The web is a buzz with discussion of Hayek's affinity with right-wing dictatorship. In these discussions, the line between the consistent and persistent implications of some intellectuals theory and their own personal practical political vision is often blurred. In an important sense, our responsibility as intellectuals today is not so much with what Hayek said, but what implications follow from a Hayekian argument.
I will not discuss, therefore, Hayek's personal experience in Chile. But instead I want to suggest that many interpreters are in a fundamental point missing Hayek's distinction between liberalism and democracy. In Hayek's theory, liberalism is the theory that determines the functions of government and the limits on government action. Democracy, on the other hand, is a means for selection those who will direct government in its activities. The constrain government, Hayek argued, modern liberal theory suggested a generality rule --- which results in a non-discriminatory politics. In fact, one could argue that Hayek's political theory strives to capture a vision of a political order that exhibits neither dominion nor discrimination.
One must keep this vision of a political order of a free people in mind when attempting to understand Hayek's contribution to contemporary political theory.
Least readers think I am suggesting an uncritical attitude, I am not. Obviously, we sshould scrutinize Hayek's writings just as rigorously as we would any theorist. But to responsibly scrutinize an author, we have to accurately capture what they argue, contextualize it, and understand it. For example, how could it possibly be that Hayek could say that he preferred a liberal dictator to an illiberal democracy? In the context in which the Chile discussion takes place, this is how Hayek ends up stating that when unlimited democracy has led the political order astray, then a temporary dictator of the liberal persuasion could steer the ship of state back on course. How could Hayek make that statement, while at the same time argue that: “‘Emergencies’ have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded”? Let alone, Hayek's more long held position that liberalism seeks to establish constraints on government such that bad men can do least harm, rather than seek to find good and enlightened men and empowering them to rule in the interest of society.
Identifying tensions and offer attempted reconciliations is the way forward; inuendo and guilt by assocation "gotcha' arguments are not. This is true for those on the right as well as those on the left. As Foucault argued in Power/Knowledge, the point is not to indict Marx in advance any more than to excuse him of the crimes against humanity that were committed in the name of communism. Our job, instead, is to critically examine the text to ask what in the argument could make the crimes possible. That is to be found deep in the theory Marx developed. We should approach Hayek's writing with that spirt, but Hayek's constrained vision of political economy as opposed to the unconstrained vision of his intellectual opposites should always be kept in mind. Again a politics that binds political action to meet non-discrimination and non-dominion criteria puts obvious limits on governmental action.