Hayek prides himself on having arrived at a fairly comprehensive, if not compelling, picture of Everyman, the all-too-oft neglected cog in the wheel precisely because it’s a cog in the wheel and yet, an indispensible building block of modern-day democracies, the last bastion of individual freedoms in the sea of collectivism, the “Great White Hope.” And the portrait he sketches is that of a fellow who is neither too stupid nor too bright, endowed with no special abilities, talents or ambition, just the average kind of fellow; there being nothing distinctive about him but nothing too objectionable, either.
Little does it matter that Hayek’s hope rests on shaky foundations, the workings of the invisible hand enabled by the market (somehow seeing to it that all personal decisions, however poorly arrived or ill-informed, will turn to the good), coupled with the attendant conviction that the (pre)existing social norms and mores pretty much spell out the surest guide to all rightful human conduct, norms and mores which, for this very reason, are never to be questioned, only obeyed. It’s the democratic spirit in Hayek that we must applaud, his unshakeable belief in the common man, buttressed as it may be by some of his more or less artificial devices, all seeing to it that the average man will come through with flying colors and write history’s postscript anew. For indeed, if not the common man, who else will carry the democratic mantle? It’s certainly not the aristocratic or the privileged man. The democratic spirit demands otherwise, and Hayek is true to that spirit.
But when we look at Hayek’s subject, the bearer of his hope, his unsung and all-too-often forgotten hero, what do we find? Hayek’s depiction of such a critter as barely average in wit and not overly ambitious is something we can certainly live with; we run into such people every day. We can also live, I suppose, with Hayek’s rather dim view of the average fellow’s knowledge, limited as it may be to his or her immediate circle and narrowly-defined interests and concerns. And I suppose we can also live with Hayek’s awfully narrow conception of the average fellow’s moral concerns, again, limited as they may be to their immediate circle of family and friends for truly, all moral thinking must begin at home.