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The Constitution of Liberty

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In this classic work Hayek restates the ideals of freedom that he believes have guided, and must continue to guide, the growth of Western civilization. Hayek's book, first published in 1960, urges us to clarify our beliefs in today's struggle of political ideologies.

580 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1960

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About the author

Friedrich A. Hayek

231 books1,390 followers
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 individuals to coordinate their plans is widely regarded as an important achievement in economics. Hayek also wrote on the topics of jurisprudence, neuroscience and the history of ideas.

Hayek is one of the most influential members of the Austrian School of economics, and in 1974 shared the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics with Gunnar Myrdal "for their pioneering work in the theory of money and economic fluctuations and for their penetrating analysis of the interdependence of economic, social and institutional phenomena." He also received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991 from president George H. W. Bush.

Hayek lived in Austria, Great Britain, the United States and Germany, and became a British subject in 1938.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 118 reviews
Profile Image for Patrick Peterson.
462 reviews187 followers
April 24, 2023
2020-06-26 - I read this book my senior year in college as part of an independent study class I designed for and was guided by 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 rather with the health of a free society - think "morning constitutional walk" type frame of mind. Hayek lays out the ideas and parameters for a free society and what are some of the killers to one.

I remember he took great care to define his terms - something that should be refreshing these days, due to the sloppiness or malevolence of those who speak and write without doing so or on purpose to equivocate on their meaning.

Hayek goes into great depth on many issues crucial to this subject. It is not an easy book, but a greatly rewarding one.

But alas, Hayek is too much of a compromiser on various issues for me. I prefer his mentor and older friend from Vienna, Ludwig Mises. For those interested, I recommend Liberalism, by Mises. But that does NOT mean that I discount this book or most of the important and clear ideas in it. On the contrary, I highly recommend The Constitution of Liberty. But do check the footnotes, for a vast treasury of important authors and ideas to consider, the best of which being Ludwig Mises.

An extra note: Hayek started out his academic career a social democrat (a socialist with democratic sensibilities). He made a radical discovery when he was working for Ludwig Mises in the 1920s in Vienna, Austria - the book that Mises published in 1922 - Socialism. It challenged and changed his whole worldview. Hayek was brilliant, and he incorporated much from his mentor and colleague Mises. But he, sadly, never lost some of the fuzzy socialist thinking, on some issues and possibly based on poorly defined ideals.
Profile Image for Howard Olsen.
121 reviews26 followers
July 25, 2009
THE CONSTITUTION OF LIBERTY
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 Locke and Adam Smith. What is surprising about this book is his analysis of the contemporary (1960) political scene, where Hayek saw very little freedom, even in countries that seemed to offer its citizens limitless personal license.

Hayek's great insight, originally made in the Thirties when he was fighting on the anti-Keynsian side of the economic denates of the day, was that human knowledge was so vast and complex that is was simply impossible for one person or group of people to centralize that knowledge and make use of it in a useful efficient manner. Rather, knowledge is better spread and utilized when it is dispersed throughout a population, so that it is instantly available to those who can best utilize it for the benefit of themselves and the rest of society. In Hayek's day, and ours apparently, the emphasis was on the technocrat who could "form a committee" and direct society.

Hayek originally made applied this insight in economics, but in this book, he moves it to the realm of politics. Hayek begins by asking what is the best system for spreading knowledge. His answer is that a political system offering liberty and freedom to all is more likely to be one in which knowledge is spread most efficiently and quickly because ideas are allowed to spread and evolve organially without any interference from government. Thus, the dynamism of the American economy is possible because of the freedom guaranteed by its Constitution, while socialist and communist countries become economically moribund because knowledge is held to be the proper province of the government, and none other.

The middle part of "Constitution" is Hayek's analysis of the development of liberty in the west. he credits the British and the US with providing the most political and economic liberty to their citizens. Under Hayek's analysis, the British were the first people whom you could call "free," although their institutions were not as strong as they could be. He sees America's great innovation to be its creation of consitutitional liberty. What is truly interesting in this section is his analysis of European approaches to liberty, especially in France and Germany. While both countries spoke often about liberty and equality, both had gone through periods of dicatorship, and by Hayek's time were countries marked by strong central governments.

In Hayek's analysis, the reason for this was the strong tradition of bureaucratic government in each country. As Hayek puts it, the French Revolution may have marked the end of absolute monarchy, but the bureaucracies set up by the kings of old continued as if nothing had changed. Hayek spends quite a bit of time discussing the development of the German welfare state and the simultaneous encroachment on liberty. He spends an inordinate amount of time analyizing the development of administrative law, but this is to make the point that the bureaucracy used its procedures to create a sort of separate legal system that eventually weighed heavily upon the freedom of the citizenry.

The third part of "Constitution" is Hayek's analysis of contemporary issues such as rent control, minimum wage laws, state education, and the like. Hayek is, of course, in favor of as little government interference in any of these areas. That we have not pursued the Hayekian path is obvious. But, just as obvious should be the realization that there are many people - including many who are wealthy and well educated - who would rather look to the government for protection, rather than look to themselves. And the government is always there to give that protection so long as it can dictate the parameters of how its wards shall live.

This is a thought-provoking and worthwhile book. As Hayek puts it, the liberal-left ideal of activist central government was and remains the dominant political philosophy in his day and in ours. Its promises are seductive to say the least: equality, "social justice," protection from life's troubles. Now, we have a left-wing president promising to save us from "climate change" and offering to deliver "free" health care. Wow! is there anything liberalism can't do? It is difficult to make the argument for limited decentralized government because it seems to offer so little: "we won't do much for you!" won't rally the troops, after all. But that's not really the point. The Hayekian model is a government that sees its job as protecting liberty and guaranteeing the safety of the citizenry. It has been a long time (maybe since the Coolidge Administration) since a US president saw that as his mission in life.

If you only want to read one of Hayek's books, you should read "The Road To Serfdom." But once you have finished that remarkable work, you'll want to read more. This should be next on your list.
Profile Image for Otto Lehto.
437 reviews161 followers
March 23, 2014
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 maximum protection for individual liberty and safeguard the efficient operation of the free market.

Hayek's system places heavy emphasis on the virtues of private property - and the vices of government interventionism (especially of the "benign" and "well-meaning" kind) He sees his work as continuing the work of the British Whigs (the originators of today's liberalism).

As we know, this Whig-lover has inspired many Tories - including Thatcher - but he has always considered himself a classical liberal rather than a conservative. (See the last paragraph below.)

The "Constitution" in the name is a pun on the two meanings of the term, active and passive: A) The (actively) written constitution that safeguards liberty ("the rule of law"); and B) the non-deliberate (passive) "emergence" of liberty out of social evolution (via "the market forces").

The book traces the history of liberalism in the Anglo-Saxon countries, from the days of Common Law to the philosophers of early Anglo-Scottish liberalism (Locke, Hume, Smith, Burke). He also traces the way these ideas affected American constitutionalism (with its "Bill of Rights").

He sees the British Common Law tradition (with its emphasis on individual liberty) as laying the basis for the idea of limiting government action, i.e. chaining sovereign power.

Such a concern, he claims, was the guiding principle of 18th-19th centuries liberal politics. But, due to shifting intellectual currents (he puts the blame on Franco-Teutonic "rationalism" and "positivism"), by the 20th Century, this tradition of liberalism, in its original form, had mostly been either forgotten or supplanted by socialist, authoritarian and social democratic ideologies, with their faith - shared by Marxism and social democratic reformism alike - on shaping society according to deliberate design.

The main argument of the book is that we need methods of making sure that government, despite being a useful servant, should not be granted "arbitrary" and "discretionary" powers.

Hayek argues that such dangerous powers should NEVER be granted to such a powerful, monopolizing, competition-killing institution, EVEN if done for all the best intentions and in the service of good-sounding causes. Indeed, we should be wary of using the blunt powers of government, with the noble but misguided aim of shaping society according to human will and design, ESPECIALLY when faced with the ever-present danger of bleeding heart zealousness due to some notion of "social justice", which may blind our long-term interests and cause us to accept mild forms of socialist interventionism into the economy. Such interventionism only serves to destroy the basis for a free society. (A good example of such a danger, according to Hayek, is the support, in the name of egalitarianism, for progressive taxation, in order to achieve heavy redistribution.)

If the main obstacle for freedom, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, used to be the power of sovereign kingship and the "police state" (with its arbitrary and often unlimited powers of discretion), in the 20th and 21st Centuries, the main obstacle, according to Hayek, has become the DEMOCRATIC AND BUREAUCRATIC STATE. From being the promise of human dignity and infinite progress, the welfare state, which is the norm in the Western countries, has turned into a scourge. The welfare state, even with its obvious achievements, has nearly destroyed the legacy of spontaneous human development, replacing dangerous freedom with the promise of an "all-knowing" authority. (The line of argument is familiar to anyone who has read "The Road to Serfdom.")

Indeed, even the social democratic proponent of welfare state measures must admit that the current welfare state has everywhere turned into a network of power-wielding authorities and a never-ending supply of liberty-infringing laws. Hayek argues the power of the democratic legislature, and the power of the bureaucratic committee, are JUST AS BAD as the power of, say, absolute monarchy, if not EVEN WORSE, because ostensibly based on the "will of the people" and in the service of "higher" causes, such as "social justice" (which, for Hayek, is mere babble).

However, despite his reputation, Hayek does NOT see the solution as being the complete abolition of democratic sovereignty, or even of welfare state measures (many of which he supports, at least in theory, to some extent, despite his official protestations). Rather, he argues that we should strengthen the institutional safeguards of our legal, economic and political framework to make sure that our laws do not infringe on the people's basic liberties. On top of this, Hayek crucially admits that the state may well, without infringing on human liberty, provide a wide range of social services (usually supported by socialists but also many classical liberals), including, but not limited to, social security, basic education, zoning laws, housing rules, public parks, roads, bridges, spreading important information, supporting universities, protecting wildlife reserves, etc.

