Richard T. Allen


A Study of the Political Thought of L. von Mises, K. Popper, F.A. Hayek and M. Polanyi,
with an Appendix on A. Kolnai


Chapter 13

The Obligations of a Free Society

1. Political Obligation

What holds a free society together? It cannot be Contract, for Contract rests on non-contractual foundations. Nor can it be only the abstract rules of justice, whose observance creates and defines the Open or Great Society, for that alone would leave only the morally indefensible freedom of doing as we please. At the least, a free society is, like the republic of science, constituted by self-dedication to a set of distinctive beliefs. We shall now explore what that further entails, and shall begin with political obligation, the right of government to govern and the duty of subjects to obey.

In two significant respects the republic at large is like the republic of science. Yet the analogy may fail in important as well as minor ways. One obvious difference is that the republic of science is both a voluntary and a self-selecting network. On the one hand, no one is compelled to join it and even someone born and brought up in it can at any time and immediately remove himself from it. On the other, no one has to be accepted as a scientist, and other scientists can at any time refuse to accept an applicant or effectually expel a member. For what constitutes that republic is general acceptance of and achievement within the current standards and theories of the sciences, and radical revisions of them will merit attention only as those who put them forward have already established their credentials within the current framework. The republic of science is a specialised section of society, of both specific societies and the Great Society, and is not society at large. The same applies within other activities and spheres. Even, or perhaps more so, when the prevailing consensus is upheld by a clique rather than a body of experts, admission to a publicly acknowledged status as a painter or novelist depends upon both one's own achievements and their acceptance by the leaders of opinion as art and not trash. Equally, one does not have to belong to the literary world or an artistic movement. At any moment one can leave it and drop any obligations to it.

In this respect Polanyi's model would fail, if it were intended to apply in this way, in exactly the same manner as the contractual one. Polanyi recognised that the republic of science is a voluntary society within and across bodies politic which new members do not voluntarily join at birth but into which, and into the principles of which, they are admitted and educated without reference to their wishes (SFS p. 72). In contrast, every version of Contract theory, from Hobbes onwards, entails the contradiction of assuming, on the one hand, that all political obligation rests upon voluntary individual agreement and assent; while, on the other, of either taking the Contract to be an historical event but assuming that the obligations agreed by the original contractors are inherited and not contracted by their descendants; or of taking the Contract to be only a model but conceding that in fact society and political obligation are not the products of voluntary contracts. Locke, for example, had to fall back on the notion of tacit consent, on the part of anyone entering, remaining in or using the services of a state, to explain how people in fact become subject to political and civic obligations [1]. And that was, in effect, to say that society and government are not, after all, based on or intelligible in terms of Contract.

This, it seems to me, is one of the great weaknesses of all Liberal political theory: that, in one way or another, it wishes bodies politic, or inclusive societies, to be thought of or remodelled in terms of voluntary associations within them, and, moreover, in terms of those voluntary associations of which membership is terminable at will, such as partnership agreements in matters of trade or marriages within a framework of easy divorce or specific clubs and societies. If freedom, the freedom of the individual to act as he pleases, is the greatest political good, then no corporate body, be it family, clan, Church, university, business concern, army, city or state, can have superior claims upon the individual unless he wishes it so to have. But, precisely in order to protect his liberty and the individual from other wrongs, there must be, as all but consistent Anarchists have acknowledged, a superior power somewhere whose authority does not derive from the individual's contracted agreement and can be asserted against him whatever he thinks about its legitimacy. That which enforces contracts against all comers cannot itself be a matter of contract. And therefore freedom cannot be the highest political good because it itself requires obligations whose essence does not lie in their being freely assumed. Once more we find that liberty and Liberalism transcend themselves.

