Home' Policy Magazine : Policy Vol 33 - No 4 Contents 31
POLICY • Vol. 33 No. 4 • Summer 2017-2018
PETER J. BOETTKE
existent constraints. Government over-reaches and
over-steps everywhere and in everything so that
pockets of liberalism provide growing freedom on
some margins while ‘the road to serfdom’ is literally
being manifested on other margins—such as mass
incarceration in the US and the biases evident in
the criminal justice system. Again, government fails
because it grows, and it grows because it fails.
The reconstruction of the liberal project must
begin with a recognition of these problems. Under
the influence of the progressive elite, democratic
countries have asked too much of government
and in the process crowded out civil society and
constrained the market society.
An answer is to be found in mechanisms to once
more restrain the predatory capabilities of the public
sector and unleash the creative entrepreneurship
of the private sector. In the debate, this can be
accomplished to some degree by convincing those in
the progressive elite as well as those on the populist
left and right that to engage in rigorous comparative
institutional analysis we must recognise that we are
dealing not only with erring entrepreneurs but also
with bumbling bureaucrats. The main institutional
differences are that erring entrepreneurs pay a price
for their failures, and they either adjust in response
or some other entrepreneur will enter to make the
There is no direct analogue with respect to
the bumbling bureaucrat. Public sector activity
seemingly just repeats the same errors over and over
again, yet with expectation of different results. Not
much learning going on in that, at least not much
learning if the ultimate goal of ameliorating or
eradicating the social ill targeted is to be achieved.
This is most evident in military affairs, but also
in other ‘war’ metaphors deployed from the ‘War
on Poverty’ to the ‘War on Drugs’ to the ‘War on
Terror’. It truly is the case that ‘War is the Health
of the State’, but these ‘Wars’ are definitely not a
reflection of true liberal radicalism.
even in metaphor, is at odds with liberalism.
Cosmopolitanism as an answer
My answers to our current challenges are simple.
Let’s begin at the beginning—which for the liberal
is basic human equality. We are one another’s equals.
There should be no confusion on this point. And if
you are advocate of liberalism and you find yourself
‘standing’ (metaphorically or literally) alongside
anyone asserting the superiority of one group over
another you should know you are in the wrong
crowd and you need to move in opposition quickly
to leave no doubt in their or others’ minds.
Liberalism is liberal. It is an emancipation
philosophy, and a joyous celebration of the creative
energy of diverse people near and far. The liberal
order is about a framework of rules that cultivates
that creativity and encourages the mutually
beneficial interaction with others of great social
distance—overcoming such issues as language,
ethnicity, race, religion and geography.
We are fallible but capable human choosers,
and we exist and interact with each other in a very
imperfect world. No one of us, let alone any group
of us, has access to the truth from the Almighty
Above, yet we are entrusted to find rules that will
enable us to live better together than we ever would
in isolation. We bump into each other and we
bargain with one another to try to ease the pain of
bumping or to avoid bumping in the future.
we must recognise that despite our basic human
equality, we argue and we don’t naturally agree with
one another about how we are to live our lives.
So in our bumping and bargaining with one
another, it is critical to keep in mind that we will
soon face severe limits on what we can agree on.
In particular, we have little hope of coming to an
agreement among dispersed and diverse individuals
and groups over a scale of values, of ultimate ends
that we should pursue. As Hayek put it in The Road
to Serfdom: ‘The essential point for us is that no
such complete ethical code exists. The attempt to
direct all economic activity according to a single
plan would raise innumerable questions to which
the answer could be provided only by a moral rule,
but to which existing morals have no answer and
where there exists no agreed view on what ought to
Liberalism is liberal. It is an emancipation
philosophy, and a joyous celebration of
the creative energy of diverse people
near and far.
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