The Constitution of Liberty

book by Friedrich von Hayek

The Constitution of Liberty is a book by Austrian economist and Nobel Prize recipient Friedrich Hayek. The book was first published in 1960 by the University of Chicago Press and it is an interpretation of civilization as being made possible by the fundamental principles of liberty, which the author presents as prerequisites for wealth and growth, rather than the other way around.

Our faith in freedom does not rest on the foreseeable results in particular circumstances, but on the belief that it will, on balance, release more forces for the good than for the bad.
All political theories assume, of course, that most individuals are very ignorant. Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest.
It is indeed probable that more harm and misery have been caused by men determined to use coercion to stamp out a moral evil than by men intent on doing evil.
If we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.
A society that does not recognize that each individual has values of his own which he is entitled to follow can have no respect for the dignity of the individual and cannot really know freedom.

Friedrich A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (The University of Chicago, 1960).

Introduction edit

  • No human mind can comprehend all the knowledge which guides the actions of society.
  • What a free society offers to the individual is much more than what he would be able to do if only he were free.

Part I. The Value of Freedom edit

Chap. 1 : Liberty and Liberties edit

  • Perhaps the fact that we have seen millions voting themselves into complete dependence on a tyrant has made our generation understand that to choose one's government is not necessarily to secure freedom.

Chap. 2 : The Creative Power of a Free Civilization edit

  • The Socratic maxim that the recognition of our ignorance is the beginning of wisdom has profound significance for our understanding of society. Most of the advantages of social life, especially in the more advanced forms that we call 'civilization' rest on the fact that the individual benefits from more knowledge than he is aware of. It might be said that civilization begins when the individual in the pursuit of his ends can make use of more knowledge than he has himself acquired and when he can transcend the boundaries of his ignorance by profiting from knowledge he does not himself possess.
  • The whole conception of man already endowed with a mind capable of conceiving civilization setting out to create it is fundamentally false. Man did not simply impose upon the world a pattern created by his mind. His mind is itself a system that constantly changes as a result of his endeavor to adapt himself to his surroundings. It would be an error to believe that, to achieve a higher civilization, we have merely to put into affect the ideas now guiding us. If we are to advance, we must leave room for a continuous revision of our present conceptions and ideals which will be necessitated by further experience. … The conception of man deliberately building his civilization stems from an erroneous intellectualism that regards human reason as something standing outside nature and possessed of knowledge and reasoning capacity independent of experience. But the growth of the human mind is part of the growth of civilization; it is the state of civilization at any given moment that determines the scope and possibilities of human ends and values. The mind can never foresee its own advance.
    • The last sentence has sometimes been paraphrased as: The mind cannot foresee its own advance.
  • Our faith in freedom does not rest on the foreseeable results in particular circumstances, but on the belief that it will, on balance, release more forces for the good than for the bad … Freedom granted only when it is known beforehand that its effects will be beneficial is not freedom.
  • 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.
  • If we are to understand how society works, we must attempt to define the general nature and range of our ignorance concerning it.
  • Ever since the beginning of modern science, the best minds have recognized that "the range of acknowledged ignorance will grow with the advance of science." "In science the more we know, the more extensive the contact with nescience." Unfortunately, the popular effect of this scientific advance has been a belief, seemingly shared by many scientists, that the range of our ignorance is steadily diminishing and that we can therefore aim at more comprehensive and deliberate control of all human activities. It is for this reason that those intoxicated by the advance of knowledge so often become the enemies of freedom … 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.
  • It is the case for individual freedom rests chiefly on the recognition of the inevitable and universal ignorance of all of us concerning a great many of the factors on which the achievement of our ends and welfare depend.
  • If there were omniscient men, if we could know not only all that affects the attainment of our present wishes but also our future wants and desires, there would be little case for liberty. And, in turn, liberty of the individual would, of course, make complete foresight impossible. Liberty is essential in order to leave room for the unforeseeable and unpredictable; we want it because we have learned to expect from it the opportunity of realizing many of our aims. It is because every individual knows so little and, in particular, because we rarely know which of us knows best that we trust the independent and competitive efforts of many to induce the emergence of what we shall want when we see it.
    Humiliating to human pride as it may be, we must recognize that the advance and even the preservation of civilization are dependent upon a maximum of opportunity for accidents to happen. These accidents occur in the combination of knowledge and attitudes, skills and habits, acquired by individual men and also when qualified men are confronted with the particular circumstances which they are equipped to deal with. Our necessary ignorance of so much means that we have to deal largely with probabilities and chances.
    Of course, it is true of social as of individual life that favorable accidents usually do not just happen. We must prepare for them.
  • All political theories assume, of course, that most individuals are very ignorant. Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest.
  • The argument for liberty is not an argument against organization, which is one of the most powerful tools human reason can employ, but an argument against all exclusive, privileged, monopolistic organization, against the use of coercion to prevent others from doing better.
  • Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant.
  • Every change in conditions will make necessary some change in the use of resources, in the direction and kind of human activities, in habits and practices. And each change in the actions of those affected in the first instance will require further adjustments that will gradually extend through the whole of society. Every change thus in a sense creates a "problem" for society, even though no single individual perceives it as such; it is gradually "solved" by the establishment of a new overall adjustment.
  • All that we can know is that the ultimate decision about what is good or bad will be made not by individual human wisdom but by the decline of the groups that have adhered to the “wrong” beliefs.

