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The Constitution of Liberty

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  2,304 ratings  ·  93 reviews
"One of the great political works of our time, . . . the twentieth-century successor to John Stuart Mill's essay, 'On Liberty.'"—Henry Hazlitt, Newsweek

"A reflective, often biting, commentary on the nature of our society and its dominant thought by one who is passionately opposed to the coercion of human beings by the arbitrary will of others, who puts liberty above welfar
Paperback, 580 pages
Published October 15th 1978 by University Of Chicago Press (first published 1960)
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Howard Olsen
Jul 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
By Friedrich A. Hayek

This is Hayek's magnum opus, a long (but not too long) book that combines his previous studies in economics and political theory to explore the nature of freedom and liberty to answer the eternal question, "What system will deliver the most freedom to the most people?" If you are at all familiar with Hayek's thought, his answer shouldn't surprise you; he was a true believer in liberal democracy and free markets; a descendant simultaneously of John
Patrick Peterson
2020-06-26 - I read this book my senior year in college as part of an independent study class I took with the Government Dept. chairman, Robert Wells at St. Lawrence University. It is a fantastic book!!! I read most of it again about 12-15 years ago in a fun group called "a priori cats" (If you are interested, I can tell you about that group and the name, if you contact me.)

One thing that is a bit quirky but fun, is that the book does not deal with the details of a written constitution, but rath
Otto Lehto
Jun 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Hayek's book is one of the crowning achievements in the "socialism-capitalism" debate of the last 100 years.

It is a deserved classic of liberalism, an argument for a market-oriented society with all its faults.

It provides a classical liberal defence, mostly on utilitarian grounds, for a limited government under what he called "rule of law": the reign of non-arbitrary, non-coercive, abstract and general rules that apply to all citizens equally. The state, although minimal, should offer the maxim
Jun 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
‘Bruce Caldwell, in his excellent study of Hayek's social and economic thought, has suggested that The Constitution of Liberty most likely constituted a part of Hayek's broader project to respond to the increasingly fashionable view that the application of the methodology of the natural sciences to social phenomena, in the form of social planning by a team of experts, could in theory solve all problems of human organization. This conclusion was predicated on the assumption that the laws of human ...more
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 1943, Friedrich von Hayek published The Road to Serfdom. In this little book he explained how collectivist (i.e. socialist) theories and thinking destroy humanity when applied in practice. But first, this book was more of an essay than a clear exposition and second, it was focused primarily on economic policy (i.e. the issue of central planning in collectivism).

So, in 1959, Hayek decided to publish another book on the same subject; this time a comprehensive and very broad book, spanning more
robin friedman
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An Exposition Of A Theory Of Liberty

Hayek's "The Constitution of Liberty" is a comprehensive work of political philosophy. It sets forth, defends, and applies an important view of the nature of human liberty, government, and economics that is worth considering, at the least, and that has much to commend it. The book is carefully written and argued with extensive and substantive footnotes and with an "analytical table of contents" that is useful in following the details of the argument. The book
Apr 05, 2012 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: those who want a plutocracy instead of a democracy
Shelves: essay
I forced myself to read it and it was not a pleasant experience. First, it is boring. Unless you support exactly the same ideology than Hayek, you will very soon be aware that the author does not try to be funny or witty and that he has the same relation with his dogma than the Spanish Inquisition had with Catholicism.

Beyond that, a good example of the nonsense he defends is when he tries to justify inequality. He says for instance that the consumption of the rich is what drives innovation becau
Emily Ekins
Jan 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone politically courageous
This is best non-fiction book I've read! Absolutely incredible. Hayek is difficult to read, but once you get into it, his language is beautiful and most direct.

He explains WHAT liberty is and shows that most people across history and nations actually have rejected true liberty. (duh) He explain WHAT liberty DOES. Thus he shows WHY we want liberty. So, if we know why we want liberty then we have a reason to stand up for it.

