In my overlapping identities as Northeast Regional Director of SFL and a Humane Studies Fellow with the Institute for Humane Studies, a lot of my time consists in thinking of ways to grow the academy for the ideas of liberty, support pro-liberty students in their academic ventures, help them to develop the libertarian tradition in a robust way, and add to the “living intellectual issue” that Hayek described would of necessity be the philosophic foundations of a free society.
It is with the above in mind that I write this blog as a sort of “how to guide” for writing academic papers that are inspired by Hayek’s call to (intellectual) arms, particularly to SFLers writing in the social sciences and the humanities. Of course when most people speak of Hayek, he is identified as an economist, but this term is too limiting to describe the full breadth of the subjects that Hayek addressed. Believing firmly that the discipline of economics belonged to the social sciences, the work he produced answers many of the questions raised by the disciplines of sociology and anthropology, and provides useful frameworks and interpretive lenses for history and literary analysis, among other fields of study. While Marxism rarely exists in the economics department, it thrives in the social sciences and humanities. And even though you may disagree with the methods and conclusions derived from Marx’s class struggle theory, unless there exists a rigorous scholarly counter-approach, who will you cite in papers? Which alternative explanations for the human condition can you turn to when faced with wanting to make liberty your underlying thesis?
I humbly submit some possible fruitful ways that you can incorporate a Hayekian/Austrian social sciences approach to whatever discipline you write in and do so in a way that doesn’t make you appear to be merely an ideologue, but rather exhibits intellectual curiosity and offers a fresh revisionist interpretation to the redundant Marxist analysis that has been cited in every paper your professor has been reading since he received his first TA assignment in 1982.
Anthropology is literally the “study of man” and seeks a deeper understanding of societies and cultures, and the processes that brought about their emergence and development. In the words of the American Anthropology Association, a “central concern of anthropologists is the application of knowledge to the solution of human problems.” Without a doubt, the ideas contained in the tradition of Smith/Menger/Hayek offer dynamic explanations to the underlying problematic of anthropology. One article written by Dr. Lee Cronk outlined the areas of anthropological research in which invisible-hand explanations are relevant, including the origin of money, kinship and marriage systems, and common law and customary legal codes. He further noted that spontaneous order complements game theory methodology that anthropologists have found useful. Writing in this discipline from this approach will make sure you remain a keen observer to the peoples in your focus, looking for the invisible hand at work in shaping the institutions and customs of their culture.
This discipline examines social life and “investigate[s] the structure of groups, organizations, and societies, and how people interact within these contexts.” Once again, the ideas of the liberal tradition and specifically Hayekianism are very applicable to outlining a basic theory of social organization. In Law, Legislation, and Liberty, Hayek explained 2 general structures of social organization: a cosmos, or a spontaneously-ordered, organic institutional arrangement; a bottom-up structure. In contrast stands a taxis, or a deliberately planned, artificial, top-down ordered arrangement, like a centralized economy, or a political hegemonic system of oligarchy. These pre-planned orders by their nature cannot be dynamic, or innovative, and usually proactively work against emergent order. Liberalism historically has contributed to the discussion within sociology, developing pre-Marxist class conflict theories that focused not on who controls the means of production, but instead on who controls the access to state power and privilege. On this website, Executive Board member Ankur Chawla has passionately explained the need for libertarian sociological approaches in such a succinct way that I need not say anymore on the subject myself (other than implore you to read Ankur’s post!).
History deals with explaining the causality of historical events and processes. The best historians, while remaining acutely aware of the economic, anthropological, and sociological contexts within which historical events occur, remember that history is made by individual actors with agency. No generalized theory is prescient enough to explain all human behavior all the time; or rather, human behavior is so complex and subjective that no theory dare do so. Operating under the admonition to “always historicize,” the Hayekian-influenced historian would pay due heed to the need to focus on historical subjects as individuals yet rely on theories supplied by the social sciences to understand those people in their own time and place. While donning his historian’s hat in Capitalism and the Historians, Hayek postulated that “if it is too pessimistic a view that man learns nothing from history, it may well be questioned whether he always learns the truth.” Because history’s power lies not in recounting the facts of the past but in their interpretation, Hayek lamented that “the historical beliefs which guide us in the present are not always in accord with the facts.” A liberal revisionist view of history is needed if free institutions are going to be explained and understood to be beneficial to those in the present. For more discussion on this subject, listen to this KosmosOnline Podcast.
Literature and Literary Criticism
Literary criticism seeks to uncover the meanings embedded in the writings of a culture and to discover the theme of literary works. Literature creates meanings out of the arrangement of words, and deconstructing the language implanted in literature can reveal the underlying meaning. Also, the literature that emerges from a culture in certain historical times often reflects the themes of its society in its art forms. Currently, scholars in the Austrian tradition are creating an alternative theoretical framework to use in the task of decoding literature. Paul Cantor and Stephen Cox’s Literature and the Economics of Liberty boldly explains the approach of applying spontaneous order and praxeology to reading literature as an alternative to Marxist literary criticism. In this interview from the Mises Institute, Allen Mendenhall discusses the Austrian approach to literature in detail. Scholars like Sarah Skwire have recently done refreshing work uncovering aspects of Charles Dickens’ writings that are pro-free market and run counter to the normal narrative as Dickens as a foe to liberalism.
Spontaneous order, invisible-hand explanations, praxeological influences – the Smith/Menger/Hayek intellectual tradition is a treasure trove for students writing in the social sciences and humanities who care about individual liberty. These fresh approaches to your writing should not only provide you with compelling theses in your papers, but they also give you a chance to engage in the continuation of the liberal tradition, bringing us closer to a truly free academy and a free society.