Journal of Bioeconomics 2015, 17: 83-96.
In this paper, I examine economist F. A. von Hayek’s views on social evolution and contrast them with T. H. Huxley’s famous critique of evolutionary ethics. My analysis seeks to bring to the fore fundamental discrepancies between evolutionary explanations that are descriptive and political theories that are prescriptive, or at any rate aim to substantiate a specific position. I claim that Hayek’s conflation of evolution with progress betrays a narrow and simplistic understanding of the evolutionary process; one that resembles the social Darwinism he, and Huxley, criticized. In particular, Hayek’s depiction of social evolution as selection for expansion restricted this process to economic and demographic growth. This interpretation entailed a negation of Malthus’ theory and resulted in an inconsistent evaluation of the role of population growth in cultural development. It also led Hayek to redefine human morality as the type of behavior that contributes to economic advancement. Unlike Huxley, he believed that inequality was the necessary corollary of progress, and he advocated disregarding natural inclinations toward solidarity and altruism. But Hayek’s conclusions seems to place too much faith in the beneficial effects of market forces and to unjustly deprive human agency of a decisive and positive role in shaping culture and society.