From Burke and Hayek to Clarke and Hague: Tories, Liberty, and the Common Market

Friday, January 17, 2014
Adriel Kasonta

After Margaret Thatcher was elected leader of the British Conservative Party in February 1975, the Institute of Economic Affairs arranged a meeting between her and F.A Hayek in London soon after. During her only visit to the Conservative Research Department in the summer of 1975, a speaker had prepared a paper on why the "middle way" was the pragmatic path the Conservative Party should take, avoiding the extremes of left and right. Before speaker had finished, Thatcher reached into her briefcase and took out a book. It was Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty. Interrupting our pragmatist, she held the book up for all of us to see. “This”, she said passionately, “is what we believe”, and banged Hayek down on the table.

After winning the United Kingdom general election, Margaret Thatcher appointed Keith Joseph, the Director of the Hayekian Centre for Policy Studies as her secretary of state for industry in an effort to redirect Parliament's economic strategies.

Unquestionably, the denial of legal positivism, determined resistance against all varieties of socialism and totalitarianism, finally benevolent emphasis on the fundamental role of moral rules and respect for tradition, bring Hayek close to the Conservatives, to the extent that he is often portrayed as a leading figure of modern conservatism. However, it should be remembered that he wrote a meaningful essay Why I Am Not a Conservative (included as an appendix to The Constitution of Liberty), in which he disparaged conservatism for its inability to adapt to changing human realities or to offer a positive political program, remarking, "Conservatism is only as good as what it conserves." 

While acknowledging the merits of the Conservatives in demonstrating the importance of spontaneously grown institutions such as language, law, morals and customs he noted that modern day conservatism shares many opinions on economics with classical liberals, particularly a belief in the free market, he believed it's because conservatism wants to "stand still", whereas liberalism embraces the free market because it "wants to go somewhere". Hayek identified himself as a classical liberal but noted that in the United States it had become almost impossible to use "liberal" in its original definition and the term "libertarian" has been used instead.

Nevertheless, Hayek found this term "singularly unattractive" and offered the term "Old Whig" (a phrase borrowed from Edmund Burke) instead. In his later life, he said, "I am becoming a Burkean Whig" to emphasize the ideological solidarity with the classical liberals, from the authors of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 to figures like Lord Acton, T. B. Macaulay and W. E. Gladstone. In contrast to the "New Whigs", tending towards rationalism, and the more of the "progressive" social-liberals, the "Old Whig" values above all the freedom and spontaneity and accepts only constitutional "limited government" based on the principle of "rule of law". He remained sceptical of democracy but believes the main enemy is "unlimited government" and collectivism.  The failure of democracy he proposes to correct by the systemic concept of demarchy.

It is worth mentioning that Burke and Hayek come from the same school of economic, political and social thought. Hayek, one of the foremost twentieth-century champions of the market process, was at pains to emphasize the dangers that flow from "meddling on the part of authority" in the intricate web of economic relations. Burke was an equally emphatic defender of the free-enterprise system: "the moment that government appears at market," he cautioned, "the principles of the market will be subverted." Indeed, Burke and Hayek objected to governmental manipulation of the market process on the same Whig grounds: not only do such "interpositions" violate the “laws of commerce”, but they are necessarily arbitrary and thus corrosive of liberty and justice.

I am strongly convinced that Burke would surely join Hayek in resisting the "officious universal interference" of modern government: "It is better to cherish virtue and humanity," he believed, "leaving much to free will, even with some loss to the object, than to attempt to make men machines and instruments of a political benevolence. The world on the whole will gain by a liberty without which virtue cannot exist.”

In light of the often qualified if not begrudging respect some contemporary ‘conservatives’ grant to the market process, Burke, the "father of conservatism," adopted a far more "laissez-faire" attitude toward the role of government in economic affairs than Hayek, often caricatured as a rabid free-marketeer.

