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The Fatal Conceit

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The Fatal Conceit
AuthorFriedrich Hayek
SeriesThe Collected Works of F. A. Hayek
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press (US)
Routledge Press (UK)
Publication date
Publication placeUnited States
Media typePrint

The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism is a book written by the economist and political philosopher Friedrich Hayek and edited by the philosopher William Warren Bartley. The book was first published in 1988 by the University of Chicago Press.[1]

The title of the book derives from a passage in Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), though the exact phrase does not occur in Smith's book.[2]


In this book, Hayek aims to refute socialism by demonstrating that socialist theories are not only logically incorrect but that their premises are also incorrect. According to Hayek, civilizations grew because societal traditions placed importance on private property, leading to expansion, trade, and eventually the modern capitalist system, which he calls the extended order.[3] Hayek says this demonstrates a key flaw within socialist thought, which holds only purposefully designed changes can be the most efficient. Also, he says statist (e.g., "socialist") economies cannot be efficient because dispersed knowledge is required in a modern economy. Additionally, Hayek asserts that since modern civilization, and all of its customs and traditions, naturally led to the current order and are needed for its continuance, fundamental changes to the system that try to control it are doomed to fail since they are impossible or unsustainable in modern civilization. Price signals are the only means of enabling each economic decision maker to communicate tacit knowledge or dispersed knowledge with each other to solve the economic calculation problem.


There is scholarly debate on the extent of William Warren Bartley's influence on the work.[4] Officially, Bartley was the editor who prepared the book for publication once Hayek fell ill in 1985. However, the inclusion of material from Bartley's philosophical point of view and citations that other people provided to Bartley[5] have led to questions about how much of the book was written by Hayek and whether Hayek knew about the added material. Bruce Caldwell thinks the evidence "clearly points towards a conclusion that the book was a product more of [Bartley's] pen than of Hayek's. ... Bartley may have written the book".[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hayek, Friedrich (1988). The Fatal Conceit. University of Chicago Press.
  2. ^ 'The man of system ... is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. ... He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces on a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces on the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse [choose] to impress upon it.' Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. D.D. Raphael and A.L. Macfie, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1984, VI.ii.2.17: 233-4.
  3. ^ Hayek, F.A. "The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism". The University of Chicago Press. 1991. p. 6.
  4. ^ Alan Ebenstein. "The Fatal Deceit". Liberty. Archived from the original on 2008-06-22. Retrieved 2008-07-06.
  5. ^ Friedman, Jeffrey (1998). "What's Wrong with Libertarianism?". Critical Review. Summer 1998: 463.
  6. ^ Karl Popper, a Centenary Assessment Vol. 1: Life and Times, and Values in a World of Facts, p. 120