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Utopianism and the Free Society: Meeting Hayek’s Challenge

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Abstract

The great classical liberal thinker, F.A. Hayek, once challenged “We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage. What we lack is a liberal Utopia, a program which seems neither a mere defence of things as they are nor a diluted kind of socialism…” This paper proposes to explore Hayek’s challenge and its importance for classical liberal and libertarian political theory. Classical liberals tend to be very wary of building fantasy worlds – indeed, Hayek often warned against such “constructivist rationalism”, which could lure people into dangerous attempts to re-order the social world in ways that ignore the reality of man’s nature and that of the natural world. So why does Hayek suggest the need for constructing a liberal Utopia? First, I will explore the role of utopian thinking in social thought, focusing on the classical liberal’s concern to restrain the role of the state in society because of the problems of power and political entrepreneurship. Second, I want to explore the idea advanced by the noted legal philosopher, Lon L. Fuller, of “eunomics” – what he calls “the study of good and workable social arrangements” – in the context of recent neo-Aristotelian writings (especially those of Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl in Norms of Liberty) on perfectionist virtue ethics and the need to secure that framework of rules and institutions that permit mankind to improve his individual and collective lot in life. The paper will be informed by drawing upon recent science fiction writings exploring the perfectibility of mankind – especially those of Peter Hamilton, Vernor Vinge, and Ken Macleod – that reflect upon how a rampantly free market society might advance and evolve even greater levels of freedom, unfettered by the state – and what cautions we need against uncritical utopianianism.