(At this point it becomes clear Hayek is no strict libertarian. Whatever you may say about the list, this is hardly a minimal state, at least of the kind Ayn Rand or Robert Nozick would want!)

Hayek's argumentation is rather circuitous, so it becomes difficult to say what his "primary" argument for the importance of private property accumulation is, and, on the other hand, why he nonetheless accepts a wide range of government activities. It is NOT enough to say that he is a typical utilitarian-minded classical liberal - because this only pushes the question back a few arguments (a few centuries!). Hayek's position, because of its strong anti-rationalism, seems to waver between intuitive liberal prejudice and relativistic utilitarianism.

The problem is, from Hayek's not very precise premises, not very precise consequences will follow. In the same book, he can claim that "social justice" is a completely meaningless concept, and yet, a few pages later, without blinking an eye, argue that the state probably has a useful role (in the name of the "public good") in a dozen or more important fields besides letting the markets operate freely!

I even think that Hayek's position would be more tenable and logical if he had accepted SOME part of the ethical principles of egalitarianism. But such principles Hayek, recalcitrantly, refuses to even consider. Thus his anti-egalitarianism may seem like a prejudice.

As I see it, Hayek's work's has three main problems: 1) An excessive distrust of ethical principles other than a Humanist fascination with human freedom and a Puritan fascination with legal orderliness; 2) The wavering argumentation in SIMULTANEOUSLY attacking and defending welfare state institutions: he seems to want to have his cake and eat it too, i.e. to destroy the ethical basis of the welfare state and nonetheless to salvage many of its features! 3) His shortcomings as a writer and thinker leave his prose to be somewhat repetitive and dry. (He repeats the same arguments over and over again.)

All these faults aside, the book contains so much scholarship and erudition that the reader is bound to be both enlightened and delighted. Hayek's principled criticism of the welfare state and his equally principled defence of limited government under the rule of law, are very timely and useful. But so is his surprising and forceful defence of the POSITIVE role that government can play in actually making the society a better place for everybody. The fact that this is bound to piss off many orthodox libertarians and small-government conservatives makes it all the more valuable, because perhaps it makes them reconsider some of their doctrinaire anti-government attitudes.

It is my opinion that we should replace the welfare state not with cutthroat capitalism but with something like a mixture of Hayek and the welfare state: free market fairness, or social liberalism, which respects both individual liberty AND the effective, minimally coercive role that limited government can play in a free, just society.

The resurgence of liberalism in the last couple of decades has shown that the idea of maximizing human freedom is far from dead and buried. In order to make this revolution stick, Hayek's work should be the Bible (or at least one of the Holy Texts) for the next decades.

PS. See John Tomasi's book "Free Market Fairness" to learn more about bleeding heart libertarianism. See also Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose."

PPS. The book also contains the classic short essay, "Why I Am Not A Conservative", which explains the difference between Whig and Tory mentality (or: between classical liberalism and a Tea Party/Ron Paul Republicanism) quite succinctly. Hayek's work is in the line of humanists and progressive forces of society, against defenders of the status quo. Although in essence there is not much difference between his "liberalism" and much of what passes for economic "conservatism" in the Anglo-Saxon countries. We are back at the old question: was Edmund Burke a conservative or a classical liberal, or perhaps an imperfect combination of both?
Profile Image for robin friedman.
1,794 reviews221 followers
April 24, 2023
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 is highly erudite. It is also passionately argued. Hayek believed he had an important message to convey.

Hayek states his theory in part I of this book, titled "The Value of Freedom". He seeks to explore the nature of the ideal of freedom (liberty) and to explain why this ideal is valuable and worth pursuing. He finds the nature of freedom in the absence of coercion on a person by another person or group. He argues that in giving the broadest scope of action to each individual, society will benefit in ways that cannot be foreseen in advance or planned and each person will be allowed to develop his or her capacities. Hayek summarizes his views near the end of his book:

" [T]he 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 -- its share in the growth of knowledge and the gradual advance of moral and aesthetic beliefs, where no superior must be allowed to enforce one set of views of what is right or good and where only further experience can decide what should prevail."

The book focuses on issues of economic freedom and on the value of the competitive market. Hayek has been influenced by writers such as David Hume, Edmund Burke, and John Stuart Mill in "On Liberty."

Part II of the book discusses the role of the State in preserving liberty. It develops a view of law which sees its value in promoting the exercise of individual liberty. The approach is historic. Hayek discusses with great sympathy the development of the common law and of American constitutionalism -- particularly as exemplified by James Madison.

In Part III of the book, Hayek applies his ideas about the proper role of government in allowing the exercise of individual liberty to various components of the modern welfare state. Each of the chapters is short and suggestive, rather than comprehensive. Hayek relies on technical economic analysis, and on his understanding of economic theory, as well as on his philosophical commitments, in his discussion. What is striking about Hayek's approach is his openness (sometimes to the point of possible inconsistency with his philosophical arguments). He tries in several of his chapters to show how various aspects of the modern welfare state present threats to liberty in the manner in which he has defined liberty. But he is much more favorably inclined to some aspects of these programs than are some people, and on occasion he waffles. This is the sign of a thoughtful mind, principled but undoctrinaire.

I think there is much to be learned from Hayek. He probably deserves more of a hearing than he gets. For a nonspecialist returning to a book such as this after a long time off, it is good to think of other positions which differ from Hayek's in order to consider what he has to say and to place it in context. For example, in an essay called "Liberty and Liberalism" in his "Taking Rights Seriously" (1977) the American legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin discusses Mill's "On Liberty" with a reference to Hayek. Dworkin argues that for Mill, liberty meant not the absence of coercion but rather personal independence. Mill was distinguishing between personal rights and economic rights, according to Dworkin. Thus Dworkin would claim that Hayek overemphasizes the value of competitiveness and lack of state economic regulation in the development of Hayek's concept of liberty.

The British political thinker Isaiah Berlin seems to suggest to me, as I read Hayek's argument, that there are other human goods in addition to liberty, as Hayek defines liberty. Further, Hayek does not establish that liberty, as he understands it, is always the ultimate human good to which others must give place. It may often be that good, but there may also be circumstances in which other goods should be given a more preeminent role when human well-being is at issue. In thinking about Hayek, it would also be useful to understand and to assess his concept of liberty by comparing and contrasting his approach to that of John Rawls in his "A Theory of Justice."

Hayek's book is important, thought-provoking and valuable. Probably no writer of a book of political philosophy can be asked for more. It deserves to be read and pondered. It has much to teach, both where it may persuade the reader and where it encourages the reader to explore competing ideas.

Robin Friedman
Profile Image for Anima.
432 reviews55 followers
June 26, 2019
‘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 interaction were analogous to the laws of physics, which, once uncovered, would permit the engineering of social relationships with the same predictability of outcome as obtained with respect to the physical world.’
‘...Hayek begins his analysis of the nature of a free society by attempting to define personal freedom. One is free, he maintains, when one is not coerced. And coercion, he continues, “occurs when one man's actions are made to serve another man's will, not for his own but for the other's purpose,”26 but only when the possibility of alternative action is open and only when that alternative action serves the other person's desires.’
‘...”The conception of freedom under the law rests on the contention that when we obey laws, in the sense of general abstract rules laid down irrespective of their application to us, we are not subject to another man's will and are therefore free.”...’
...’The recognition that each person has his own scale of values which we ought to respect, even if we do not approve of it, is part of the conception of the value of the individual personality. How we value another person will necessarily depend on what his values are. But believing in freedom means that we do not regard ourselves as the ultimate judges of another person's values, that we do not feel entitled to prevent him from pursuing ends which we disapprove so long as he does not infringe the equally protected sphere of others.”..’
76 reviews5 followers
October 27, 2013
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 because the rich can pay for expensive things and it would be a necessary step between an idea for an invention and the mass production of this invention... except one little thing : in reality, it is not true, of course. As a list of inventions can easily demonstrate, governmental organizations (followed by the middle class) were actually the most common (by far) investors in the first steps of what we use in our day-to-day life : computer (British and American armies), internet (American and European public research centers), most medical inventions and discoveries (hospitals and universities financed by the government and the middle class), photography & cinema & plane (French and American middle class with some subsidies), mobile phone (American government), car (German middle class), microwave oven (the allies during WW II) etc.

So, it is an authoritative (and boring) book that defends ideas that would lead to a plutocracy. Well...
Profile Image for Xander.
420 reviews141 followers
November 20, 2017
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 than 400 pages. This is The Constitution of Liberty.

I'd like to start my review with mentioning the downsides of The Constitution of Liberty. Hayek isn't a gifted writer, the subject matter is abstract and dry, the topics involved require much background knowledge and the scope (and hence length) of the book is immense. Therefore, this book cannot be recommended to read for fun; one has to be truly committed to understand Hayek's thoughts in order to read this book. (In other words, if one wants to read an accessible statement against socialism, read The Road to Serfdom).

But, why the four stars? Because The Constitution of Liberty is the bible of liberalism. In it, Hayek explains all the pros and cons of liberalism; and does so in a much more nuanced way than is commonly understood (Hayek is commonly seen as one of the founders of the radical neoliberalism movement of the 1970's and 1980's).

Hayek's message can be summarized in a few sentences. Liberalism sees individual freedom as the guiding principle for politics and ethics. Making it specific: liberalism strives to minimize coercion and violence in the personal sphere. Basically, this individual freedom can only be accomplished if two conditions are established. First, the rights of the individual, which centre around life and property, should be limited only insofar as the freedom of some individual limits the freedom (of life and property) of some other individual. In other words, one should be free of violence and coercion. This is as radical as liberalism can get. Second, there has to be a coercive power that enforces this liberalism on society - the state. The state translates the coercive restrictions into general laws, according to the guiding principle of individualism. Hence, the state is subject to the same principles as the people; this is penned down in a constitution.

