Hazony’s Uncharitable Conservatism – Econlib

In recent months, I’ve been trying to better understand what conservatism means. The election of Donald Trump and the frenzy of support for him among much of the Republican Party challenged much of what I thought conservatism meant and what conservatives stood for. Fortunately, many conservative thinkers have also felt that conservatism needs rethinking, and several books have been published attempting to reclaim conservative ideas.

One of these has to be the most unrealistic Conservatism: A Rediscovery By Yoram Hazony. Anyone who reads this book will not feel that the author is trying to water down his message to ensure the widest possible appeal. Here we find a full-throated endorsement of a distinctive view of conservatism. In another recent book, Conservative sensitivity, George Will argues that American conservatism is dedicated to preserving the vision of the American establishment, which itself was inspired by the liberalism of the Enlightenment tradition. So, to Will and many others, conservatism is ultimately about classical liberalism. Not so with Hazony. He completely rejects the liberal tradition to argue for conservatism that is fundamentally different from the Enlightenment.

I could write a lot about Hazony’s argument and the merits and flaws I find in his worldview. But for today, I want to look at one area where I think he stumbles badly, and consider why I think he’s wrong. What I have in mind is his comment about free trade. Hazony spends much less time discussing the will economy, but among his comments we find the following:

[Free trade] The policies were only supported by private individuals (and, by extension, corporations owned by private individuals) exercising their freedom to make high profits. Governments, media, and academics are committed to the liberal theory that there should be no state-imposed barriers preventing individuals and corporations from freely buying whatever they want at the lowest price and selling whatever they want to the highest bidder.

It is a principle entirely in terms of the individual, the state, and the individual’s speculative freedom to do what he and his business partners agree to do without state interference. It is blind to race, and to the bond of mutual loyalty which binds caste and tribe together. Indeed, discussions of free trade even extend to bonds of national loyalty, describing them as unreasonable “market distortions” that can lead to inefficiencies that make life more expensive—and therefore perhaps less free.

One of the biggest weaknesses of Hazony’s book is his tendency to present the views of his ideological opponents without citing them. One wonders who, specifically, described the loyalty bond as an “irrational market distortion” – we’re left to guess, as Hazney won’t or can’t name names. Particularly odd is his suggestion that state action that prevents forced engagement in free exchange diminishes liberty in the eyes of free traders because it makes life “more expensive.”

Hazney badly misunderstands the arguments he is trying to engage. Those who support free trade and the classical liberal tradition do not believe that the least expensive alternatives are somehow freedom-enhancing. It is the absence or presence of power, not the degree of expenditure, that is relevant to freedom. nor buying from the cheapest source or selling some terminal value to the highest bidder, deviations from which constitute market distortions. If one makes their buying or selling decisions out of a sense of loyalty rather than searching for the most favorable price, no economist in the classical liberal tradition would accuse them of unreasonably distorting the market.

The classical liberal tradition does not restrict Hazony supporters from making economic decisions. Hazony’s problem, I think, is that while classical liberal economics allows him and his co-thinkers to act according to the values ​​he holds, it does not. need Everyone does as he pleases.

In Bastiat work the lawHe describes a tendency among socialists to assume that opposition to state enforcement of any ideal must be motivated by opposition to the ideal:

And so, whenever we object to something being done by the government, it follows that we object to it being done. If we reject education by the state – then we are totally against education. We object to state religion – then we will have no religion. If we object to an equality that is brought about by the state then we are against equality, etc., etc. They may accuse us of not wanting men to eat, because we object to the cultivation of corn by the State.

Hazony suffers from this same misunderstanding. That classical liberals oppose using the state to compel people to behave according to its notion of “bonds of mutual loyalty” necessarily means that classical liberalism is opposed to mutual loyalty and social bonds. But he is wrong – and his arguments against liberalism suffer accordingly.


Kevin Corcoran is a Marine Corps veteran and a consultant in healthcare economics and analytics and holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from George Mason University.

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