Chap. 3 : The Common Sense of Progress edit

  • If many features of our civilization seem to us unnatural, artificial, or unhealthy, this must have been man's experience ever since he first took to town life, which is virtually since civilization began. All the familiar complaints against industrialism, capitalism, or overrefinement are largely protests against a new way of life that man took up a short while ago after more than half a million years' existence as a wandering hunter, and that created problems still unsolved by him.
  • Human reason can neither predict nor deliberately shape its own future. Its advances consist in finding out where it has been wrong.
  • It is one of the most characteristic facts of a progressive society that in it most things which individuals strive for can be obtained only through further progress. This follows from the necessary character of the process: new knowledge and its benefits can spread only gradually, and the ambitions of the many will always be determined by what is as yet accessible only to the few. It is misleading to think of those new possibilities as if they were, from the beginning, a common possession of society which its members could deliberately share; they become a common possession only through that slow process by which the achievements of the few are made available to the many.

Chap. 4 : Freedom, Reason and Tradition edit

  • Before we can try to remold society intelligently, we must understand its functioning; we must realise that, even when we believe that we understand it, we may be mistaken. What we must learn to understand is that human civilisation has a life of its own, that all our efforts to improve things must operate within a working whole which we cannot entirely control, and the operation of whose forces we can hope merely to facilitate and assist so far as we can understand them.

Chap. 5 : Responsibility and Freedom edit

  • 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 … Liberty and responsibility are inseparable.
  • A society that does not recognize that each individual has values of his own which he is entitled to follow can have no respect for the dignity of the individual and cannot really know freedom.
  • Liberty is an opportunity for doing good, but this is only so when it is also an opportunity for doing wrong.

Chap. 6 : Equality, Value and Merit edit

  • The great aim of the struggle for liberty has been equality before the law.
  • However human, envy is certainly not one of the sources of discontent that a free society can eliminate. It is probably one of the essential conditions for the preservation of such a society that we do not countenance envy, not sanction its demands by camouflaging it as social justice, but treat it, in the words of John Stuart Mill, as "the most anti-social and evil of all passions.
  • Justice, like liberty and coercion, is a concept which, for the sake of clarity, ought to be confined to the deliberate treatment of men by other men.
  • To rest the case for equal treatment of national or racial minorities on the assumption 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.
  • If one objects to the use of coercion in order to bring about a more even or more just distribution, this does not mean that one does not regard these as desirable. But if we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.
  • Equality of the general rules of law and conduct, however, is the only kind of equality conducive to liberty and the only equality which we can secure without destroying liberty. Not only has liberty nothing to do with any other sort of equality, but it is even bound to produce inequality in many respects. This is the necessary result and part of the justification of individual liberty: If the result of individual liberty did not demonstrate that some manners of living are more successful than others, much of the case for it would vanish.
  • From the fact that people are very different it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict which each other; and we can achieve either one or the other, but not both at the same time.

Chap. 7 : Majority Rules edit

  • We certainly do not regard it as right that the citizens of a large country should dominate those of a small adjoining country merely because they are more numerous.
  • It is when it is contended that "in a democracy right is what the majority makes it to be" that democracy degenerates into demagoguery.
  • The conception that government should be guided by majority opinion makes sense only if that opinion is independent of government. The ideal of democracy rests on the belief that the view which will direct government emerges from an independent and spontaneous process. It requires, therefore, the existence of a large sphere independent of majority control in which the opinions of the individuals are formed.
  • Liberalism is a doctrine about what the law ought to be, democracy a doctrine about the manner of determining the law. Liberalism regards it as desirable that only what the majority accepts should in fact be law, but it does not believe that this is therefore necessarily good law. Its aim, indeed, is to persuade the majority to observe certain principles. It accepts majority rule as a method of deciding, but not as an authority for what the decision ought to be. To the doctrinaire democrat the fact that the majority wants something is sufficient ground for regarding it as good; for him the will of the majority determines not only what is law but what is good law.
  • If democracy is a means rather than an end, its limits must be determined in the light of the purpose we want it to serve.
  • The successful politician owes his power to the fact that he moves within the accepted framework of thought, that he thinks and talks conventionally. It would be almost a contradiction in terms for a politician to be a leader in the field of ideas. His task in a democracy is to find out what the opinions held by the largest number are, not to give currency to new opinions which may become the majority view in some distant future.
  • Once wide coercive powers are given to governmental agencies for particular purposes, such powers cannot be effectively controlled by democratic assemblies.
  • Whenever it is necessary that one of several conflicting opinions should prevail and when one would have to be made to prevail by force if need be, it is less wasteful to determine which has the stronger support by counting numbers than by fighting. Democracy is the only method of peaceful change that man has yet discovered.
  • It is only because the majority opinion will always be opposed by some that our knowledge and understanding progress. In the process by which opinion is formed, it is very probable that, by the time any view becomes a majority view, it is no longer the best view: somebody will already have advanced beyond the point which the majority have reached. It is because we do not yet know which of the many competing new opinions will prove itself the best that we wait until it has gained sufficient support.
  • It is always from a minority acting in ways different from what the majority would prescribe that the majority in the end learns to do better.

