Markets Promote a Tolerant and Pluralist Civil Society

Lynne Kiesling

It’s a little disturbing how often I feel like Steve Horwitz has inhabited my brain and articulated my thoughts, and I am really glad that he does, because he is much more articulate in doing so than I am. His Freeman column today is an example, highlighting Hayek’s vision of a tolerant and pluralist society and the role of markets in such a society.

Here’s the important thing: Once we agree on the rules, we need not agree on the ends to live peacefully with one another. The liberal society is “means-connected” and not “ends-connected.” Markets enable us to disagree peacefully while each pursues his or her own way. …

Compare this to socialism or fascism. These systems require a single hierarchy of ends; according to the theory, the collective decides which ends will be pursued and which not. When resources are allocated centrally, pursuing our own individual ends is impossible. Our particular ends must be subordinated to the priorities of the State or collective. The result is not the peaceful disagreement and tolerance of the liberal order, but constant fighting over the reins of power in order to achieve one’s ends at the expense of others. We turn the positive-sum game of the market into the zero or negative-sum game of State power.

Exactly. Moreover, central determination of ends and allocation of resources stifles the innovation that is the manifestation of human creativity that makes the positive-sum game so positive, leaving a worse potential set of prospects for future generations.