- Paperback: 688 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (15 February 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780226315393
- ISBN-13: 978-0226315393
- ASIN: 0226315398
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.8 x 22.9 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 816 g
- Customer Reviews: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 71,846 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition Paperback – 15 Feb 2011
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"In an age when many on the right are worried that the Obama administration's reform of health care is leading us toward socialism, Hayek's warnings from the mid-twentieth century about society's slide toward despotism, and his principled defense of a minimal state, have found strong political resonance. . . . The notes [to this edition] make clear the extraordinary breadth and depth of Hayek’s erudition and his ability to wander far beyond economics into history, philosophy, biology, and other fields."
About the Author
F. A. Hayek (1899-1992), recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991 and cowinner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1974, was a pioneer in monetary theory and a leading proponent of classical liberalism in the twentieth century. Ronald Hamowy is professor of history emeritus at the University of Alberta. He is the editor of The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, among other books.
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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.
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.