Reading Friedrich Hayek’s late work as a neoliberal myth of the state of nature, this article finds neoliberalism’s hostilities to democracy to be animated in part by a romantic demand for belonging. Hayek’s theory of spontaneous order expresses this desire for belonging as it pretends the market is capable of harmonizing differences so long as the state is prevented from interfering. Approaching Hayek’s work in this way helps to explain why his conceptions of both pluralism and democracy are so thin. It also suggests that neoliberalism’s assaults upon democracy are intimately linked to its relentless extractivism. Yet the romantic elements in Hayek’s work might have led him toward a more radical democratic project and ecological politics had he affirmed plurality for what it enables. I conclude with the suggestion that democratic theory can benefit from learning to listen to what Hayek heard but failed to affirm: nature’s active voice.
Hayek, Pluralism, Democracy
This article suggests that a “crisis of democracy” can be understood not simply as a deterioration of specific representative institutions but as a repositioning of democratic politics vis-à-vis other principles of social coordination, most notably the capitalist market, and the attendant decline of democratic subjectivity—people’s attunement to claims appealing to the common good. I trace this process to the post–World War II era. I show that the crisis of democracy was shaped by the substantive imperative of fusing democracy with free-market capitalism. Many postwar democratic theorists believed that the welfare state could manage the tension latent in this fusion. But an analysis of Friedrich Hayek’s theory of neoliberal democracy, which recognizes that tension more acutely, reveals that the incorporation of free-market capitalism creates tendencies that undermine democracy from within.
Nationalism has had a complex relation with the discipline of political theory during the 20th century. Political theory has often been deeply uneasy with nationalism in relation to its role in the events leading up to and during the Second World War. Many theorists saw nationalism as an overly narrow and potentially irrationalist doctrine. In essence it embodied a closed vision of the world. This paper focuses on one key contributor to the immediate post-war debate—Karl Popper—who retained deep misgivings about nationalism until the end of his life, and indeed saw the events of the early 1990s (shortly before his death) as a confirmation of this distrust. Popper was one of a number of immediate post war writers, such as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, who shared this unease with nationalism. They all had a powerful effect on social and political thought in the English-speaking world. Popper particularly articulated a deeply influential perspective which fortuitously encapsulated a cold war mentality in the 1950s. In 2005 Popper’s critical views are doubly interesting, since the last decade has seen a renaissance of nationalist interests. The collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989, and the changing political landscape of international and domestic politics, has seen once again a massive growth of interest in nationalism, particularly from liberal political theorists and a growing, and, at times, immensely enthusiastic academic literature, trying to provide a distinctively benign benediction to nationalism.