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Samizdata quote of the day

It is possible to go through an entire education to PhD level in the very best schools and universities in the British system without any of your teachers or professors breathing the words “Friedrich Hayek”. This is a pity.

Hayek died 25 years ago today, yet his ideas are very relevant to the 21st century. He was the person who saw most clearly that knowledge is held in the cloud, not the head, that human intelligence is a collective phenomenon.

If Hayek is mentioned at all in academia, it is usually as an alias for Voldemort. To admire Hayek is to advocate selfishness and individualism. This could not be more wrong. What Hayek argued is that human collaboration is necessary for society to work; that the great feature of the market is that it enables us to work for each other, not just for ourselves; and that authoritarian, top-down rule is not the source of order or progress, but a hindrance.

Matt Ridley

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46 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Jib Halyard

    Hayek is more relevant now than ever. Foucault and all the neo-Marxist claptrap that contaminates the academy and leeches into the surrounding groundsoil are a major part of the reason Western liberal democracy has decided to commit suicide in recent years.
    Hayek also said that the ideals of classical liberalism need to be restated afresh for every generation. Someone needs to talk us off the ledge.

  • MadRocketSci

    Hayek died 25 years ago today, yet his ideas are very relevant to the 21st century. He was the person who saw most clearly that knowledge is held in the cloud, not the head, that human intelligence is a collective phenomenon.

    I don’t know that I agree with that. Before any knowledge can be acted on, it has to be understood and visualized by a single human being. Before any knowledge can be discovered by mankind, it first has to be discovered by one man. No one can understand something *for* you. All the dead tree text on Earth, regardless of it’s lucidity and content, will make no impression on someone who can’t read it, and reconstitute in his mind what it means.

    I’ve personally seen organizations that have more text and accumulated reports in their archives than anyone can possibly read in a lifetime, covering vast technical achievements, which the organizations cannot replicate. They desperately search for people who have the experience to understand it. Without the *experience*, without people who have ever in their lives done the same sort of work, the reports are incomplete and sterile. I’m pretty sure Hayek had a slightly different point in mind.

  • Julie near Chicago

    MadRocketSci: Exactly so. “No one can understand something *for* you,” indeed.

  • Lee Moore

    Before any knowledge can be acted on, it has to be understood and visualized by a single human being.

    Up to a point, Lord Copper. Reread “I Pencil.”

    I have the knowledge that if I press various keys on my computer, I will be able to buy shares in Apple. That’s knowledge that I’ve got, and I can act upon it. But I have no idea how the myriad chains of what other people know, actually make that happen. My total lack of understanding on these points doesn’t prevent me acting on that little snippety bit of knowledge that I have.

    Before any knowledge can be discovered by mankind, it first has to be discovered by one man.

    Again, this is misleading. Mankind “knows” how to produce a pencil (or a computerised stock purchase) in the sense that mankind can achieve these things, not as a weird unrepeatable accident, but reliably. But no one man knows how to do them. Julie is right to say that no one can understand something for you, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make use of someone else’s understanding without understanding that thing yourself. Each of understands only a tiny part of the whole. And I don’t mean the whole corpus of human knowledge, I mean the bit of human knowledge that underlies whatever little endeavour, practical or intellectual, that each of us may be embarked on from time to time.

    This is all a replay with variations on “There’s no such thing as society.” There is no such thing as society separate from the individuals who compose it. And yet society has properties and powers that no individual has. Particularly, since we’re talking about knowledge and understanding – society can remember knowledge for a thousand years. No individual can do that.

  • Jib Halyard

    @MadRocketSci,
    That’s not really what Hayek was on about.
    I read him as saying that knowledge is embodied in our institutions, gained over long ages beyond any individual lifespan, and in markets, gained over transactions that span any individual experience. And the only only way to access that knowledge is through a capitalist, classical liberal system rooted in the rule of law.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Jib,

    Personally, I was protesting Mr. Ridley’s statement. Perhaps he didn’t put it quite the way he meant it, or perhaps he misread Hayek. He may well have fallen prey to an excess of enthusiasm at how far we’ve come …

    Lee,

    Yes, “I Pencil.” Wonderful piece by Mr. Reed, but not entirely true. Not all pencils have the ferrule. Not all pencils have erasers. In fact I myself have a handcrafted pencil whose barrel was carved of raw wood, and the core graphite was inserted. Now if that’s true, I doubt that the craftsman manufactured the graphite, though he might have shaped it himself. But then again I assume it’s really graphite, but it might well be charcoal; I’ve never actually written with it.

