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The Constitution of Liberty Paperback – October 15, 1978
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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.
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."