The Corner

Hayek & Marriage

Here’s one response to my post about Hayek:

Hayek would object to social engineering, for a certainty.

But I rather expect that Hayek would have preferred that the government stay out of the marriage business *altogether.* After all, marriage is a social relationship between two people, not amongst two people and the state. I doubt he would have considered it appropriate for the state to judge whether *any* relationship does or does not deserve the dignity of being called “marriage.” He’d leave it to civil society, and at most allow appropriate simplications in tax filing or estate management to persons who desired to be considered a “household,” or the like.

Leaving the dignity of marriage wholly to civil society would allow social institutions to evolve independent of the state and its ambitions towards social engineering. We should recall that Hayek did not consider himself a “conservative,” because he considered it inappropriate for the government to step in even to preserve existing social institutions.

My Response: Two points come to mind. First, if Hayek would have opposed state endorsement and support for heterosexual marriage, why didn’t he say so? I admit I’m speaking from some ignorance here, but I don’t recall Hayek making that a big issue of his. I invite correction on this point if I’m wrong. But the guy only died in 1992, so he had plenty of opportunities to spot this “problem” if he saw it as such.

Second, as longtime readers know, I do not agree with the notion that Hayek wasn’t a conservative. Yes he rejected the label “conservative,” but he just as explicitly rejected the label “libertarian.” The conservatives he disagreed with were of the European variety. Meanwhile, he explicitly declared that conservatives in America are the friends of liberty. His preferred label was “Old Whig” which was also the preferred self-description of Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism — a fact and allusion Hayek clearly had in mind.


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