    The fact remains that yes, of course we build whatever we build on the knowledge found by those before us. But consider the original builder at each stage. That person had to gain the knowledge to build what he did. MadRocketSci is right: No one could push the knowledge into the builder’s head. He had to gain it and integrate into his own on-board database and processor himself.

    And Lee, I understand your point about using the computer, but you your own self had to learn and understand the part of computer knowledge that lets you build your production — say buying or selling shares in Apple.

    The Wright Bros., of course, collaborated to build their wonderful flying machine. But each of them had to gain and understand the knowledge that he put into the project.

    Ridley says that “human intelligence is a collective phenomenon.” Ye gads! Maybe he doesn’t know what a “collective phenomenon” is. An example of such a thing might be a mob that gets lathered up and starts rioting. Or a bunch of people are moved to laugh by the few who start laughing — a very common occurrence among people at a party, for instance. And it’s why the TV people keep putting in those very annoying laugh tracks. Laughter is catching….

  • Rich Rostrom

    It’s very interesting that the recognition of knowledge as a collective phenomenon is such powerful evidence against economic collectivism.

    Knowledge is collective – no one person or group can have all of it. Therefore no one should have all authority, either.

  • Rob

    The people who favour “authoritarian, top-down rule” are the ones calling him Voldemort.

  • Paul Marks

    Examination of the works of the late F.A. Hayek can lead to many criticisms of his philosophical, political and economic thought – but academia does not tend to really examine the works of Hayek (probably because examination shows he was not pro freedom enough – not “extreme” in his support for freedom)they either ignore him or dismiss him.

    Still praise where praise is due.

    Although none of the academics I knew at the University of York (alas I did not really know Jack Wiseman) or University College London really examined the works of Hayek, three of the academics I knew at the University of Leicester did – one in the Economics Department (his name escapes me – but he was a IEA man) and two in the Politics Department.

    John Day (a mainstream person politically) actually taught a course on anti big government thinkers (including Hayek) and although I had read these thinkers before coming to university I noted that none of the other students had – without John Day they would never have heard of them.

    And Murray Forsyth (a conservative) actually wrote a small work critical of Hayek’s self-denying “The Sensory Order” – I do not think it was every published, but I recall it was called “Hayek’s Bizarre Liberalism” (full disclosure I was involved in the research for this work – so any errors in it are partly my fault).

    I remember the very first essay I wrote (or rather spoke – I recorded it on to a cassette, I could speak well in those days) at the University of Leicester – it was on the first year Politics textbook “In Defence of Politics” by Bernard Crick.

    A couple of academics, both mainstreamers, told me that I had “taken the book apart” (actually all I had done is examine the words in the work, especially the word “freedom”, and showed they were very badly defined by the author – that his conclusions made no sense even from his own political point of view) and it was actually withdrawn the following year.

    My one and only success in academia – “beginners luck” perhaps, but also an example of fair mindedness by academics.

    I have noticed that as free market people retire from British universities (or even open minded mainstreamers) they are replaced by closed minded leftists. Even the libraries have changed – for example Jack Wiseman’s library at the University of York was moved out (for more admin space) and there was a purge of books in the library of the University of Leicester.

    Perhaps it is a tribute to the power of free market thought – not only must it (now) be either ignored or sneered at by the academics, the books themselves must be removed from libraries (in case students come upon them by chance).

  • If Hayek is not known at all in academia, how come the photo shows him teaching at the LSE (one of the world’s foremost academic establishments) in 1948? And his Nobel Memorial Prize? Have ‘they’ really forgotten him since those?

    Is it not also disappointing that so many have never heard of so many others from other fields: Ada Lovelace, James Clerk Maxwell, John Napier, Claude Shannon. In fact is this not the usual status of all but a handful?

    Writing “that human intelligence is a collective phenomenon” is, IMHO, not accurate enough. It definitely is so that human economics is a collective phenomenon, not so much that intelligence is. And the mere remembering of past intelligent thought is not itself the primary meaning of intelligence.