Part II. Freedom and the Law edit

Chap. 9 : Coercion and the State edit

  • It is indeed probable that more harm and misery have been caused by men determined to use coercion to stamp out a moral evil than by men intent on doing evil.

Chap. 10 : Law, Commands, and Order edit

  • The conception of freedom under the law that is the chief concern of this book 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. It is because the lawgiver does not know the particular cases to which his rules will apply, and it is because the judge who applies them has no choice in drawing the conclusions that follow from the existing body of rules and the particular facts of the case, that it can be said that laws and not men rule. Because the rule is laid down in ignorance of the particular case and no man’s will decides the coercion used to enforce it, the law is not arbitrary.

Chap. 12 : The American Contribution: Constitutionalism edit

  • ... certain kinds of coercion require the joint and co-ordinated use of different powers or the employment of several means, and, if these means are in separate hands, nobody can exercise those kinds of coercion. The most familiar illustration is provided by many kinds of economic control which can be effective only if the authority exercising them can also control the movement of men and goods across the frontiers of its territory. If it lacks that power, though it has the power to con- trol internal events, it cannot pursue policies which require the joint use of both.

Chap. 14 : The Safeguards of Individual Liberty edit

  • The day may not be far off when authority, by adding appropriate drugs to our water supply or by some other similar device, will be able to elate or depress, stimulate or paralyze, the minds of whole populations for its own purposes.
  • It used to be the boast of free men that, so long as they kept within the bounds of the known law, there was no need to ask anybody's permission or to obey anybody's orders. It is doubtful whether any of us can make this claim today.

Part III. Freedom in the Welfare State edit

Chap. 17 : The Decline of Socialism and The Rise of the Welfare State edit

  • It would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that the greatest danger to liberty today comes from the men who are most needed and most powerful in modern government, namely, the efficient expert administrators exclusively concerned with what they regards as the public good.

Chap. 19 : Social Security edit

  • If this is the degree of inflation planned for in advance, the real outcome is indeed likely to be such that most of those who will retire at the end of the century will be dependent on the charity of the younger generation. And ultimately not morals but the fact that the young supply the police and the army will decide the issue: concentration camps for the aged unable to maintain themselves are likely to be the fate of an old generation whose income is entirely dependent on coercing the young.

Chap. 20 : Taxation and Redistribution edit

  • The real reason why all the assurances that progression would remain moderate have proved false and why its development has gone far beyond the most pessimistic prognostications of its opponents is that all arguments in support of progression can be used to justify any degree of progression. Its advocates may realize that beyond a certain point the adverse effects on the efficiency of the economic system may become so serious as to make it inexpedient to push it any further. But the argument based on the presumed justice of progression provides no limitation, as has often been admitted by its supporters, before all incomes above a certain figure are confiscated, and those below left untaxed. Unlike proportionality, progression provides no principle which tells us what the relative burden of different persons ought to be.

Chap. 21 : The Monetary Framework edit

  • Inflation is probably the most important single factor in that vicious circle wherein one kind of government action makes more and more government control necessary. For this reason all those who wish to stop the drift toward increasing government control should concentrate their effort on monetary policy.

Chap. 22 : Housing and Town Planning edit

  • Civilization as we know it is inseparable from urban life.

