chapter  8
9 Pages

Balancing freedom and order: The liberalism of Adolph Lowe: Harald Hagemann


Introduction The concern with a viable order, both stable and free, permeates Adolph Lowe’s entire economic and sociological work and gives it that rare impression of coherence and profundity: from the analysis of the relationship of unemployment and criminality in his 1914 PhD thesis, via his LSE lectures Economics and Sociology (1935) making a strong plea for cooperation in the social sciences, his analysis of “spontaneous collectivism” characteristic of liberal Britain in his essay The Price of Liberty: An Essay on Contemporary Britain (1937) and his elaborations of “Political Economics” as the science of controlled economic systems in On Economic Knowledge (1965), up to his last book Has Freedom a Future? (1988), which is the culmination of a lifetime of thought and teaching. In his essay on contemporary Britain, Adolph Lowe, the émigré from Nazi Germany, inquired into the conditions of political freedom, praising spontaneous conformity of liberal Britain as “the only mode of life through which a largescale society can reconcile the conflict between freedom and order” (1937: 6). The price of liberty is individuals’ readiness to conform to particular constraints and controls that are manifested as structures, institutions and rules. The functioning of the latter depends on subjective factors such as the understanding and approval of their purpose by those who are controlled. This emphasis on behavioural and motivational patterns also characterizes his later elaboration of “political economics” as the science of controlled economic systems in On Economic Knowledge (1965), in which Lowe developed “instrumental analysis” as a generalization of his concern with the requirements for the attainment of full employment. Having in mind the negative political consequences of mass unemployment in Germany and elsewhere, Lowe’s plea for interventionism is designed to serve the purpose to provide economic and social stability which he regarded as a necessary condition for the freedom of individual agents.1 This chapter focuses on the liberalism of Adolph Lowe. Interestingly Lowe, who became the founding director of the research department on business cycles at the Kiel Institute of World Economics in 1926, had been engaged in an early debate on business-cycle theory with Friedrich August Hayek, who became the

founding director of the Austrian Institute for Business Cycles Research in 1927. Whereas for Hayek’s economic and social philosophy the notion of spontaneous order is of the utmost importance, in Lowe’s thinking it is the concept of spontaneous conformity. For Lowe spontaneous conformity, which cannot be judged independently of the ends it serves, constitutes without doubt the ideal combination of individual self-determination and macro-order. Half a century later Lowe (1988) had become more sceptical concerning the ability of Western societies to master the fundamental problems they are confronted with, ranging from structural technological unemployment via the intraand international mal-distribution of income and wealth to ecological crises. He emphasized the necessity to revitalize the Western tradition of individualism properly understood, i.e. individualism rooted in social responsibility. What is at stake here is the problem of balancing the private and the public domains, where the latter is conceived of as the guardian of the viability of the former. Thus Lowe, the “economic philosopher” (Kenneth Boulding)2 makes a plea for a new communal ethic in his final book, Has Freedom a Future? In his social philosophy Lowe was aiming for a middle way between liberalism and socialism. One cannot understand his particular form of social liberalism without knowing his biography. His intellectual development and scholarly contributions are intertwined with his biography and served to reinforce one another. Section “A political economist in stormy waters: on Lowe’s intellectual biography” therefore deals with Lowe’s life and work. In section “The price of liberty” we focus on his The Price of Liberty, in which the perceptive historical, political and sociological observer praises “spontaneous conformity” of liberal Britain as fundamental for balancing freedom and order. Half a century later the economic philosopher Lowe re-examines freedom, its costs, and the economic and political conditions under which it can be established and maintained in Has Freedom a Future? (1988). This forward-looking tract of keeping order, stability and freedom in modern Western societies is at the centre of section “Has freedom a future?” before finally some conclusions on Lowe’s liberalism will be drawn.