He explains the concept of spontaneous order. He also contrasts the two di
Tanay Raj
May 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Constitution of Liberty is often considered the "second" magnum opus of Hayek, after Road to Serfdom. Although it is not as widely read as The Fatal Conceit and The Road to Serfdom, it is nonetheless one of the most important contributions of the great intellectual, perhaps even surpassing the former. Probably, one of the reasons for the lesser popularity enjoyed by the book is its size and comparatively drier prose. The book is written in a style which is not characteristic of the usual Hay ...more
Jan 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Hayek has gotten a lot of press, lately; some of it from corners of the media world that are quit a bit more, um, colorful than he would himself appreciate. Most of his renewed popularity surrounds his first major political tract, "The Road to Serfdom," written in 1943, which I read 8 or 9 years ago. While that was an important work, it suffered (I think) from somewhat leaden prose, and a more reactive view of developments in the world a that time, especially in Germany and Britain. I liked the ...more
Dec 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: liberalism
A phenomenal work, a must read for anyone with an interest in freedom and liberty. As with Hayek's other popular works, it is written to be accessible rather than technical. The first portion of the book is philosophical; though Hayek is remembered for his contributions to economics, his consideration of specifically economic questions and their interrelation with liberty doesn't come until toward the end.

The work is well-known for positing the rule of law as the chief principle to ensure a mod
Berry Muhl
Sep 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
There are several far more detailed and deep reviews here than I'm willing to offer at this point, so rather than delve into Hayek wholeheartedly, I'm going to skim the surface, and invite you to actually turn the pages.

He is one of several liberty-minded authors I've been reading in recent weeks, and without question, he is the most well-researched of the bunch. The amount of detail he puts into even the simplest argument is pretty astounding, as is the count of citations per chapter.

The purpos
Sathyanarayanan D
Oct 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Finished this finally. This is in the prescribed reading list of Princeton University's Department of Politics for Public Law. Wonderful critique on Socialism a.k.a Communism. And why Conservatism is not the opposite to Communism/Socialism.
Oct 09, 2020 rated it did not like it
reading this book was a self-inflicted torture. i had to cope with bad logic, evident contradictions and misanthropy masked behind abstract nonsense for several months. follows a (not very) brief review for those brave enough

let me first concede that the author displayed admirable self-restraint in expressing his anti-communist hatred. at least until the very last chapter, where he asserts that openly Communist professors should not get tenure, because "Tolerance should not include the advocacy
Jonathan Madison
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A must read for any person who seeks to understand modern democratic political systems
Aaron Crofut
Nov 24, 2010 rated it it was ok
I read the first two sections and skimmed through the third. Hayek was not a particularly gifted writer and I'm rather disappointed with this work. He occasionally hits one some very important points (namely, the difference between a classical liberal and democratic society, the importance of the rule of law, the possible appropriateness of government providing "common goods", etc.). However, on other issues, there is an amazing lack of clarity. His insistence on the legitimacy of providing "soc ...more
May 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
If I were to describe this book, I would describe it as a strong and willful horse plowing field after field while chewing the food it finds. The fields are the topics in politics that Hayek discusses and chews on. The soil is the current ideas in politics. The plow is the arguments that turns that soil upside down. The strength of the horse is the strength of the argument, and the horse is the idea that willfully strives for a free and happier tomorrow, that has it’s strength and will because i ...more
Justin Lonas
May 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Thomas Sowell and others whet my appetite for a more in-depth look at socio-economic studies, so I took a stab at Hayek’s magnum opus.

It’s a bit dense at times, but that’s more a reflection on the reader than the author. This is a tremendous repository of wisdom for citizens of any nation.

Hayek’s commentary on issues from unionism to taxation to social security to state coercion reads as though it was taken from present-day political discussions rather than a 5-decade-old treatise. This is a m
Jan 17, 2014 rated it liked it
I can respect what Hayek was doing here and hence I gave it a few more stars than I would like and a few less than it probably deserves. Hayek wants to create a society that is free of coercion. This is an excellent idea and the logic is sound within its own bubble. However, he settles on a system that is built out of coercion: capitalism. Furthermore, he settles on a dichotomy of capitalism/free markets vs socialism/communism.

