Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Hayek again

In the Wilson Quarterly Francis Fukuyama reviews Bruce Caldwell’s recent intellectual biography of F.A. Hayek. As Fukuyama notes, the author correctly reminds us that Hayek did not only reject socialism, but also the pretensions of positivistic social science:

But Hayek also offered a far more profound critique of the limits of human reason, which extended to the models that would come to underlie postwar American neoclassical economics and, thus, the economics that we teach university students to this day. Caldwell explains that a constant theme in Hayek’s writing—from his early critique of “scientism” in his “Abuse of Reason” project to his last published work, The Fatal Conceit (1988)—is a critique not just of real-world planners but of positivist social scientists who aim to turn the study of human behavior into something as empirical and predictive as the physical sciences.

Indeed, in this sense he was as critical of fellow free-market economist Milton Friedman as he was of John Maynard Keynes.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Not a bad reminder as we look to the imminent celebrations of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case. Chief Justice Earl Warren’s unanimous opinion appealed to "modern authority," i.e., social scientists, to conclude that racially segregated public schools were unconstitutional. The research supposedly showed that segregated schools caused black youth to feel inferior to whites, and hence government-provided education was not truly equal. Here, equal treatment under the law was determined not on the basis of one’s equal citizenship but on the basis of emotional outcomes as quantified by the aforementioned scientists. We should, as C.S. Lewis warned us in his novel, That Hideous Strength, be loath to determine public policy according to the claims of social science.

So delete footnote 11 and the sentence it cites. Would that really change Warren’s case or his argument? I don’t really think so.

The more important question raised by Warren’s own argument, it seems to me, is how one approaches the claim that the original intent of the reconstruction amendments with respect to segregated schools is a) uncertain (page 489) and b) not a sure guide, since education itself was not as well developed as it is today.

Hayek’s "The Constitution of Liberty" is quite interesting.

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