Hayek is somewhat famous for his essay “Why I am not a conservative.”
In that essay, he states that conservatism has no solution to offer us.
But Hayek, along with Popper, Mises, Parsons, and the more sociological Pareto, Burkheim and Weber, all failed to provide us with that solution. They all tried and failed. Pehaps Hayek and Popper made the most theoretically valuable attempts. Perhaps, Pareto, Burkheim and Weber made the most valuable observations. But the movement failed. It failed to provide a scientific solution, or even a rational one. It failed because it could not produce a set of actions by which people, particularly the political elites. could adapt to new economic and technological circumstances, which was the rising influence of the prior peasantry due to economic participation, and education. THey had no counter to the Marxian Luddite world view.
Unfortuately, although Hayek and Popper both emphasized the knoweldge problem, they still operated in ineffective terms – ineffective causality. Hayek, who got very close to the solution, relied on his work, the sensory order, and thereby made the same mistakes as did Hume, Kant and Mill – failing to sufficiently understand the nature of the human mind in terms of what is NOT possible for it to understand, as well as how it understood. At least Keynes came up with an abstract mathematical principle that would allow politicians to work with tools at their disposal.
Mises came closest, by picking up after Weber’s statement that most social advancement was to do with rules and tools for humans to make decisions, with the economic calculation argument. And while it’s insufficient on it’s own as they expressed it, the calculation argument, was closer to than answer than the various historical or psychological and the Misesian Logical, or the Hayekian sensory models.
Conservatism is a Pareto-residue. A military class’ value system. It is a prescription against hubris. It acknowledges that we are most easily misled by our vanities and perceptions, and that political hubris is most often a political downfall, rather than an heroic political achievement. It says if we do not understand it we should tread lightly, becaus the costs of failure are dear.
As such, it is a prescription of what NOT to do, in a world where we are increasingly empowered to take personal and political actions, yet because of prosperity, we are isolated in time from the outcome of those decisions, and as such, commit the act of hubris, beccause we confuse our abilty to sense an outcome with the fact that that outcome is simply slower to be detectable by our perceptoins.
However, we must act. We must create political actions. Even if those actions are simply to prevent the hubris of others in our politiy from harming us by the results of their folly.
And to act we must understand what is possible and impossible for people within a polity, or at least, beneficial and harmful to us and our fellows.
And conservatism as it is constructed, uses a language of history and largely expresses a condemnation of the Greek concept of hubris. These prohibitions are not quite a religion, and not quite a science. They are a set of observations and limitations. They tell us what not to do, while we do what we know how to do. They warn us about using our pretense of knowledge. They are not a form of skepticism, but a warning against egoism.
But, as a set of principles for an activist, participatory government, they are not sufficient to define what actions we may take as a polity. As limitations for Kings and Oligarchs, they are tribal wisdom. But as wisdom for activist democrats, they are both impossible and uninformative.
In a democratic polity, and perhaps, even a republican polity, Conservatism must become a science in order to combat what are the normal human political preferences that are the outcome of each generation’s politicians, serving each generation’s young, by trying to apply the principles of the family, tribe and clan to the extended order of human cooperation that we call the market, but which is effectively a highly complex information system between people of varied ability, knowledge and desires. And the market is a tool that exists precisely because we cannot know as a group, what many individuals know as individuals. It is a tool mandated by our political ignorance.
It is only science, or the force of scientific argument, that allows us to make decisive political movement in the face of the ignorance and error in the polity due to necessary human ignorance.
All the great minds have failed to create a science of politics.
Hayek failed. He called himself a liberal. Popper did as well. Most of these great thinkers were classical liberals or libertarians – which means a cautious, market oriented conservative. They attempted to discover a science by which to convince members of the polity, or at least their elites, what NOT to do. They were scientists searching for truth to employ in political coercion. They were members of a class that would not be disenfranchised, or diminished, or see their people harmed by the fashionability of democracy, and it’s simplistic view that prosperity could be generated by government, rather than encouraged and protected by government.
In time, Mandelbrot came closer. The behavioral economists closer still. We have seen the recent demonstrated failure of mathematical idealism in economics, and therefore politics – economics being the argumentative scripture of modern politics. But even the behavioral economists are postiviists. THey measure without knowing what they measure, and all of their measurement simply confirms what is common sense, and disproves the ideal type that economists seek to express with their formulae.
The science that the great thinkers of the last century attempted to discover is not a form of sentiment, or emotion, or cognitive bias, but calculation. Calculation in the broadest sense. Calculation in the sense of the tools human memory must make use of in order to compare possible outcomes.
And that process, when understood is quantifiable. It is measurable. It can be tested. It can be proven by testing. It is enormously complicated. But we should not confuse the difficulty of obtaining the data with the value of possessing it. We codified laws. We wrote constitutions. We contrived philosophies. We conducted wars, and we built nations and complex governments. Surely we can solve the greatest problem of human conceptual history, politics, even to the extent of including Hume’s problem of induction.
The properties of individual human memory are the fractal patterns of Mandelbrot’s observations.
Society prospers or dies because it’s tools of calculation keep pace with it’s birth rate. A government’s purpose, if it has one, is to spread calculability. What it does instead is spread taxes, which distort calculability. We do not live in the law-and-tax world any longer. We live in the credit and calculability world. While there will always be laws, laws are only important for those who abandon market participation – what we define as criminals.
Our problem is to insert as much calculative ability into society and therefore into politics. So that rational arguments can be made. So that irrational arguments can be exposed. So that instead of class warfare there is class migration and class cooperation. So that we can cease being a society of laws – prohibitions and punishments, and instead become a society of actions – ambitions and compensations.
Conservatism currently simply assumes those ambitions and compensations without being able to articulate them, or understand their causes.. But it does not comprehend that there are ambitions and compensations that the market CANNOT create. And we cannot make political judgments among the myriad of possibilities, nor stay within the Pareto-Optimum of helping without hurting, without the tools by which to cooperate politically in large numbers while avoiding the problem of creating a self-interested corrupting bureaucracy which simply exploits producers for it’s own benefit, while arguing that exploitation is for the common good.
We need to get government off the drug of secular humanism, the food of taxes, and the fantasy of laws.
We need to build the calculative society.
We need to get away from the religion of secular humanism, and the mystic luddite fantasy of socialism. WE can have our cake and eat it too , if we can measure the ingredients. We can have low taxes and redistribution. We can have small government and large public expenditure. We can cooperate between classes instead of foment class hatred. We can have it all, if we reward our risk takers and producers and redistribute to our laborers and consumers. We can avoid hubris. Hubris is simply the warning that we cannot perceive what we cannot measure, so do not interfere in that which cannot be measured. It is still hubris if you can’t sense or percieve it. It is still hubris if you cannot measure it. And in politics hubris is simply violence and theft. But it is not hubris if you can measure it, and calculate it.
The great thinkers failed to give us the the calculative society. The philosophers failed. The economists failed. They had the answer in their grasp.
We can have the calculative society. And that calculative society is a science of Conservatism.