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606. Return (XI)

FA Hayek is substantially correct in his ideas, but he makes one major mistake that invalidates them. Hayek points out that Darwin’s evolutionary outlook borrowed from the humanities and what became the social sciences; he holds that the idea that there is evolution mediated by iteration and removal over the generations originated in how people saw the state as it developed—the Burkean view, tradition as a long experiment over the generations; errors have been gradually removed, just as the unfit fail to reproduce in evolution.

Hayek contrasts this view with the left’s view—as first adumbrated around the French Revolution—that holds that we may emerge “as if from the state of nature” and make a new social contract to redesign society from scratch. Human nature, here understood as a leftist term, has been mastered—all that is required is to let people use their intelligence to make decisions about their lives. The view advanced by Hayek is that, on the contrary, people should not make decisions about, for example, sexual propriety with aid only from their intelligence—instead, they should rely on convention and tradition; essentially, do what everyone has always done.

The problem with Hayek’s view is that he explicitly says that it was a mistake to reimport Darwinism into politics—even though he claims Darwinism derives from the study of the “evolution” of political institutions. Instead, Hayek holds that there are just institutions and that people, being memetic, adopt certain practices, traditions, and institutions; hence there is no biological connection to institutions. This is where Hayek goes wrong; and he must go wrong, since it is forbidden in the post-war world to write the truth about the actual situation.

When the British Empire collapsed, there were efforts to make sure that the former colonies retained British institutions and customs; and so many African states, and, most notably, India had parliaments—and even judges in big wigs. Yet it was all for nothing, you could impose those institutions on the Africans and Asians but it always devolved into tribalism—or whatever the local political organisation was before—even if the husk of British institutions remained. To take a hypothetical example: imagine if I kidnapped one of your children and substituted in his place a completely different child, but one whom I had trained to “mimetically” absorb your traditions—to adopt your family’s institutional structure. Would that be the same as your child? Would the family “institution” function as before? Of course not, yet this is what Hayek would have us believe in his institution-centric model. He has excluded biology and that places him on the left—it is a leftist hallmark to exclude biology, to exclude nature.

The problem is that Hayek was hugely influential on the Western right. Margaret Thatcher treated his The Constitution of Liberty as a Bible—and Enoch Powell was similarly an enthusiastic follower. Yet Hayek was wrong: institutions are connected to peoples—perhaps, as Dawkins would say, they are an “extended phenotype”. If you change the personnel, even if the new personnel mirror a few superficial aspects, then you will not have the same institution.

In other words, when a British town becomes predominantly Pakistani it makes no odds if the mayor still wears an elaborate gold chain and the council documents follow “Hansard rules”—the council will be run more like Pakistan than not. Even places like Singapore, places that retained extensive British institutions, such as the common law, and thrived economically face a biological problem—Singapore is an “IQ shredder”; it sucks in high-IQ people but cannot reproduce itself—partially because it works under laws that are not organic, not laws that evolved in tempo with its population. This is one reason why Thatcher ultimately failed: conservatives became enamoured with the idea that institutions grow and develop organically and thought they could treat these, per Hayek, as completely separate from the population the institutions were meant to protect and develop—yet the two are inextricably linked.


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