Only one theory of political obligation is logically coherent and fits the facts, that of `prescription', historic right and custom. The rights of governments, of whatever description and over whatever peoples and territories, are founded, and can be founded, only upon their inheritance or assumption of existing rights. The most revolutionary régimes, despite the claims of their ideologies, tacitly act upon this principle. The French Revolutionaries, whatever they might have said about natural rights and the will of the people, did not consult every Gaston and Jacques, but assumed the rights that the deposed monarchy had built up for itself over specific territories spreading outwards from the Ile de France. Moreover, if they had held referenda, that would have begged the question. For without prescriptive rights and obligations, what Gaston in Grenoble thinks and wishes has nothing to do with Jacques in Josselin. A referendum is an appeal to the people as already constituted and defined, to individuals as already members of it and already obliged to accept the decision of the majority. `The people' is not a collection of unconnected individuals, but already a corporate body defined and united by customary and hence inherited legal ties. Likewise Lenin assumed the rights of the Tsars over the lands and peoples of the Russian Empire, save what he had to concede in Poland, the Baltic Republics and Finland. In effect revolutionaries claim a right by conquest, internal conquest, while repudiating the corresponding customary obligations which a conqueror also takes over from the régime that he has defeated.

Bodies politic are not created, nor usually maintained, by choice but spontaneously as people find themselves born into them and come to identify themselves with them. Liberalism sits uneasily between a consistent anarchistic individualism which explicitly dissolves away all government, and a frank acknowledgment of the inherited and unchosen ties of prescriptive rights and obligations.

2. Concrete Society

This weakness of Liberalism is a manifestation of a more fundamental one: viz. that of thinking in terms of abstractions. Liberalism, as we saw in Part I, aims at defining in abstract terms a general liberty of the individual, usually to do as he pleases provided he recognises the reciprocal rights of others. While we can articulate some central immunities and competences, themselves subject to tacit qualifications and modifications, no abstract definition of liberty proves wholly successful, though some are obviously much more erroneous than others. We concluded in Chapter 5, that liberty can exist and be understood only within a tradition of concrete liberties. What counts as liberty must vary from time to time and place to place, and for practical purposes a people is free if they feel and think themselves to be free [2]. Liberty, society and the individual in the abstract do not exist, and only concrete liberties, societies and individuals are real. Yet Liberals tend to think of `the individual', and of the `the individual' set over and against other such individuals and `the state'. The `atomistic' conception of society, of which Liberalism has been often accused by such as Nesbit [3a], arises in part from its abstract mode of thinking, and thus of conceiving `the individual' in general and therefore apart from the concrete society in which each real person exists, its traditions which have shaped him, and the networks of relations and obligations with and towards others wherein he lives and acts. For what it wants to do is to formulate universal or at least general principles of politics which can be applied everywhere, to every society and to each person. It is usually not enough for a Liberal to defend English or other liberties. If he admires such a set of concrete liberties, then they become for him a model to be realised elsewhere. That is, he is liable to confuse policies with principles and thus to indulge in ideology to the neglect of concrete reality [3].

This is not to deny that there are universal principles [4]. Indeed, we criticised Hayek in Chapter 9 for denying their possibility, yet he also rightly asserts that Classical Liberalism depends upon them. The Great Society certainly does. They are its only cement. It is precisely that network of relationships which is brought into being by treating all men alike according to the principles of justice, a network which any man can enter at any time provided he meets that one requirement. He does not have to share any other aims or interests or be subject to any directing authority. Its law is its bond and its law is the ius gentium. But the `law of nations' or universal principles of fair-dealing, can be only an abstraction from actual practices, some of which may come to supplant others [5]. As Hayek recognises with his arguments that no system of law can be invented de novo but that existing bodies of law can be amended by a tacit sense of injustice, universal principles need a concrete and therefore particular matter to inform. It is a frequently repeated but nonetheless valid criticism of Kant's formalist ethics that his Categorical Imperative presupposes systems of material or concrete laws and institutions, such as marriage and property, which, precisely because they are material and not formal, it must condemn as `heteronomous'. Again, those systems are inevitably local and specific: definitions and laws about property vary from place to place and time to time. `Thou shalt not steal' is universal, but the same material act may be theft in one context and not another, as, for example, modern laws about copyright and plagiarism compared to the practices of previous ages. It follows that the Great Society can only emerge from and remain dependent upon smaller and specific societies, with their own laws and institutions. It can never absorb or replace them. At the most, one society could so expand that it would include all others within itself and replace their laws and customs by its own, what Voegelin calls `an ecumenic empire'.

