Hayek’s challenge

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The 2012 election boils down to John Maynard Keynes v. F.A. Hayek, according to Nicholas Wapshott over at Politico. Responding, Michael Sean Winters shakes a Keynesian finger
at the “profoundly unchristian ideas” of Hayek’s Austrian school of
economics. But what I’ve been thinking about is Hayek’s shrewd
libertarian swipe at what today we’d call social conservatives. At the
end of The Constitution of Liberty he writes:

I say that the conservative lacks principles, I do not mean to suggest
that he lacks moral conviction. The typical conservative is indeed
usually a man of very strong moral convictions. What I mean is that he
has no political principles which enable him to work with people whose
moral values differ from his own for a political order in which both can
obey their convictions. It is the recognition of such principles that
permits the coexistence of different sets of values and that makes it
possible to build a peaceful society with a minimum of force.

a society the permits the coexistence of different sets of values is no
walk in the park. In America, we prefer to do it by way of religion.
Because religious diversity is understood as intrinsic to the American
thing, it’s harder to reject alternative moral values when they sail
the banner of religion. Thus we find it easier for us to live with other
peoples’ principled opposition to, say, the death penalty (if we
support the death penalty) or abortion (if we support abortion rights)
when the others claim to do so on religious grounds.

What we’re
increasingly seeing, however, is the readiness of religious
conservatives to go beyond basing their values in religion and to
construe social policies with which they disagree as impinging on their
religious liberties. This can be seen in Rick Perry’s making the termination of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell into part of an Obamaite “war on religion.” And in the Catholic bishops’ current trumpeting
of threats to religious liberty–as if, for example, there were a Free
Exercise right to run a child-placement service with public funds
without adhering to the law giving same-sex couples equal access to

There’s no doubt that balancing religious liberty and
the rules of secular society can be difficult. But that’s exactly why
it’s important to embrace political principles that permit the
coexistence of different sets of values independent of religious claims.
It’s not clear that American conservatives, fearful of “moral
relativism,” are willing to do so.