This, therefore, is the only legitimate form of coercion with in a society, and its legitimacy lies in the fact that (1) even the enforcer (i.e. the state) is subject to it, and (2) it is general (i.e. not particular or arbitrary) in nature.

So, the state, as well as the people, are subject to the consitution, which is itself based on the principles of liberty and individualism. The state legislates according to these principles, and the laws it makes take the form of general laws (i.e. no arbitrariness). The state is checked by the judicial power; each citizen is equal before the law and in his/her dealings with the state.

One thing has to be remarked here. Hayek promotes liberalism (i.e. radical individual freedom), not democracy. Democracy is only a means of government; type of government is not that important when dealing with the limits of government as such. Of course, when compared to monarchy, aristocracy or tiranny, democracy is the best type of government. It ensures the channeling of the opinions of the people into policy and law, but democracy is no sinecure.

As a matter of fact, democracy can be viewed as an enemy of indiviual freedom. Democracy slides easily into the rule of the majority, but this is opposed to individual freedom. One only has to look at Hitler's rise to power, via democracy, to get Hayek's point. Only a constitution that garantuees the freedom of individual people - independent of current majority opinions - is the solution to tiranny and oppression. As Hayek mentions himself, a constitution is a prerequisite for a functioning democracy; without it, oppression, and hence stagnation and decline, will follow.

The principle of individual freedom is not only applied to ethics and rights, but (more importantly) Hayek also applies it to economics. There has to be a free market to allocate to each his own. Only individual freedom will ensure that the laws of supply and demand will funtion. You decide how (and if) you want to earn your money, and how to spend it. This, in effect, is the translation of human desires into economics.

Of course, this will lead to inequality, but at least it's inequality based (primarily) on merit. According to Hayek, all other systems - especially socialism - presuppose an all-knowing authority who will redistribute the wealth of a society. All redistribution presupposes norms and standards; and all norms and standards are as varied as there are people. In other words, there will - by definition - be no consensus on redistribution, leading to favoritsm and arbitrariness, and destroying the incentives for individual people to better their lifes.

In a free market (i.e. radical individual freedom), Hayek says, the economic elite will, because of their better position, pave the way technologically, socially and culturally for the betterment of the rest of society. In other words, the economic elite will spend their money on new fashions and technologies, and thereby make the products (over time) cheaper, so the rest of society can benefit. According to Hayek, if you take away the inequality in society (for example by applying collectivism) you will put a brake on development and society will suffer as a whole.

This economic liberalism shows interesting parallels with Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. Evolution happens because individuals differ from each other in traits and characteristics; the most suited will procreate, at the cost of the rest of the population; since these successful traits are inherited by offspring, these traits will spread numerically in populations, gradually changing populations (and thereby species) over eons of time.

Why the comparison? According to Hayek, society needs progress, since stagnation or decline will lead to immense suffering (wars, starvation, diseases, etc.). Progress can only happen if their is money to make it happen. If everybody earns the same amount, their is not enough surplus money to spend on innovation and technology, the drivers of economic progress. Hence, ecnomic progress feeds on economic inequality, like evolution feeds on biological ineqality.

But here the parallel stops. It is important to realize that Hayek describes the mechanism, he doesn't promote it, and he certainly is no radical libertarian, who only sees safety and order as the tasks of (a very small) government. Hayek even says there is a role for the government to ensure a just economic game: the government should promote competition and prevent monopolies (if at all) and other un-economical trends of the free market.

Hayek goes even further, and says it is absolutely possible for a government to ensure all of its citizens (i.e. the unlucky ones) a minimum level of subsistence and protection. This minimum, moreover, can be decided democratically. Hayek only points out that the more egalitarian society becomes, the more it costs the society in terms of progress, and hence an increase of suffering. There has to be a balance between freedom and humanity, preferably democratically decided.

I stress Hayek's point because he is often cited as being one of the founding fathers of modern neoliberalism or (even) libertarianism. This is simply untrue, and it doesn't help in serious debates if there is (a deliberate?) misrepresentation of Hayek's points. It is a common strategy of scare tactics, used by so-called progressives, to lure the masses into believing that liberalism and capitalism are bad (or even the same thing).

So, to sum up all of the above: we need individual freedom - economically and (!) politically. This principle of freedom has to be translated into a constitution, which limit and guides government in making general laws, and citizens in obeying the law. The more a government tries to promote radical egaliterianism, the more the government will encroach on and endanger the individual freedom of its citizens. In that sense, social welfare is a clear and present danger to society ("The road to hell is paved with good intentions") and Hayek uses the third part of his book to apply his principle of liberalism to social issues of the welfare state like trade unions, social security, monetary planning, etc.

Social welfare has to be viewed as a democratic compromise to ensure citizens a minum level of subsistence. This is not an argument against social welfare, but an argument for carefully weighing the importance of freedom and the importance of helping those who need it. Freedom is not buying all you want, freedom is deciding - as far as possible - over your own life. When it comes to social welfare, we need to be careful about centralizing this in the national government, which tends to grow unlimited in power. We also need to be very careful about progressive taxation as a principle. Hayek (convincingly) argues that progressive taxation can be used for ever-increasing taxes. This is dangerous, according to Hayek, because it is based on emotion, is ineffective in alleviating the poor and is a threat to the progression of society. It is better to agree on a minimum of subsistence, and leave social welfare to local politics (for example, townships), which are much less prone to usurping power and dominating society.

For the 'progressives' among us: Hayek argues that a decentralized system of social welfare (albeit one that purely caters to the needy) is fully compatible with a society based on liberal principles (i.e. preventing coercion of and violence to individuals).

Liberalism needs inequality, but it is an illusion to think that alternative systems, like socialism or facism, do away with inequality. A strong case can be made - as Hayek does - that liberalism is the system that offers the best system for society as a whole. At least liberalism is the only political system that makes inequality random (i.e. based on individual characteristics) instead of arbitrary (i.e. based on the relationship between individual and ruler). In that sense, liberalism (to paraphrase Churchill) is the worst political system possible, except all the rest that have been tried.

I think, anno 2017, The Constitution of Liberty should be mandatory reading for schoolchildren. We see the hun for radical euality all around us. Genders are said to be constructs, sexuality is declared to be preference, unwelcome political ideas are told to be facism, traditional cultural values are proclaimed to be boursgious oppression, etc. The progressives, who - ironically - call themselves left-liberals, are a threat to the existence of Western culture as we know it. They promote radical equality and declare biological and cultural differences to be non-existent.

In other words, every individual should be (forced to be) the same. This is marxism 2.0, applied to culture - cultural marxism -, and I cannot help but wonder if these spoiled brats -they are mostly young students - have any historical insight. Hence, my plea to make Hayek's works mandatory reading: it would do well to remember ourselves the importance of individual freedom, its consequent inequalities and the dangers that threaten it. This realization will let us make informed decisions about how to conquer inequality and promote a better world, without falling into the same traps as our ancestors.

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After writing this review, I'd like to add a personal remark. I consider myself a liberal and I value much of what Hayek argues. I agree on liberalism as a principle for society, and I (even more) agree on the totalitarian tendency of government - any government - that is built on social engineering. Nevertheless, I have personal problems with liberalism's underlying assumption of humanity. Hayek's system looks, from a rational point of view, perfect; yet, I see serious humanitarian problems with his system.

Science has progressed a lot ever since the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. Not only do we know more about the universe we live in, we know a lot more about ourselves. Neuroscience and psychology (and much else) tell us that we are not the rational beings that liberalism presupposes - even so called rational thinkers cannot deny David Hume's conclusion "reason is a slave of the passions."

It is common knowledge that we share a common ancestor with chimpanzee's and bonobo's. Most of our current psychological functions and feelings have been shaped by the process of evolution by natural selection. A human being is primarily primed to save his own skin and to look out for number one; there is only a small circle of relatives, family and friends for which we care (less). Also, we use our emotions to guide our actions; without feeling there's no incentive to ever do something.

Liberalism, especially in combination with capitalism, pushes our worst buttons. It incentivizes us to compete with the rest (endlessly if necessary), and because inequality is inevitable, it leads us to envy the success of others. This sets us up for social problems. We cannot deny these feelings; they exist and have to be dealt with, one way or another.

Hence, we do not accept the 10% of the population owning 90% of the capital, leaving the remaining 90% to fend for themselves. This is injustice in our eyes, and only the people belonging to the 10% - or the ones aspiring to get there - will accept this state of economics as a status quo. For most of us - the 90% - we feel resentment and unfairness. "How is someone able to buy an umteenth car while my neighbor cannot pay his medical bills?" This is only a logical outcome of our biological make-up, but it's something radical liberals tend to overlook or ignore.

Not all people are equal, and these (biological!) differences in equality have a practical outcome: some earn more than others. So far, all is good. But some people will not be able to fend for themselves, while others will be visited by disasters or bad luck. It is easy to accept this, until it happens to you, or someone you care about. At that moment you expect them to be helped. This is also a logical outcome of our biological make-up, and it too is overlookd or ignored by most liberals.

So, I will make a bold assertion and claim there is absolutely no evidence that in a fully functioning free market and liberal society, suffering is less than in a socialist (or any other) society. There will be just different winners and losers. If you look at the World Happiness Index (as an example), you'll see the most happy (and happiest) people living in Scandinavian countries - countries with a huge social welfare system and a heavy redistribution of wealth. These same countries are among the most competitive economies of the world and are, relatively speaking, rich.

