What would Friedrich Hayek say of modern Republicans?

At the end of his book The Constitution of Liberty, Friedrich Hayek included a short essay entitled “Why I am not a conservative.”  His essay was written in 1978 (Margaret Thatcher became British Prime Minister the following year) and it’s not about American conservatives or Republicans, he was talking about European conservatives and British Tories.  Hayek’s problem with those pre-Thatcher conservatives is that they were not doing enough to stop the socialist advance in Europe and Britain, which he saw as putting Britain and Europe on the Road to Serfdom.  Conservatives, Hayek said, never did anything to reverse the socialist legislation being written into law in Europe and Great Britain, all they ever achieved was a bit of a slow down on its implementation.  That meant that socialism would still take hold, it would just take a little longer.  Conservatives were therefore seen as useless by Hayek, and he explained in his essay why he could not be one of them.

Margaret Thatcher [Prime Minister 1979-1980] used to carry a copy of Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty in her purse, and more than once dug is out and held it up to her critics to defend herself and her followers by saying, “This is what we believe.”  We can be sure that she believed the whole book, including the essay at the end.

Rush Limbaugh, in the 3rd hour of his radio show on Thursday, commenting on an article from Real Clear Politics by Sean Trende, described the current condition of the Republican party in the United States.  Rush perfectly describes how the current Republican party has become just what Friedrich Hayek said of European and British conservatives in 1978:

RUSH: I think it always helps to remember just who the Tea Party is. I think the most confusing thing for people about the Tea Party is the word “party” in it. There is a Democrat Party, and there is a Republican Party, but there is no Tea Party in the same sense. So who are they? Who are these people that say they’re in the Tea Party?

Well, as Mr. Trende points out, analysts need to really try be honest with themselves and understand the Republican base is a large part of the Tea Party. And the Republican base is furious with the Republican establishment and, in large part, because of the Bush years. Let me read some excerpts of this piece.

“From the point of view of conservatives I’ve spoken with, the early- to mid-2000s look like this: Voters gave Republicans control of Congress and the presidency for the longest stretch since the 1920s. And what do Republicans have to show for it? Temporary tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, a new Cabinet department,” Homeland Security, “increased federal spending, TARP, and repeated attempts at immigration reform.”

And this is not what people elect Republicans to do. This is an important point. “The early- to mid-2000s voters gave Republicans control of Congress and the presidency for the longest stretch since the 1920s,” and there’s nothing to show for it. There’s nothing conservative to show for it. There’s nothing particularly Republican to show for it. And this is why there’s a Tea Party. This is why the Republican base is volatile right now.

“Basically, despite a historic opportunity to shrink government, almost everything that the GOP establishment achieved during that time moved the needle leftward on domestic policy.” That is undeniable. And it’s very frustrating to people, and it’s one reason why four million people who voted in 2008 did not vote in 2012, because they didn’t perceive that Mitt Romney was gonna do anything other than move the country slower to the left than the Democrats would take it.

Mr. Trende’s exactly right. People in Washington do not understand, and even if they do, they won’t act on it or believe it, that the standard Republican base voter cannot believe the opportunities that have been squandered, cannot believe that there has not yet, even after six years of Obama, they do not make one effort to contrast themselves with liberalism. This is something we’ve spoken about prior on this program. It is the most amazing thing to me. We’ve never, ever, these last six years, had a better opportunity to contrast what we believe in. Because with the Regime that’s in power, we don’t have to talk theoretically. It’s actually happening.

We don’t have to, as part of our discussion, warn people about what will happen if Democrats are elected, because it’s already happening. Half of our job, if not more, is already done for us. The American people can see what happens when Democrats and liberals have unchecked power. And yet nobody on the Republican side wants to contrast what they really believe with what is going on, and it’s made to order. We could have done it when Bush was in the White House, but we didn’t.

“The only unambiguous win for conservatives were the Roberts and Alito appointments to the Supreme Court,” and Roberts is viewed with suspicion today. “The icing on the cake for conservatives is that these moves were justified through an argument that they were necessary –” The moves he’s talking about here are the moves to the left. The icing on the cake, the final straw. What drives Republican base voters batty is when Republicans say that temporary tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, Medicare prescription drug benefit, Homeland Security, increased federal spending, TARP, bailouts, immigration reform, the Republicans say they had to do that in order to continue to win elections. And they had to do that to try to take those issues away from the Democrats.

Instead, what happened? After eight years of trying to take the Democrats’ issues away from them, what happened? We get “the most liberal Democratic presidency since Lyndon Johnson, accompanied by sizable Democratic House and Senate majorities.” In other words, the Republican way doesn’t work. And this whole defensive posture of doing things to take the issue away from the Democrats, you know how that’s metamorphosed now. “Well, we can’t do the debt limit. We’ll really come at ’em on X. Yeah, we gotta let ’em have this, but we’ll really hit ’em.” We keep kicking cans down the road and never do anything.

But the real frustrating thing is that this is directly tied to the Cantor loss. The Tea Party, the Republican base, cannot understand why there’s no effort to stop this. Why do we have to do immigration reform to take the issue away from the Democrats? We’re never gonna do it. We can’t outdo the Democrats at being Democrats. We can’t make ourselves loved by doing what Democrats do, just not as much of it. And it’s a very, very frustrating thing.

Analysts and so forth in the establishment are gonna have to understand that this is why people are mad. It’s not the reasons they concoct. “Well, talk radio’s making ’em mad. Talk radio’s pursuing ratings and making them get all riled up.” No. People are mad because substance and ideas matter. It’s real simple. The things that are happening in the country are destroying it, or are doing great damage. And there’s no push-back. There’s no perceived effort to stop any of it.

The tone deafness in Washington on the Republican side not understanding their base is such that it actually makes you think it isn’t tone deafness, that it’s defiance. (interruption) Ah, I can see by your reaction that that’s what you think it is. (interruption) Well, I wouldn’t go that far. Snerdley says, “I think they hate us,” meaning the Republican establishment, conservatives. Hate schmate, they resent deeply. They didn’t like Reagan. In one way they’re just like the Democrats. They want the power. I was talking to Andy McCarthy about his new book, next interview in the Limbaugh Letter, and he said one of the biggest problems with Obama is the precedent that he set. All these executive orders and executive power.

I mean, the next Republican president can do this stuff, too. I said, “Do you think the Republicans would elect somebody?”

He said, “Look at Romney.”

I said, “What do you mean?”

“Romney was running around saying the first thing he’d do is repeal Obamacare. I’m sorry; he doesn’t have that power. Now, because we want it repealed we supported it, but we shouldn’t have, because no president should have that kind of power.” He said, “See, this is how we all get sucked in. We all want the executive to do our bidding for us, and the Constitution falls by the wayside.”

It’s a good point.


I’m a conservative who usually votes Republican only because there usually is no one else for an informed, intelligent and patriotic person to vote for.  It isn’t that Republican candidates are good and Democrat candidates bad.  They’re both bad. Republicans are just a little less bad, and even more maddening because they’re supposed to be the ones on the side of principle.  I believe in what used to be Republican principles of limited government and individual liberty. The Tea Party Movement has given me hope for the future.

I think Friedrich Hayek would say of today’s Republicans about what he said of the European Conservatives and British Tories in 1978.  I believe he would see the Tea Party movement as a hopeful sign.

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