Similarly, one difference between the republic of science and the republic at large is that in the latter a General Authority proves, after all, not to be enough. The former cannot function with commitments only to truth, scientific method and scientific value in the abstract. It requires also a reigning body of theory, an orthodoxy. Its content is always changing, sometimes radically, but at any one time it has a determinate content. As Polanyi said elsewhere, that our commitments are changing does not mean that we are uncommitted (PK p. 308). But the republic of science is not permanently committed to any one theory or set of theories. A free society is not an Open one but one dedicated to a distinctive set of beliefs. But, Polanyi argues, those beliefs are like those that define science in general, the naturalistic picture of the universe as opposed to magical ones, rather than more specific beliefs. A General Authority leaves it to the individual members of the relevant society to apply and reinterpret its body of beliefs. A Specific Authority, in contrast, imposes specific beliefs from the centre. Polanyi illustrates the differences with the examples, for the former, of science, the law and Protestant theology, and, for the latter, of Roman Catholicism. He acknowledges that in law and all theology there is yet a degree of central compulsion which is not to be found in science (SFS pp. 56-9). A free society, argues Polanyi, is like the scientific community in upholding a tradition which its members develop by individual initiatives. In this way he reinterprets Rousseau's General Will. It is not that individuals get together and commit themselves to a General Will which then sovereignly chooses it aims, for example, the cultivation of science. On the contrary, by devoting themselves to certain principles, scientists generate a community governed by them and sovereignty resides in each generation of individuals who conscientiously apply those principles to new tasks. So too the Social Contract is a commitment, not to a sovereign ruler nor a General Will, but to the service of a particular ideal, that of science (SFS p. 64). Just as scientific tradition holds together the scientific community and guides the individual scientist in applying and reinterpreting it, so too in a free society at large the art of free discussion, transmitted by traditions of civic liberties, guides the consciences of the citizens. That art has two main principles, fairness in stating one's case and tolerance in listening to those of others. And it is embodied in free institutions, such as Parliament, the press, and the courts which protect and foster them. Those principles can be further specified as belief that truth exists, that all members of the society love it, and that they all feel obliged and can in fact pursue it. These are not explicitly held but are embodied in the institutions of a national tradition, clearly in some national traditions and not in others (SFS pp. 67-71).

Polanyi clearly recognises two major differences between the Social Contract of the republic at large and that of the republic of science: the involuntary character of the individual's admittance to the former and of his education in its principles, and, conversely, of the greater difficulty of exclusion from it, by execution or exile. This compulsory education of new members into the principles and traditions of a free society is a proper function of its General Authority, i.e. of the atomised sovereignty exercised by its members individually (SFS pp. 71-2).

Let us consider again Polanyi's other examples of General Authority in which he allows that there is an element of central compulsion: viz. law and Protestant theology. It is the question of more specific beliefs which concerns us now. Polanyi clearly means the development of actual law and not the academic study of jurisprudence (though the two overlap and interact), which would be the exact parallel with natural science. The difference is that any body of actual law is a set of specific laws and not just legal principles. They define, permit, enforce and debar specific acts and institutions, and together define a specific way of life. They are established by, and themselves are, a Specific Authority. Of course, they can be more or less restrictive and so define and enforce a more or less specific way of life, either generally or in certain spheres. They are more like the shared style and tastes of a school of art, marked off from other schools, than the premises of science. So too with Protestant theology, even of the most liberal kinds. As Polanyi acknowledges, it operates within the framework of the Bible. More than that, the Reformed and Lutheran traditions impose yet more specific frameworks. Christian theology is not philosophy of religion, and the Church, the community of the faithful, is more than a body of earnest seekers after truth. Every part of the Church upholds---or professes to uphold---the Creeds which give a determinate and permanent content to the Faith. As authorities within the Church weaken in their own beliefs and allow apparently any opinions but those of supporting the orthodox faith and Catholic tradition, so the Church declines.