So, the countries with the most intense redistributive mechanisms, contain the most happy and happiest people in Earth. Is this a paradox? Only if you adhere rigidly to Hayek's system. Once you take into account human nature, the paradox resolves. We do not like to see suffering in our streets, and we certainly don't like to see our family and friends being treated unfairly or left to themselves in times of despair. In the end, most of us want a safe, happy and fulfilled life. And to ensure that the maximum amount of people lead such lives, one requires the redistribution of wealth. Human beings are not rational robots, they have feelings - feelings that are not calculated in rigidly applied liberalism.

Hence, I'd advocate liberalism, but policies have to be scientifically informed, and with the aim of maximizing the alleviation of suffering. And NOT to aim at preventing people becoming rich or climbing in society! We establish a certain minimum of health care and security, higher than in a radical liberalist society, but above this anything goes.

(Of course, one could argue among the following lines. In a fully functioning liberal society, people can use their money to help their friends and family, so the need for a system of social welfare is non-existent. This a much-heard objection, but not such a serious one. First, there are many people who don't have friends or family who are willing or able to care for them. This includes people who, due to their psychological make-up (i.e. mental diseases and such) cannot establish social relations. Second, along similar lines, not all people are able to pay in order to help the people they care about. Third, capitalism has led to the accumulation of masses of people in the cities, destroying the old family and regional networks. There is no bond between the city dwellers that will make sure that people donate money to help complete strangers.

So far the practical (very real) arguments, the fourth is a moral one. The rich, or those that are becoming rich, have profited from the social capital that was built by preceding generations. For example, they can earn money because they enjoyed a decent education. This creates a moral obligation to uphold these institutions. If not, then these people may legitimately be labeled parasites and hence the society as a whole has no obligation towards them.

The last argument is not so much practical or moral, but an inductive one. There is absolutely no evidence that rich people care for poor people. In other words, a historical induction leads us to observe that Hayek's arguments on this point are not valid. But let us grant him this point. Even then, we would trade in a system of relative objectivity for one of complete arbitrariness. Now the law decides who gets what help; in a fully liberal society it is up to the whims of the rich who gets what. This cannot function as a stable system of society.

So in general, I do agree with Hayek on most of his points. In his economics, there is a serious flaw: it uses an idealized conceptions of a human being. Hence, radical free market politics will not work in practice; people have feelings (of envy, of hate, of suffering, of justice, etc.). Only a system that recognizes these feelings (not bows to these feelings!) will work.

In that sense, contemporary neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris might have a solution. In The Moral Landscape, he argues, on the basis of the scientific knowledge of what makes us happy and what makes us suffer, to develop an ethics that caters to these human traits. If we extrapolate his ethical system to economics, we could argue for an economic policy that ensures the greatest happiness and the least suffering for society as a whole. In other words, we should make informed economic decisions on how to alleviate suffering as much as possible. This doesn't require the need for a totalitarian government; it can be democratically decided and applied in a decentralized way. At least it sounds to me much more realistic than Hayek's system.)
Profile Image for Emily Ekins.
17 reviews25 followers
January 6, 2008
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 disparate theories of liberty and democracy. The French version you can learn about especially in Cambridge, MA, or at any university or public school. It is about human instigated planning of society and popular democracy. He decries this sort of liberty and sides with British liberty that is about trial and error, haphazard evolution of good institutions and getting rid of bad institutions. It is the opposite of state planning, it is the free market.

The free market is certain a necessary outcome of liberty, and he discusses this as well.

Rumor has it that Margaret Thatcher threw this book on the table at one of her first meetings when she was selected as Prime Minister and she said "THIS is what we believe." I have to concur with Margaret, this is what I believe as well.
5 reviews
May 22, 2020
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 Hayek and lacks his tongue-in-cheek remarks directed against those whom he opposes. The style adapted here also lacks the usual sentimental spirit that one can identify in Hayek when he speaks of Liberty. However, in the introduction to the book, he admits that he has tried to "conduct the discussion in as sober a spirit as possible", keeping in mind the objective he wishes to achieve with this book. Be that as it may, his reasoning is as authoritative, his arguments as methodical, and his attacks as vicious as always.
The book is divided in three parts, each consisting of eight chapters. The first part largely relates to political philosophy, the second to legal philosophy, and the third to the economic. The general theme that runs across these parts is of course the idea of "liberty" or "freedom". The amount of labor put in this work is clear from the volume of works that he has referred to. Indeed, this book almost entirely contains all that had been and could be said about the principles of liberty by 1960. Moreover, even though Hayek had a comparative advantage in Economics, the part of this work which relates to Political Science and Philosophy are as careful and perspicacious as that which relates to economics. And indeed, his insights on the Economic issues are robust to the current state of affairs in the subject, even after 60 years.
One can admit that at certain points Hayek's personal views betray sexism, elitism or even homophobia on his part, but his dedication to liberty vindicates him of these charges, in that despite holding such views, he would never promote them in a society since they are against the very principles of liberty.
A careful reading of this work would also convince others that he is not as radical or impractical as he is often declared to be. Unlike the ideas of Robert Nozick, Murray Rothbard, and even Milton Friedman among others, the conception of an ideal society which Hayek puts forth here does sound achievable.
On a final note, however, I do believe that Hayek conveniently sidesteps on the violations of the principles of liberty committed by the colonists against the natives both in Asian countries as well as in America. He keeps on reminding us the contributions of America and England to the movement of liberty, but misses out on some of the most gruesome infringements committed by these very communities against several native populations.
64 reviews1 follower
May 20, 2021
Bit weird to “review” Hayek but I will never consolidate these thoughts anywhere else.

Things I liked :
1. Probably the most important insight for me was the anti-constructivist thread. I think people — especially intelligent people — often fall into the trap of thinking they can re-invent the world from scratch. If they don’t see a reason for something, it can be knocked down. But it’s like Chesterton’s fence — often there are reasons for rules/systems we don’t know that others have discovered before through trial and error, and we should exercise caution before overturning them. The world evolves organically, and that evolutionary process is an aggregation of successes and information that no one can possess individually. Excessive belief in your ability to plan and control complex systems is hubris.
2. I’m someone who thinks reliance explains a lot of our legal intuitions, so the emphasis on reliance appeals to me. It is good when rules allow people to make decisions based on reasonable expectations and have those expectations borne out.
3. Extremely readable. Never felt like a slog to get through.

Things I found weak:
1. Often felt circular. For instance: the protected sphere is the area within which one can act as defined by law. But also, law is government action not infringing on the protected sphere.
2. Closely related: it follows that you can shrink the protected sphere to be as small as you want, and as long as it’s reliance backed freedom is attained. I think the protection of expectations is important, perhaps necessary, to freedom, but I’m not sure it’s sufficient. Put differently: if y = 1-x but x is defined as 1-y, we’re no closer to understanding what x or y are. I agree that *knowing* the value of of x and y is important to freedom, but the *quantum* of that value is will also determine whether or not you are free.
3. Often vague. One thing that was surprising to me when I started law school is that general principles are important but when you get down to brass tacks general principles often fail to answer specific questions, or conflict with other general principles and it’s hard to say which should prevail. I think Hayek fails in this way: he lays out some nice general principles that seem very likely to fail to answer concrete questions. He speaks at high levels of generality that sound grand but when you’re faced some concrete problem I don’t think the pretty turn of phrase would get you very far. (This is mildly ironic insofar as I find Hayek’s articulation of the common law as a system of overlapping rules and meta rules that are identified via concrete cases extremely compelling.)
Profile Image for Hamza Sarfraz.
88 reviews65 followers
December 18, 2022
Reading liberal works from the 20th century is just such a bad experience because, unlike Marxists, they are not even remotely interesting in their analysis of society.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Golovatyi.
417 reviews37 followers
August 7, 2022
Заметки из книги:

Что такое Скорочтение? (promo)

Конституция свободы (Фридрих Хайек)
Полезный перечень важных работ можно найти в книге: Hazlitt Н. The Free Man’s Library. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand, 1956.

Чтобы старые истины сохраняли свое влияние на людские умы, их нужно формулировать заново, используя язык и понятия очередного поколения.

ни один человеческий ум не способен охватить все знание, которое направляет жизнедеятельность общества, и что из этого вытекает потребность в безличном, не зависящем от индивидуальных суждений механизме, координирующем усилия отдельных людей.

свобода – это не просто одна из ценностей, но что она – источник и условие большинства моральных ценностей. Свободное общество предлагает человеку намного больше того, что он мог бы сделать, будь свободным только он один. Поэтому мы не способны в полной мере оценить значимость свободы до тех пор, пока не поймем, чем общество свободных людей как целое отличается от общества, где господствует несвобода.

Надеюсь, наше поколение усвоило, что именно перфекционизм того или иного рода часто уничтожал добропорядочность общества, какой бы она ни был

Состояние человека, в котором он не подвергается принуждению на основании произвольных решений другого или других, часто определяется как «индивидуальная» или «личная» свобода, и когда нам понадобится напомнить читателю, что мы употребляем слово «свобода» именно в этом смысле, мы будем называть ее именно так. Иногда в этом же смысле используется выражение «гражданская свобода», но мы будем его избегать, потому что его легко спутать с тем, что называют «политической свободой», – это неизбежная путаница, вытекающая из того факта, что слова «гражданский» (civil) и «политический» (political) происходят соответственно от латинского и греческого слов, имеющих одинаковое значение

цивилизация начинается тогда, когда человек, преследуя собственные цели, способен использовать больше знания, чем он сам сумел приобрести, и когда он выходит за пределы своего неведения, извлекая выгоду из знания, которым сам не обладает.

основной довод в пользу индивидуальной свободы опирается на признание неизбежного незнания всеми нами огромного числа факторов, от которых зависит достижение наших целей и наше благосостояние

Свобода совершенно необходима для того, чтобы дать место непредсказуемому и непредвиденному; мы стремимся к ней потому, что научились ожидать от нее новых возможностей для достижения наших целей. Именно потому, что каждый индивид знает так мало, и, в частности, потому, что мы не всегда понимаем, у кого из нас знание лучше, мы полагаемся на то, что независимые и конкурирующие усилия многих будут способствовать возникновению чего-то нового, что мы захотим, когда это увидим.

