The Constitution of Liberty kindle pdf –

One of the great political works of our time,the twentiethcentury successor to John Stuart Mill's essay, 'On Liberty'—Henry Hazlitt, NewsweekA reflective, often biting, commentary on the nature of our society and its dominant thought by one who is passionately opposed to the coercion of human beings by the arbitrary will of others, who puts liberty above welfare and is sanguine that greater welfare will thereby ensue—Sidney Hook, New York Times Book ReviewIn 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 , urges us to clarify our beliefs in today's struggle of political ideologies

10 thoughts on “The Constitution of Liberty

  1. Howard Olsen Howard Olsen says:

    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    Hayek's great insight, originally made in the Thirties when he was fighting on the anti-Keynsian side of the economic denates of the day, was that human knowledge was so vast and complex that is was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    Hayek originally made applied this insight in economics, but in this book, he moves it to the realm of politics.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.

  2. Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson says:

    2020-06-26 - I read this book my senior year in college as part of an independent study class I took with the Government Dept. chairman, Robert Wells at St. Lawrence University. It is a fantastic book!!! I read most of it again about 12-15 years ago in a fun group called a priori cats (If you are interested, I can tell you about that group and the name, if you contact me.)

    One thing that is a bit quirky but fun, is that the book does not deal with the details of a written constitution, but 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.

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

    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.

  3. Otto Lehto Otto Lehto says:

    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?

  4. Anima Anima says:

    ‘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.”..’

  5. Xander Xander says:

    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.


    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.)

  6. robin friedman robin friedman says:

    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

  7. Lou Lou says:

    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...

  8. Emily Ekins Emily Ekins says:

    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.

  9. Tanay Raj Tanay Raj says:

    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.

  10. Jim Jim says:

    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.