We are reverting to tribal conceptions. Socialism and nationalism represent a reassertion of tribal ethics, the desire for a visible common purpose. This is our inheritance from our tribal past and, every time we think we have defeated it (such as in our defeats of Hitler and Mussolini in Europe in the middle of the twentieth century), it continues to break back through.
Society Is Not An Organization.
Hayek blames what he calls organizational thinking. By this he means that a growing proportion of us work for large organizations, like business and government. These great administrative bureaucracies lead us to believe that their internal structures and processes are the way to accomplish all goals. When we accept employment in an organization, we agree to be bound by the ends of that organization; we become merely a means to that end. We submit to their authority and we suppress our personal goals and instincts. The adoption of effective large scale processes, methods and technologies by these organizations lead us to think that there is nothing they can’t achieve. The administrative bureaucracy keeps on adding more and more rules aimed at achieving the organization’s purpose, and the individual employee can lose sight of the fact that society does not operate in this manner.
Society can never be such an organization. Society operates by a process of trial and error in a network of collaborative units (families and households) joined together in a market. The trial and error process generates experience over decades and ages – more accumulated experience than any living person or organization could be aware of – and from this experience there emerges tried and tested principles for the collaborative life in a society. There is no foreseen purpose in mind. We are not united in a single, shared goal.
Common Law Versus Manufactured Law.
Now, the shared experience that was generated by trial and error and captured as common law is being replaced by public law – the manufactured rules of organization. Individuals become increasingly subject to the commands of authority, with growing technological methods of control. We are told that it is morally superior for us as members of society to serve a single hierarchy of ends. We must be united! The concept of social justice has been the trojan horse through which totalitarianism has entered.
The Threat To The Greatest Discovery Mankind Ever Made.
That people can live together in peace and to their mutual advantage without having to agree on common goals (in fact, because they do not share common goals and therefore pursue their own interests through trial and error), was the greatest discovery mankind ever made. Capitalism is its economic expression.
But the attempt to secure for each person what he or she is thought to “deserve” (i.e. social justice) by imposing upon all a system of common ends towards which their efforts are directed by authority deprives us of the utilization of individual knowledge, and thereby of the advantages of a free civilization. Socialism is based on an intellectual error, with crushing consequences.
To preserve our civilization, it is impossible to enforce the rules of social justice. No particular groups who hold their own common views about what they are entitled to should be allowed to enforce those views on other groups, and prevent those others from operating in a free and open market. This is simply a struggle for power between organized interests in which arguments of justice serve merely as pretexts. Attempts to “correct” the results of the market in the direction of “social justice” produce more injustice in the form of new privileges, new obstacles to mobility and new barriers to the alleviation of poverty.
Any Group That Is Dissatisfied Can Claim A “Social Problem”.
The warriors tend to label as a “social problem” anything which causes dissatisfaction in any group, and suggest that the legislature must “do something”. Social justice is a mere pretext for claims of privilege by special interests. It’s a slogan for all groups whose status tends to decline – farmers, steelworkers, the “middle class”, and so on.
Misfortune for some cannot create a claim for protection against risks which society has to run (i.e. trial and error) to attain the general elevation of living standards and quality of life. The protection of expectations can not possibly be granted to all in anything but a stagnant society. The only just principle is to grant it to none.
Attempts To “Correct” The Market Order Lead To Its Destruction.
Government intervention to “correct” the results of the market result in constant clashes between the demands of some groups seeking protection or special privilege, and the requirements of free collaboration between individuals. The deliberate aim at a concrete common purpose – such as “equality” – will destroy the larger order of the market in which everyone is treated equally but outcomes for special interest groups are not guaranteed. The only rules for society must be universally applicable rules.
Political parties accelerate the destruction of civilization. So long as particular – rather than universal – purposes are the foundation of these political organizations, then the result is the creation of enemies. Society becomes dominated by the friend-enemy relation.
The market does not serve visible needs. Market participants succeed by satisfying the wants of people whom they do not know, through the processes of indirect exchange. Monetary returns to their effort are the indicator of the satisfaction of others. It is better, for example, to work hard at innovation that reduces costs and makes it possible for greater productivity, than it is to redistribute income to the poor. Capitalism caters to the needs of millions of unknown people, rather than provide for the few known neighbors that we know. It is our prime moral duty to pursue a self-chosen end as effectively as possible, without paying attention to the role it plays in the complex network of human activities. We generally do the most good by pursuing our own gain. The invisible hand of the market brings the succor of modern conveniences to the poorest homes that the entrepreneur does not even know.
Tribal Loyalties And The Call For Unity Must Be Resisted.
Tribal loyalty is the greatest obstacle to the application of these universal principles for the good of all. When general rules of conduct rank ahead of special rules serving the needs of special groups, society as whole can progress. The system is impersonal and comprehensive. But many of us are not mature enough to comprehend it. Comprehension requires a degree of insight into the working of a spontaneous order which few persons have yet attained.
We are always told that to live in harmony, people must strive for a common end. We must be “united”. This is the device that has been effectively employed by all dictators. To preserve civilization, we must resist the call to unity and pursue our individual ends.
Also published on Medium.