    But I suppose this is only an article in a daily news sheet – one should forgive the occasional overstatement.

    Ridley ends his article with: “It was exchange and specialisation that enabled us to do so. That’s Hayek’s great discovery.” No, both of these were known long before Hayek. On division of labour, try Ibn Khaldun, William Perry, Adam Smith, the rest. On exchange, try cowrie shells (and before).

    With such things as Hayek and classical liberal economics, my biggest disappointment is on the understanding that a bit of something being good does not mean that a lot of that same thing is even better. From “The Constitution of Liberty” it is clear that Hayek knows that. But what is so special is not that he knows the obvious (that so many miss) but that he argues cogently on where the lines should be drawn, why and how firmly.

    Best regards

  • James g

    No one’s mentioned Prices. That’s the important way in which local knowledge is communicated to the market. Which is why price fixing doesn’t work.

    Also, Hayek is treated as a market fundementalist. Easy to spot those who haven’t actually read him. He supports minimum welfare states and plenty of interventions in the market.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @James g,
    Absolutely! I keep telling my disbelieving academic colleagues that prices are an amazing mode of communication that we sadly ignore. Prices aggregate information and objectives.

    In complex organisational structures of all sorts, pricing is the best way to communicate. Rather than target-setting over umpteen different criteria, we should price things. This will rapidly incentivise the behaviour (and balance-striking) that we want and if it doesn’t that’s because we’ve got the pricing wrong.
    You will have spotted that I’m talking about situations where we don’t have a market to do it for us. In business, the issue often resolves into a question: “why not create a market, invite in external players and improve efficiency?”
    My colleagues would say that’s nonsensical, I would say it’s nonsense only if you don’t know what you are seeking to provide or believe that you’re not very good.

  • Mark

    I remember reading Samuelson Economics maybe 15 years ago now. Not one mention of Hayek. Of course the whole point of the textbook was to suggest that there are two ways to control an economy: fiscal policy or monetary policy, and it decided that monetary policy was the only sensible option. There’s no room for free-market talk in economics texts apparently

  • Dr Evil

    Was Hayek a microbiologist? That’s why he never got a mention in any lecture I went to nor in my thesis as he had done no work on Clostridia species or any other anaerobes. This proves your point re a degree and Ph.D without a mention of Hayek.

  • Cristina

    Was Hayek a microbiologist? That’s why he never got a mention in any lecture I went to nor in my thesis as he had done no work on Clostridia species or any other anaerobes. This proves your point re a degree and Ph.D without a mention of Hayek.

    Now I feel better! 🙂

  • Edmund Burke is one who, even more than Hayek, should be known and is not – as was explained on this blog a little over four years ago.

    I discovered Burke quite by accident, while reading Hannah Arendt when I was a post-grad. Given my interests and opportunities from youth, to encounter burke that late is a damning comment on whom our culture does and does not present to us.

  • Nigel Sedgwick (March 25, 2017 at 8:54 am): “Is it not also disappointing that so many have never heard of so many others from other fields: Ada Lovelace, James Clerk Maxwell, John Napier, Claude Shannon?”

    Actually, no the reality is not, or not so very. If you are taught logarithms – certainly in a Scottish school – you will know about John Napier (even more so if, like me, he’s one of the people illustrated in the huge paintings on your junior school’s dining room wall). If you go on to do an undergraduate physics degree in the James Clerk Maxwell building, you are sure to know about JCM even before you learn the details of his many discoveries. And if you then earn your bread in computing, you will – for obvious reasons – learn even more about Ada, Countess Lovelace than her worthy role in the early history of computing truly merits, relatively speaking; she is much better known than Claude Shannon.

    Relatively speaking, Burke and Hayek are far more ignored than these (with the debatable exception of Shannon).

  • Alisa

    There’s no room for free-market talk in economics texts apparently

    Of course there is not, as free markets have very little need for economics texts or for economists who write them.

  • bobby b

    That would be like The Big Book Of Rules of Anarchism.

  • Thailover

    I have a great respect for Matt Ridley, especially when he’s trashing global warming. But, he’s a collectivist through and through, (which is a form of folly), ‘thinks “selfishness” and individualism precludes cooperation, social or otherwise, and I’m sure he’s unaware that egoism and egotism (with a “t”) are miles apart. Perhaps I should send him an audio-book of In Defense of Selfishness by Peter Schwartz, which in my opinion is the best book on the core substance of Objectivism, second only to The Virtue of Selfishness.

