Hayek’s Irrational Leap of Faith or Belief in the Beneficence of an Invisible Hand
In reading various texts—whether of a philosophical, political, literary, or economic nature—it is striking how many authors offer a (re)reading of the Genesis Fall narrative and then proceed to use their particular reading as the hermeneutical lens through which they explicate their position as a whole or at least to illuminate some significant theme integral to their position. Consider Hegel’s interpretation of the Fall as necessary for the ultimate good of humankind, or Kant’s re-reading of Genesis in his essay, Conjectural Beginning of Human History, where he claims that the original transgression actually causes reason to emerge. That is, prior to the Fall, humans did not possess a moral or rational capacity for such a decision. However, with the Fall, we overcame our “tutelage” to nature (i.e., instinctual animal-like existence). For Kant, within the human race itself and from the very beginning, there is an inherent struggle, a tension between sociability and unsociability. This is quite different than the traditional Christian narrative, which affirms the current dis-integration of humans, that is, an inner struggle of desires that tear at our very being and which was not present from the beginning; rather, this unnatural condition is a result of our willful turn away (“fall”) from the Triune Creator.
Friedrich Hayek, economist, philosopher, self-professed promoter of liberalism even writing an essay to distance himself from conservatism, ardent defender of free-market capitalism, and winner of the 1974 Nobel Prize in economics, though in no way an advocate of Christian Holy Writ, offers a narrative about economics that, as Jung Mo Sung observes, shares certain structural similarities with the Genesis Fall narrative. Though himself an agnostic, Hayek acknowledges rather begrudgingly that beneficial practices have resulted from religious beliefs, in particular, monotheistic religious beliefs, “which are not true—or verifiable or testable in the same sense as are scientific statements and which are certainly not the result of rational argumentation” (The Final Conceit, 136–7). If Hayek were a Christian, we might interpret this statement as allowing for the possibility of truths that are revealed by faith—suprarational, not irrational truths; however, given Hayek’s rejection of Christianity, this interpretation is not an option. Interestingly, Hayek’s view of economics has deeply influenced the way that many conservative Christians (as well as others) think about the free market. (This is not in itself “damning” in my view, as many non-Christian philosophies, insights, etc. have been appropriated by Christians for the furtherance of their tradition and to aid in the explication of their own teachings; however, what would be “damning” is if the teaching or ethos appropriated is fundamentally at odds with the Christian faith, tradition, and teachings of Christ himself).
Upon reception of the Nobel Prize in economics, Hayek presented a lecture entitled, “The Pretence of Knowledge.” In the lecture, he speaks against a “scientist” approach to economics which attempts to apply “habits of thought to fields different from that in which they have been formed.” In other words, according to Hayek, economics does not belong with the “hard” (physical) sciences, as it deals with complex phenomena that are not quantifiable, observable, measurable, etc. in the same way that the phenomena of the physical sciences are. One might grant this conclusion; yet, Hayek goes further, claiming that because we cannot understand, completely master, etc. a phenomena as complex as the market, attempts to do so are dangerous and harmful. For Hayek, the great economic crisis of the 1970s was due to Keynesian interventionist policies. Like Adam and Eve, whose desire to be omniscient overtook them, moving them to partake of the fruit of the forbidden tree and thus created havoc for them and others beyond their wildest dreams, so too, according to Hayek, do those who dare steer the invisible hand of the free market system lead us to our doom. “To act on the belief that we possess the knowledge and the power which enable us to shape the processes of society entirely to our liking, knowledge which in fact we do not possess, is likely to make us do much harm.” There is no doubt that certain kinds of interventionist policies could be used for tyrannical, totalitarian purposes; however, does it necessarily follow that they must? One could become very pessimistic about any attempts to regulate or direct the market for purposes of social justice. One could also choose to believe that social and economic problems will somehow solve themselves through the unintended effects of the Smithian benevolent, invisible hand. (I am not claiming that these are the only possible options). To opt for the second possibility, as Sung highlights, is not only an act of faith, but an (irrational) leap of faith.
[I]f it is true that we cannot sufficiently understand the factors and dynamics of the market so that we can intervene in it, how can we know that the market always produces beneficial effects or that it is essentially a ‘force for good’? Is knowing that the market always produces beneficial effects not a pretension of knowledge of the market? Since one cannot prove this providential character of the market, we have here a ‘leap of faith’ in the affirmation of the essentially beneficent quality of free market.
Hayek, highly influenced by philosopher Karl Popper (and, it seems, Popper’s literal reading of Plato’s Republic as a blueprint for totalitarianism!), held to an (obviously non-theistic) view of evolutionary morality, which as I understand it—and I am open to correction here as I have not read the entire book and am no expert on Hayek’s work—suggests that we move beyond primitive instincts—“rules of solidarity and altruism” (The Fatal Conceit, 13) and “treat[ing] all men as neighbors.” Why? “For those now living within the extended order gain from not treating one another as neighbors, and by applying, in their interactions, rules of the extended order [=”free market economy”]—instead of the rules of solidarity and altruism” (Ibid.). Somehow, I just don’t think Jesus would approve.
 See his essay, “Why I am Not a Conservative.”
 “Friedrich August von Hayek – Prize Lecture.” Nobelprize.org. 22 Jul 2010 http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/1974/hayek-lecture.html.
* The Invisible Hand Image was created by Mark Bailen and was copied from this website.