Now while a free society cannot be one that imposes a large body of highly specific beliefs, its authority cannot but be more specific than what Polanyi seems to allow. The traditions and institutions of freedom are not quite the same in the examples which he gives: England, America, Holland and Switzerland. Dutch and Swiss law owe much to Roman Law; the Dutch have proportional representation, and the Swiss frequent and binding referenda; America and Switzerland are inherently republican and federal, England and the Netherlands monarchical and unitary. They each have been moulded by their own history, and life has a different flavour in each, perhaps also in different parts of each. Again, each is more like a school of art than a mode of inquiry uniformly practised, actually or potentially, throughout the world. Radical changes would make each other than what it is, without that continuity whereby evolutionary biology is still biology and quantum physics physics. Again, recall the example of France and the Revolution which left deep divisions between two Frances, Royalist and Catholic versus Republican and Secularist---indeed three up to 1870, with the Napoleonic---which have been only recently reconciled. Bodies politic are like animal bodies in one way, that it can be difficult to transplant alien organs into them. A radical innovation can split a body politic permanently into two camps or parts. The Reformation divided Europe in ways which remain today. The introduction of free institutions can itself lead to divisions---Belgium from Holland in 1830, the dissolution of the Hapsburg Empire in 1918, Northern and Southern Ireland in 1922, the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1992. In natural science, unity is always restored precisely because the authority is always only general.

A free society cannot be dedicated to freedom in the abstract nor be held together only by formal commitments. It necessarily has to be committed to a concrete freedom embodied in its own specific customs, laws and institutions, which can change but only within limits. All freedom is freedom to do or be something determinate. The Gnostic desire for an abstract and hence indeterminate freedom, a freedom to be anything, can only destroy society. Hence the paradox of `the bonds of freedom'. A society free of bonds cannot be a society at all.

3. Positive Obligations

There is one further parallel between the republic of science and the republic at large that we can draw out although Polanyi did not. The individual scientist has particular and positive obligations to the community of scientists: that of defending it and individual scientists when they are threatened, and enforcing its standards. It is not enough for him not to fudge his results nor to criticise his fellow scientists on non-scientific grounds. Rather, he has a positive duty to discourage and even expose malpractice when he comes across it, a duty not always discharged in other professions that one could name where legalised closed shops are still allowed. Also he has a positive duty to defend the integrity of the whole community and individual members against threats and unwarranted attacks from outside, as did Polanyi himself in the face of demands for the subjection of science to a central plan to promote material welfare, and of other acts of interference [6].

It seems to me that the paradigmatic situation for Liberalism is that of one man, private citizen or bearer of public authority, encroaching upon the freedom of a second. From this situation two principles and one conclusion are drawn: the right of the latter to go his own way without interference, the duty of the former not to interfere, and the need for laws and institutions which permit the former and prevent, reduce or give redress for the latter. It follows, as we saw that Hayek concluded, that civic duties, and perhaps moral ones also, are primarily negative duties not to interfere with others' exercise of their rights just are they are not to interfere with one's exercise of one's own. Indeed, positive duties appear to be a threat to freedom for they would restrict the time and means available for doing as one wishes. Yet Hayek himself has acted otherwise. From The Road to Serfdom onwards he has not merely not encroached on the liberty of others, but, like Polanyi, has actively sought by his publications, addresses and membership of the Mont Pélerin Society, to protect and enlarge the liberty of his fellow men.