свобода означает отказ от прямого контроля над действиями индивида, свободное общество использует намного больший объем знания, чем способен охватить ум самого мудрого правителя.

выгоды, которые я получаю от свободы, – э��о во многом результат использования свободы другими, и в первую очередь теми, которые использовали ее так, как я бы никогда не сумел. Следовательно, та свобода, которой могу воспользоваться я сам, не обязательно для меня самая важная.

рационалист, желающий все подчинить человеческому разуму, оказывается перед настоящей дилеммой. Использование разума имеет своей целью достижение контролируемости и предсказуемости. Но процесс развития разума опирается на свободу и непредсказуемость человеческой деятельности.

социальный процесс, в рамках которого происходит рост разума, для продвижения вперед должен оставаться свободным от его контроля.

Всех выше поднимается тот, кто не знает, куда он держит путь. (Оливер Кромвель)

История цивилизации – это летопись прогресса, который за недолгий срок – менее чем за восемь тысяч лет – создал почти все, что мы считаем характерным для жизни человека.

Одна из самых характерных особенностей прогрессирующего общества – то, что в нем большинство вещей, которых желают люди, можно получить только в результате дальнейшего прогресса.

сегодня народы Запада по уровню богатства намного опережают всех остальных, отчасти является следствием накопления большего капитала, но главным образом это результат более эффективного использования знаний

В результате у нас на сегодняшний день есть две различные традиции в теории свободы[88]: одна – эмпирическая и несистематичная, другая – спекулятивная и рационалистическая[89]; первая основана на истолковании традиций и институтов, спонтанно выросших и лишь приблизительно понятых, вторая ставит целью построение утопии – такие попытки неоднократно предпринимались, но ни разу не были успешными.

Свобода означает не только то, что у человека есть возможность и бремя выбора, но и что он должен отвечать за последствия своих действий и что будет получать за них хвалу либо порицание. Свобода и ответственность неразделимы.

многие люди боятся свободы именно потому, что возможность строить собственную жизнь означает также неустанный труд и дисциплину, которой человек должен подчинить себя, если желает достичь своих целей.

Главная функция веры в личную ответственность – побудить нас полностью использовать наши знания и способности для достижения наших целей.

Возлагаемое свободой бремя выбора, ответственность за собственную судьбу, которая ложится на человека в свободном обществе, стали в современном мире главным источником неудовлетворенности.

По мере роста общества и его усложнения потенциальный заработок все больше зависел не от умений и способностей человека, а от правильного их использования; и теперь искать наилучшее применение своим способностям будет все тяжелее, а разрыв между вознаграждением, получаемым людьми с одними и теми же техническими навыками или способностями, будет расти.

Необходимость найти сферу, в которой мы будем полезны, подходящую работу, самих себя – это труднейшее дисциплинарно�� требование, возлагаемое на нас свободным обществом. Но оно неотделимо от свободы, поскольку никто не может гарантировать каждому человеку, что его таланты будут использованы должным образом, если только у него нет власти заставить других их использовать.

В свободном обществе мы получаем вознаграждение не за наши умения, а за их правильное использование; и это не может быть никак иначе до тех пор, пока мы свободны выбирать себе занятие, а не следовать указаниям.

Все, что может предложить человеку свободное общество, – это лишь возможность искать подходящее положение со всеми сопутствующими рисками и неопределенностью, с которыми сопряжен поиск рынка для своих талантов.

чем больше человек склонен винить в своих неудачах других людей или обстоятельства, тем больше шансов, что он так и останется раздраженным и бесплодным неудачником.

Чтобы быть эффективной, ответственность должна быть индивидуальной. В свободном обществе не может быть никакой коллективной ответственности членов группы как таковой, если только они своими согласованными действиями не сделали каждого в отдельности индивидуально ответственным.

равенство по отношению к общим нормам закона и правилам поведения – единственный вид равенства, способствующий свободе, и единственный вид равенства, который можно гарантировать, не разрушая самой свободы. Свобода не только не имеет никакого отношения ко всем другим видам равенства, но и обречена порождать неравенство во многих аспектах

Хотя людьми во многом управляют интересы, самими интересами и всеми людскими делами управляют мнения. (Давид Юм)

Либерализм – это учение о том, каким должен быть закон, а демократия – учение о методе определения того, каким будет закон.

Совершенно естественно, что больше всего пользы для развития искусства жизни и нематериальных ценностей может принести деятельность тех, кто избавлен от материальных забот

Порядок – это не давление, оказываемое на общество извне, а равновесие, устанавливаемое изнутри. (X. Ортега-и-Гасет)

Жизнь человека в обществе, и даже социальных животных в группе, возможна благодаря тому, что отдельные особи действуют в соответствии с определенными правилами

Специальная цель, конкретный результат, которого надо достичь, никогда не могут быть законом.

Целью закона является не уничтожение и не ограничение, а сохранение и расширение свободы. Ведь во всех состояниях живых существ, способных иметь законы, там, где нет закона, нет и свободы. Ведь свобода состоит в том, чтобы не испытывать ограничения и насилия со стороны других, а это не может быть осуществлено там, где нет закона. Свобода не является «свободой для каждого человека делать то, что он пожелает», как нам говорят (ибо кто мог бы быть свободным, если бы любой другой человек по своей прихоти мог тиранить его?); она представляет собой свободу человека располагать и распоряжаться как ему угодно своей личностью, своими действиями, владениями и всей своей собственностью в рамках тех законов, которым он подчиняется, и, таким образом, не подвергаться деспотической воле другого, а свободно следовать своей воле. (Джон Локк)

«Поскольку нет ничего более необходимого для свободы государства, чем то, что людьми должны править законы и что правосудие должны отправлять только те, кто несет ответственность за плохое его отправление, настоящим сверх того объявляется, что все судебные разбирательства, касающиеся жизни, свободы и собственности всех свободных людей нашего государства, должны осуществляться в соответствии с законами этой земли и что парламент не должен вмешиваться в повседневное администрирование или в сферу исполнения закона: принципиальная [sic] часть [всего] этого, так же как это было при всех прежних парламентах, состоит в том, чтобы оберегать свободу людей от произвола правительства»

Если законы созданы одним человеком или некоей кликой, а не общим согласием народа, правление таких законов не отличается от рабства»

Свободное общество отличается от несвободного тем, что в нем у каждого человека есть признанная частная сфера, четко отделенная от публичной сферы, и частному человеку нельзя приказывать, поскольку он должен подчиняться только правилам, равно применимым ко всем.

Трудно переоценить роль определенности закона для спокойного и эффективного функционирования свободного общества. Возможно, никакой другой отдельный фактор не внес большего вклада в процветание Запада, чем относительная определенность преобладавшего здесь корпуса законов

Мера определенности закона – те дела, которые не доходят до судов, а не те, которые там рассматриваются.

При верховенстве свободы сфера индивидуальной свободы включает любые действия, не запрещенные в явном виде общим законом.

Опыт должен был бы научить нас тому, что больше всего нужно проявлять бдительность в деле защиты свободы тогда, когда у государства благие цели. Люди, рожденные свободными, в силу своей природы бдительно относятся к посягательствам на их свободу со стороны злых правителей. Величайшая опасность для свободы таится в незаметном вторжении людей, исполненных энтузиазма и благих намерений, но невежд. (Луис Врандейс)

Будущие историки, возможно, станут рассматривать период от революции 1848 года примерно до 1948 года как столетие европейского социализма.

даже в социалистических кругах убедительным аргументом стал вопрос: «Если вы хотите стопроцентный социализм, чем вам не подходит Советский Союз?»

То, что нам сегодня известно как государственная социальная помощь или государственная благотворительность, в разных формах существующая в разных странах, представляет собой просто-напросто старое законодательство о бедных, приспособленно�� к современным условиям.

Свобода оказывается в серьезной опасности, когда государство наделяется исключительными полномочиями предоставлять определенные услуги, потому что тогда ради достижения своей цели оно должно использовать эти полномочия для дискреционного принуждения по отношению к индивидам

инфляция никогда не бывает неотвратимой природной катастрофой; она всегда возникает в результате слабости или невежества тех, кто отвечает за денежную политику, – хотя ответственность может быть распределена так широко, что никто в отдельности не окажется виноватым

Прежде чем мы сможем надеяться на осмысленное решение этих проблем, демократия должна усвоить, что она обязана платить за собственные глупости и что она не может неограниченно выписывать счета будущему для решения сегодняшних проблем.

Такая уж природа вещей: изначальные размеры незначительны, но если не прошить крайнюю осторожность, ставки будут быстро умножаться и в конце концов достигнут таких величин, каких никто не предвидел. (Франческо Гвиччардини)(О налогооблажении)

не очень понятно, насколько готовы люди с низкими доходами платить налог в обмен на бесплатные услуги.

Здесь требуется правило, которое, не закрывая большинству возможность облагать себя налогами в пользу меньшинства, не позволяло бы большинству облагать меньшинство любым налогом, который ему покажется справедливым.

Нет необходимости и разбирать воздействие крутой налоговой прогрессии на готовность осуществлять рискованные инвестиции капитала. Совершенно очевидно, что такое налогообложение дискриминационно по отношению к тем рискованным предприятиям, за которые есть смысл браться лишь потому, что в случае успеха они приносят доходность достаточно большую, чтобы компенсировать серьезный риск потерять все. Более чем вероятно, что если и есть правда в сомнительном утверждении об «исчерпании инвестиционных возможностей», то виновата здесь преимущественно фискальная политика, которая по существу делает невозможными многие рискованные предприятия, которые мог бы с прибылью осуществить частный капитал

Еще более парадоксальный и социально вредный эффект прогрессивного налогообложения – то, что, предназначенное для уменьшения неравенства, оно на деле увековечивает существующее неравенство и устраняет важнейшую форму компенсации неравенства, неизбежного в обществе свободного предпринимательства. Особенностью такой системы, искупающей ее недостатки, до сих пор было то, что богатые не были замкнутой группой и удачливый человек мог в сравнительно короткое время получить в свое распоряжение крупные ресурсы

чем беднее страна, тем ниже будет в ней допустимый максимальный доход, и тем труднее будет любому из ее обитателей достичь уровня дохода, который в более богатых странах считается всего лишь скромным.

