Now that “liberals,” who are and always have been leftists, are trying to change their title to “progressive”, maybe conservatives can take back the name “liberal.” Classical liberalism, the old time liberalism, is essentially what conservatives mean to describe themselves today.
Reagan and Thatcher may have admired Hayek, but he always insisted that he was a liberal, not a conservative. He titled the postscript to The Constitution of Liberty “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” He pointed out that the conservative “has no political principles which enable him to work with people whose moral values differ from his own for a political order in which both can obey their convictions. It is the recognition of such principles that permits the coexistence of different sets of values that makes it possible to build a peaceful society with a minimum of force. The acceptance of such principles means that we agree to tolerate much that we dislike.” He wanted to be part of “the party of life, the party that favors free growth and spontaneous evolution.” And I recall an interview in a French magazine in the 1980s, which I can’t find online, in which he was asked if he was part of the “new right,” and he quipped, “Je suis agnostique et divorcé.”
Even if you don’t speak French you can probably translate Hayek’s French as “I am agnostic and divorced.”
The sort of conservative Hayek was referring to is not what we call conservative today. He was referring to the Tories in Britain, or the French and German conservatives of Europe. The establishment of the current GOP will also qualify as such a “conservative” to Hayek. Those so-called conservatives have no desire to stop the advancement of socialist institutions and theories, only to slow them down. They are the “cross the aisle” conservatives that will make deals with “progessives” to allow them to get most of what they want most of the time. Those conservatives lack the will to fight for anything so never advance any ideas for improvement of government or the lives of the people. Those are the conservatives who promise to repeal Obamacare only to propose small modifications that keep most of Obamacare in tact. That definition of conservative does not at all describe what I and others think of as a conservative in 2017 America. We are much more like the liberals that Hayek so admired. Open-minded liberty-loving devotees of freedom and limited government. Our idea is to take care of ourselves and not to rely on a little elite bunch of self-centered crooks in Washington to run our lives for us.
Progessives are what Eric Hoffer described as “True Believers, who given the choice of whether to persuade or coerce choose the latter.” We endeavor to persuade them, they just want to coerce us.