Postscript: Why I Am Not a Conservative edit

Conservatism proper is a legitimate, probably necessary, and certainly widespread attitude of opposition to drastic change. It has, since the French Revolution, for a century and a half played an important role in European politics. Until the rise of socialism its opposite was liberalism... There is nothing corresponding to this conflict in the history of the United States, because what in Europe was called ‘liberalism’ was here the common tradition on which the American polity had been built: thus the defender of the American tradition was a liberal in the European sense.
At a time when most movements that are thought to be progressive advocate further encroachments on individual liberty, those who cherish freedom are likely to expend their energies in opposition.
The main point about liberalism is that it wants to go elsewhere, not to stand still.
In general, it can probably be said that the conservative does not object to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it is used for what he regards as the right purposes.
The liberal, of course, does not deny that there are some superior people — he is not an egalitarian — but he denies that anyone has authority to decide who these superior people are.
It is not who governs but what government is entitled to do that seems to me the essential problem.
  • At a time when most movements that are thought to be progressive advocate further encroachments on individual liberty, those who cherish freedom are likely to expend their energies in opposition. In this they find themselves much of the time on the same side as those who habitually resist change.
  • Conservatism proper is a legitimate, probably necessary, and certainly widespread attitude of opposition to drastic change. It has, since the French Revolution, for a century and a half played an important role in European politics. Until the rise of socialism its opposite was liberalism. There is nothing corresponding to this conflict in the history of the United States, because what in Europe was called "liberalism" was here the common tradition on which the American polity had been built: thus the defender of the American tradition was a liberal in the European sense. This already existing confusion was made worse by the recent attempt to transplant to America the European type of conservatism, which, being alien to the American tradition, has acquired a somewhat odd character. And some time before this, American radicals and socialists began calling themselves "liberals." I will nevertheless continue for the moment to describe as liberal the position which I hold and which I believe differs as much from true conservatism as from socialism.
  • Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing. The tug of war between conservatives and progressives can only affect the speed, not the direction, of contemporary developments.
  • What the liberal must ask, first of all, is not how fast or how far we should move, but where we should move. In fact, he differs much more from the collectivist radical of today than does the conservative. While the last generally holds merely a mild and moderate version of the prejudices of his time, the liberal today must more positively oppose some of the basic conceptions which most conservatives share with the socialists.
  • The picture generally given of the relative position of the three parties does more to obscure than to elucidate their true relations. They are usually represented as different positions on a line, with the socialists on the left, the conservatives on the right, and the liberals somewhere in the middle. Nothing could be more misleading. If we want a diagram, it would be more appropriate to arrange them in a triangle with the conservatives occupying one corner, with the socialists pulling toward the second and the liberals toward the third.
  • The main point about liberalism is that it wants to go elsewhere, not to stand still. Though today the contrary impression may sometimes be caused by the fact that there was a time when liberalism was more widely accepted and some of its objectives closer to being achieved, it has never been a backward-looking doctrine. There has never been a time when liberal ideals were fully realized and when liberalism did not look forward to further improvement of institutions. Liberalism is not averse to evolution and change; and where spontaneous change has been smothered by government control, it wants a great deal of change of policy.
  • As has often been acknowledged by conservative writers, one of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such, while the liberal position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead. There would not be much to object to if the conservatives merely disliked too rapid change in institutions and public policy; here the case for caution and slow process is indeed strong. But the conservatives are inclined to use the powers of government to prevent change or to limit its rate to whatever appeals to the more timid mind. In looking forward, they lack the faith in the spontaneous forces of adjustment which makes the liberal accept changes without apprehension, even though he does not know how the necessary adaptations will be brought about.
  • The conservative feels safe and content only if he is assured that some higher wisdom watches and supervises change, only if he knows that some authority is charged with keeping the change "orderly.".
  • Order appears to the conservative as the result of the continuous attention of authority, which, for this purpose, must be allowed to do what is required by the particular circumstances and not be tied to rigid rule. A commitment to principles presupposes an understanding of the general forces by which the efforts of society are co-ordinated, but it is such a theory of society and especially of the economic mechanism that conservatism conspicuously lacks. So unproductive has conservatism been in producing a general conception of how a social order is maintained that its modern votaries, in trying to construct a theoretical foundation, invariably find themselves appealing almost exclusively to authors who regarded themselves as liberal.