Не может быть более хитрого, более верного средства для того, чтобы опрокинуть основу общества, чем расстройство денежного обращении. Этот процесс направляет все скрытые силы экономического закона к разрушению и делает это так, что ни один человек из миллиона не в силах отыскать корень зла. (Дж.М. Кейнс)

Денежная политика, независима�� от финансовой политики, возможна лишь до тех пор, пока государственные расходы образуют сравнительно небо́льшую часть всех платежей и пока государственный долг (особенно краткосрочный) составляет лишь малую часть всех кредитных инструментов

Когда правительство контролирует денежную политику, главной опасностью в этой области становится инфляция. Правительства всегда и везде были главной причиной обесценения денег.

между инфляцией и наркоманией – используя столь часто употребляемое сравнение – сходство не только внешнее.

К сожалению, о депрессиях нужно беспокоиться тогда, когда большинство людей о них даже и не задумывается.

Генри Саймонс в хорошо известном эссе[773] изложил убедительные доводы в пользу «подчинения денежной политики правилам, а не властям».

товарный резервный стандарт (commodity reserve standard), уже довольно детально разработанный, по-прежнему представляется мне наилучшим планом достижения всех преимуществ, связываемых с золотым стандартом, но без всех его недостатков

Большинство компетентных исследователей согласны в том, что трудности предотвращения инфляции – чисто политические, а не экономические.

просто отметим, что из-за инфляции люди со скромными средствами все меньше и меньше могут самостоятельно накопить себе на старость; что она де-стимулирует сбережения, но стимулирует наращивание долгов; и что, разрушая средний класс, она создает ту опасную пропасть между богатыми и теми, у кого нет никакой собственности, – пропасть, которая столь характерна для обществ, испытавших на себе длительную инфляцию, и из-за которой в этих обществах существует огромное напряжение.

те, кто хочет сохранить свободу, должны осознать, что инфляция, вероятно, самый значительный фактор в том порочном круге, в котором активность государства ведет к необходимости дальнейшего усиления государственного контроля. По этой причине все, кто хочет остановить дрейф к усилению такого контроля, должны сосредоточиться на денежной политике. Пожалуй, нет ничего более обескураживающего, чем то, что все еще существует так много умных и просвещенных людей, которые в большинстве других ситуаций готовы защищать свободу, но под влиянием сиюминутных выгод экспансионистской денежно-кредитной политики поддерживают то, что в долгосрочной перспективе разрушает основы свободного общества.

ни в какой другой области постоянное наличие альтернативных путей не имеет такого значения, как в образовании, задача которого – подготовка молодых людей к жизни в постоянно меняющемся мире.

Терпимость не должна распространяться на пропаганду нетерпимости.

Свобода особенно важна там, где наше незнание наиболее велико – на границах познанного, иными словами, там, где никто не в силах предсказать, что принесет нам следующий шаг.

конечная цель свободы – расширение тех способностей, в которых человек превосходит своих предшественников и в которые каждое поколение должно стремиться сделать свой вклад, вклад в рост знаний и в постепенное совершенствование моральных и эстетических представлений, где никто не должен иметь права навязывать другим свое представление о том, что правильно или хорошо, и где только новый опыт может решить, что должно восторжествовать.

позже мне придется подыскать более подходящее имя для партии свободы. И причина этого не только в том, что сегодня в США термин «либерал» является источником постоянных недоразумений, но и в том, что господствовавший в Европе рационалистический либерализм издавна был одним из тех течений, которые прокладывали дорогу социализму.

Игры для тренировки когнитивных способностей. (промо)
Profile Image for Aaron Crofut.
356 reviews36 followers
July 27, 2011
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 "social security" irritates me to no end, as anyone should be able to see how government will abuse that notion in a democracy to undermine the very rule of law Hayek says is so damn important! He's trying to have his cake (liberty) and eat it too (social security programs), and it just doesn't work.

There are selected parts I would say are definitely worth the time to read (Chapter 6 on the difference between value and merit, Chapter 7 on how democracy can be dangerous without the rule of law, and really the entirety of Part II), but otherwise I can't say I would recommend this book except for its comments on the rule of law. Pick up John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty" if you haven't done that yet.
Profile Image for John.
606 reviews19 followers
May 16, 2018
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 it is a free horse. He idea of plowing is because these ideas are old but still good, and when the plowing is done there may be a tractor to further the work in its future. Because it still is a struggle and the work is hard, this book is not a easy read. It is not a popular politics book like the fast racing horses, nor is it a very poised book like those olympic horses. No, this is pretty raw and can sometimes feel like it’s dragging, especially when the plow hits the ground full of rocks. Other times the reading is a breeze, when the soil is good and ready. In some cases one has to return to the particular field to plow through it again. When it’s done, you feel richer and ready to pick up a shovel yourself.
Profile Image for Todd.
370 reviews
December 10, 2016
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 modicum of liberty, whether rule of law is to be practiced by a representative government or some less democratic form. However, some of his critics have unfairly painted him as placing too much stock in the rule of law; Hayek himself notes it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for liberty to flourish. He goes further to note, "if a law gave the government unlimited power to act as it pleased, all its actions would be legal, but it would certainly not be under the rule of law. The rule of law, therefore, is also more than constitutionalism; it requires that all laws conform to certain principles." (p 310)

Modern-day Anarchists sometimes make reference to Hayek and use some of his ideas for inspiration. However, Hayek did not oppose government, sticking to the familiar lesser-of-the-evils argument: "all we can hope for is to create conditions in which people are prevented from coercing each other. But to prevent people from coercing each other is to coerce them. This means that coercion can only be reduced or made less harmful but not entirely eliminated." (p 13) He also notes how culture can reduce the need for coercion: "Coercion, then, may sometimes be avoidable only because a high degree of voluntary conformity exists, which means that voluntary conformity may be a condition of a beneficial working of freedom." (p 123) I think this last point is the weakness of Anarchists, as they (incorrectly) presume others value liberty as much as they do. Hayek does acknowledge that culture puts great pressure on the individual to conform, but still, the individual is left free to not conform provided such individuals are willing to "brave the censure of their fellows." (p 124)

Yet Hayek urgently warns that modern Western civilization is premised on liberty and the positive developments of the last couple of centuries stemmed from increasing liberty, and therefore, the decline in liberty's popularity owing to the rise of Socialism, Progressivism, and other statist trends will invariably lead to the decline of the West unless reversed.

In terms of the argument against liberty spreading to countries and cultures where it is currently absent, Hayek opposed other countries from closely aping the West, but he just as clearly thought that should the people be free, they would generate forms to develop their government and economy that would be appropriate to their own milieu.

Hayek defines liberty or freedom as "The state in which a man is not subject to coercion by the arbitrary will of another or others" (p 58) or "independence of the arbitrary will of another." (p 59) He refutes collectivists who assert that those who lack wealth, practically speaking, lack freedom, but sharply contrasted the two states, while acknowledging they are both good things that most people desire. He acknowledged the dangers and risks of freedom, to include the "freedom to starve, to make costly mistakes, or to run mortal risks." (p 69) However, the cost of trying to make people "safe" from such risks is to take away their freedom and subject them to the decisions of another, who may be as (or more) susceptible to making the same mistakes, while at the same time, diminishing those who lose their liberty: "Coercion is evil precisely because is thus eliminates an individual as a thinking and valuing person and makes him a bare tool in the achievement of the ends of another." (p 71)

The reason coercive methods always lead to outcomes sub-optimal compared to freedom in the long run stems back to an argument that Hayek is perhaps most famous for making, that no individual or even small group (like a committee) can learn, understand, and act on sufficient knowledge to make the optimal decisions. Conversely, with that knowledge dispersed among those best able to understand and make use of it, if those same people are left free, they may generally make the best possible use of it. However, such success depends on people's voluntary cooperation with one another, which tends to occur among free people: "It is largely because civilization enables us constantly to profit from knowledge which we individually do not possess and because each individual's use of his particular knowledge may serve to assist others unknown to him in achieving their ends that men as members of civilized society can pursue their individual ends so much more successfully than they could alone." (p 76)

While some may contend that Hayek's idea about knowledge in society is obsolete now that information can be widely shared in near-real time, such that decision-makers can access all of what they need when they need it. However, the increasing specialization and diversity in society has actually had the opposite result: "The more men know, the smaller the share of all that knowledge becomes that any one mind can absorb. The more civilized we become, the more relatively ignorant must each individual be of the facts on which the working of his civilization depends. The very division of knowledge increases the necessary ignorance of the individual of most of this knowledge." (p 78)

It is popular to stick the word "social" in front of other words to give them a particular meaning; some would say doing so makes the next word take on the opposite of its usual meaning. Hayek picks this up in his own way, noting that "The preference for 'social considerations' over the adherence to moral rules is, therefore, ultimately the result of a contempt for what really is a social phenomenon and of a belief in the superior powers of individual human reason." (p 127) This latter contempt traces back at least as far as Socrates, at least insofar as I have read.