If it is generally true of Liberalism and Liberal thinkers that they hold our civic and moral duties to be generally ones of non-interference, then again we find it and them taking for granted a definite social background but without acknowledging its and their dependence on that background. In this case they assume a tradition of civility and a general respect for law. Let us consider another paradigmatic situation of social life. As before one person interferes with or attacks another. But this time there is also a third party. The last, surely, has a positive duty in this situation, to assist the second party and thwart the first, and not a negative one to stand aside. Now if it is claimed that this is exceptional, a liability to have to do something definite only on rare occasions, then a peaceful and orderly state of society is being assumed. Liberalism, in that case, is open to the charge that it rests upon a discipline which it has not established and which now it does little to maintain. In contrast, it has been rightly said of Conservatism that it is the politics of original sin. It is primarily a politics of order and the maintenance of order.

Such a charge cannot be levelled against Hayek. For although he does hold that social and civic obligations are primarily and largely negative, he does acknowledge the dependence of freedom upon traditions of discipline, restraint and civility:

The immediate context of these remarks is Hayek's familiar contrast between evolutionary and constructivist ways of thinking. But on the next page he elaborates them with specific reference to traditions of restraint:

In an accompanying note he refers appropriately to Burke, Madison and de Tocqueville. Yet that, apparently, is as far as Hayek goes. The question is, `Is it enough?' We saw in Chapter 8 that a Utilitarian attitude to justice defeats itself. The beneficial effects of just action can be achieved only if people act justly for the sake of justice and without thought to the consequences of so doing. Hayek's institutional Utilitarianism, following that of Hume, recognises that this is so while yet holding the general effects of just conduct to be what principally matters. He appears to adopt the same position here. The significance of deeply ingrained moral beliefs, especially those which restrain the passions [7], appears to be their effect of making liberty possible, a liberty which for Hayek is using our knowledge in our own way. Yet for for such beliefs and practices to take root and be effective they must be viewed as imperative in their own right, that so to act is right and to act otherwise is wrong, in themselves and apart from any consequences in each case. It follows that it is not enough, for the establishment and maintenance of liberty, that we merely refrain from undue interference with the actions of our neighbours, but that we have positive duties to uphold and further the respect for law and order and the discipline of self-restraint, duties such as those of parents and teachers in setting good examples and instilling good habits, of all citizens in aiding each other when attacked, robbed, defrauded or insulted, and in helping the police in the maintenance of public order. Civilisation and its institutions and practices are like buildings and machinery: without active and regular efforts to maintain them, they will decay.

In turn this reacts upon the duties of government. In principle no responsible government can stand idly by and watch with indifference a decline in standards of conduct. In life generally there is no neutrality, for life is action, and not to act is tacitly to endorse whatever then happens. The scope and possibilities of government may be severely limited; the prevention or diminution of one evil may bring about other, and perhaps greater, ones; government action may easily do more harm than good; at best its actions may have to be indirect; but in principle it has the right and the duty to intervene to maintain the conditions of civilised life and with them the possibility of a set of competences and immunities. We have already mentioned the question of censorship. There can be no a priori and universal case against it. No liberty of publication and free speech outweighs the duty of government and the public to uphold standards of civilised conduct. It is a matter of judgment in each concrete situation as to what can be permitted and what noxious publications and productions can be suppressed without thereby doing more harm, as for example, by bringing the whole system into ridicule and contempt through stupid and undiscriminating heavy-handedness. Again, a government cannot be neutral with regard to the structures of family life and the rearing of children. It certainly should not promote, directly or indirectly, `experiments in living' which result in children being brought up without proper models of conduct and habits of self-restraint [8]. The principal duty of government is the care and maintenance of the established laws, institutions and customs that foster the moral life of the people.

