I just attended an absolutely wonderful Liberty Fund conference organized by Bruce Caldwell on Hayek's critique of scientism. We read Counter Revolution of Science and "Individualism: True and False." The conference was full of brilliant interpreters of Hayek, such as Caldwell, Viktor Vanberg, Ronald Hamowy, Leonard Liggio, and Paul Lewis; major historians of economic thought, such as Sandra Peart, Wade Hands, Dan Hammond, and Evelyn Forget; great political theorists and intellectual historians such as Jerry Mueller and Gene Miller; and rising stars in political economy such as Ben Powell. The discussion leader was Jerry Gaus, a philosopher from U of Arizona, who asked some of the best questions from any discussion leader I have heard at a Liberty Fund conference.
During the conference, I was constantly reminded of a statement Hayek makes in the Liberty Fund DVD Profiles on Liberty: F. A. Hayek. Hayek states about his relationship with Mises that he was completely convinced of the conclusions which Mises reached, but was never completely satisfied with the way he reached those conclusions. In short, this is the key to understanding Hayek's research program. To work out an argument that is more satisfactory to him but that essentially reaches the same conclusions that Mises reached. Of course, the fact that I have argued that position repeatedly (starting with my Nomos articles form the late 1980s, but also in my Cultural Dynamics piece on Hayek in 1990) means I am probably placing more weight on this statement from the interview than is justified.
But the experience also made me think of my own research path. Paul Lewis, who I consider one of the most thoughtful economists I ever have the opportunity to interact with, was pushing me on what are some obvious contradictions in my own writings. Paul was trying to understand how I could make certain arguments. And I realized in a way that I never did before that what I am all about teaching, research, policy statements, etc. is that I am completely persuaded by the conclusions that Murray Rothbard reached and the vision he had of a science of liberty. But I have also always had problems with the way he made certain arguments -- even back to my student days at Grove City College. So like Hayek with respect to Mises, I am completely convinced of the correctness of Rothbardian conclusions in economics and politics, but I do not find the way he reached those conclusions persuasive. So I am trying to find alternative theoretical and empirical means to derive Rothbardian conclusions.
This doesn't give me on a pass with the contradictions that Paul Lewis (and before that David Prychitko) are pushing me on. I need to persuade them that the contradictions are only apparent, not real. But it does explain why I am trying to make the arguments I do --- a Hayekian anarchism; a Misesian spontaneous order; a rule utilitarian discussion of individual rights; a post-modernist apriorism; etc. And it explains my behavior in the classroom, in my approach to research, and in what I try to represent on the blog.
I am sure many will bristle at the suggestion that I am a Rothbardian (I often have insisted I am a Misesian to the great dismay of some within the Austrian school), but that is the vision that ultimately drives my endeavors. But I don't find the way that Murray Rothbard derived his conclusions completely convincing. So I am searching for an alternative argumentative structure on how to get there, and alternative historical/empirical illustrations to meet the evidence burden that must be met professionally to advance these ideas. At least that is how I understand what I am doing --- whether my efforts are judged as good or bad is separate from the intent, I am just stating my intent as clearly as I can.