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87 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Defining Boundaries, March 7, 2011
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This review is from: The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek) (Paperback)
Hayek undertook a vitally important task when he set out to write the The Constitution of Liberty. He aimed at finding the proper limits between public and private life. How far should the authority of the state extend? What areas of life should be beyond the reach of the government? Hayek is stating his version of the general principles of classical liberalism, based on utilitarian ethics. Since his arguments are utilitarian, this book has economic overtones.

Hayek's purpose in restating the principles of liberal society is to defend these principles against the opposing intellectual movement of collectivism. Western Civilization succeeded largely because of its individualism. Collectivism is undermining the basis of modern civilization in the West. Individualism is important because we each lack the knowledge needed to rationally direct the affairs of others. Some people believe that they can plan out society because they are `experts' or because they are educated. Hayek saw that nobody can posses the knowledge needed to design a rational order for society. As Hayek put it, "it is largely because civilization enables us constantly to profit from knowledge which we individually do not posses that men can pursue their individual ends more successfully than they could alone".

In writing this book, Hayek shifted his attention away from full-blown socialism and towards the modern welfare state. Hayek seems to have felt that the case for socialism had been sufficiently weakened so as to allow him to critique welfare states. Hayek accepted some types of government intervention that libertarians typically oppose. Rather than opposing each program point by point, Hayek sought out some `lynchpin issues' that would limit state growth. Hayek argued strenuously against state control of the money supply, and suggested ways of limiting taxation. Hayek's libertarian critics typically cringe at some of his concessions, but we would all be in a much better position now if his constitution had been adopted.

The Constitution of Liberty is more than well reasoned, it is subtle and profound. This book reveals Hayek's deep understanding of economics, politics, and history. While I do not agree with everything in this book, it is a must read for any serious student of political economy.
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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable achievement., January 16, 2012
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David H. Eisenberg (Hauppauge, New York United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek) (Paperback)
Having read The Road to Serfdom ("TRTS") a number of times, I started reading Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty ("TCOL") in a library. Finally, less than a year ago, I bought my own copy and started reading it more thoroughly, taking laborious notes. It is a remarkable achievement of a great scholar of liberty who would probably anger most conservatives and liberals, if they read him and if he did not persuade them. This is not light reading. If you want easier, then read TRTS instead - at least start with it - because the purpose of TCOL is to explain the philosophy and need for liberty in exacting detail. If TRTS is a drawing of a house, then TCOL is the blueprint. Even taking notes on it is challenging because you feel there is almost nothing you can leave out. Every paragraph has a purpose and every sentence within each paragraph too. I found it Spinozan in its approach. The footnotes in TCOL, filled with quotes from Hume and Burke and many others, takes up a lot of the page, often most of it, and you could probably take up your whole life reading the famous and obscure authors he quotes too. But, do not skip them.

Although TCOL was published in 1960 (containing his wonderful essay at the end - Why I am not a Conservative), it is timeless in its reach. Not only does it help you understand the need for liberty, but you see its relevance today in almost every political argument we now have - and have ever had.

I recommend another book for libertarians or those interested in it which I think goes well with TCOL. Karl Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies shows how philosophers like Plato and Hegel gave sustenance to totalitarians and explains how trying to support an open society with historical (a broadly used term) authority is ultimately unworkable. It did not surprise me to learn that Popper and Hayek were friends. Both were born in Vienna, a few years apart, and some of their writing approaches the same problems from different angles - Popper from philosophy and Hayek from politics and economics.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Political Economy at its best, May 3, 2012
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This review is from: The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek) (Paperback)
Hayek's "The Constitution of Liberty" is one of the most important books in social theory written in the twentieth century.

In desperate brevity, the book is divided into three, very well integrated and symbiotic, parts. The first two parts of the book are political economy at its best. Part I concerns Hayek's definition of freedom, its historical emergence, the value of freedom, and the protection and institutionalization of freedom. Part II concerns freedom and its relation to the rule of law and political system as facilitating or undermining the realization of personal freedom. Part III unfolds the implications of freedom for the realm of economics in particularly within the so-called "Welfare State."

There is a fourth part, or postscript titled "Why I am not a conservative," worth the purchase of the book by itself. Hayek argues conservatives are closer to socialists, than they are to `free-market' advocates. Conservatives have a dogmatic "fear of change" (p. 522), while Hayek embraces change for its potential of manifesting Truth and Freedom.

If you think you disagree with Hayek, read this book; if you think you agree with Hayek, read this book.

Now for elaboration ...

"The Constitution of Liberty" is Hayek's magnum opus, a far stronger argument than is his more popular "The Road to Serfdom." There are two primary differences between these two books. First, "The Road to Serfdom" is a critique of what tends to absent freedom; "The Constitution of Liberty" is far less critical and more positive statement of the necessary conditions for the possibility of freedom.

Second, "The Road to Serfdom" is a reaction to, and attack on, the possibility of continuing the planned war economies after WWII as quasi-socialism, whereas "The Constitution of Liberty" proclaims socialism to be dead (p. 370), wherefore defenders of liberty need to focus their attention on the rise of the "Welfare State."

Hayek maintains that "some of the aims of the welfare state can be realized without detriment to individual liberty" (p. 375). This sentence will be far less shocking, when it is recalled 16 years prior Hayek argued in "The Road to Serfdom" the biggest problems that needed to be solved in market economies were: (1) the regulations of the monetary and financial system and (2) curtailment of the coercive actions of big business; further Hayek maintained that Western market societies should have institutions, analogous to the military but not requiring war activity, for individuals who prefer economic security and stable employment and income (perhaps something like a domestic or social peace corps, although Hayek does not specify). In "The Constitution of Liberty" Hayek declares he does not see big business as a positive market force (as Joseph Schumpeter had argued), and Hayek explicitly states "I still feel, as I did fifteen years ago, that it may be a good thing if the monopolist is treated as a sort of whipping boy of economic policy" (p. 381).