Since civilisation in the abstract does not exist, this in turn means that a government can act only within, and in the first place to conserve, the existing framework and traditions of the society which it governs. Rights and liberties, property, family, education, and all the other features of human life vary from time to time and place to place. No one form and pattern can be imposed on all. All sane and efficacious policies are primarily conservative, or, when the conditions of civilised life have been corrupted and destroyed by revolution and totalitarianism, then policy must be primarily restorative [9].

Society, civilisation and freedom therefore depend upon the observance, by the public and government, of positive duties of maintaining proper ways of conducting ourselves towards each other, and, in particular, of habituating the young to them, and not just upon negative duties of non-interference. Here again liberty transcends itself. For it to come into and to continue in existence, the majority must value and work for the conditions upon which it rests. In turn that means that they must feel obliged to sustain each other, their common life and their shared freedom. And to those emotional bonds and what in turn sustains them, we shall now turn.


1. Second Treatise, Chap. X, 119-21.

2. One homely example of this is the question of public and noisy celebrations. In Trinidad, while there are legal restrictions on the frequent and commercial holding of loud all-night parties in residential districts, there is a general practice of giving and tolerating them. In particular, East Indian weddings are preceded by all-night drumming, which ends at 6 am and resumes an hour later, these days amplified and audible a mile or more away. In Britain such practices are not accepted and neighbours can invoke the law to stop them. Wherein is freedom? In the reciprocal right to hold such parties or in the securing of quiet nights for all? In the abstract, no answer can be given. Only local custom and preferences can determine it. Hence outsiders moving into a locality with a custom different to their own must accommodate themselves to it, though they will feel constrained and not at liberty to do as they are used to doing and allowing others to do.

Again, the question of Sunday Observance cannot be settled by thinking of liberty in the abstract. A right of all to do as each likes cuts both ways. On the one hand, if each can treat Sunday as just another day, then there is a strong chance that few or none will be able to treat it as special and not a day of business as usual. Hence the problems of Jews who wish strictly to observe their Sabbath from Friday evening to Saturday evening, and of Muslims in Europe who cannot easily all dash off---the men, that is---to the mosque at the beginning of Friday afternoon. On the other hand, for there to be a real liberty, and not a merely theoretical one, to have one day free from business as usual, there has to be strong customary or statutory restraint on what can be done on that day. This example also reminds us that liberties have frequently a communal dimension, a right of a group to follow its customary practices.

3. Cf Burke: `Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind....Is it because liberty in the abstract may be classed among the blessings of mankind, that I am seriously to felicitate a madman, who has escaped from the protecting restraint and wholesome darkness of his cell, on his restoration to enjoyment of light and liberty?' (Reflections V, p. 14).

`The situation of man is the preceptor of his duty.' (Speech on Fox's East India Bill IV, p. 44).

3a. The Quest for Community.

4. Again, compare Burke: `I never govern myself, no rational man ever did govern himself, by abstractions and universals. I do not put abstract ideas wholly out of any question because I well know, that under that name I should dismiss principles; and that without the guide and light of sound, well-understood principles, all reasonings in politics, as in everything else, would be only a confused jumble of particular facts and details, without the means of drawing out any sort of theoretical or practical conclusion' (Speech on the Petition of the Unitarians X, pp. 41-2). The sort of Conservative philosophy which I am invoking is not that which, with Gray at the end of his Liberalisms, despairs of any general truths that transcend each particular situation, nor, with Hegel, identifies whatever has been as right at its time until the times altered.

5. Whether or not Sir Henry Maine was exactly right in arguing that the Roman notion of Natural Law is the ius gentium, seen in the light of a later and special theory, and that the ius gentium was the law common to the old Italian tribes which immigrants had come to Rome and among whom disputes could not be settled by the application of specifically Roman Law (Ancient Law pp. 53-64), something like that must happen whenever peoples with two sets of laws come into prolonged contact. A potentially universal network presupposes that it can happen.

