The Passage from Classical to Neo-Liberalism: Frank H. Knight's Role Re-Considered
39 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2011
Date Written: March 6, 2011
Where should we place Frank Knight in the passage from classical liberalism to neo-liberalism? The argument has recently been made by that Knight should be placed among the group of liberals of an “older generation” that neo-liberals generally, and the Chicago School in particular, separated themselves from as neo-liberalism was built in the postwar period. In order to examine Knight’s place, the essay looks at an under-utilized source for Knight’s work: his 1958 lectures to the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Political Economy at the University of Virginia, which were published in 1960 under the title Intelligence and Democratic Action. In style and content, the 1958 lectures stand apart from similar lecture series delivered in the 1930s, and they also benefit from a clear explication of his comparative historical approach to the study of social economic organization. But the core of the book is his conception of interlocking nature of the politics, economics and ethics of liberalism. Knight’s liberalism is explored here with specific attention paid to the ways in which it is similar to, or different from, neo-liberalism. The result is mixed: in several key ways Knight different significantly from the neo-liberalism, but in several policy areas his conclusions are quite similar. In fact, while the philosophical differences do reinforce the argument that he is not among their number, the fact that his teaching of Chicago economists often drew upon the economic policy arguments that he shared with them suggests that he may have had more of a role in the development of neoliberal policy that the recent studies imply.
Keywords: Frank H. Knight, Frank Knight, Neo-Liberalism, Chicago School of Economics
JEL Classification: B29, B31, A12, A13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation