Deweys And Hayeks Arguments About Freedom

Dewey’s And Hayek’s Arguments About Freedom

Dewey’s and Hayek’s arguments about freedom.

Dewey (1935) discusses the major theme of freedom by expounding on the interrelated sub-themes of liberty, individualism and intelligence.

In analyzing liberty, Dewey (1935) argues that the exact meaning of the term has been wrongly been interpreted by many people, especially those in power. As such, libertarians have been harshly treated by those who would want to maintain their status. This is reflected when Dewey notes that, “it has long been treated as an enemy by those who wish to maintain the status quo” (1). He however, goes ahead to state that the term has achieved various meanings especially to those in society who would want to cause quick social changes in institutions. In one of the meanings, a person with freedom is viewed as a person who owns up to the grievances of the poor and who at the critical time supports the plans of the capitalist. In this assessment, Dewey assesses a liberal as a person whose freedom is only achieved by his opportunistic character (5).

In the second meaning, a liberal is defined as one who professes radical opinions in private but who never acts upon them for fear of losing entrée into the courts of the mighty and respectable. In this second thought, his freedom of speech is upheld when he speaks candidly and vividly on the issues affecting the society in private. But again it is uncompromised when he is instilled with fear of the kind of harsh punishment he is to undergo through if arrested and convicted by those in power. From the two arguments, it is clear that liberals are seen as refugees who despite identifying the weakness of the systems in power remain withdrawn in their states (Dewey 1935, 5).

Dewey (1935) goes ahead to add that freedom as endowed in liberalism has only flourished at times in which the countries are not experiencing any political upheaval, a phenomena he refers to as times of fair social weather. The liberals’ ideas are taken to be in good faith until those times of upheavals when those in authorities turn against them. In understanding the freedom associated with liberalism, Dewey asks himself if it is possible for one to maintain a firm stand to his liberal ideas. In seeking answers to the above, the contributions of the great philosopher Jon Locke are brought to his attention. Locke viewed liberalism as a principle in which governments were instituted to protect the rights that belonged to individuals prior to political organizations. These rights were those of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In concluding his research on liberty, Dewey discovers from Lockes’ works that liberalism required man to reason on the higher level-a characteristic he was already endowed with (7).

Closely related to liberty is individualism. Dewey (1987) defines it as liberties of thought and action already possessed by man and which it was the sole role of the state to safeguard (7). From this definition, it is clear that a contradiction occurs on the role of the state on individualism. First, in an authoritarian manner, the state can be seen on a positive note to be protecting the innate ideas as manifested by various individuals. However, contradiction occurs when the state is also seen to be encroaching on the rights of expression as expressed by various individuals. Locke in supporting the hard-line stands taken by governments suppressing those with divergent opinions states that labor and not land, was the source of wealth (10). As such, the governments were right in controlling the innate ideas of the people since this facilitated the economic development of the nation. This School of thought on liberty and individualism came to an end in 1820 when Bentham associated liberalism as vehicle for change. This is because it advocated for minor political reforms in societies. According to him, administrations were wrong in suppressing the happiness that was being enjoyed when individuals harbored different ideas against them (11).

In summarizing the works of the various scholars, Dewey (1987) notes that many liberals are today committed to the notion that organized societies must establish conditions under which the mass of individuals can possess actual as distinct from legal liberty (21).

Intelligence was one of the important ideas manifested in the social philosophy that was associated with liberal and liberalism. The conception of intelligence has come to be associated with present day liberals who have been tasked with creating new social orders-reformed governments (Dewey 1987, 32). Constructive intelligence requires the coming together of the few and isolated liberals in modern societies and applying reasoning of mind to the modern day issues. This is with a view of addressing the earlier crisis in liberalism- a crisis that evolved as a result of the inadequacies and inefficiencies of the earlier liberals in handling problems associated with social organization and integration.

HayeksHayek (1978) in arguing about freedom tries to look at its meaning as depicted in the two different and incompatible words, liberty and liberties. He refers to freedom or liberty as the condition of men in which coercion by some is reduced as much as possible in society (11). To him, individual or personal freedom is a state in which humans are not subject to coercion by the arbitrary will of others. Hayek argues that this meaning should not be corresponded to “civil liberty” since this will cause confusion with “political liberty” due to their same place of origin (11).

It is evident from the condition defined above that freedom as such was used to depict a situation in which man was given complete control over his life. As such, all decisions and plans were left under his care. In justifying his view, Hayek (1978) discloses that man in entering history, is either divided between two sides- that of being free or un-free (12). He continues by saying that though various forms of “freedoms” exist, they should be seen as different species but as different conditions (12). In his elaboration, he alludes that the range of physical possibilities from which any person can choose at a given time has no direct relevance to freedom. This is so because it only counts when one has the assured privacy which restricts others from interference.

In understanding freedom to a greater extend, Hayek looks at the following acquired meanings (which though return to the earlier meaning).In the first acquired meaning, freedom is defined as “political freedom”- the participation of men in their government thru the process of legislation (Hayek 1978, 13). This implies that the “young” people who are not eligible to vote do not enjoy this kind of freedom.

