Blogs > Liberty and Power > A Review of Hayek's Challenge

Apr 2, 2005 10:43 am

A Review of Hayek's Challenge

At my own blog, I've posted a Review of Bruce Caldwell's Hayek's Challenge. I found it an amazing book, one that fully lived up to the warm recommendations it received.

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Roderick T. Long - 4/26/2005

Jason's partial capitulation is here, and my reply is here. Also, it's worth noting that Spencer's Principles of Psychology, particularly the sections on "transfigured realism," contain some striking anticipations of Hayek's Sensory Order.

Steven Horwitz - 4/3/2005

Ken - that was probably Lanny Ebenstein who you asked that question of. Lanny's treatment of Hayek's thought is generally "lost", in my view, so I'm not surprised he had trouble with that question.

Jason Kuznicki - 4/3/2005

Yes, The Sensory Order is crucial to Hayek's thought, and Caldwell does do a very good job of analyzing it. When I spoke of likenesses between Hayek and Daniel Dennett on the origins of consciousness, I was thinking chiefly of these sections of the book. As I said in my review, Hayek's Challenge was remarkably multifaceted, and even with a fairly long review, still I could touch on only some of its implications.

As to Spencer, I am formulating a reply, although I have to say it will not be a full capitulation.

Robert L. Campbell - 4/2/2005


Here's a book that presents the entire range of "Social Darwinist" views (and, despite the Leftist politics of its British author, is a good deal less distortive of Spencer than most treatments by American political scientists):

Mike Hawkins, Social Darwinism in European and American Thought, 1860-1945: Nature as model and nature as threat. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Hawkins will give you multiple examples of Social Darwinists who believed in superior and inferior races, promoted eugenics, and/or praised war as an instrument for eliminating the "unfit."

If you want a big name, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), an extremely successful popular science writer in his day, was both a racist and a promoter of eugenics. (He wasn't so keen on war, though.)

Robert Campbell

Kenneth R Gregg - 4/2/2005

OK, both of you have convinced me to get Bruce Caldwell's book. After I read Jason's review, I was going to jump up and down about Caldwell's failure to extensively analyze Hayek's The Sensory Order, and then I read Steven's review linked above, which soothed my concerns. I consider The Sensory Order to be the foundational work which virtually all of Hayek's major (and most of the minor) writings expand upon. Both good reviews.

At the first FreedomFest held here a couple of years ago in Las Vegas, I asked a speaker, author of a Hayek biography (I've forgotten his name), about his view of the importance of The Sensory Order and he was lost in my question. I later apologized to him because I felt I embarrassed him in the question and answer period, but I left very unsatisfied.

Dr. Leif Smith, a libertarian activist in the early seventies who has gone on currently to do some remarkable work in sports psychology and other fields, developed an excellent methodology using Hayek's theories of the idea of memory and perception in distributed networks. Impressed by this, I spent a lot of time back then going over my collection of Hayek's writings (THAT was worth more than a few college credits!) and pondering the issues.

By the time I met Hayek when he came to give a lecture at UCLA, I was ready to spend every moment of time with him over questions and comments. Ha! He was in his private money system phase and no matter what he was asked about, he either couldn't hear (he was quite hard of hearing) or turned the question into a discussion of the importance of private money! O well. I think at that time, you could have asked him about the weather and his response would have included something about private money!

So, Spencer MacCallum (long-time friend of mine) and I decided to follow Hayek's lead and discuss a number of money privatization approaches developed by libertarians, mainly E.C. Riegel's theories, which we both felt were quite close to that of Hayek's. Hayek sent a letter later appreciating our discussion with him as he had followed up at the Institute for Humane Studies Library, where a number of Riegel's books were available. He agreed that there were a number of similarities and seemed to have few disagreements with Riegel. Some of Riegel's writings are now online:

Just a thought.
Just Ken

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 4/2/2005

Good review, Jason.

I agree with Steven--and Roderick--about Spencer. I have a section on Spencer in my book, Total Freedom, but also an online comment about his "dialectical" predilections:

The First Libertarian

Also, some discussion of Spencer as a foe of colonialism here.

Jason Kuznicki - 4/2/2005

Thank you--I do admit my use of Spencer is not terribly well-informed, though a lot of 19th-century evolutionary anthropology made appalling generalizations about the "higher" and "lower" orders of mankind, where a better evolutionary approach would be to note genetic differences where they exist, and to acknowledge that these differences can't rightly be sorted into "higher" and "lower"--at least not any more than economic preferences in the market can be. Is there a better exponent of this sort of thinking that I should use as a rhetorical device in the future? I don't want to bring up Nazi genetics, of course, but someone else to mention for this type of thinking would certainly be convenient.

As to history, Karl Popper has suggested another reason why we cannot predict the course of the future based on past events: This is that most technological advances cannot be predicted before they happen--otherwise we would have them already. Thus, while we might be able to speculate about some effects that an anti-aging drug might have in our culture, knowing just when that drug will arrive is impossible.

I still have to wonder, though, about the quest for anything even as simple as the laws of supply and demand in history--is it possible for us to find such laws, with appropriate Hayekian qualifiers about future predictions? Or is it impossible? Or (as I think most probable) is history an attempt to subsume all stories about complex systems--meaning that the "laws of history" are those that are discovered in other disciplines? Under such a system, the historian's job is to apply and interpret the principles of various complex systems (mind, economy, law, language, etc) as they relate to one another.

Steven Horwitz - 4/2/2005


Glad you took that recommendation and even more glad you enjoyed the book so much. I'm taking the liberty of forwarding your review to Bruce, who will certainly enjoy it. I'm headed out of town shortly, but wanted to make two quick comments:

1. You dismiss Spencer WAY too quickly. Roderick will throw a fit when he reads your casting out of Spencer, given his ongoing project of busting Spencer-related myths. Short version: Spencer was *very much* a spontaneous order theorist and much of what now is called "Social Darwinism" is a bastardization of Spencer's own thought. Spencer fits perfectly into the Smith and Darwin (and Menger) lineage.

2. Your musings on history at the end are fascinating. I think Hayek's project has much to say about history, but much of *that* is an extension of von Mises' work on the relationship between theory and history. For me, what Hayek gives historians is a set of guidelines for the "doing" of history. In particular, look for spontaneous order stories. The most fascinating history is that of untangling the unintended consequences of human action in all of their glorious detail. We need history to do the work of explaining, at that level of detail, just how we got where we are and WHY. I say that as your inverse: an economist who is a big fan of history.

Lastly, you're welcome to check out my own review of the Caldwell book at:

The published version is just about to appear.

Enjoyed the review immensely.