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LIBERTY AGAINST PROGRESS*

  • Adam James Tebble (a1)

Abstract:

The epistemic approach to liberalism not only clarifies some of the core features of progress-based arguments for liberty. For two reasons it provides grounds for doubting those arguments’ persuasiveness. The first reason emerges from the epistemic liberal explanation of economic recessions and of social regress as necessary consequences of our enjoying the individual liberty to adapt to our circumstances. Precisely because it secures personal choice with respect to the ends of life and the means to pursue them, liberty must be construed as at best necessary for the imperfect and costly realization of the interest individuals may have in personal advancement. Second, and in revealing the underlying logic of the economic and cultural processes that liberty makes possible, epistemic liberalism shows that it is to the notion of complex adaptation that we must look when seeking to evaluate the overall or aggregate results of liberty. Crucially, however, this means rejecting the notion of progress as fit to perform this ethico-historical evaluative role.

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References

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1 Tebble, Adam J., Epistemic Liberalism: A Defence (London: Routledge, 2016).

2 “Progress” and “advancement” will be assumed to be coextensive for the purposes of this enquiry.

3 J. B. Bury, The Idea of Progress (Teddington: The Echo Library, [1920] 2006), 1–11; chaps. 2 and 5. See also John Plamenatz, Hegel, Marx and Engels, and the Idea of Progress (London: Longman, [1963] 1992), 306–14. See Bury, The Idea of Progress for the claim about knowledge in the case of Francis Bacon. Plamenatz disagrees with Bury, pointing out that not all thinkers reduce questions of progress to those concerning the growth of knowledge. See Plamenatz, Hegel, Marx and Engels, and the Idea of Progress, 306–309. For an overview of similar arguments in the work of Michael Polanyi see Tebble, Epistemic Liberalism: A Defence, 7–9. For Hayek’s account of the relationship between progress and knowledge see Friedrich A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960), 40–43.

4 Plamenatz, Hegel, Marx and Engels, and the Idea of Progress, 310.

5 On Turgot’s two laws of development see Bury, The Idea of Progress, 84. On Hegel see Bury, The Idea of Progress, 137–38; Plamenatz, Hegel, Marx and Engels, and the Idea of Progress, chaps. 1–2. On Marx see Plamenatz, Hegel, Marx and Engels, and the Idea of Progress chaps. 3–4. A related question is whether progress occurs via predefined stages. On this see Plamenatz, Hegel, Marx and Engels, and the Idea of Progress, 310–11.

6 Plamenatz, Hegel, Marx and Engels, and the Idea of Progress, 312–14.

7 Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, 34.

8 Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, “A Philosophical Review of the Successive Advances of the Human Mind” and “On Universal History,” both in in Ronald L. Meek, ed., Turgot on Progress, Sociology and Economics (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973); Marquis de Condorcet, “Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind,” in Steven Lukes and Nadia Urbinati, eds., Condorcet: Political Writings (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012) 1–147.

9 Marx, Karl, and Engels, Friedrich, The Communist Manifesto (New York: Prometheus Books, 1988).

10 Robert Nisbet, “Idea of Progress: A Bibliographical Essay,” Liberty Fund, On-line Library of Liberty, http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/idea-of-progress-a-bibliographical-essay-by-robert-nisbet#lf-essay004lev2sec14.

11 Bury, The Idea of Progress, 93.

12 Ibid., 94.

13 Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 212.

14 On Mill see Abram L. Harris, “John Stuart Mill’s Theory of Progress,” Ethics 66, no. 3 (1956): 157–75. For a recent discussion see Alan Ryan, The Making of Modern Liberalism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), esp. part 3.

15 To be sure, Popper’s arguments about the open society, democracy, and liberty do not lead him to endorse the free market without qualification. Indeed, he claims that it must be curtailed in important respects. On this see Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Vol. 2 (London: Routledge, [5th ed., 1965] 2002) 333.

16 Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 1, 153.

17 John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, [1859] 2005), 57.

18 Ibid., 59.

19 Ibid., 57.

20 For an informative discussion see Donald B. Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture, rev. ed. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), esp. chap. 8.

21 Schumpeter, Joseph, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (Floyd, VA: Wilder Publications, [1946] 2012).

22 Turgot, “A Philosophical Review of the Successive Advances of the Human Mind,” 44; Condorcet, “Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind,” 37–38.

23 Adam J. Tebble, Epistemic Liberalism: A Defence, 27–37.

24 Friedrich A. Hayek, The Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies in the Abuse of Reason (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, [1952] 1980), 50.

25 Hayek, The Counter-Revolution of Science, 149–50.

26 Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, 32–35.

27 Whilst Plamenatz’s view is epistemic in that he denies that “all the knowledge acquired by mankind were the possession of one possessor,” he nevertheless assumes that the knowledge in question is only explicit, propositional knowledge. On this see Plamenatz, Hegel, Marx and Engels, and the Idea of Progress, 348.

28 Friedrich A. Hayek, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” in Friedrich A. Hayek, Individualism and Economic Order (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, [1945] 1948), 85–86.

29 Ibid., 86.

30 Hayek, Friedrich A., “The Economy, Science, and Politics,” in Hayek, Friedrich A., Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, [1962] 1967), 263, emphasis added.

31 Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, 35. See also his Law, Legislation and Liberty (London: Routledge, 1982) vol. 3, 168.

32 Tebble, Epistemic Liberalism: A Defence, 44–46.

33 Ibid., chaps. 6 and 7.

34 Ibid., 52.

35 Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, 28. See also Tebble, Epistemic Liberalism, 40.

36 Ibid., 29–30.

37 This is not to say that discrimination is morally acceptable, even if it may be legally permissible. For a discussion see Tebble, Epistemic Liberalism: A Defence, 214–30.

38 Plamenatz, Hegel, Marx and Engels, and the Idea of Progress, 312.

39 Galston, William, “Two Concepts of Liberalism,” Ethics 105, no. 3 (1995): 516–34.

40 Bury, The Idea of Progress, 127–28.

41 Plamenatz, Hegel, Marx and Engels, and the Idea of Progress, 348.

42 Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, 45–46.

43 Deliberative democracy would be another, perhaps more promising, candidate regime for the pursuit of progress, but space does not allow us to consider it here.

44 Tebble, Epistemic Liberalism: A Defence, 80–81.

45 Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty, vol. 1, 39; vol. 2, 109.

46 Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, 40. This, of course, militates against the view that Hayek defends elsewhere in The Constitution of Liberty that progress is associated with advances in standards of living. On this see The Constitution of Liberty, 42–44.

47 I am grateful to Darrel Moellendorf for this point.

48 Erik O. Wright, Envisioning Real Utopias (London and New York: Verso, 2010).

* For comments on an earlier version of this essay I am indebted to David Schmidtz, Bas Van der Vossen, the anonymous reviewer at Social Philosophy and Policy and to the other contributors to this volume.

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