  • In general, it can probably be said that the conservative does not object to coercion or arbitrary power so long as it is used for what he regards as the right purposes. He believes that if government is in the hands of decent men, it ought not to be too much restricted by rigid rules. Since he is essentially opportunist and lacks principles, his main hope must be that the wise and the good will rule — not merely by example, as we all must wish, but by authority given to them and enforced by them. Like the socialist, he is less concerned with the problem of how the powers of government should be limited than with that of who wields them; and, like the socialist, he regards himself as entitled to force the value he holds on other people.
  • When I say that the conservative lacks principles, I do not mean to suggest that he lacks moral conviction. The typical conservative is indeed usually a man of very strong moral convictions. What I mean is that he has no political principles which enable him to work with people whose moral values differ from his own for a political order in which both can obey their convictions. It is the recognition of such principles that permits the coexistence of different sets of values that makes it possible to build a peaceful society with a minimum of force. The acceptance of such principles means that we agree to tolerate much that we dislike. There are many values of the conservative which appeal to me more than those of the socialists; yet for a liberal the importance he personally attaches to specific goals is no sufficient justification for forcing others to serve them.
  • To live and work successfully with others requires more than faithfulness to one's concrete aims. It requires an intellectual commitment to a type of order in which, even on issues which to one are fundamental, others are allowed to pursue different ends.
    It is for this reason that to the liberal neither moral nor religious ideals are proper objects of coercion, while both conservatives and socialists recognize no such limits.
  • In the last resort, the conservative position rests on the belief that in any society there are recognizably superior persons whose inherited standards and values and position ought to be protected and who should have a greater influence on public affairs than others. The liberal, of course, does not deny that there are some superior people — he is not an egalitarian — but he denies that anyone has authority to decide who these superior people are. While the conservative inclines to defend a particular established hierarchy and wishes authority to protect the status of those whom he values, the liberal feels that no respect for established values can justify the resort to privilege or monopoly or any other coercive power of the state in order to shelter such people against the forces of economic change. Though he is fully aware of the important role that cultural and intellectual elites have played in the evolution of civilization, he also believes that these elites have to prove themselves by their capacity to maintain their position under the same rules that apply to all others.
  • Closely connected with this is the usual attitude of the conservative to democracy. I have made it clear earlier that I do not regard majority rule as an end but merely as a means, or perhaps even as the least evil of those forms of government from which we have to choose. But I believe that the conservatives deceive themselves when they blame the evils of our time on democracy. The chief evil is unlimited government, and nobody is qualified to wield unlimited power. The powers which modern democracy possesses would be even more intolerable in the hands of some small elite.
  • It is not democracy but unlimited government that is objectionable, and I do not see why the people should not learn to limit the scope of majority rule as well as that of any other form of government. At any rate, the advantages of democracy as a method of peaceful change and of political education seem to be so great compared with those of any other system that I can have no sympathy with the antidemocratic strain of conservatism. It is not who governs but what government is entitled to do that seems to me the essential problem.
  • That the conservative opposition to too much government control is not a matter of principle but is concerned with the particular aims of government is clearly shown in the economic sphere. Conservatives usually oppose collectivist and directivist measures in the industrial field, and here the liberals will often find allies in them. But at the same time conservatives are usually protectionists and have frequently supported socialist measures in agriculture. Indeed, though the restrictions which exist today in industry and commerce are mainly the result of socialist views, the equally important restrictions in agriculture were usually introduced by conservatives at an even earlier date.
  • Conservatives feel instinctively that it is new ideas more than anything else that cause change. But, from its point of view rightly, conservatism fears new ideas because it has no distinctive principles of its own to oppose them; and, by its distrust of theory and its lack of imagination concerning anything except that which experience has already proved, it deprives itself of the weapons needed in the struggle of ideas. Unlike liberalism, with its fundamental belief in the long-range power of ideas, conservatism is bound by the stock of ideas inherited at a given time. And since it does not really believe in the power of argument, its last resort is generally a claim to superior wisdom, based on some self-arrogated superior quality.
  • Without preferring the new merely because it is new, the liberal is aware that it is of the essence of human achievement that it produces something new; and he is prepared to come to terms with new knowledge, whether he likes its immediate effects or not.
