Hayek on the Abstract Rules of Just Conduct

Hayek’s monumental work “Law, Legislation and Liberty” contains deep insights into what the proper functions of governments are, and how they should be understood and implemented. Every paragraph is worth quoting in full. But here are a few select bits extracted from the 3-volume work to give you a sense of Hayek’s ideas.

. . . in the long perspective of Western civilization the history of law is a history of a gradual emergence of rules of just conduct capable of universal application . . .

. . .
The possibility of men living together in peace and to their mutual advantage without having to agree on common concrete aims, and bound only by abstract rules of conduct, was perhaps the greatest discovery mankind ever made.

Socialism is not based merely on a different system of ultimate values from that of liberalism, which one would have to respect even if one disagreed; it is based on an intellectual error which makes its adherents blind to its consequences.

. . .
The important fact which most people are reluctant to admit, yet which is probably true in most instances, is that, though the pursuit of the selfish aims of the individual will usually lead him to serve the general interest, the collective actions of organized groups are almost invariably contrary to the general interest.

. . .
The rise of the Great Society is far too recent an event to have given man time to shed the results of a development of hundreds of thousands of years, and not to regard as artificial and inhuman those abstract rules of conduct which often conflict with the deeply ingrained instincts to let himself be guided in action by perceived needs.

. . .
In the case of democracy in particular we must not forget that the word refers solely to a particular method of government. It meant originally no more than a certain procedure for arriving at political decisions, and tells us nothing about what the aims of government ought to be.

. . .
The cause of complaints is not that the governments serve an agreed opinion of the majority, but that they are bound to serve the several interests of a conglomerate of numerous groups. It is at least conceivable, though unlikely, that an autocratic government will exercise self-restraint; but an omnipotent democratic government simply cannot do so. If its powers are not limited, it simply cannot confine itself to serving the agreed views of the majority of the electorate. It will be forced to bring together and keep together a majority by satisfying the demands of a multitude of special interests, each of which will consent to the special benefits granted to other groups only at the price of their own special interests being equally considered. Such a bargaining democracy has nothing to do with the conceptions used to justify the principle of democracy.

Author: Atanu Dey


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