Regardless of your stance on the book, it is definitely a must read
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book should be read and understood by any who seek to influence policy making, and thereby citizens’ lives. More comprehensively and more persuasively than most thinkers, Hayek presents the case for individual liberty; his argument we need now, to grasp the alternatives as we look to improve our system.
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is probably THE best book to understand what classical liberalism is all about.
It is debatable whether I can do this incredible sheaf of papers justice since I am listening to that "white polar bear" TED talk at the same time which I may have heard before (I don't know for sure, I just came home from the hospital a couple of days ago from having four seizures in a row - in fact, when the phone rang I just had to do the headshake thing to make sure I wouldn't have another seizure) but I think I might be able to get a significant percentage of the people who read this review ...more
Jacob Williams
Feb 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Though most people regard as very natural the claim that nobody should be rewarded more than he deserves for his pain and effort, it is nevertheless based on a colossal presumption. It presumes that we are able to judge in every individual instance how well people use the different opportunities and talents given to them and how meritorious their achievements are in the light of all the circumstances which have made them possible. It presumes that some human beings are in a position to determ
Nov 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“The ultimate aim of freedom is the enlargement of those capacities in which man surpasses his ancestors and to which each generation must endeavor to add its share”. This is Hayek’s magnum opus and is a beast to read at more than 500 pages of dense philosophy. I loved The Road to Serfdom and added this one to my to-read list once I heard about it. It covers everything from the definition of liberty to the history of liberty and socialism in different countries to the application of liberty in ...more
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Truly a classic, although I would hesitate to say a “timeless classic”. When in Part III Hayek applies his philosophy to the (then) contemporary issues of the day, one is struck by how much things have changed as much as by how much they have stayed the same. For instance, from the perspective of 2017 I wonder if Hayek would have devoted a chapter to “Labor Unions and Employment”. Although in principle his points are well-taken, the threat posed by unions today is quite different from what he fe ...more
Mar 03, 2020 rated it liked it
A pretty thorough overview of what it means to be what one may call "Libertarian" or a "classic liberal" or (as the author prefers) an "old whig." A sort of policy manual on liberty (as the title might suggest).

While I found many quotable lines throughout the book that distilled my own personal political views, I found the book, on the whole, to be a bit long-winded. It seems he was often more concerned about being as flowery and abstract in his use of language as possible, at the expense of be
Mar 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Started reading the book to learn about Hayekian economics. I expected the book to be mostly on economic policies as Hayek was an economist, but was surprised to see that the book is a comprehensive analysis of the history and present of liberty. The book is divided into three parts; 1. The Value of Freedom 2. Freedom and Law 3. Freedom in the Welfare State

I found the first two parts difficult to read as I wasn't interested in understanding the history of liberty. The philosophical arguments th
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Though I disagree with nearly every argument in this book, I do like the book quite a bit, because it is well-written, carefully argued, and often wrong in particularly splendid ways. It is useful for helping me avoid allowing my views to calcify into what Mill calls "dead dogma." It's also a fun book to teach, because it bothers students from across the political spectrum, but they usually get something out of it when they give the book serious thought. Hayek offends populists of either stripe, ...more
Ray Allwork
This book is great in that it exposes centrally planned economies like soviet russia as hideous, cruel and doomed to failure....pretty good for published in 1960 on ideas from 1930s! The Reagan and Thatcher administrations used this book as one of their anchor points for getting business and markets going again in the 1980s...which was great....but the gains were largely siphoned off to the capitalists rather than being shared. In effect they rescued the West from collectivism but gave the prize ...more
Vikram X
Apr 07, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Friedrich Hayek's work is split into 3 parts value of Freedom, Freedom and Law and perils of a welfare state ; it essentially can be distilled to striking a fine but crucial balance between entrepreneurial capitalism and progressive socialism . Hayek approaches each chapter with meticulous analysis in an attempt to traverse the treacherous territory trying to bridge egalitarian philosophical principles with economic theory; at times reading through these parts was painstaking slow and laborious. ...more
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Friedrich August von Hayek CH was an Austrian and British economist and philosopher known for his defense of classical liberalism and free-market capitalism against socialist and collectivist thought. He is considered by some to be one of the most important economists and political philosophers of the twentieth century. Hayek's account of how changing prices communicate signals which enable indivi ...more

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“From the fact that people are very different it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict with each other; and we can achieve either one or the other, but not both at the same time” 150 likes
“The argument for liberty is not an argument against organization, which is one of the most powerful tools human reason can employ, but an argument against all exclusive, privileged, monopolistic organization, against the use of coercion to prevent others from doing better.” 115 likes
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