  • Personally, I find that the most objectionable feature of the conservative attitude is its propensity to reject well-substantiated new knowledge because it dislikes some of the consequences which seem to follow from it — or, to put it bluntly, its obscurantism. I will not deny that scientists as much as others are given to fads and fashions and that we have much reason to be cautious in accepting the conclusions that they draw from their latest theories. But the reasons for our reluctance must themselves be rational and must be kept separate from our regret that the new theories upset our cherished beliefs. I can have little patience with those who oppose, for instance, the theory of evolution or what are called "mechanistic" explanations of the phenomena of life because of certain moral consequences which at first seem to follow from these theories, and still less with those who regard it as irrelevant or impious to ask certain questions at all. By refusing to face the facts, the conservative only weakens his own position. Frequently the conclusions which rationalist presumption draws from new scientific insights do not at all follow from them. But only by actively taking part in the elaboration of the consequences of new discoveries do we learn whether or not they fit into our world picture and, if so, how. Should our moral beliefs really prove to be dependent on factual assumptions shown to be incorrect, it would be hardly moral to defend them by refusing to acknowledge facts.
  • Connected with the conservative distrust of the new and the strange is its hostility to internationalism and its proneness to a strident nationalism. Here is another source of its weakness in the struggle of ideas. It cannot alter the fact that the ideas which are changing our civilization respect no boundaries. But refusal to acquaint one's self with new ideas merely deprives one of the power of effectively countering them when necessary. The growth of ideas is an international process, and only those who fully take part in the discussion will be able to exercise a significant influence. It is no real argument to say that an idea is un-American, or un-German, nor is a mistaken or vicious ideal better for having been conceived by one of our compatriots.
  • 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.
  • Only at first does it seem paradoxical that the anti-internationalism of conservatism is so frequently associated with imperialism. But the more a person dislikes the strange and thinks his own ways superior, the more he tends to regard it as his mission to "civilize" other — not by the voluntary and unhampered intercourse which the liberal favors, but by bringing them the blessings of efficient government. It is significant that here again we frequently find the conservatives joining hands with the socialists against the liberals …
  • What I have described as the liberal position shares with conservatism a distrust of reason to the extent that the liberal is very much aware that we do not know all the answers and that he is not sure that the answers he has are certainly the rights ones or even that we can find all the answers. He also does not disdain to seek assistance from whatever non-rational institutions or habits have proved their worth. The liberal differs from the conservative in his willingness to face this ignorance and to admit how little we know, without claiming the authority of supernatural forces of knowledge where his reason fails him. It has to be admitted that in some respects the liberal is fundamentally a skeptic — but it seems to require a certain degree of diffidence to let others seek their happiness in their own fashion and to adhere consistently to that tolerance which is an essential characteristic of liberalism.
  • What distinguishes the liberal from the conservative here is that, however profound his own spiritual beliefs, he will never regard himself as entitled to impose them on others and that for him the spiritual and the temporal are different sphere which ought not to be confused.
  • In the United States, where it has become almost impossible to use "liberal" in the sense in which I have used it, the term "libertarian" has been used instead. It may be the answer; but for my part I find it singularly unattractive. For my taste it carries too much the flavor of a manufactured term and of a substitute. What I should want is a word which describes the party of life, the party that favors free growth and spontaneous evolution. But I have racked my brain unsuccessfully to find a descriptive term which commends itself.
  • The more I learn about the evolution of ideas, the more I have become aware that I am simply an unrepentant Old Whig — with the stress on the "old."
  • Even when men approve of the same arrangements, it must be asked whether they approve of them because they exist or because they are desirable in themselves. The common resistance to the collectivist tide should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the belief in integral freedom is based on an essentially forward-looking attitude and not on any nostalgic longing for the past or a romantic admiration for what has been.
  • The conservatives have already accepted a large part of the collectivist creed — a creed that has governed policy for so long that many of its institutions have come to be accepted as a matter of course and have become a source of pride to "conservative" parties who created them. Here the believer in freedom cannot but conflict with the conservative and take an essentially radical position, directed against popular prejudices, entrenched positions, and firmly established privileges. Follies and abuses are no better for having long been established principles of folly.
  • Though quieta non movere may at times be a wise maxim for the statesman it cannot satisfy the political philosopher. He may wish policy to proceed gingerly and not before public opinion is prepared to support it, but he cannot accept arrangements merely because current opinion sanctions them. In a world where the chief need is once more, as it was at the beginning of the nineteenth century, to free the process of spontaneous growth from the obstacles and encumbrances that human folly has erected, his hopes must rest on persuading and gaining the support of those who by disposition are "progressives," those who, though they may now be seeking change in the wrong direction, are at least willing to examine critically the existing and to change it wherever necessary.
  • The task of the political philosopher can only be to influence public opinion, not to organize people for action. He will do so effectively only if he is not concerned with what is now politically possible but consistently defends the "general principles which are always the same." In this sense I doubt whether there can be such a thing as a conservative political philosophy. Conservatism may often be a useful practical maxim, but it does not give us any guiding principles which can influence long-range developments.