Hayek recognized one of the most effective methods interventionists used to buy people's freedom from them with promises, as the chief benefits of freedom included the inventions, discoveries, and other progress that is, by nature, unknown prior to becoming known: "for in each particular instance it will be possible to promise concrete and tangible advantages as the result of a curtailment of freedom, while the benefits sacrificed will in their nature always be unknown and uncertain. If freedom were not treated as the supreme principle, the fact that the promises which a free society has to offer can always be only chances and not certainties, only opportunities and not definite gifts to particular individuals, would inevitably prove a fatal weakness and lead to its slow erosion." (p 130)

Probably another reason for the decline of Western society has been its flight from individual responsibility: "Liberty not only means that the individual has both the opportunity and the burden of choice; it also means that he must bear the consequences of his actions and will receive praise or blame for them. Liberty and responsibility are inseparable. A free society will not function or maintain itself unless its members regard it as right that each individual occupy the position that results from his action and accepts it as due to his own action." (p 133) He briefly echoes Bastiat, Frederick in noting that assigning responsibility tends to shape behavior in beneficial ways, moving away from pain, suffering, loss, etc.

Hayek reveals a great reluctance concerning democracy and gives extensive and thoughtful critique to representative government. He does admit that it provides for a peaceful transfer of power and can be compatible with the rule of law and liberty, but that democracy unbridled by sufficient checks is surely not the path to liberty. He also demonstrates the essential aspect of private property to permitting liberty, and thereby the importance of enforcing contracts and prohibiting fraud.

Hayek looks extensively at the problem of administration and bureaucracy, noting that the main threat to liberty in the West today is an overgrown state apparatus not bounded by the same restrictions as other branches of government. He underscores the importance of rule of law in keeping the administration in check, but also active court intervention and principles preserving rights to the people, not open-ended authorities for bureaucrats to regulate everything. He further notes that the "experts" in any given field tend to favor what they are experts in (and are employable thereby) and this accelerates the growth and penetration of government administration.

As Hayek transitions to a focus on economic issues in particular, he notes that in a free society, the government should be focused on "the prevention of violence and fraud, the protection of property and the enforcement of contracts, and the recognition of equal rights of all individuals to produce in whatever quantities and sell at whatever prices they choose." (p 338) He then reviews many basic concepts and notes the impact of various government interventions. He also mentions his opposition to any kind of world government, particularly in light of the general predilection among many people for systems that are not free.

While analyzing the pros and cons of various aspects of government action vis-à-vis the economy, Hayek gives a prophetic summary: "Though we may have speeded up a little the conquest of want, disease, ignorance, squalor, and idleness, we may in the future do worse even in that struggle when the chief dangers will come from inflation, paralyzing taxation, coercive labor unions, an ever increasing dominance of government in education, and a social service bureaucracy with far-reaching arbitrary powers--dangers from which the individual cannot escape by his own efforts and which the momentum of the overextended machinery of government is likely to increase rather than mitigate." (p 429)

He gives a robust and frank discussion of many social ills and the attempts to address them, whether wages, poverty, education, social security, etc. He forces the reader to really think things through, not being content to stop at the good intentions of some of the would-be solutions, but examining both the effects and the implications they carry.

The final part of his book is Hayek's expression of why he is not a Conservative and why he thinks it is risky for lovers of liberty to ally with Conservatives; he thought it better to try and convert Progressives, Socialists, and others working for change. He articulates his understanding of the peculiarly American problem of political vocabulary, how Liberals are called "conservative" and Progressives and Socialists are called "liberal" in spite of their opposition to Liberalism. While Hayek is correct in his analysis of real Conservatives being dragged along by whatever change and progress goes on in the world (such that their program evolves with society), he is unnecessarily harsh in implying Conservatives have no positive philosophy of their own. Edmond Burke is rightly considered the father of modern Conservatism and his articulate expression of the model of balance found in 18th century British monarchy, nobility, parliament, and church certainly stands out in this regard. Hayek considers Burke a Liberal (an Old Whig) and doesn't include him as a Conservative, though he acknowledges that Conservatives quote him. However, this completely overlooks Burke's reaction to the French Revolution that ultimately cost him his seat in Parliament and his membership in his old party.

In his brief discussion of nationalism and patriotism, Hayek displays an understanding of the difference all too often not shared by modern Libertarians: "an aversion to nationalism is fully compatible with a deep attachment to national traditions. But the fact that I prefer and feel reverence for some of the traditions of my society need not be the cause of hostility to what is strange and different." (p 527)

The bottom line? "There is only one principle that can preserve a free society: namely, the strict prevention of all coercion except in the enforcement of general abstract rules equally applicable to all." (p 404) Yes, it's a little long, but it reads pretty well, and I'm not sure what he could have cut out. If you care about liberty, or if you plan to be civically active, you would benefit a great deal by taking the time to read it.
1 review
February 26, 2023
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 of intolerance" (i happen to agree 100% on this last one, and as i will establish later according to his own criterion Hayek should not have tenure)


the premise of the book is that a free society (free as in free from unnecessary coercion) is one governed by general and abstract rules, known to all in advance. let's just skip the fact that coercion by the state is apparently needed in order to enforce voluntary contracts (if it were not for the police taking me to the hospital against my will i would never voluntarily donate my blood) and focus on more serious logical issues.

for that we also need to skip the fact that he cites quite heavily Lord Acton, a guy whose uncalled for sympathies during the American Civil War were towards the slave-owning South on the premises that the Confederacy was defending their Libery (to own people). i guess the full title of the book was intended to be "Constitution of Liberty for White Land-Owners", but i digress. and apparently a guy with a nobility title is the best reference for advocates of liberty. no more digressions


to anyone who has taken up a non-trivial classification problem, it's clear that governing by general and abstract rules is an endeavor set for failure, unless the rules are void or tautological. physical phenomena resist classification, and even more so social phenomena, as their complexity is necessarily several orders of magnitude greater since human society is built on top of human biology which is built on top of chemistry, which is built on top of physics.since reality resists classification ("Φύσις κρύπτεσθαι φιλεῖ "), every general abstract theory ultimately contradicts either itself or reality, and this is why case-by-case study is needed. however, if for you to find a contradiction in a theory in some small niche of reality it takes you five hours of discussion and serious intellectual work, i consider it sufficiently valid. Hayek's thing is not even close
Hayek is definitely aware of this problem, since when he applies his principles to specific cases he finds exceptions to his rules, and, even worse, in a completely ad-hoc way. this is of course completely natural since his thesis is that concessions to the generality and abstractness of the rules should be expected to be unnecessary


for example, the power of government to interfere, he says, should be limited and restricted by apriori rules. nice, abstract and general.


the state should, however, regulate building construction, since a layperson cannot judge the safety of a building just by looking at it. on the other hand, the government should not regulate agriculture. apparently, every consumer carries with them a chemical analysis lab whenever they go to the supermarket, and they're thus able to determine if the produce is fit for consumption, and the consequences of consuming bad produce are immediate and not cumulative and they don't manifest themselves thirty years down the road, so that you can always trace back the exact cause, find who's to blame and take them to an impartial court and make some money out of it which of course repairs the cancer that's ruined your life (i admit, i've inserted some Milton Friedman here, but it's the same person for all practical purposes)


a mandatory social security program funded by taxation, covering for unemployment and other generally foreseeable misfortunes, is adversary to personal freedom since it's one-size-fits-all and decided for you by some kind of higher authority. but the police protecting you from the foreseeable misfortune of having your cell phone stolen if you flash it at 3 in the morning does not trespass your freedom of knowing how to protect yourself better than anyone else and it does not constitute nanny-state protection. neither does the state running an extensive network of fire departments interfere with my knowing better than anyone else how to protect by myself my house from burning down. oh but you say crime and fire have consequences reaching beyond your personal life and property, which apparently is not true for the misery and stress to society caused by preventable unemployment and curable disease


why does "you broke your arm while working and now you can't work for a month, that's your problem, you should have prepared for that" make sense, but "someone stole your cell phone, tough luck, you should have spent half your life learning self-defense instead of making money in order to live and buy a cell phone and you should never lower your guard" doesn't?

these are just a few of the many examples of problems in his arguments, and the rest is abstract nonsense. the person who manages to clear the book from these errors and raise it to the level of pure and distilled abstract nonsense will gain my eternal respect and ten of my hard-earned internet points. such a task is indeed worthy of ten internet points, because the abstract nonsense in the book is precisely what allows him to mask his deep-rooted misanthropy behind what seems, on the surface, to be good intentions

bringing forth all the abstract nonsense in the book and exhibiting what they mean in concrete situations will lay bare the misanthropic core of such people's thought. Marx and Engels had very well understood that the role of abstraction in social sciences is precisely to mask one's true intentions and interests, and they hit bullseye with Hayek

i'll cite only one example, which is somewhat untangled from all the logical fallacies of the book
for context, the book was written in Chicago in the late 50's. the Civil Rights movement had already begun when Hayek finished his book. he is therefore forced by the current reality to address the issue of racial segregation and civil rights. at some point he writes:
"To rest the case for equal treatment of national or racial minorities on the assertion that they do not differ from other men is implicitly to admit that factual inequality would justify unequal treatment; and the proof that some differences do, in fact, exist would not be long in forthcoming. It is of the essence of the demand for equality before the law that people should be treated alike in spite of the fact that they are different."

seems nice, abstract and general, so let's make that concrete and put it into the context of the time and place where the book was written. Black people were denied equal treatment before the law and the right to vote on the basis that they were not deemed human enough by the general and abstract rules governing the American society.
so, Black people, by demanding their full civil rights, were reclaiming the humanity that society, via those general and abstract rules, had long deprived them of. Black people were demanding desegregation and the right to vote on the basis that they did not differ from white men in their humanity, only in the color of their skin. Hayek's assertion, specified in this context, reads:

"To rest the case for equal treatment of Black people on the assertion that that they do not differ in their humanity from White people is implicitly to admit that their not being human would justify unequal treatment; and the proof that some differences in their humanity do, in fact, exist would not be long in forthcoming. It is of the essence of the demand for equality before the law that Black people should be treated like White people in spite of the fact that their skin is black."

of course, the part "To rest the case for equal treatment of Black people on the assertion that they are human is implicitly to admit that them not being human would justify unequal treatment" is just a truism (animals can't have the right to vote).
the part "and the proof that some differences in their humanity do, in fact, exist would not be long in forthcoming" is textbook definition of racism.
the part "It is of the essence of the demand for equality before the law that Black people should be treated like White people in spite of the fact that their skin is black" is just the concession of a reactionary misanthrope who sees that he cannot stop society from moving past him and thus cannot do anything else but find a way to settle with a very discomforting reality, that of Black people being considered positively human

incidentally, the current (2020) unrest in the USA indicates that Black people gained their rights, but the state and the society conceded them their rights not because they admitted Black people's humanity, but in spite of the fact that their skin is black, so that things evolved as Hayek would want them to.
also incidentally and quite interestingly, Hayek insists on obtaining a positive definition of freedom, but when it comes to the reasoning for the equality of Black people with White people, he insists on a negative reasoning. wander why.

