Hayek on Liberty

18 Hayek Quotes That Show the Importance of Liberty

by Gary M. Galles

May 8th marked Friedrich Hayek’s birthday. Called “the most prodigious classical liberal scholar of the 20th century,” Milton Friedman explained his importance:

Over the years, I have again and again asked fellow believers in a free society how they managed to escape the contagion of their collectivist intellectual environment. No name has been mentioned more often as the source of enlightenment than Friedrich Hayek’s.”

One cannot compactly summarize Hayek’s contributions of 130 articles and 25 books. However, since one of his major contributions has been arguing persuasively for “that condition of men in which coercion of some by others is reduced as much as possible in society,” his understanding of liberty, now in retreat, is particularly worth noting.

“A society that does not recognize that each individual has values of his own which he is entitled to follow can have no respect for the dignity of the individual and cannot really know freedom.”

“If we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.”

“Coercion is evil precisely because it…eliminates an individual as a thinking and valuing person and makes him a bare tool in the achievement of the ends of another.”

“The argument for liberty is…an argument…against the use of coercion to prevent others from doing better.”

“Individual liberty…demonstrate[s] that some manners of living are more successful than others.”

“It is always from a minority acting in ways different from what the majority would prescribe that the majority in the end learns to do better.”

“Liberty not only means that the individual has both the opportunity and the burden of choice; it also means that he must bear the consequences…Liberty and responsibility are inseparable.”

“Liberty is not merely one particular value…it is the source and condition of most moral values. What a free society offers to the individual is much more than what he would be able to do if only he were free.”

“All political theories assume…that most individuals are very ignorant. Those who plead for liberty differ…in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest.”

“The individualist…recognizes the limitations of the powers of individual reason and consequently advocates freedom.”

“Once wide coercive powers are given to government agencies…such powers cannot be effectively controlled.”

“The chief evil is unlimited government…nobody is qualified to wield unlimited power.”

“Economic control…is the control of the means for all our ends. And whoever has control of the means must also determine which ends are to be served.”

“The case for individual freedom rests largely upon the recognition of the inevitable and universal ignorance of all of us concerning a great many of the factors on which the achievements of our ends and welfare depend.”

“The system of private property is the most important guarantee of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not.”

“There is no justification for the belief that, so long as power is conferred by democratic procedure, it cannot be arbitrary…it is not the source but the limitation of power which prevents it from being arbitrary.”

“Equality of the general rules of law and conduct…is the only kind of equality conducive to liberty and the only equality which we can secure without destroying liberty.”

“Under the Rule of Law…the individual is free to pursue his personal ends and desires, certain that the powers of government will not be used deliberately to frustrate his efforts.”

Friedrich Hayek observed that “It used to be the boast of free men that, so long as they kept within the bounds of the known law, there was no need to ask anybody’s permission or to obey anybody’s orders. It is doubtful whether any of us can make this claim today.” He led the fight against declining belief in freedom, recognizing that “unless we can make the philosophic foundation of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds, the prospects of freedom are indeed dark.” That is why his ideas need to be understood, and deeply considered, by more Americans, if our liberty is not to erode still further.

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. His recent books include Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014) and Apostle of Peace (2013). He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

5 thoughts on “Hayek on Liberty

  1. Here’s also what Milton Friedman spoke of Hayek:

    Let me emphasize, I am an enormous admirer of Hayek, but not for his economics. I think
    “Prices and Production” is a very flawed book. I think his capital theory book is unreadable. On the other hand, The Road to Serfdom is one of the great books of our time. His writings in [political philosophy] are magnificent, and I have nothing but great admiration for them. I really believe that he found his right vocation — his right specialization — with The Road to Serfdom.
    His earlier works were intended to be part of the literature of technical economics as a science, and, indeed, it was that characteristic of them that impressed Lionel Robbins and led Lionel to bring him from Austria to London. I never could understand why they were so impressed with the lectures that ended up as Prices and Production , and I still can’t . . . these very confused notions of periods of production, different orders of products, and so on.

    -From Friedman-Ebenstein interview in 1995, quoted in Alan Ebenstein’s Hayek’s Journey: The Mind of Friedrich Hayek (2003) Ch.11. The Constitution of Liberty

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    1. Thanks for the Friedman quote. In my opinion both Friedman and Hayek are great economists. I have learned from both. I am not smart enough to point out Hayek’s mistakes (experts do make mistakes in their own domain) but I trust Friedman’s critique cannot be without merit. In any case, I don’t need to learn economics from Hayek. He specialized in political philosophy; Friedman in price theory (which many people call microeconomics.) I learned a lot of economics from the Austrians — particularly from Kirzner.

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      1. Friedman’s criticism was mainly due to Hayek’s theory of Trade cycle which he used to advocate the view that status quo should be maintained(During the depression of 1930s) and the depression must not be tampered with via government actions till the market automatically corrects the impact of ‘malinvestments.’
        He even said that during the depression spending money on consumption will lead to unemployment!
        I may quote the following passage:

        ‘Is it your view’, he(Richard Kahn) asked Hayek, ‘that if I went out tomorrow and bought a new overcoat, that would increase unemployment?’ ‘Yes,’ replied Hayek, turning to a blackboard full of triangles, ‘but it would take a very long mathematical argument to explain why.

        -Robert Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes: The Economist as Saviour, 1994, p. 456. [Quoted from Kahn, The Making of Keynes’s General Theory, p. 182.]

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      2. If you understand what Hayek meant when he said that buying a new overcoat will increase unemployment you are guaranteed to have understood the foundation on which a free-market economy rests. The logic is simple enough that any average person can understand — and it does not require any math. Perhaps Hayek meant that “it would take a very long logical argument.”

        The problem many people have is they are too impatient to really learn the basics, and instead spend too much time reading stuff that are opinions and reports of the state of the world. Rather than constantly looking at the world, it is better to take a break and patiently reflect on the principles. It is easier to learn how to multiply (the process and procedure) rather than learn multiplication tables. That way you don’t have to rely on someone’s report that 87 times 29 is 1971. (If you know how to multiply, you can easily dismiss their report by figuring that the correct answer is 2001.)

        I recommend learning the basics and leaving the big books aside for old age.

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      3. My recommendation in my previous comment is made very respectfully and seriously. Too much reading and not enough thinking is a problem. It can and should be avoided. Just go back to the fundamentals. Frequently and earnestly. Read the fundamentals a little bit at a time, and reflect on that bit for a long time. Take some basic point and ask, “What does it really mean? What are the things that logically follow from this? If this is true, what else must be true?”

        Just fully understanding the definitions of words is often the best defense against believing nonsense. What is capital? If you understand that word well, you will know why socialism fails. To understand what capital is, you have to move beyond supply and demand, and look inside the machines that produces stuff.

        Here endth the lesson. (A related recommendation is less writing and more thinking.)

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