Quotes about The Constitution of Liberty edit

  • Hayek gave a series of several lectures at the conference during which he sketched out most of the ideas that were later to appear in his treatise The Constitution of Liberty (1960). He must have already had a quasi-finished draft of this book in hand, since, as I recall, the arguments were well developed. Most of the ideas were, as expected, quite congenial to me, but I recall thinking that Hayek was analytically wrong in his discussion of equal pay for equal work, and that, normatively, I rejected his argument in support of proportional rather than progressive income taxation. On the latter point, the influence of Henry Simons was still too fresh for me to appreciate the political implications of progression, which Hayek may have sensed although they did not appear directly in his discussion. At the time, I was only beginning to escape from the orthodox mindset and to begin to look at politics realistically. In retrospect, what seems most interesting to me about the Wabash lectures is that we judged Professor Hayek as a senior scholar who was presenting to us the well-reasoned product of a life's work. Little did we dream that there were major new and quite different Hayek contributions ahead, and that Hayek would develop ideas that he surely did not sense at all at the time.
    • James M. Buchanan, "I did not call him “Fritz”: Personal recollections of Professor F. A. v. Hayek", Constitutional Political Economy (1992)
  • Hayek's hopes for The Constitution of Liberty were higher than for any of his other works. The volume was intended as his magnum opus. A number of the chapters were published in some form before they appeared in the final book, and they were circulated to friends, associates, and students for comments. He listed twenty-six individuals in the acknowledgements and notes who reviewed the manuscript in some form before publication, unprecedented for any of his other works (he mentioned in the acknowledgements, "I have never learned even to avail myself of the aid of a research assistant"). He hoped The Constitution of Liberty would be The Wealth of Nations of the twentieth century.
  • As Hayek wrote The Constitution of Liberty, he began to conceive it as his magnum opus on human freedom and how to achieve liberty in and through society. It was a product of his continued development away from economics and into social philosophy. He felt he was misconceived in The Road to Serfdom and desired to set the record straight. More than mere personal vindication, though, he sought to write a work that could guide humanity during the remainder of the twentieth century and beyond.
  • There is a criterion for appropriate government involvement in the affairs of others to which Hayek did not give adequate attention. This criterion is to prevent physical harm to others. Government interference in the affairs of men and women is justified in one and only one circumstance: to prevent physical force from being exerted on one by another against his will.
    Hayek ultimately embraced a form of democratic welfare statism, at least in The Constitution of Liberty, as the optimal form of government. While he attempted through his criteria of known general laws applicable to all to articulate a consistent and coherent libertarian standard for involvement by one person in the affairs of others, he did not succeed. He ultimately placed his hope in some form of democratic limited polity as being the most likely to be the freest and most productive.
  • I think Hayek, in The Constitution of Liberty, best defines what should be understood by the application of the principles of l’État de droit, or of the Rule of law, in the economic order.
    • Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France, 1978-1979, seven (21 February 1979)
  • Fortunately Hayek never had any influence on Thatcher’s policies. (Her chief economic adviser in these years was Alan Walters, a Friedman-style monetarist.) Equally, and perhaps also happily, Thatcher had no understanding of Hayek’s ideas. If it was true that she carried about with her for a time a copy of Hayek’s magnum opus, The Constitution of Liberty (1960), she cannot have read its postscript, “Why I am not a Conservative”, in which Hayek explains that he rejects conservatism because it lacks a vision of human progress. A case can be made that Thatcher was no conservative, either – at least if being conservative includes an aversion to policies that impose deep changes on inherited social institutions. But this is a view that goes only so far. Unlike Hayek, Thatcher understood and accepted the political limits of market economics.
  • The discussion of the consequences of socialist policies which the book attempts is of course not complete without an adequate account of what an appropriately run market order requires and can achieve. It was to the latter problem that the further work I have since done in the field was mainly devoted. The first result of these efforts of explaining the nature of an order of freedom was a substantial book called The Constitution of Liberty (1960) in which I essentially attempted to restate and make more coherent the doctrines of classical nineteenth-century liberalism. The awareness that such a restatement left certain important questions unanswered led me then to a further effort to provide my own answers in a work of three volumes entitled Law, Legislation and Liberty, of which the first volume appeared in 1973.
  • It is demonstrable that Hayek suffers from the defects of the very rationalism he condemns. His antitheses between tradition and reason, experience and experiment, are analytically untenable and historically unjustifiable. Intelligent social control always learns from experience and history. It no more need take the form of a Utopian blueprint than concern for history need make a fetish of the past. Revolutions have more often been the result of unendurable evils that intelligent reforms could have abolished, were it not for supine reliance on the non-rational processes of history, than of the imperialism of reason. The conception of "self-regulating forces" in history and society is largely mythical. We would still be living in a state of slavery had we relied on them. Tradition never uniquely determines what we do. On the contrary, it is a present interest or policy that determines the tradition to which we appeal. That is why Hayek imagines himself a member of the old Whigs who upset many traditions in their time. The author often compares society to an organism. The analogy has a very limited usefulness. It suggests, however, that the analogue of his attitude toward the body politic in the treatment of the ills of the human body would be a fanatical opposition to scientific medicine, especially preventive medicine, as an interference with the self-regulating forces of the organism, and a reliance instead upon a mystical nature cure. In the light of the evidence it is the author who appears doctrinaire, as one who refuses to learn from history. A generation ago he predicted that planning would lead to the eclipse of our freedoms. The state of liberty in England is healthier than when he made his dire prediction; and in this country, far better than in the heyday of unregulated capitalism. In countries where freedom has been lost, its destruction preceded the introduction of planning. Planning need not be all or none. In a political democracy, it can take plural forms resulting in a mixed economy. That there are threats to freedom in some types of planning cannot by gainsaid. But there are also threats to freedom, even if more indirect, in a pure market economy. It is doubtful whether free cultures could survive severe depressions again. The absent pages of comment on the evidence against his thesis suggest that Mr. Hayek is waiting on history to vindicate his role of Cassandra. Orthodox Marxists are also waiting on history for the breakdown of capitalism. Both are victims of an historical monism which underestimates the influence of moral and political ideals in redetermining the shape of our economy. The tendency of the author to think in terms of either-or instead of more-or-less vitiates the discussion of other basic themes. Although the essence of freedom for him is equality before the law, he ignores the extent to which social inequalities result in the imposition of unequal penalties under the law. His conception of the just law makes it compatible both with treating and mistreating everybody equally under the same rule. He counterposes a government of laws to a government of men as if the first were possible without the second, and as if the processes of judicial legislation, which, of course, should never be supreme in a democracy, could be avoided when general rules are applied to particular cases. As a cautionary voice Mr. Hayek is always worth listening to. He is an intellectual tonic. But in our present time of troubles, his economic philosophy points the road to disaster.
