The evolution of liberty 1

Much as we respect The Declaration of Independence and honor its purpose, we do not agree with its great authors that the “Rights” of “all Men”, including Liberty, are “endowed by their Creator”.

And our disagreement is not simply because we do not believe in a Creator of the universe.

As to how Liberty arose in our civilization, we agree with this: :

Though Freedom is not a state of nature but an artifact of civilization, it did not arise from design. … This development of a theory of liberty took place mainly in the eighteenth century. It began in two countries, England and France. The first of these knew liberty, the second did not.

As a result, we have had to the present day two different traditions in the theory of liberty … the first based on an interpretation of traditions and institutions which had spontaneously grown up … , the second aiming at the construction of a utopia, which has often been tried but never successfully. …

What we have called the “British tradition” was made explicit by a group of Scottish moral philosophers led by David Hume, Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson, seconded by their English contemporaries Josiah Tucker, Edmund Burke, and William Paley, and drawing largely on a tradition rooted in the jurisprudence of the common law. Opposed to them was the tradition of the French Enlightenment, deeply imbued with Cartesian rationalism: the Encyclopedists and Rousseau, the Physiocrats and Condorcet, are their best-known representatives. …

[T]here is hardly a greater contrast imaginable between their respective conceptions of the evolution and functioning of a social order and the role played in it by liberty. … The British philosophers laid the foundations of a profound and essentially valid theory, while the French school was simply and completely wrong.

Those British philosophers have given us an interpretation of the growth of civilization that is still the indispensable foundation of the argument for liberty. They find the origin of institutions, not in contrivance or design, but in the survival of the successful. …

This demonstration … represented … an even greater challenge to all design theories than even the later theory of biological evolution. For the first time it was shown that an evident order which was not the product of a designing human intelligence need not therefore be ascribed to the design of a higher, supernatural intelligence, but that there was a third possibility – the emergence of order as the result of adaptive evolution.

– From The Constitution of Liberty by F. A. Hayek, Part One Chapter Four: Freedom, Reason, and Tradition.

  • liz

    Great description. “The emergence of order as the result of adaptive evolution.” When rational human beings are given the chance to adapt and develop, its amazing what great things we can accomplish.
    It’s even more amazing considering the hindrances to this development that arise in every generation, imposed by both religious and secular totalitarians.
    Which, sadly, don’t seem to be losing ground, even in our generation.