Crying Freedom

Richard King in the Sydney Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_2238 Sep. 23 11.43In October 1976 an aged Austrian economist assumed the podium in a Melbourne hotel and delivered, extempore, a speech that set libertarian hearts racing. The economist was Friedrich Hayek and the occasion was the Annual General Meeting of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), which was then in the process of transforming itself into a radical free-market think-tank of the kind we now associate with neoliberal economics. Still buzzing from Milton Friedman’s visit to Australia in 1975, the IPA’s members lapped it up. A standing ovation followed Hayek’s address. So too did an effusive editorial in the next edition of IPA Review:

Professor Hayek came to Australia at a peculiarly appropriate time. It is clear that this country has reached a grand climacteric, a fateful parting of the ways so far as its political and economic future is concerned. The momentous question is whether, in the years ahead, libertarian values are to prevail, enterprise, both corporate and individual, is to be properly rewarded, and the market is to be allowed to perform its traditional function of allocating the resources of the community in the most effective manner in the interests of all; or whether Government as such is to assume an even larger role in the distribution of resources and income, in the provision of so-called Welfare and in the general direction of the lives of the people. In short, what is ultimately at stake is the survival of individual freedom.

There you have the libertarian critique – or right-libertarian critique – in a nutshell: the free market as the guarantor, not just of an efficient economy, but of human freedom and flourishing. It’s a long way from the traditional conservative worldview, in which family, nation, religion and community form the key components of the desirable life; and, as we’ll see, its effects on the right more broadly have been problematic. But one has to admire, even if only grudgingly, its boldness and simplicity.

More here.

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