Sunday, 14 April 2013

The road not built

My main criticism of Hayek's book was his weakness in dealing with the possibility of political mixtures.  This also extends to the titular metaphor of the book itself - the road metaphor, one leading to serfdom and the other to liberalism nicely captures the starkness of the choice Hayek wants to present.  A traveller faces a choice of selecting which road to travel down.  But in the realm of ideas, the metaphor seems to restrictive.  Ideas can be freely constructed, built, developed.    Whereas it makes no sense for a traveller to build a road which is somehow a mixture of the collectivist and the liberal road - if your destination choices were the city of liberalism and the city of collectivism, for ideas, this kind of constraint is unjustified.  We can and do build as many alternative roads as we like.

His characterisation of the totalitarian destination is a great critique.  But it leaves out the pleasure some might find in becoming infantalised by the state.  I have heard even young Russians talk favourably about Stalin, which I find deeply worrying.  Likewise, his characterisation of the ideal of a nineteenth century liberalism is intellectually bracing but it becomes hard to see how a man with cystic fibrosis, just to take an example, couldn't help feeling even in a liberal polity, somehow infaltalised and dependent on the largesse of others, and also perhaps somehow defeated by that culture.  And finally his refusal to talk about the endless variety of middle ways, those unspoken roads, unimagined destinations remains not a logical consequence of some line of reasoning but as a rhetorical device in a well-intentioned struggle to place as much distance between the society he respected and the totalitarian regime he despised.