    And Julie as regards I Pencil, general explanations are not refuted by specific exceptions. General explanations are generally true or generally false. “Pencils have erasers” is generally true. Specific exceptions won’t change that fact. Now, it the statement was “All pencils have…” that would be a different story because it would be a universal statemet. (Catagorical logic nerd here).

  • Thailover

    Mark wrote:

    “Of course the whole point of the textbook was to suggest that there are two ways to control an economy: fiscal policy or monetary policy, and it decided that monetary policy was the only sensible option. There’s no room for free-market talk in economics texts apparently.”

    What they’re REALLY selling is control, or at least the illusion of control, not wisdom. Fiscal policy requires the cooperation of congress, and that’s just too much sharing of power, whereas monetary policy, i.e. screwing with the prime and giving a false market signal for the price of money, can be done in (White) house. The federal government is a fan of Keynes yet conveniently ignore when they have steered themselves into a liquidity trap corner that they can’t prime-manipulate themselves out of, as we’ve recently seen with the Obama administration. So they’re fond of Keynes…with enormous blind spots.

  • Alan Peakall

    What makes the intervening 25 years seem such a long time to me is the recollection that The Economist magazine of the time could still grant space to an obituarist who began his column “Few would find it hard to forgive Friedrich von Hayek for shuffling of this mortal coil in the week that the UK faced a choice between John Major and Neil Kinnock”.

  • Thailover

    Nigel wrote: “And his Nobel Memorial Prize? Have ‘they’ really forgotten him since those?”

    You might like this.
    (youtube music video)
    Rap battle between Keynes and Hayek (“with an a”). “Keynes” part is a bit cringy, but it gets better when “Hayek” sets him straight. The piece is obviously written from a pro-Hayek perspective, which is good, and I do like the slam on the Fed Reserve “bartenders”, Ben and Tim. 😉

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thailover, obviously the Pencil was intended to stand for pencils generally, or “in general.” (Note that “generally” is itself a tricky word, as it can mean “usually or commonly or ‘as a rule,'” and it can also mean “always,” that is, a blanket rule.) In the subject piece, which as a matter of fact I do admire, the Pencil described seems meant to stand for Everypencil (cf. Everyman), the Universal Pencil. I’m only saying it’s not the best example precisely because it doesn’t always apply.

    If Mr. Read meant “most pencils,” he should have said “most pencils.” (Categorical logic nerd and accuracy-in-language nerd here.)

    . . .

    Thanks for confirming my suspicion that Mr. Ridley is one whose general outlook does include collectivism as a waypoint or parameter.

    My problem with the quote, and with that way of interpreting the fact that knowledge builds on prior knowledge, is that it’s precisely the excuse for “You didn’t build that!”

  • Lee Moore

    Julie : obviously the Pencil was intended to stand for pencils generally, or “in general.”

    Perhaps, but the story is explicitly about a specific pencil. Aside from the details of which wood and which mill were involved, the pencil is identified at the end of the piece :

    “My official name is “Mongol 482.” My many ingredients are assembled, fabricated, and finished by Eberhard Faber Pencil Company”

  • Lee Moore

    Julie : My problem with the quote, and with that way of interpreting the fact that knowledge builds on prior knowledge, is that it’s precisely the excuse for “You didn’t build that!”

    But a pretty poor excuse. I built that with lots of help from prior knowledge, and with the help of suppliers. All the help that people wanted to be paid for, I paid for.

  • Julie near Chicago

    And “I, Pencil,” of course, is a parable in which the subject Pencil is to stand for most of Man’s technological accomplishments.

    . . .

    Rich writes,

    “Knowledge is collective – no one person or group can have all of it.”

    Seems to me what’s really meant is that knowledge is dispersed.

  • Thailover

    Nigel, as an old science nerd, the idea that someone doesn’t know who James Clerk Maxwell is as strange as not knowing who Darwin was. But then again most don’t know who Hendrik Lorenz was, although it can be reasonable argued that Einstein’s relativity theories (yes, two of them) are simply the product of taking the Lorenz Transformation seriously (literally).

