Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1
Gray speaks of Hayek ‘purifying’ classical liberalism of its errors of abstract
individualism and rationalism (Faulks, 1998: 61). It could be argued that the New
Right supports the weaknesses of classical liberalism without its conceptual
strengths. Faulks challenges the argument that the pressure against social rights takes
the form of a reassertion of civil rights, since, in practice, Faulks argues that civil
rights without social rights are hollow and extremely partial. What is the point of
allowing freedom of speech without the provision of education that develops
linguistic capacity, or freedom under the law in a system that denies most of the
population the resources to secure legal representation?
The notion of freedom as power or capacity is seen by Hayek as ‘ominous’ and
dangerous (1960: 16–17). Hayek supports what he sees as purely negative freedom,
but the truth is that negative without positive freedom is an impossible abstraction
and a distinction that is alien to the classical liberal tradition. Classical liberal
thinkers assumed that (certain) individuals had the capacity to act: what they needed
was the right to do so. Hayek divorces freedom from capacity, and contends that
since to be free can involve freedom to be miserable, to be free may mean freedom
to starve (1960: 18). No wonder traditional conservative politicians like Ian Gilmour
(1926–2007) saw these views as doctrinaire and utopian (1978: 117), and it is
revealing that in The Downing Street Years(1993) Thatcher discussed socialism
and ‘High Toryism’ in the same breath (Faulks, 1998: 79).
The New Right unwittingly demonstrates the indivisibility of rights. Hayek is
far from enthusiastic about the exercise of political rights since the mass of the
population might be tempted to use their political rights to secure the kind of
capacities and power that the free market denies them. In practice, Hayek is an
elitist and, as Faulks comments, his version of liberalism is difficult to distinguish
from authoritarian conservatism. Conflict of a violent kind is simply increased by
the creation of vast inequalities, and insofar as modern America approximates to
the neo-liberal view of citizenship, it is not surprising that this is a society that
marginalises its inner city areas and is afflicted by high rates of drug abuse and
organised crime (Faulks, 1998: 71–2). A Hobbesian Leviathan state, aggravated by
the hysteria that has followed the dreadful events of 11 September 2001, reveals
the free market as a Hobbesian state of nature without the equality.
Thatcher argued, as Faulks has recalled, that many people fail in society because
they are unworthy. ‘With such a view, Thatcherism carried to its logical conclusion
the abstract and elitist logic of the individualism in neo-liberal political theory’
(1998: 86). She makes a distinction between active and passive citizens, and although
the coexistence of the free market and strong state seems paradoxical, in fact, as
Gilmour has commented, the establishment of a free-market state is a ‘dictatorial
venture’ which demands the submission of dissenting institutions and individuals
(Faulks, 1998: 89; Gray, 1999: 26).
It would be wrong, however, to see the New Right in purely negative terms.
Those who subscribed to New Right ideas sought to free ‘individuals’ from
dependency upon others and often employed sophisticated theories to demonstrate
their arguments. The New Right emphasised what is surely an essential ingredient
in citizenship: the need to be independent and think critically for oneself. The
challenge is to extend this notion to all inhabitants in society so that the skills of
enterprise can be enjoyed widely.

124 Part 1 Classical ideas

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