A thread left hanging from my previous post on F.A. Hayek entitled ‘What the heck’s going on with Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom?’ was the focus on international order, which entails Hayek’s assessment of the scalar problems of planning and his advocating the absorption of separate states in a federal organisation. The focus of Chapter 15 on international order in The Road to Serfdom is wide-ranging, addressing aspects of planning and including what Hayek refers to as ‘super-state’ or ‘super-national’ authority within an international system of states. Interesting positions are therefore reflected in this analysis on world-state formation that have been neglected within international theory. What does Hayek have to say that may interest approaches to the political economy and historical sociology of state formation and thinking on ‘the international’ today?

TwentyFrom the get-go, Hayek is explicit about his perspective on international order. ‘In no other field’, he states, ‘has the world yet paid so dearly for the abandonment of nineteenth-century liberalism as in the field where the retreat began: in international relations’. And yet the neglect of Hayek within International Relations (IR), as a discipline, has been stark in contrast to the controversies and attention he has obviously courted in political economy. The neglect is even more intriguing in that the views of one of the foundational thinkers in IR are outright rejected by Hayek. This figure is E.H. Carr who gets short shrift in the pages of The Road to Serfdom. With more than a tinge of unsubstantiated polemic, F.A. Hayek declares that E.H. Carr is ‘representative of the trend towards totalitarianism’ in considering the geopolitical issues of the day. Recall that E. H. Carr’s The Twenty Years’ Crisis was published in 1939 and has trailed a blaze ever since as a canonical text on international order and IR. Recall, too, Carr’s subsequent work A History of Soviet Russia [1950], across fourteen volumes, where he dealt with the foundations of a planned economy. There is also his own assessment of The Twenty Years’ Crisis as ‘not exactly a Marxist work, but strongly impregnated with Marxist ways of thinking, applied to international affairs’. No wonder the ire of the arch theorist of liberalism was piqued by the prominence of the fourth Woodrow Wilson Professor of International Politics at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

TheRoadtoSerfdomIn The Road to Serfdom, Hayek’s interest in international order is to fashion a case for the recognition of a ‘harmony of interests’ that can be ensured within the framework of international security and inter-state federation. Indeed, in his own 1939 essay ‘Economic Conditions of Inter-State Federation’, Hayek sketches the possibility of and conditions for supra-state organisation. This covers a range of issues including the problem of agreeing on common tariff policies between states, the prevalence of different conditions of development existing between and within states, the possession and administration of colonies within a federation of states, and the preservation of a liberal economic regime as a necessary condition for inter-state federation. For Hayek, ‘the idea of inter-state federation as the consistent development of the liberal point of view should be able to provide a new point d’appui for all those liberals who have despaired of and deserted their creed during the periods of wandering’ (Economic Conditions: 147-8). The more extended and detailed argument in The Road to Serfdom is no less forceful in its promotion of an international authority limiting the powers of individual states. For reasons of brevity, three prominent aspects can be highlighted that underline the importance of Hayek’s contribution to considering international order.

First, Hayek affirms that developing an international authority on federal principles will necessarily entail a commitment to strictly circumscribed Rule of Law conditions. This will enable states to devolve to an international authority not new powers but the minimum powers of ‘laissez-faire’ ultra-liberalism in order to preserve peaceful relationships. Hence the position taken by Hayek is that a peaceful international order can be achieved if separate states exist in large federated groups, or ultimately in one single federation, as long as there is no interference and regulation of the impersonal forces of the market. This is a radical Kantian view of the states-system where ‘perpetual peace’ is politically achieved under an international government based on the principle of federation and devolution while extreme laissez-faire prevails in economic matters. There is also a bite to match the bark of this vision of international order and the separation of the political and the economic.

The international Rule of Law must become a safeguard as much against the tyranny of the state over the individual as against the tyranny of the new super-state, nor a loose association of “free nations”, but a community of nations of free men must be our goal. We have long pleaded that it had become impossible to behave in international affairs as we thought it desirable because others would not play the game. The coming settlement will be the opportunity to show that we have been sincere and that we are prepared to accept the same restrictions on our freedom of action which in the common interest we think it necessary to impose upon others (Serfdom, 242-3, emphasis added).

HayekSecond, Hayek is clear that the smaller states within the international system would clearly have to renounce their political sovereignty when entering the orbit of inter-state federation. There must be a power that can restrain the competing interests of states, establish a set of rules, and create an authority capable of enforcing those rules. ‘Planning on an international scale’, declares Hayek, ‘even more than is true on a national scale, cannot be anything but a naked rule of force, an imposition by a small group on all the rest of that sort of standard and employment which the planners think suitable for the rest’ (Serfdom, 229).

Third, Hayek is conscious that the implications of this stance leads to the realisation that ‘the dominance of the white man’ would be present over what he calls ‘the small peoples’. Here he refers to how the ‘European races’ will not voluntarily submit to their standard of life being determined by a ‘World Parliament’ so therefore ‘this does unfortunately not preclude that particular measures, which could be justified only if the principle of world direction were a feasible ideal, are seriously advocated’ (Serfdom, 230). As a footnote to this argument, Hayek remarks on Britain’s colonialism to comment that, ‘the experience in the colonial sphere, of this country as much as any other, has amply shown that even the mild forms of planning which we know as colonial development involve, whether we wish it or not, the imposition of certain values and ideals on those whom we try to assist’ (Serfdom, 229n.1). But the possession and administration of colonies through imperial “assistance” would continue within inter-state federalism rather than be a thing of the past.

what-is-historyThis is where F.A. Hayek is far too rash in his dismissal of the insights of his contemporary E.H. Carr. Carr is clear in The Twenty Year’s Crisis and his consideration of international order that an argument made on the basis of a harmony of interests merely becomes a cloak for the vested interests of the privileged. Sometime later, Carr also articulates an equally withering comment on the pursuit of objectivity in history. In What is History? [1961], Carr states, ‘Knowledge is knowledge for some purpose. The validity of the knowledge depends on the validity of the purpose’. Returning to The Twenty Years’ Crisis, Carr also comments that, ‘If . . . it is utopian to ignore the element of power, it is an unreal kind of realism which ignores the element of morality in any world order’.

Hence The Road to Serfdom has to be regarded for what it is: while presenting himself on the plane of universal (harmonious) interests, Hayek is nevertheless highly value-bound, articulating a clear normative perspective that has to be laid bare, revealed rather than concealed, within power relations serving a particular purpose. That particular purpose is itself the articulation, defence, and constitution of the liberal creed which at its centre also had a clear imperial vision of the conditions for international order and for whom. Although not the subject of my contribution to the Polanyi-Hayek Workshop, laying bare the past and present value-laden and power-laden basis of this vision of international order and the liberal creed is a task that still remains to be done.

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