The Necessary Ignorance of Our Leaders

by Don Boudreaux on June 4, 2010

in Hubris and humility, Man of System, Politics, Reality Is Not Optional

Here’s a letter sent yesterday to the Washington Post:

George Will explains the differences between (James) “Madisonians” and (Woodrow) “Wilsonians (“The danger of a government with unlimited power,” June 3).  In so doing he eloquently exposes Wilsonians’ naive trust in powerful government and their haughty disdain for individual economic freedom.

Mr. Will’s timely criticism of Wilsonian ‘Progressives’ calls to mind an observation by the great English jurist F.W. Maitland.  After listing several sound arguments for keeping government strictly limited, Maitland concluded: “But after all, the most powerful argument is that based on the ignorance, the necessary ignorance, of our rulers.”

A great mistake of “Progressives” is to believe that all the knowledge necessary to keep society peaceful and progressing can be mastered – or at least adequately enough grasped – by government officials.  This belief is, in the words of the late F.A. Hayek, a “fatal conceit.”

Donald J. Boudreaux

And as Hayek pointed out on page 30 of The Constitution of Liberty, “All political theories assume, of course, that most individuals are very ignorant.  Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest.”

UPDATE: My friend Tibor Machan, of Chapman University, has a different take.


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