  • Julie near Chicago

    Indeed, Lee, I should have re-read “I, Pencil.” So yes (I have now checked for myself), he was referring to a specific make and model of pencil.

    The remark about the parable, or explanation of how dispersed knowledge comes together in a product of some sort, still stands.

    .

    Breaking: OBAMA REFUTES MOORE!!!

    In response to Lee Moore’s statement that “All the help that people wanted to be paid for, I paid for,” the Sith responds from Tahiti, where he is about to play the 15th hole:

    What’s payment got to do with it?

  • Thailover

    Lee Moore, yeah when someone like Obama points to a public road and says to someone like Trump, “you didn’t build that”, the proper response should be “I paid for that road to be built and everyone’s salary to build it 5 times over”.

  • Lee Moore

    What’s payment got to do with it?

    Well, Barry, according to you everything. Because it’s you (and Hillary) promoting this “you didn’t build it” meme precisely to justify taking large chunks of my income away in taxes. You want payment for all the stuff I didn’t build myself. Fine, I have no objection to paying for that. But I paid already. And I paid the folk who did the stuff for me. Full market price.

    But you. You deserve squat, because you did squat for me.

    PS And don’t come back and tell me about the roads and the police. They add up to about a fifteenth of my taxes. The rest goes on you buying votes.

  • Thailover

    Jib wrote, “…and all the neo-Marxist claptrap that contaminates the academy and leeches into the surrounding groundsoil…”

    Nice writing.

    “…Western liberal democracy…”

    I know that “democratically elected representative republic” is a mouthful, but “liberal democracy” and/or “western democracy” are too easily conflated or confused with “democracy”, which is majority or even mob rule. What’s worse is that “liberal” in this case, (which stands for classic liberalism/aka libertarianism), can be confused with the expropriated term “liberal” for the political Left wing. I suppose I’ll just have to live with the minefield of possible confusing terms rather than start insisting that people use the aforementioned mouthful phrase. Maybe DERR, (lol) could be used, since people today seem so acronym-happy. It’s almost to the point though that any political writing requires an accompanying primer. 😉
    BTW, not suggesting that “I” find it confusing, but those poor snowflakes need all the help they can get.

  • Thailover

    Alisa wrote:

    “Of course there is not, as free markets have very little need for economics texts or for economists who write them.”

    I have to say though that The Government Against The Economy by George Reisman is one of my favorite reads.

  • Paul Marks

    Alisa you are echoing Mises (the man who informed the good side of Hayek).

    Mises (and Hayek) pointed out that socialists argued “but under us economists will plan society – under a free market you will have no power and have no prestige”.

    In a free market an economist has no more power than an historian or a philosopher – whereas socialism offers them the role of “Philosopher Kings”.

    Nigel.

    Yes academia has, mostly, forgotten Hayek (and other free market thinkers) or just sneers at them.

    There used to a few free market Classical Liberal or Conservative types in most major social sciences and humanities departments.

    That has broken down – now it is common for there to be no anti Big Government people at all in many departments.

    The left have iron grip now – they do not tend to tolerate dissent.

    Niall – the downplaying of Edmund Burke goes back a long way.

    The Bowood Circle (Jeremy Bentham and co) sneered at Burke.

    The next generation, John Stuart Mill and co, understood that they could not refute Edmund Burke – and that even sneering at him might lead people to read his works.

    So they tried to avoid writing about him at all – pretending that Coleridge (a loose minded poet)was the major conservative minded thinker – not Burke.

    J.S. Mill produced an essay taking for granted that Jeremy Bentham (he of the 13 Departments of State – who held that natural rights were “nonsense on stilts”) was the representative “liberal” who should be taught to the young – and Coleridge (not Burke) was the “conservative” who should be taught to the young. Burke is not mentioned.

    So that is the picture that was going to be taught to the young – that a “liberal” is someone who holds there are no rights against the state and that a new “reforming” bureaucratic state should be created (ironically in the name of “freedom” and “free trade” – very European Union) and the “conservative” who should be taught to the young was a Big Government (Protectionist) drug addict poet.

    I think that reading that essay was the first time I really decided I hated Mr John Stuart Mill, the patent intellectual corruption of the essay (both sides of the essay) almost choked me. But it was many years before I openly admitted that I hated the man.