Hayek should not have tenure, according to his own words.
Profile Image for Berry Muhl.
339 reviews19 followers
September 5, 2020
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 purpose of the book is to illustrate what is truly meant by "liberty," what it takes to achieve, and what its natural limits are...and then to present the vast panoply in ways in which it can be eroded and destroyed, by even the most well-meaning of folks, via the use of heavy-handed government.

His thesis is one shared by Hazlitt, Friedman, von Mises, et al: that liberty is best served by a socioeconomic system that promotes free(er) markets. For Hayek, such a system also allows for some form of democratic participation, provided that the central tenet of republicanism always be observed (the rule of law).

Without the rule of law--without emphasis on laws, rather than men, as the arbiter of legal behavior--then arbitrariness, exceptions, and discretion creep into the enforcement of policies, and this in turn inevitably drives policy toward inequality. Hayek is quite clear that in a proper republic, operating via rule of law, there can be no protected classes, no welfare state, and far fewer of the machinations whereby special interests and bureaucrats game the system and expropriate public wealth for their own benefit. He also argues that a perfectly-realized democracy can still eventually lead to despotism if it is unchecked by that rule of law. Republicanism, not democracy, is the true safeguard of liberty.

To accept his thesis, the reader has to accept several assumptions: that government expansion always comes at the expense of liberty, that taxation is an affront to property rights, that markets are vastly superior to command economies in terms of allocation of resources and voluntary participation. But you don't have to accept these things a priori, as he covers each in turn, quite persuasively. That, in my view, is the real beauty of this book: he's not just preaching to the choir, but making a persuasive argument for those most opposed to his worldview. The sheer volume of supporting evidence he brings in ought to give even the most ardent defender of socialism some pause.
Profile Image for David McGrogan.
Author 7 books30 followers
December 25, 2021
There is little new or fresh to be said about The Constitution of Liberty, but it is worth observing to anyone curious about it that it is extremely readable as a work of political philosophy. Split into short chapters (each only about 10 pages long) which are themselves divided into bite-sized, numbered sections, it is a surprisingly breezy read - and Hayek's ideas are as a consequence immediately accessible in a manner in which is contemporaries' seldom were. Anyone coming to the book with an idea in their head that Hayek was some kind of hyper-rationalistic, ice-hearted anarcho-capitalist will also be surprised at how reasonable his ideas were, and will almost certainly note how much of a shame it is that this kind of reasoning has almost totally disappeared from public debate.
Profile Image for Sathyanarayanan D.
48 reviews6 followers
October 1, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Paul.
19 reviews3 followers
February 3, 2022
Hayeks bestes und gleichzeitig zweitwichtigstes Buch, das darüber hinaus auch als das generell beste Buch über den Liberalismus gelten darf.
Profile Image for Jim.
48 reviews3 followers
August 17, 2010
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 message, but didn't really enjoy the read.

The Constitution of Liberty, on the other hand, is a much more readable work, as political philosophy goes. It's highly positive in its arguments, laying out a carefully constructed argument in favor of freedom and restricted government. Hayek is eminently reasonable, unlike, for example, Ayn Rand, who was much more strident and dismissive of alternative viewpoints, even if they only deviated slightly from her own.

The book is divided into 3 parts. The first section defines freedom in a careful and limited way, so as not to leave any doubt that Hayek's main concern is the exercise of arbitrary coercive power by one person over another. He distinguishes his view form the more anarchic strains of libertarianism (a term he disliked), as well as the hyper-rationalistic versions- he makes a strong case for the basic insight that reason, as we know it at any given point in time, is the product of our culture and environment, and does not exist outside of a specific societal context. This means that radical movements seeking to tear down a traditional society and reconstruct society along rational lines tend to meet a problematic fate (see: France, 1793; Russia, 1917; China, 1949; etc.). However, he concerns himself primarily with expounding the benefits of freedom and the need for restraint of authority over the lives and actions of individuals, primarily from a moral point of view.

The next section deals primarily with the rule of law, and the interactions of the legal system with a free state. There is quite a lot of interesting history here (including a quick overview of the evolution of the Rechtsstaat in Prussia that was killed in the cradle by Bismarck), and a well-developed analysis of what does and does not qualify as the "Rule of Law."

The third part was the hardest to get through, and in some ways the most anachronistic for a modern reader (the book was written in 1960, after all), but still worth the effort. This section concerned itself with the modern welfare state, and the ways in which Hayek's concept of freedom and the rule of law could still be compatible with many of the aims of the welfare state, but seldom are. The chapters in this section deal primarily with specific areas of policy, such as taxation, social security, agriculture and education policies. I suppose I found this "applied" section more difficult to read than the "abstract" portions of the book because I'm already familiar with most of the basic arguments, and thus found much of it to be old news (though it wasn't at the time, I assure you!). However, there were still illuminating ideas, and there was an interesting tone suffusing this section that evoked the very isolated feeling libertarian-minded thinkers felt during the fifties.

Ultimately, this book makes a sensible, non-hysterical case for freedom and limited government, while reassuringly pointing out that the philosophical case for freedom and the rule of law does not have to exclude the possibility of societal solutions for the poor and downtrodden. It's no page-turner, but the message is worth the time and effort.
Profile Image for Jonathan Madison.
78 reviews1 follower
August 18, 2019
A must read for any person who seeks to understand modern democratic political systems
1 review
Read
February 8, 2021
A work of such pure evil that surely the first draft was written in ink of blood upon parchment of human skin.
Profile Image for Justin Lonas.
354 reviews28 followers
May 15, 2012
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 more openly ideological work than most books on economic theory, but Hayek’s razor-sharp intellect makes his arguments in favor of limited government and free markets sound like the height of accepted wisdom.

A must-read for anyone in any kind of policymaking position.
2 reviews8 followers
January 18, 2014
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 if you are interested in alternative and utopian economic systems to better understand the whole picture.
Profile Image for Christopher.
13 reviews13 followers
April 15, 2019
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.
30 reviews
January 3, 2019
This is probably THE best book to understand what classical liberalism is all about.
Profile Image for Claire.
1,482 reviews14 followers
May 20, 2019
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 to pick it up and see wtf I was fascinated with for eleven days... as I found this book absolutely fascinating! I rambled a load about it to my boyfriend and mother. I think it's important to preserve this book in the annals.
It is all about Western civ. It is regarding what this side of the planet has done regarding how to keep going.

Fortunately, I am the patron who has reserved it from my library's system, so it cannot be purged from my library's system. I read about it from another book I think somewhere or another, but my memory is rly, rly vague about that.
It was incredibly smelly when I got it, as many law books tend to be, but now it just smells like my house. And so now my mother wants me to go to law school just like our next-door neighbours, some of my best friends, and to otherwise make bank. I am leery. I DID skim a couple of chapters in the middle to preserve my sanity, particularly the stuff about Lord Acton, since I have studied tons and tons and tons of stuff about him in the past and have had concerning problems regarding him and the surrounding history, even though it is pretty fascinating, particularly with Western types of tea. I really, really like it.
Nowadays I have to be careful particularly with tea consumption levels and also not get too excited, or else seizures will happen.

My favourite part was the end essay, entitled "Why I am Not a Conservative" - however Hayek's discussion of SSI makes for a fascinating introduction to what is available for people who need more help. (He does not get into the subtle differentiations between SSI and SSDI, which was a nervewracking bone of contention in my particular case, so that makes this book a more calming approach to the field. For the SSI/SSDI thing you actually need to go to law school or to hire a buddy.)
The reason I liked it so much was both identification with the problems in this book and the sense that I can finally do something productive with my life.
I also really, really liked the analytical table of contents... probably because I've become more of an analytical person over the years instead of the other kind whatever they're called again. Quantitative person? I don't remember for sure and don't think that's exactly right. I vaguely remember doing that kind of research at the university but maybe I should really just take a qualitative nap instead.
Profile Image for Jacob Williams.
445 reviews7 followers
February 27, 2020
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 determine conclusively what a person is worth and are entitled to determine what he may achieve.

The key concept in this book is the “rule of law.” For me that term merely calls to mind the question of whether government officials must adhere to the law like everyone else. But Hayek uses a much more demanding and more interesting definition.

In his view, rule of law requires that legal rules be “general, equally applicable, and certain.” Laws which privilege a majority or discriminate against a minority do not meet this standard, even if enacted by honest democratic processes. Laws which give significant discretionary power to government officials also undermine the rule of law - when the legality of an official’s action is determined by whether they were allowed to take that action by law, rather than whether they were required to take that action by law, the effect for citizens is that the rules are uncertain and unequally applied. And this means that citizens are subject to “the arbitrary will” of others. This is a fascinating axis for evaluating government policy, one with important differences from the more commonly discussed axes of freedom vs central planning or individualism vs collectivism.
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