Wednesday, May 15, 2019
Hayek’s Tragic Capitalism
My essay “Hayek’s Tragic Capitalism” appears in the Spring 2019 issue of the Claremont Review of Books. (It’s behind a paywall at the moment.) From the article:
Nor will one find in [Hayek’s] work the chirpy optimism with which many libertarians and Reaganite conservatives ritualistically defend the market economy. Hayek’s case for free enterprise doesn’t fit any of the usual simplistic stereotypes. He not only explicitly and persistently rejected laissez-faire, but could write as eloquently about the moral downside of capitalism and the emotional attractions of socialism as any left-winger. In an era in which – young socialist chic notwithstanding – global capitalism appears to have swept all before it, it is the triumphalist defenders of the free market rather than its critics who have the most to learn from Hayek’s cautious, nuanced apologia…
For all its purported gritty realism, however, Hayek’s fusionism is no more stable than the more familiar kind. Even putting aside Hayek’s agnosticism and his materialist assumptions about human nature (neither of which I share), his position is seriously problematic in at least three respects…
None of this implies a condemnation of capitalism per se. The problem is one of fetishizing capitalism, of making market imperatives the governing principles to which all other aspects of social order are subordinate. The irony is that this is a variation on the same basic error of which socialism is guilty – what Pope John Paul II called “economism,” the reduction of human life to its economic aspect. Even F. A. Hayek, a far more subtle thinker than other defenders of the free economy, ultimately succumbed to this tendency. Too many modern conservatives have followed his lead. They have been so fixated on socialism and its economic irrationality that they have lost sight of other, ultimately more insidious, threats to Western civilization – including economism itself. To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, a madman is not someone who has lost his economic reason, but someone who has lost everything but his economic reason.
Read the whole thing. The essay is something of a companion piece to my recent Heritage Foundation lecture on “Socialism versus the Family.”