    The one good thing in having no hope left in life is that I can speak honestly – I can say what I really believe. So people say “he was so nice – and now he is so nasty”, because private thoughts need no longer be concealed.

  • Mr Ed

    Von Hayek’s problem was that coming after von Mises was a bit like following Mozart, he had little to say on economics that would outshine von Mises, and I always had the impression that he knew this and drifted off towards pseudo-neuroscience babble (I compress and tautologise) to make his own nîche.

    However, as a polemicist against the Left, he did great work, albeit not as engaging as Milton Friedman.

    I suspect that today, where it matters, the narrative is that Hayek was too right wing for Mrs Thatcher, which passes for a refutation by proof.

  • Lee Moore

    Hayek got himself mightily confused on coercion.

  • Paul Marks

    Lee Moore – yes. The “general rule” stuff does not work – for example “everyone shall have no legs” is a “general rule”.

    And the “evolved law” stuff relies on judges – and the last century of American Constitutional judgements show how unwise that is. Judges are only as good as the PRINCIPLES they follow – and modern education tends to push bad principles (and Hayek himself shies away from clear principles – almost assuming, like some moral Darwinist, that whatever “evolves” must be morally good).

    Even in the 19th century a judge tried to bring back the laws on “engrossing and forestalling” (the mess that Edmund Burke had got rid of in the 18th century) – and an Act of Parliament had to be passed to prevent judges interfering in the wholesale trade. Or course Parliament is often a mess as well – but that is another matter.

    Judges need a sound education in clear principles – and they not going to get that reading Hayek (although reading Hayek is VASTLY better than what they do read as students).

    For a model of how a judge should understand and apply sound principles of law I would suggest Sir John Holt – the Chief Justice after “1688 and all that” – a classic “Old Whig”.

    Mr Ed.

    I think there are clear areas of economic thought where Hayek is superior to Milton Friedman – although (as you say) inferior to Mises.

  • Paul Marks

    As every good lawyer used to know….. – a “crime” must involve the conscious intention (decision) to aggress against the body or goods of another person or organisation.

    And a civil tort must involve actual (although unintentional) damage done to person or property due to negligence (carelessness).

    Example – if I deliberately throw someone off a high cliff shouting “die! death to all brown eyed people!” (my victim being brown eyed – or my thinking he is) and he dies, I am guilty of murder.

    If I wander into someone because I am not bothering to look where I am going (quite likely in my case) and I accidentally push a person off a high cliff to their death – I am guilty of a civil tort (due to my negligence).

    For the first example I am punished for the crime of murder.

    For the second example I am held liable to pay compensation to the family of the person I accidently pushed off the cliff(because I was walking about with my eyes shut) – for depriving them of their bread winner.

    They have suffered a loss – due to my negligence.

    In the first case no loss need be proved – as I am guilty of the crime of deciding to unjustly kill (“murder”) an innocent man.

    Of course Hayek was taught Legal Positivism by Hans Kelson (and other filth) – and to his great credit REJECTED Legal Positivism (the doctrine that “the law” is just the will of the state – the doctrine of wicked and unjust men, such as Thomas Hobbes), but sadly Hayek never embraced the simple principles of the law.

    Yes, simple, principles – although their application may be very complex.

    And those simple principles are not found by the emerging advantage of society….. burble, burble, burble.

    To a proper lawyer there is no such thing as the “public interest” (well THERE IS in certain parts of the law – but not generally) or (Americans please note) the “General Welfare” – there are only specific persons and their associations.

    “This lady has suffered a grievous wrong…” is the correct way to begin a legal judgement.

    The “evolution of society” is NOT.

  • Mr Ed

    In your examples Paul, there is also gross negligence manslaughter in the killing without malice aforethought*. And indeed, in our current law in England and Wales, the doctrine of constructive malice has wrongly I say been scrapped, e.g. a getaway driver in a bank robbery accidentally runs over a pedestrian whilst engaged in the act of robbing the bank, the intent to do wrong in the robbery sufficed for malice and intent to harm the pedestrian.

    Your failure to pay sifficient attention being, if you like, a form of state of mind which can oerhaps best be addressed by ‘staying in bed’ lest you harm others, or venture you out at your legal and others’ mortal peril.

    * currently intent to kill or do grievious bodily harm, I would say that any battery, assault or affray should suffice.