Hayek’s laissez-fairism is evolutionistic because the birth of the free market are treated here not as a "necessity" but the effect of a complicated and long process of development of civilization, inseparable from its whole moral and spiritual development, concepts of law, liberty, property, etc. Therefore, market “space” is only a part of the community culture - as opposed to "organic" concept of community, characteristic to Romanticism or conservatism, Hayek’s space is individualised and pluralistic. It is populated by individuals with often conflicting goals, with neither "states" or other "social bodies", nor "organic nation. "

On 11 January 2014 a total of 95 Conservative MPs have written to David Cameron urging him to give Parliament a national veto over current and future EU laws. They urged him to hand the Commons the ability to block new EU legislation and repeal existing measures that threaten Britain's "national interests".

The British Foreign Secretary rejected their demands, saying it would make the single market unworkable and day after warning that demands for Parliament to be able to veto all laws coming from Brussels are unrealistic. William Hague said that, while he believed that national parliaments in the EU should have greater powers, giving individual parliaments the right of veto would undermine the single market:

"What you can't have in any system that relies on some common rules - even in a free trade area that relies on common rules - is each of the parliaments being able regularly and unilaterally to say we are not applying this or that just by our own decision (…) Clearly a single market or a free trade area would not work on that basis. Even the Swiss or the Norwegian arrangement with the European Union could not work on that basis so we have to be careful what we support. But the direction of greater power for national parliaments and reducing, relatively speaking, the power of the European Union vis a vis national parliaments is something I very strongly support."

– Hague told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Conservative Justice Secretary Chris Grayling also suggested it would not be "viable" to allow any "one (national) parliament to veto European legislation".

Blunter in his opinion was Senior Cabinet Minister, Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC MP, Mr Cameron’s trade envoy who commented recent EU immigration debate with these word:

"I just don’t think it’s true that the European Union is responsible for unacceptable waves of migration (…) The idea that you can have some fundamental debate that somehow stops all these foreigners coming here is rather typical right-wing, nationalist escapism, I think."

Amid rising tensions between Britain and some Eastern European countries, Clarke said migrants made “a positive contribution to our economy” and had contributed to a “far more exciting and healthier” society. He is the one who came to Warsaw in July 2013 to unveil a new centre for British and Polish businesses in a world first partnership between UK Trade & Investment, HSBC and a British Polish Chamber of Commerce, where I work as a UK Project Manager.

The new British Business Centre in Warsaw is a global first for UKTI, which has embarked on a new programme to support British companies by entering into partnerships with local chambers of commerce in 20 high potential markets where British business has the biggest potential to grow. It is an open meeting place for both British and Polish companies, with free wi-fi, meeting rooms, work stations, networking events and access to information and advisors able to guide companies through their export and investment plans.

“It is worth mentioning that Britain has done much to take advantage of Poland’s impressive economic growth, but the reality is we are being outperformed by our competitors, such as Germany. The BPCC’s historically close relationship with the British Embassy and UKTI means we are really excited about entering into a new partnership to do more for British business. The challenge is clear: the UK’s share of Poland’s imports is growing, but is outstripped by Polish exports to the UK. Trucks travelling to the UK full of Polish goods are returning empty. This new project delivered by the Chamber with UKTI resources and expertise aims to double the UK’s exports to Poland by 2020 and to address that gap. I am delighted to welcome the Minister today to explain to him our plans to boost British growth in Poland and beyond.”

- said BPCC Chairman Antoni Reczek at the opening.

As we can see, the leader of the Conservative party found himself in quite a difficult situation, where he is subjected to constant pressure from the public, party renegades, Labour and UKIP which impose on Conservatives a wicked pressure, which poisons the spirit of classical conservatism, prompting the Tories to a nationalism which, among other things, finds its expression in “economic apartheid.”

It is up to Mr Cameron to decide whether to agree to pressure from "false prophets" of conservatism, or to remain faithful to the traditional identity of his party, as he not only risks the possiblity of loss to Labour, but also of being moved away from the centre of political power, to which we owe the fact that Britain is Great.

Adriel Kasonta is an intern with the Bow Group.