evil rich” (my typing is bad – I do not hold a pen very well either).

    Whether it is a Hollywood film attacking evil corporations and business people generally (films that are normally financed by corporations) or articles in the New York Times attacking “the rich” (although the publisher and most of the readers of the New York Times have lots of money) it is clear what the left think of their enemies – i.e. that they are evil.

    I have no great problem with this, after all I think that the leftists are evil.

  • Paul Marks

    Oh by the way ian, the Socialist states in Eastern Europe collapsed BEFORE Mr Soros made his mega bucks from the pro E.U. obsession (specifically the choice of then Chancellor Major and then Prime Minister Major to rig the exchange rate of the Pound in accord with the first stage of the European Union’s “Economic and Monetary Union” plan) of the Major government in Britian (although Mr Soros already had quite a bit of money before that), so claiming (as the link does) that the mega bucks of Mr Soros had a big role in the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe is bullshit.

    However, that may not be the “reality” you have in mind (that is not for me to say).

    Almost needless to say, none of the Soviet bloc countries (or the Soviet Union itself) claimed to be a “Communist” country (i.e. a country where there was equality of income – like some giant hippy commune) they were socialist countries – i.e. places where the government (or “the people” or the “public power” or whatever term you wish) dominated the means of production, distribution and exchange (although even this is complicated – after all in Poland most farming was private and the country had a private university at a time when Britian did not).

    This is not an attack on the left. After all many conservatives and libertarians use the word “communist country” when they mean “country ruled by a party-government that may or may not be called “” communist”” that wishes to make the country a communist society at some point in the future”.

    In reality these countries were socialist countries (and socialist countries that relied, for the prices of capital goods, on the mixed economies of the West), but to use the correct name upset the various political parties in the West that used the word “socialist”.

  • ian

    According to your original comment ‘leftists’ described Soros as being ‘poor’. That is a long way from your later comments which largely seem to be restricted to arguing that some people in politics are seen by others as representing ‘the rich’.

    You made some perfectly reasonable points about the use and abuse of language by politicians and their ilk. By shifting your argument in mid stream in this way you are doing that which you claim to abhor.

  • ian

    … and reducing everything to the single dimension of left/right and then characterising half of that dimension as ‘evil’ is simple nonsense.

  • Paul Marks

    I agree that “left” and “right” are used to mean all sorts of things – for example even the German National Socialists and Italian Fascists (both ardent collectivists) are described as “rightwing” – also this term is used for racialists generally (no matter that the Italian Fascists did not start off as racialists and that such people as Karl Marx and H.G. Wells were racialists).

    Almost needless to say being opposed to racialism does not stop someone being called “rightwing”, nor does being opposed to the various wars, or even being opposed to the existance of national governments (surely this would be “antinationalist”?). Even Murry Rothbard (an anarchist who took the most hostile line possible in relation to American security policy) was denounced endlessly as a right wing tool of “the rich” (because he supported private property – unlike antiprivate property “anarchists” who just want to rename the state “the people” or “the community” but still want it to control everything).

    However, the people in the United States who call themselves the left clearly do regard their “right wing” enemies as evil (a “rightwinger” being simply anyone who opposes them). I regard these (self described) “leftists” as evil because they wish to expand government – i.e. violate the nonaggression principle by taxing and regulating even more than the government does aleady – but it is more than this.

    I also believe that they would set no limit to their demands. In short if everything the people who control most of the media and academia demand was done they would simply demand more and more – till total compulsory collectivism was achieved.

    If this is not “evil” I have no idea what evil could be.

    It is also true that the leftists present themselves as the representatives of “the poor” – indeed they even imply that THEY ARE THE POOR.

    For example, only a couple of weeks ago I heard a New York Times scumbag (not that any nonscumbags work for the New York Times) on B.B.C. Radio 4’s “Point of View” slot (which he has had for week after week – what the point is of a “Point of View” slot which just carries the same point of view as the rest of the B.B.C. I leave for you to judge ian).

    The man said that he hoped that the votes on increasing minimum wage law levels in various States would help create a class based politics of rich versus poor – it was clear that he regarded people who voted “yes” (such as himself) to an increase in minimum wage law levels to be the poor (regardless of how much money they had).

    This is implied all the time – if you really have not noticed ian, you must have never have read a mainstream American newspaper or watched a main stream television station, or gone to school or college. Unless you have done all these things as a “teacher’s pet” type – i.e. with your mind asleep.

    This may be the best approach to gain various qualifications and to get a good job – but it is not the attitude of a man.

  • Paul Marks

    Almost needless to say increases in minimum wage law levels will harm people who do not have much money (basic law of demand stuff – increase the price and, all other factors being equal, demand will fall so they are less likely to get a job).

    Wages and conditions can only really improve by economic development over time. “Short cuts” (whether they are government regulations, or “picketing” and other paramilitary activities by unions) can not produce long term benefits (although it is possible to “buck the market” in the short term) – in fact they not only increase unemployment but eventually actually make wages and working conditions worse than they otherwise would have been.

    Wages and conditions in the 1920’s were not better than they had been in the 1890s because of unions or goverment regulations – any more than wages and conditions were better in the 1890’s than they had been in the 1830’s because of unions or government regulations. It is the same today.

    There are plenty of regulations in “third world” countries (i.e. countries with a lower level of economic development), but that does not mean that wages and conditions of work are not bad – and stronger enforcement of these regulations would not make things better (it would make things worse than the otherwise would be).

    But still I am wasting my time. The people who are really behind the campaigns for such things as higher minimum wage law levels are not people without much money (on the contrary they have lots of money). It is “the poor” (Soros, Gates, Buffet and so on) who support such things. They are not poor in terms of lacking money – but they feel themselves to be “poor in spirit” because they lack the thing they really want, which is not money – it is a sense of power.

    To be fair some of the above (Gates springs to mind) may subsidize the left because they fear being attacked (by “anti trust laws” and so on). But I do not feel a great desire to defend them (after all Gates senior, described by the New York Times person as a “gentlemanly man” is clearly another rich guy playing at being part of the “progressive classes” and I doubt the son is any different).

    Karl Marx’s money man Fred did this a long time ago (and did it more). A rich factory owner somehow convincing himself that he was poor worker (and that any factory worker who opposed his political opinions was really part of the enemy class).