6. With J.R. Baker he formed the Society for Freedom in Science, and then, after the Congress for Cultural Liberty in 1953, became Chairman of the Committee on Science and Freedom. For details about particular efforts in respect of the latter, see the issues of Science and Freedom, especially Nos. 1 (1954), 10 (Feb. 1958) 11 (June 1958) 13 (Nov. 1959).

7. Cf Burke: `I have observed that the philosophers in order to insinuate their polluted atheism into young minds systematically flatter all their passions natural and unnatural. They explode or render odious or contemptible that class of virtues which restrain the appetite. These are at least nine out of ten of the virtues. In place of all this, they substitute a virtue which they call humanity or benevolence. By this means their morality has no idea in it of restraint, or indeed of a distinct settled principle of any kind. When their disciples are thus left free and guided only by present feeling they are no longer to be depended upon for good or evil. The men who today snatch the worst criminals from justice will murder the most innocent persons tomorrow' (Corr. III, p. 215). This was written in 1791 before the start of the Terror. Burke's most notable disciple in this respect was Irving Babbitt: see Democracy and Leadership and Rousseau and Romanticism.

8. See N. Dennis and G. Erdos, Families without Fatherhood, and N. Dennis, Rising Crime and the Dismembered Family, on the ways in which the Welfare State in Britain has undermined the family and the discipline of the young, with proposals for reversing these trends.

I have noticed in most cases of child-battering, as reported in the press, that the mother seems to be a weak-willed woman who has borne the child, and perhaps others, out of wedlock and then lives with another man, and that she stands by while he maltreats the child or actively helps him. Surely, government must try to reverse the social trends that have resulted in many relationships of this type, and it cannot be neutral with regard to the structure of the family or its disappearance.

The same applies to ideologies of `child-centred' progressive education which have produced, in British state schools, a whole generation of self-centred and uneducated adolescents, and the orthodoxy, of the philosophy of education peddled by the state-financed institutions of teacher-training, of `rational autonomy' for which any substantive teaching in religion, morality and politics is `indoctrination' and hence taboo, though in their very teaching of that doctrine they `indoctrinate' their students with Scepticism, Relativism, Secularism and fashionable Leftist opinions. See my Education of Autonomous Man (Chap. 7) and the references therein to my articles in the J. of Philosophy of Education.

9. The error of the Continental reactionaries and absolutists, such as de Maistre and Bonald, was their failure to learn from Burke the lesson of the necessity of adaptation in order to conserve. Their attitude was the mirror-image of that of the revolutionaries whom they denounced. What they advocated was a futile attempt to return to the state of affairs immediately before the deluge, which obviously had grave deficiencies otherwise the deluge would not have occurred or have been so disastrous. Burke was very clear, and before 1789, that the French state needed reform, not least because of its chronic deficits. Conversely, a post-revolutionary government must try to devise institutions, laws and policies which fit the immediate situation and build upon what survives of national and local tradition. Communism has done more far more damage in Russia than in the Baltic republics, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, both because it ruled there for longer and because the latter have had, and can remember, more secure institutions and laws. Necessarily, policies must differ in each society, as will the course of events in any case. A strong presidency, as in Mr Yeltsin's new constitution, is the only way that Russia can be governed for the foreseeable future. But, when land has been returned to private ownership, the tradition of village self-government could be restored. That, of course, would not apply in towns and cities, and new ways of fostering co-operation will have to be tried there.


F.A. Hayek CL
The Constitution of Liberty
Law, Liberty and Legislation,
3 Vols.
M. Polanyi KB

Knowing and Being
The Logic of Liberty
Personal Knowledge
Science, Faith and Society
The Struggle of Man in Society
(unpublished: Box 26, Folder 2;
Library of the University of Chicago)
The Tacit Dimension
K. Popper OS The Open Society and Its Enemies, 2 Vols

Chapter 12: Two Models of a Free Society
Chapter 14: The Emotional Bonds of Society
Back to Contents

Polanyiana Volume 5, Number 1, 1996, pp. 7-46