    • Sidney Hook, "Of Tradition and Change: The Constitution of Liberty by F. A. Hayek," New York Times Book Review, February 21, 1960
  • The reason why Hayek in his pretentiously detailed history does not mention such crucial matters as church power, the "Reformation," and religious toleration leading to the primary freedom, that of the mind for thought and expression—and especially the growth of representative government—is clear to any attentive reader. He is scornful of politically organized freedom.
    • Frank Knight, "Laissez Faire: Pro and Con", Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 75, No. 6 (Dec., 1967)
  • The supreme absurdity in Hayek's book is reached in his discussion of opportunity and particularly equality of opportunity (especially pp. 90 ff.). True, it was absurd of Commons and Dewey to spread an ideology that identified freedom with power (if they did); but it is also absurd for Hayek to ignore the close connection between the two. Freedom, correctly conceived, implies opportunity, unobstructed opportunity, to use power, which must be possessed, to give content to freedom, or make it effective. It is a common fallacy to demand power under the name of freedom, and usage badly needs the expression "effective freedom" to take account of power and of knowledge and other dimensions in the scope of voluntary action. The social problem of freedom centers in power and its use in relations among persons and between them and society or its agents. The definition of freedom formally as the opposite (or absence?) of coercion, including fraud (p. 149), does not mention persuasion—a highly important form of power over others that is very unequal and is recognized in law as "duress." Nor does Hayek recognize that unequal power over things confers power over persons, or that the main general problem of freedom is unequal power, practically covering significant human inequality; nor, again, that freedom and power pertain to free beings, that mechanisms neither coerce nor are coerced.
    • Frank Knight, "Laissez Faire: Pro and Con", Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 75, No. 6 (Dec., 1967)
  • Obviously, in exchange and other formally free relations, great inequality of power—which is the only issue, whatever the form—gives the stronger party some control over the weaker and may mean his helplessness. But for Hayek, even that does not prove coercion. He does not note that inequality tends to grow, especially economic; for one who at a moment possesses more wealth is in a better position to acquire still more. And free inheritance continues the tendency over generations. The facts have forced preventive or offsetting social action on a vast scale. The tendency is not disproved, as has sometimes been alleged, by the modern rough statistical constancy of the ratios between larger and smaller incomes. If all have grown at about the same rate, the differences grow at that rate, and it is differences not ratios that are felt, since they determine what the richer families can do and the poorer cannot.
    • Frank Knight, "Laissez Faire: Pro and Con", Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 75, No. 6 (Dec., 1967)
  • It is in good part because of Professor Hayek's work in this area [on the ideological origins of "social engineering" and "scientism"], and also because of his profound insights — most notably in The Constitution of Liberty — into the connection between a free market, the rule of law, and individual liberty, that you don't hear professors saying today, as they used so glibly to say, that "we are all socialists now".
    • Irving Kristol, Neoconservatism : The Autobiography of an Idea (1995), Ch. 9 : Capitalism, Socialism, and Nihilism, p. 93.
  • Another colleague had also prepared a paper arguing that the middle way was the pragmatic path for the Conservative party to take … Before he had finished speaking to his paper, the new Party Leader [Margaret Thatcher] reached into her briefcase and took out a book. It was Friedrich von Hayek's "The Constitution of Liberty". Interrupting [the speaker], she held the book up for all of us to see. "This", she said sternly, "is what we believe", and banged Hayek down on the table.
    • John Ranelagh, on Thatcher's remarks at a key Conservative Party meeting in the late 1970's, in Thatcher's People : An Insider's Account of the Politics, the Power, and the Personalities (1991).
  • Professor Hayek is justifiably critical of some contemporary arrangements regarding old age pensions and apprehensive of the difficulties which may arise should the burden be greatly increased. But why should he argue as if these were at all likely to lead us to social disintegration and the concentration camp? This seems to me to be one of the less probable outcomes of the evolution of our institutions in this respect.
  • I suggest, as reasonable speculation and inference, that the conspicuous absence in Hayek’s argument of ifs and buts and of painful wrestling with the task of weighing pros and cons in the light of a complex pattern of values and of a supply of information which points in various directions is largely the result of two factors: first, that he selects as his targets extremist forms of opposing doctrine and, second, that for the purposes of his argument he works from an extremely limited set of values. With each of these procedures there is associated a particular logical peril. To attack an extreme position when it is not clear that a more moderate position is open to the same kind of objections may be, depending on the historical context, to attack a straw man, while to reach final conclusion upon the basis of consideration of a single value, or of very limited set of values, is liable to result in what has been called “the fallacy of the unexplored remainder.”
    • Jacob Viner, “Hayek on Freedom and Coercion.” Southern Economic Journal 27, no. 3: 230–36. (1961)

External links edit

  Encyclopedic article on The Constitution of Liberty on Wikipedia

Friedrich Hayek
Concepts and career Business cycle theory · Dispersed knowledge · Extended order · Spontaneous order
Books Prices and Production (1931) · The Road to Serfdom (1944) · Individualism and Economic Order (1948) · The Counter-Revolution of Science (1952) · The Sensory Order (1952) · The Constitution of Liberty (1960) · Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (1967) · Law, Legislation and Liberty (1973) · The Denationalization of Money (1975) · New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas (1978) · The Fatal Conceit (1988)
Notable essays "The Use of Knowledge in Society" (1945) · "Why I Am Not a Conservative" (1960) · "The Pretence of Knowledge" (1974)
Commentators Alan O. Ebenstein · Bruce Caldwell
Other topics On evolution · On dictatorship · On John Maynard Keynes