Why I Am Not a Conservative  

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"At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own; and this association, which is always dangerous, has sometimes been disastrous, by giving to opponents just grounds of opposition." - Lord Acton

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"Why I Am Not a Conservative" (1960) is a text by Friedrich Hayek included as an appendix to The Constitution of Liberty. In it he disparaged conservatism for its inability to adapt to changing human realities or to offer a positive political program, remarking:

"Conservatism is only as good as what it conserves".

Although he noted that modern day conservatism shares many opinions on economics with classical liberals, particularly a belief in the free market, he believed it is because conservatism wants to "stand still" whereas liberalism embraces the free market because it "wants to go somewhere". Hayek identified himself as a classical liberal, but noted that in the United States it had become almost impossible to use "liberal" in its original definition and the term "libertarian" has been used instead. In this text, Hayek also opposed conservatism for "its hostility to internationalism and its proneness to a strident nationalism", with its frequent association with imperialism.

Hayek received new attention in the 1980s and 1990s with the rise of conservative governments in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. After winning the 1979 United Kingdom general election, Margaret Thatcher appointed Keith Joseph, the director of the Hayekian Centre for Policy Studies, as her secretary of state for industry in an effort to redirect parliament's economic strategies. Likewise, David Stockman, Ronald Reagan's most influential financial official in 1981, was an acknowledged follower of Hayek.

Hayek also found libertarianism a term "singularly unattractive" and offered the term "Old Whig" (a phrase borrowed from Edmund Burke) instead. In his later life, he said: "I am becoming a Burkean Whig". However, Whiggery as a political doctrine had little affinity for classical political economy, the tabernacle of the Manchester School and William Gladstone. His essay has served as an inspiration to other liberal-minded economists wishing to distinguish themselves from conservative thinkers, for example James M. Buchanan's essay "Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism".

His opponents have attacked Hayek as a leading promoter of neoliberalism. A British journalist, Samuel Brittan, concluded in 2010 that "Hayek's book [The Constitution of Liberty] is still probably the most comprehensive statement of the underlying ideas of the moderate free market philosophy espoused by neoliberals". Brittan adds that although Raymond Plant (2009) comes out in the end against Hayek's doctrines, Plant gives The Constitution of Liberty a "more thorough and fair-minded analysis than it has received even from its professed adherents".

In Why F A Hayek is a Conservative, British policy analyst Madsen Pirie claims Hayek mistakes the nature of the conservative outlook. Conservatives, he says, are not averse to change, but like Hayek they are highly averse to change being imposed on the social order by people in authority who think they know how to run things better. They wish to allow the market to function smoothly and give it the freedom to change and develop. It is an outlook, says Pirie, that Hayek and conservatives both share.

John Gray in "Hayek as a conservative" (Gray's Anatomy: Selected Writings) responds to Hayek's text.


See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Why I Am Not a Conservative" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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