To be sure, Hayek doesn’t accuse Hobbes and company, the precursors of the liberal theory, with modern-day liberal bias. Quite the contrary, he prefaces his introduction to “Individualism: True and False,” the first chapter of the featured selection, by saying:
The true individualism which I shall try to defend began its modern development with John Locke, and particularly with Bernard Mandeville and David Hume, and achieved full stature for the first time in the work of Josiah Tucker, Adam Ferguson, and Adam Smith and in that of their great contemporary, Edmund Burke – the man whom Smith described as the only person he ever knew who thought on economic subjects exactly as he did without any previous communication having passed between them.
Consequently, his true sentiments are expressed well in advance: each of these were in essence conservative thinkers. (Let it be a lesson to all modern-day, self-styled liberals!) One only wishes he had included Hobbes, the most important of them all, in that number.
Let’s highlight the points of similarity, all the important respects in which Hobbes’ own views and those of Burke and Hayek more or less coincided.
In the first place, Hayek argues for limited government and is dead-set against central planning: according to his lights, the best results are almost always most likely to obtain whenever each and every individual is left to their own devices to pursue their own interests; irrespective of how enlightened or unenlightened they may be, irrespective of their native abilities, talent, ambition, or less than even playing field. Hobbes’s view isn’t all that different since his conception of equality is grounded in equality based on insecurity: all were equally insecure, according to Hobbes, vis-à-vis the impersonal forces of the market.
This isn’t to say Hobbes regarded each and every one as commanding the exact same quotient of power. Far from it! The point rather was that no matter how powerful any one individual may be, she wasn’t powerful enough to overawe the rest (assuming, of course, that all those who had opposed him were equally intent on stripping him of their power). Which is why the inauguration of the state by those who felt so threatened by the forces about them was not only a dire necessity but also the most natural consequence. But let’s not mistake for the fact the scope of Hobbes’s project. His conception of the state was minimal, no less minimal than that of Burke or Hayek, the only purpose being to preserve the established social order. Once again, one fails to discern any significant difference here.
To properly understand the import of Hayek’s complaint, again we must fast-forward: beyond the minimal state envisaged by Hobbes et al, to the eventual formation of a totalitarian, welfare state; the true Leviathan. It’s not against the presumed deficiency of conservative thought or spirit on the part of the founders that Hayek registers his complaint but rather against the behemoth which, unbeknownst to all, arose in its wake. In this particular respect, insofar as Hayek’s critique is directed against statism, he’s right on target; it accords besides with the gist of the anarchistic thought. Where he errs, however, is in his narrative of how we got from point A to point B. His account is one dimensional, unduly beholden to the history of ideas and, in a sense, ahistorical.