Strange things happen when you check the links on your site. Proceeding from a nice statement of classical liberal principles to the Mont Pelerin Society we find The Winners of the 2010 Hayek Essay Contest.
And the winner is…Toby Evans of Australia.
Whoever he is, you can probably meet him at the Mont Pelerin Conference in Sydney next month because part of the prize is a ticket to the event. This year the international guests will include Peter Boettke of The Austrian Economists, now Coordination Problem and Terence Kealey ($4 well spent).
Getting back to the statement of liberal principles, this came from a Mont Pelerin paper on “Public Opinion and Liberal Principles” which is relevant to the recent Troppo post on attempts to manipulate public opinion by media games.
The speaker was not a professional moralist although some of his colleagues considered that he tended to do his philosophy with a tone of “high moral seriousness”.
On he dangers of public opinion, he noted that it can be very powerful and hence liberals (wary of concentrations of power and their danger) should treat it with a degree of suspicion: “Owing to its anonymity, public opinion is an irresponsible form of power, and therefore particularly dangerous from the liberal point of view.”
On the liberal theory of free discussion, he suggested that freedom of thought and discussion are ultimate liberal values that are not in need of further defence or justification. However he noted that they can be given additional support on account of the way they contribute to the search for truth and the elimination of error by critical public discussion.
He ended with some random thoughts on the use and abuse of public opinion.
“It may sometimes assume the role of an enlightened arbiter of justice. Unfortunately it can be managed. These dangers can be counteracted only by strengthening the liberal tradition. Public opinion should be distinguished from the publicity of free and critical discussion which is (or should be) the rule in science, and which includes the discussion of moral and other issues. Public opinion is influenced by, but is not the result of, nor under the control of, discussions of this kind. Their beneficial influence will be the greater the more honestly, simply, and clearly, these discussions are conducted.”
Getting back to the liberal principles (again) I like the statement because it includes a reference to the moral framework of society which is something that has not been treated very well because most of the professional moralists are either boring wowsers (the preachers) or have nothing to say that illuminates practical matters (the moral philosophers).
(1) The state is a necessary evil and its powers should be kept to the minimum that is necessary.
(2) A democracy is a state where the government can be changed without bloodshed.
(3) Democracy cannot confer benefits on people. “Democracy provides no more than a framework within which the citizens may act in a more or less organised and coherent way”.
(4) Democracy does not mean that the majority is right.
(5) Institutions need to be tempered and supported by traditions.
(6) There is no Liberal Utopia. There are always problems, conflicts of interests, choices to be made between the lesser of evils.
(7) Liberalism is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It is about modifying or changing institutions and traditions rather than wholesale replacement of the existing order. The exception to this is when a tyranny is in place, that is a government that can only be changed by violence and bloodshed.
(8) The importance of the moral framework.
“Among the traditions that we must count as the most important is what we may call the ‘moral framework’ (corresponding to the institutional ‘legal framework’) of a society. This incorporates the society’s traditional sense of justice or fairness, or the degree of moral sensitivity that it has reached… Nothing is more dangerous than the destruction of this traditional framework. (Its destruction was consciously aimed at by Nazism).”