I think Stian Westlake is on to something here, though I think the explanation goes deeper than British academics’ secret memberships in the Hayek Appreciation Club (HAC).
Before any academic is considered for membership in the HAC, she first must become a super secret member of the super secret Humboldt Alliance (SSHA, or just HA for short). It was Humboldt, after all, who argued not only that research and teaching should be integrated in the person of the professor (a claim I support), but also that the university must be autonomous from the state (a claim I question, to a degree).
Underlying Humboldt’s demand for autonomy is a view Isaiah Berlin termed negative liberty. Briefly, negative liberty entails freedom from constraint or interference. Positive liberty, on the other hand, allows some interference insofar as such interference may actually allow us to exercise our freedom on our own terms. For those who espouse negative liberty — including not only Humboldt and Hayek, but also Popper (mentored by Hayek) and Berlin himself — autonomy means laissez faire. For those who espouse positive liberty — including Kant, Hegel, and Marx — autonomy means self-determination.
Humboldt also held the view that the state will actually benefit more if it leaves the university alone than if it attempts to direct the course of research in any way. I discuss similarities with Vannevar Bush, the father of US science policy, here. But the same argument gets recycled every time any policy maker suggests any interest in the affairs of the university.
Before there was a Hayek Appreciation Club, Hayek was a member of the Super Secret Humboldt Association. I’m pretty sure that Humboldt was also a member of the Super Double Secret Lovers of Aristotle Foundation (LAF); but that’s difficult to prove. Nevertheless, it was Aristotle who laid the foundation for Humboldt in arguing that what is done for its own sake is higher than what is done for the sake of something else. Aristotle also thought that the life of contemplation (a.k.a. philosophy) was better for the philosopher than any other life. But he didn’t take it as far as Humboldt and argue that it was also better for society.
To me, there’s a relation to this post on the CSID blog, as well.