Commentary (The Times)

Conservatism: "The liberal teacher who turned his back on old age to lead world" (Seldon profile of Hayek) ["a liberal of the British classical tradition"]

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 9 May 1977, p14
Journalist: Arthur Seldon
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1,180
Themes: Conservatism, Economic policy - theory and process, Labour Party & socialism, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties, Religion & morality

The liberal teacher who turned his back on old age to lead world thought

Arthur Seldon

Professor F. A. Hayek yesterday spent his 78th birthday travelling from Guatemala, where he had been at the Universidad Francisco Maroquin, to New York, on his way to Cornell University. During this month he will also be at Pennsylvania State College (for a conference on Cognition and the Symbolic Processes) and in California.

In the last few months of 1976 he was in New Zealand, Australia and Japan. The other day lie was in London between a conference of economists in Amsterdam which discussed social justice, the rule of law and the control of money and the Biennial International Monetary Conference of the Deutsche Bundesbank in Frankfurt. His travels indicate the world demand for his wide ranging intellectual expositions. His modesty and courtesy go with him.

In a chat with him in late April we ranged from his early days in Britain, when I was drawn to his lectures at the LSE in the mid-thirties to his recent paper I have been editing, and on to his writings in the years ahead in which he will be returning to economics. He was in full vigour after an interregnum of indifferent health and spiritual doldrums in the early 70s. Even his language was light-hearted: " I saw old age and did not like it; so I have returned." He spoke of a series of studies of economists and their conceptions to follow volume III of Law, Legislation and Liberty. If they are like his discussions of the thinking of Acton, Burke, Hegel, Hume, Locke, Mandeville, Menger, John Stuart Mill, Ricardo, Rousseau, de Tocqueville and many others, we have intellectual stimulus to come.

His new lease of vigour predated the 1974 Nobel Prize shared with Myrdal of Sweden. His lectures over the years in several continents since he "retired" in 1967 follow his five periods of formal teaching at the universities of Vienna, London, Chicago, Freiburg and Salzburg. But he was by far longest in London - nearly 20 years from 1931 to 1950. His world renown is that of a scholar with a special relationship to Britain.

His appointment in Britain as Tooke Professor of Economic Science and Statistics was suggested, Lord Robbins reveals in his Autobiography of an Economist, by Beveridge. He became naturalized and has remained a British citizen ever since. In Austria, where he was bor-ni, and in Germany, where he now teaches, he is legally a foreigner. He visits Britain regularly to see his son (a medical microbiologist in Devonshire) and daughter (an entomologist at the British Museum), his publisher, and to lecture. Above all, he is in the direct line of descent of the British (or rather Scottish) school of economics and philosophy of David Hume and Adam Smith.

Scholars of a wide range have honoured him. Sir Karl Popper dedicated to him his Conjectures and Refutations: the Growth of Scientific Knowledge in 1963. A Festschrift to Hayek in 1969, entitled Roads to Freedom on the suggestion of Popper to emphasize that liberals stand for the plural approaches to analysis and policy, exemplified in Hayek's work, comprised essays by 14 economists from Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, South Africa and the United States. A second honorific volume, Essays on Hayek, in 1976 contains chapters by two economists, an economist-historian, a political scientist and a philosopher.

In a review article headed "Homage to Hayek" in Roads to Freedom, Professor Sir Arnold Plant spoke of the qualities he displayed in their early days at the LSE: "I can testify from personal experience to the immense stimulus and direction which Hayek gave to economic research in the 1930s, not only in London and economics faculties throughout the United Kingdom, but also in the international world of scholarship."

Sir Arnold also wrote of the Austrian school of economics, of which Hayek is the latest exponent, that it went largely unrecognized in Britain until Hayek introduced it to the LSE. (It almost fell out of sight again until the recent renewal of interest in its "methodological individualism" by some younger British economists.) Together these men of learning have analysed Hayek's work as scholarly, original, fertile, penetrating and wide-ranging. Robbins said Hayek "lived at the frontiers of speculation": that is the supreme accolade for a scholar.

The range of Hayek's teaching and writing again echoes his intellectual descent from the philosopher/economists of the eighteenth century enlightenment: David Hume wrote the Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, Adam Smith The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Hayek began as an economist and turned to political science, the theory of law, philosophy, ethics and even psychology. He has lately returned to economics with the radical proposition that economists, and he among them, have been wrong to regard the supply of money as a necessary monopoly of government. He has come full circle after a range of contemplation not always found among economists. However others may have differed from him in the social sciences he has explored, Hayek has influenced thinking in most of them.

The diverse forces that determine whether an idea influences policy and events or is ignored because it is before its time are reflected in Hayek's work and life. In his early days he differed from Keynes and when it seemed that the world thought Keynes's solution politically more acceptable, turned to long-term principles, causes and consequences that would affect mankind whatever government judged appropriate to the apparent needs of the hour. If there had been no war and its economic aftermath lasting together some 12 to 15 years, Keynes's diagnoses and solutions might have failed in the forties. (Hayek believes that Keynes would himself have revised his judgments.) But in the circumstances Hayek may have been right to turn his attention to more enduring themes.

Hayek's relatively neglected early and middle writings on the theory of capital, the critique of "scientism", the error of applying to the social sciences the supposed methodology of the natural sciences, and his more recent thinking on two-tier government to facilitate resistance to pressure groups that frustrate the pursuit of the general interest may be given more attention now that he is seen as having been vindicated on unemployment and inflation.

Whatever differences others have had with him, and whatever the labels Hayek has explored, he remains a liberal of the British classical tradition that has nurtured the most civilized societies of the world. His versatile writings have searched for. and refined, the legal institutions, the political conditions and the economic machinery in which liberty could best flower and flourish. Scholars around the world have individually honoured Hayek for the debt they owe him in enlightening their sciences. He has honoured his chosen country.