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The Constitution of Liberty

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  2,141 ratings  ·  80 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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4.17  · 
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 ·  2,141 ratings  ·  80 reviews

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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Christopher Paludi
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.
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
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
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 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
Luke Smith
Jun 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the most challenging read I've ever come across. The sentences are long, the content hard to understand but it's a direct challenge to ideas I've always held. What Hayek lacks in the former, he makes up for in the latter. In an age where identity is king, Hayek explains how the road to equality can be paved with good intentions but can have shattering consequences. In an uncertain world personal freedoms must be protected from well-meaning blundering attempts to control forces beyond our ...more
Brad Anderson
Feb 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Three of five stars solely based on the writing and sometimes sporadic argumentation. The dense subject matter was throughout obscured via extremely tedious sentence structures.

Given the enthusiasm his work enjoys from many libertarian leaning quarters, I was surprised to find Hayak's build-up of liberty, through a detailed and intensively footnoted analysis hinged on social evolution, lead to positions accepting social insurance programs, central monetary authority, and arguments for town plann
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, thought
Mindblowing. First page. A quote. Wrote back in 1945, H. P. Phillips. About perceiving the civilization as either static or dynamic. And how the dynamic civilization can only be based on personal freedom. 2017, history, internet, and the white old farts have decided civilization is as static as christianity has fought to keep the Earth.
Read Taylor
Nov 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
He is a clear and calm writer, which is nice, and i'd put him with Nozick as people with whom I would disagree yet completely understand the justification for how they got to their beliefs. I would love to listen in on a conversation between him and Walzer, who I think best expresses the corrupting influences of a society set up along Hayek's framework.
Kevin Gomez
Sep 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Probably his best work. Then again, I haven't read all of his works, but this is the best one so far, despite what most people say.
Cary Giese
Nov 25, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a book that uses argument and reasoned commentary based on the authors years of study as an economist and exhaustive reading in all the other political and social sciences. It is extensively footnoted and as such is an incredibly well prepared piece of scholarship. Having said that, it is also true that his argument is opinion, not necessarily fact.

The author’s thesis is that central government planning is far less effective for progress of society than freedom to strive and invent by in
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Prior to reading The Constitution of Liberty I was familiar with its postscript essay, "Why I Am Not a Conservative", in which Hayek defines conservatism both on its own terms and in contradistinction to Hayek's own classical liberal position---for which he prefers the term Old Whig(gism).

During the reading of The Constitution of Liberty, it became clear to me why Hayek saw a need for such an essay: interspersed with convential liberal views (I use "liberal" in the same sense as Hayek, viz., the
In "The Consitution of Liberty" F. A. Hayek steps outside of his field economic sciences and tries to delineate a complete picture of his "libertarian" (or as he calls it "old Whiggism") ideas. Those ideas stretch over the whole bundle of social sciences: economy, law, politics, sociology, philosophy, ethics, and many more. He therby gives a 20th century framework of libertarian philosophy in the vein of his 19th colleges for whom he has great respect.

The book itself is divided into three parts:
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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
“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” 132 likes
“It is because every individual knows little and, in particular, because we rarely know which of us knows best that we trust the independent and competitive efforts of many to induce the emergence of what we shall want when we see it.” 36 likes
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