  • Paul Marks

    Interesting Mr Ed. And if one is walking about with one’e eyes shut then it is indeed perhaps better to stay in bed until such time that one is prepared to look at the world.

    As for the general principles of law (which, I repeat, are simple – although their application may be very complex), to show that they are NOT “English” or “modern” can easily be seen from reading Frederick Bastiat’s “The Law.

    Mr Bastiat was French – and writing almost two centuries ago.

    The Great Charter of 1215 (which is nothing to do with “democracy”, as the BBC seems to think it is, and everything to do with private property and liberty being encouraged on by the Crown) is also hardly “modern”.

    That justice is neither aggressing against others (both individual others – and their associations) was, correctly, taught by Lycrophon (and many others) in Ancient Greece – and incorrectly disputed by Aristotle and others.

    The claim of Aristotle that justice is about the Polis making people “just and good” (as opposed to the non aggression principle) is up there with his claim that goats breath through their ears – it is just incorrect.

    In Roman law it was correctly taught that natural justice forbad slavery – but incorrectly taught that the laws of “all nations” (actually not “all” nations even then) trumped natural justice via the positive edicts of the state.

    Saint Patrick was not “educated” enough to have absorbed the false doctrine – although his personal experiences may have given him some special insight into this question.

    The basic non aggression principle of justice is valid in all “historical periods” and geographical locations – and it is NOT determined by race or social class. It is NOT the basis of all the virtues (justice is but one virtue – there are other virtues such as charity), but it is the basis of law.

    Right law being the effort to establish the non aggression principle (non aggression against persons and their associations – such as Temples and so on) in the complex reality of ordinary life.

    As Tolkien put it – justice is not one thing among men and another thing among elves and dwarves, the basic principles are the same everywhere (the wicked injustice of some rulers and tribes not withstanding) and it is a person’s job to discern these principles and apply them “as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house”.

    Cicero and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius would have nodded in agreement – although they would have started to make excuses (essentially the “law of all nations” dodge is “other nations would do it to us, if we did not do it to them”) when people pointed at their inconstancy when it came to slavery.

  • Paul Marks

    As Marcus Aurelius put in his Meditations….

    “a polity in which there is the same law for all, a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed”.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I advocate selfishness and individualism, if by selfishness we mean the right to pursue a happy life, subject to the right of others to do the same. I wasn’t aware that this was seen as somehow bad, and it is a shame that Ridley, no doubt trying his best to explain Hayek to potentially hostile readers, should have made this point.

    Selfishness, properly understood, is not the same as callousness, viciousness or a general “fuck-you” to everyone else.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    When will someone produce a tshirt with the slogan ‘To Hayek with Keynes!’? I’d wear it!
    I advocate enlightened self-interest, where you consider as many of the consequences of your actions as you can. Though Objectivists try to ignore it, the Golden Rule (Treat all other people as you would like to be treated by them.) is a good, general, principle. Perhaps they don’t like the fact that it is attributed to Jesus, but I have never heard of a better principle from an Objectivist.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Johnathan, 11:03 yesterday:

    Very well put.

    .

    Nicholas, Miss R. preferred what is said to be Rabbi Hillel’s formulation of the idea — although I’m pretty sure it goes back well into Old Testament times:

    “Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you.”

    There is more than one way to analyze that logically, but for Objectivists the idea is that “I’ll refrain from trespassing on your person or property, if you will refrain similarly from trying to trespass on yours.” (The thought includes more than just that, but it’s L-O-N-G past bedtime!) They are supposed to like it when it’s put that way, because it demands no duty of positive action: Nobody has a claim on you just because you had the misfortune to be born.

    It’s true that some Objectivists come out in hives when one mentions Jesus, or Christianity, or religion-in-general. But then, so do lots and lots of non-O’ists. Very tiresome.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    The formula attributed to Jesus is more positive. Not helping someone in danger is not as attractive as helping them, for instance.

  • Alex

    […] because it demands no duty of positive action: Nobody has a claim on you just because you had the misfortune to be born.

    Interesting. I have for some time been pondering if duty necessarily entails obligation. I very much agree that no-one has a claim on you just because you exist. While taking action may be morally “the right thing to do” I find it deeply troubling that someone should be legally compelled to take action. I think this is intimately related to conscientious objection and such.