“Inner” freedom constitutes the second acquired meaning. It is more of concerned with the extent to which a person is guided in his actions by his own considered will as opposed to impulse or circumstance (Hayek 1978, 15). The most acquired meaning of the word freedom is the physical “ability to do what I want” This kind of freedom makes humans feel like having been released from gravity and can therefore fly like a bird (16). Liberty with wealth constitutes the fourth acquired meaning. In this meaning, the freedom involved in the redistribution of wealth is emphasized. For instance, a person who lives a luxurious lifestyle at the expense of another person is considered to be less free than a person who leaves a sub-standardized lifestyle on his sweat. This is so because the poor person has complete control to choose his own opportunities in life (17). This is so because liberty does not mean good things or the absence of evil (18). The fifth aspect associated with freedom is the absence of a particular obstacle-coercion by other men (19).refers to a control of the environment.

2) Hayek’s and Bowles and Gintis’s arguments about democracy.

HayeksHayek (1978) in his arguments about democracy proposes that all men should have an equal share in making the law. In advocating for this equality, democracy is seen as having a close relationship with traditional liberalism (102). Though the two principles meet at some stage, Hayek notes that their real meanings differ in that liberalism is concerned with limiting coercive powers while democracy on the other hand is known for limiting majority opinion to the government.

Like freedom, democracy is also used in a vague sense by many people all over the world. But in all of its usage, its description of a method of government- namely majority rule clearly comes out (Hayek 1978, 103). In distinguishing democracy from liberalism, Hayek notes that the latter is a doctrine about the manner of determining what the law ought to be, while the former is a doctrine about what the manner of determining what will be the law (104). Hayek disagrees with the current view on democracy as describing as describing particular aims of policy which happen to be popular. To him, the fact that this does not bring out the connection between democracy and how the powers of the majority ought to be used constitute an irrelevant factor in the whole process by which the opinion is formed. In arguing against this notion, he says that it provides no direction on how people ought to cast their votes (104).

Hayek (1978) in expounding his views on democracy brings to our attention the two respects to which the term can be extended to constitute no added value for mankind. The two extensions include a range of persons entitled to vote and the range of issues that are decided through a democratic procedure (104). He further notes that the extensions suffer from the fact that they are usually developed with some ideal homogeneous community in view and then applied to the very imperfect and often arbitrary units (105).

Hayek (1978) highlights the conflict that exists between democrats and liberals when he says that though they agree on the use of the majority rule, the two differ greatly on the scope of the state action. To the democrat, the majority rule has no limits while to the democrat, the powers of the majority ought to be limited by principles (106).

In addition to the above, democracy is also seen as a means rather than an end. Three arguments are advanced to support this notion; the first being that in conflicting situations, it is vital if numbers are counted and the majority declared the winner. In doing so, democracy has been regarded as a method of peaceful change (Hayek 1978, 107). The second argument holds that democracy is important in safeguarding individual liberty while the third and the most powerful rests on the premise that in any majority elected government, the educated elites (who may not have voted in by the majority) would constitute a more efficient or even otherwise a better government that the one elected through the ballot (108).

Hayek also claims in advance that in democracy, any minority opinion may become a majority one implying that the proposals of a few in the government can supersede those of the majority. In adopting the views of the minority, aspects of freedom and liberalisms ought to have advanced equality (109). Moreover, majority decisions are in most cases not guided by principle and as such an individual’s intelligence and capability maybe preferred as opposed to the majority (111). Democracy has led politicians to adopt decisions of the majority contrary to their own opinions (112). Hayek also notes that if opinions of the majority have to advance, the philosopher who offers guidance must not let himself to be bound by the majority’s opinions since this can lead to total failure of the opinion (114).

In concluding his arguments about the theme of democracy, Hayek notes that the limits proposed above have to be taken into consideration for theme to flourish and prosper amongst states (115). Liberals of olden days are seen as advancing the ideas of democracy as opposed to the present day democrats which are only interested in making democratic conditions workable (117).

Bowles and GintisBowles and Gintis (1986) see democracy as contradicting to capitalism to some extent. To them, no capitalist society in the present time can be called democratic with the short term objective of securing personal liberty and rendering the exercise of power sharing socially accountable (3). For democracy to ensure the creation of a “complete” society, Bowles and Gintis recommend the establishment of a democratic social order which will eventually do away with the capitalist economy. The reason why they hold for the view above emanates from the problems that the modern day capitalist societies’ preference of economy theory over political theory. To the two, it should not be so.

In addition to showing the contradictions that exist between democracy and capitalism, the two denote that democracy and capitalism advocate for different values; the former insisting on the priority of liberty and democratic accountability based on the exercise of personal rights while the latter is characterized by preeminence of economic privileges based on property rights (Bowles and Gintis 1986, 3).

Democracy is also dynamic; since democratic institutions will always expand on their ideals by challenging all forms of privileges. For instance democracy may challenge, indiscriminately and irrelevantly, all forms of privilege (Bowles and Gintis 1986, 5).

Bowles and Gintis arguments on democracy can be taken as having expounded on the works of Marx. Their views are geared towards replacing a capitalist society with a democratic institution. They achieve this through emphasizing on the need for democratic rights for individuals. Though their critiques were comprehensive, the two scholars on concentrate on identifying the contradictions in the capitalism and democracy. They do not point out the replacement specifics for the many contradictions. For example, in one of the analysis, the two proclaim the following contradiction and fail to give its alternative, “the conflict of democratic personal rights and capitalist property rights does not end with the extension of the suffrage and the granting of rights of trade union association (Bowles and Gintis 1986, 63).


Bowles, S. and Gintis, H. Democracy and Capitalism. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.

Dewey, J. Liberalism and Social Action. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1935.

Hayek, F. A. The Constitution of Liberty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.