What Hayek wants to point out, is not that there is no room for government involvement in personal security, work policy, monetary management, health-care, social insurance, taxation, city planning, environmental protection and education, but that government involvement has historically often been conducted poorly. But the necessity of government involvement in a market economy is never denied, but embraced by Hayek: "A functioning market economy presupposes certain activities on the part of the state" (p. 331). There are activities of the state that are consistent with freedom and there are activities of the state (and private big business) that are inconsistent with freedom. According to Hayek the exaggerated "appeal to the principle of non-interference in the fight against all ill-considered or harmful measures has had the effect of blurring the fundamental distinction between the kinds of measures which are and those which are not compatible with a free system" (p. 331).

Caricatures of Hayek, from both the right and left, do no justice to his impressive insightful commentary, the eruditeness of his political economy, and the sober proportions of emphasis. Hayek's doctrinaire defense of market society is not because it is the "most rational" system, but instead it is the overwhelmingness of human (individual and collective) "ignorance" that must necessarily commit human beings desiring freedom to an experiential and evolutionary system, which includes both private and public spheres of experimentation. Although Hayek is doctrinaire he is not dogmatic. He carefully considers the role of the government and the coerciveness of private business. Make no mistake, Hayek believes in, and defends, liberal society generally and in particular market economy. However, he is far less dogmatic and exaggerated than the caricatures would have him. He is a mind of serious study by both the right and left.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Definitive Text for Government devoted to individual liberty, October 5, 2011
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This review is from: The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek) (Paperback)
Dr. Hayek presents the comprehensive arguments for the requirements of any government devoted to individual liberty against the almost overwhelming surge of a progressive movement in Britian and the US in the 1940s and 50s. His compelling explanations and exhaustive documentation of the supporting facts behind his position establish irrevocably both the requirements of proper government actions as well as refute the assertions of the progressives. Even though this is a collected works of Dr. Hayek's writings and presentations in several languages, it is clearly written in a well organized volume that is readily understandable.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Liberty Revisited, April 14, 2012
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This review is from: The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek) (Paperback)
First published in 1960, a revised edition of Hayek's greatest work, The Constitution of Liberty, was republished in 2011, making this erudite defense of the principles of a free society available to a new generation of readers.

All the attempts of the last hundred years to ameliorate the free market with social justice have led to poverty and tyranny. We know about the horrors of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe; we know about the horrors of the totalitarian regimes in the Middle East; we can see the contrasts between North and South Korea; we saw US government interference in the financial markets cause a global financial crisis in 2008; and we can see what welfare spending has done in Greece. It is time to have a serious look at what Hayek has to say.

"A free society offers the individual much more than he would be able to do if only he were free.
If he is subject only to the same laws as all his fellow citizens,
if he is immune from arbitrary confinement,
and free to choose his own work,
and if he is free to own and acquire property,
no other men or group of men can coerce him to do their bidding."

The economic consequences of such freedom is that men are free to innovate, to cooperate with each other, to build on the knowledge and ideas of those that have gone before, to test ideas and to choose the ones that work. Such things lead to an exponential growth in prosperity.

"But the ultimate aim of freedom is the enlargement of those capacities in which man surpasses his ancestors and to which each generation must endeavour to add its share - its share in the growth of knowledge and the gradual advance of moral and ethical 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. It is wherever man reaches beyond his present self, where the new emerges and assessment lies in the future, that liberty ultimately shows its value."
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Constitution of Liberty, September 6, 2012
It's not often that you find a book on economics that you can't put down! I read this in one sitting. The clarity of thought and the easy to follow reasoning really grabbed me. Even if you don't agree with the philosophy espoused (especially if you don't) read this book. If it doesn't change your mind it will make you question the reasoning of conflicting thoughts and beliefs.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Exposition of a Theory of Liberty, March 4, 2014
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This review is from: The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek) (Paperback)
The following review was posted here on Amazon on January 6, 2003, for an earlier edition of "The Constitution of Liberty".
Robin Friedman

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 (p. 394):

" [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.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read, November 3, 2011
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The Constitution of Liberty is certainly in the top five most important books that defines American ideals written in the 20th Century.

Every thinking American should study the basic precepts and understand the complexity of freedom and liberty that is the basis for our uniqueness and impact - our exceptionalism. This book to my view is a must read. I have read most of Hayek and The Consitution of Liberty is his gift to the world.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound., March 11, 2013
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This review is from: The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek) (Paperback)
This is an absolute must read if you want to read something that brilliantly captures and expounds on the argument for limited government and at the same time argues for more personal freedom. Something that is desperately needed in these days of an ever growing regulatory nightmare and an ever increasing and centralized federal bureaucracy. I believe that this book is just as good as, if not better than, his other book "The Road to Serfdom." While I do not agree with everything he wrote in this book this in no way diminishes my esteem for this book and it well deserves its five star rating.

He shows quite convincingly that free market capitalism is the only answer to planned economies such as Socialism and the like and that only capitalism is the remedy for poverty and any economic ills real or imagined.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brings the light, not just a bunch of heat. Beacon of intelligence, humility, strength in times of ignorant lashing-out, April 29, 2014
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Francophile "Francophile" (Sud Carolina, les Etats Unis) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek) (Paperback)
"it is largely because civilization enables us constantly to profit from knowledge which we individually do not possess and because each individual's use of his particular knowledge may serve to assist others unknown to him in achieving their ends that men as members of civilized society can pursue their individual ends so much more successfully than they could alone." p.76
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