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The Constitution of Liberty Paperback – October 15, 1978
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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."
The content is amazing. If you have any libertarian instincts , this will sharpen your thoughts tremendously. I found myself highlighting almost every paragraph.
The references / annotations are very easy to follow in the Kindle edition, and they have lots of useful quotations .
Even though it is from the 1960's, it is still very relevant to today's affairs. As an example, I found the discussion of Liberalism versus Democracy in chapter 7 very thought provoking , and immediately brought to mind the recent failure to export liberal democracy to the Middle East .
Hayek begins with a semantic survey of the concept, then quickly explores the issues concerning liberty. It is important to note that his arguments for liberty are framed largely in response to the popular antagonism of liberty. This is reasonable since he wrote at the height of welfare statism. But, as such, his take on liberty, freedom and responsibility, merit, etc., is flush with negative affiliation. This is why his primary argument for liberty is mainly just an argument against planning, the primary focus of statists of the time.
And if there is a criticism of this book, it would rest in the negative approach, which often goes too far and ends up countering his case to some degree. For instance, to refute planning, Hayek argues that it is impossible for anyone to know all that is necessary to organize a complex society like that of modern Western nations. In making this claim, however, he stresses man's innate ignorance and incapacity for planning of any kind. The problem with this is that man is not completely ignorant and has the capacity for planning to some degree. If he were totally incapable of planning, he would not be able to run his own life, which could be an argument in favor of meddling statists. So, in order to refute statism, Hayek inadvertently promotes it.
Hayek does counter this with disclaimers later on, saying that we're all planners after all, and expressing sincere admiration for human intellect and innovation. Of course, this only diminishes his central argument, and gives opponents an inconsistency to pounce on.
In the end, the inconsistency is a minor blot on an otherwise enlightening and engaging treatise. `Constitution of Liberty' should be a welcomed edition for anyone interested in the great debate of our age.