If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible. He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants. There is danger in the exuberant feeling of ever growing power which the advance of the physical sciences has engendered and which tempts man to try, “dizzy with success”, to use a characteristic phrase of early communism, to subject not only our natural but also our human environment to the control of a human will. The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society – a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.
One of the recurring themes of Hayek’s was the idea that social engineering is quite distinct from engineering of the natural world. With the appropriate technology and scientific knowledge it is possible to engineer machines and use them to control the world of objects, perhaps for the better, but human beings are not objects without volition. Humans have a will of their own and they pursue ends that are dictated by their desires and preferences which are neither fixed nor can be known by others. Social engineering always fails and makes a bad situation worse. Continue reading “Ask me Anything — the Hayek Edition”
“The tragedy of collectivist thought is that while it starts out to make reason supreme, it ends by destroying reason because it misconceives the process on which the growth of reason depends. It may indeed be said that it is the paradox of all collectivist doctrine and its demand for the “conscious” control or “conscious” planning that they necessarily lead to the demand that the mind of some individual should rule supreme — while only the individualist approach to social phenomena makes us recognise the super-individual forces which guide the growth of reason. Individualism is thus an attitude of humility before this social process and of tolerance to other opinions, and is the exact opposite of that intellectual hubris which is at the root of the demand for comprehensive direction of the social process.”
The Road to Serfdom. Friedrich August von Hayek. He was born on this day in 1899. Happy birthday, dear Prof Hayek.
To mark the 75th anniversary of the publication of Friedrich Hayek‘s The Road to Serfdom, several of Hayek’s personal items were auctioned at Sotheby’s in London on March 19th.
Hayek, together with Gunnar Myrdal (the economist from the opposing camp), was awarded the “Nobel Memorial Prize” (not really a Nobel prize) in 1974. At Sotheby’s auction, Hayek’s award citation and gold medal went for over $1.5 million.
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.
From the fact that people are very different it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict with each other; and we can achieve either the one or the other, but not both at the same time. The equality before the law which freedom requires leads to material inequality. Our argument will be that, though where the state must use coercion for other reasons, it should treat all people alike, the desire of making people more alike in their condition cannot be accepted in a free society as a justification for further and discriminatory coercion.
A careful reading of that essay (link above) is guaranteed to lead to profit and enlightenment. Read it a few times.
“. . . how absurd it is to judge relative performance by rate of growth, which is as often as not evidence of past neglect rather than of present achievement. In many respects it is easier and not more difficult for an undeveloped country to grow rapidly once an appropriate framework has been secured.”
Source: F. A Hayek. The Political Order of a Free People. 1979. Page 190. Volume 3 of Law, Legislation and Liberty.
English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era, Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) wrote this in “The Man versus the State” (1884). Continue reading “Man versus the State”
“Freedom, freedom, freedom . . . Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, A long way from my home,” sang Richie Havens at Woodstock. Lots of people struggle for freedom. What are they seeking freedom from? From other people. We have to remember this: People need to leave other people alone. Do what you will and don’t impose your will on others. That should be the totality of the law.
Below the fold, the text of my recent column at NitiCentral.com, “The Iron Lady who Fought for Freedom.” But first here’s Richie Havens in 2009 singing that song which he sang in the 1969 music festival held on Yasgur’s farm near Woodstock, NY.
After 40 years, the man still retains his voice. Watch him at Woodstock here.