Twofish's Blog

September 14, 2006

More about Hayek, Austria-Hungary, and China

Filed under: china, economics, hayek, iraq, long war — twofish @ 11:12 pm

I’ve been reading more about Fredrich Hayek, and I’m starting to understand a bit about what I find attractive about the Austrian School and the writings of Hayek and von Mises. In particular, there is this chapter on the Untimely Liberalism of Fredrich Hayek

Click to access 200652223849290.pdf

The thing about this chapter is that it addresses squarely the paradox that think of myself both as a classical liberal, while also being a supporter of the Chinese Communist Party. This sort of paradox is also at the core of Austrian liberalism of the early 20th century and its attitudes toward the Habsburgs and Austria-Hungary. There is this paragraph about the early 20th century which is very relevant to the early 21st.

The deep irony of the late Habsburg empire was that an authoritarian Empire based on a medieval dynasty and tied to the heavily dogmatic ideology of the Counter-Reformation, in the end, under the stimulus of ethnic, chauvanistic centrifugal agitation, found its most eager defenders amongst individualist liberals, recruited in considerable part from an erstwhile parah group and standing outside the faith with which the state was once so deeply identified…

There are some other things that make sense to me. The similarity between the Jews of Eastern Europe circa 1900’s and ethnic Chinese circa 2000 are striking. The legal disabilities and discrimination that Eastern European Jews had suffered under had been removed several decades earlier just as the legal disabilities and discrimination that Chinese in the United States had suffered under had ended in the 1960’s. The multi-cultural polyglot civilization of Vienna-1900 is probably the same as that of the United States today, and out of that volatile mix, you end up with people like von Mises, Hayek, Freud, Einstein, ….. and Hitler.

And it seems that Hayek thought deeply about issues like what does it mean to be a loyal citizen of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, just like I’ve had to think very deeply about what it means to be an American or to be Chinese.

All of this ended with World War I, and fortunately in the early 21st century we seem to have avoided a war between Great Powers (i.e. the US and China) which would have been even more destructive to civilization than World War I was. The empires that fought World War I, all lost from it, and I’m happy that the prospect of a US-China confrontation over Taiwan is now receding.

But we are still in a war, and to figure out how to fight and win this war, we have to draw upon everything that we know about history. And one lesson of history is that wars almost always take a lot longer to finish that they people who start them think, and they almost always have extremely unpredictable consequences. (For example, the big winner in the war in Iraq is obviously Iran.)

One thing that scares me is that people in the United States just don’t seem to be thinking about what the world is going to be like in ten years. I’m not seeing much discussion about what the United States is going to be like after the next election. For a war that is supposedly about the virtues of democracy, that is more than a bit frightening. If after over two hundred years of constitutional government, the Republicans and the Democrats work together for the common good, what hope is there for the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds in Iraq? If we can’t calm down the rhetoric and emotional and have useful rational discussions of the great issues of the day, then what chance do the Iraqis have?  If we can’t fight terrorism without winking at torture, then who are we to draw the line against torture and death squads when bombs are going off daily in Baghdad?

Winning the Long War begins at home.  The t errorists cannot destroy us.  They can (and are very much trying to) set up a situation in which we destroy ourselves, and they seem to be doing a good job.

If we want to start winning the Long War, forget about focusing on Iraq.  Start by taking each of the 400 or so detainees at Guantanamo, put each of them through civil or military trials.  Convict the ones with crimes, release and apologize to the ones that don’t.

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