The Constitution of Liberty

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The Constitution of Liberty
First edition dust jacket
AuthorFriedrich Hayek
CountryUnited States
SubjectPolitics, Economics
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press (US)
Publication date
Media typePrint

The Constitution of Liberty is a book written by Friedrich Hayek, first published in 1960 by the University of Chicago Press. Many scholars have considered The Constitution of Liberty as the most important work by Hayek.[1]


In 1950, when Hayek moved to Chicago, he had been working on The Abuse and Decline of Reason essays for a while; some of the early findings had been published in Individualism and Economic Order (1948), and more would be published in The Counter-Revolution of Science (1952). He was interested in the connection between societal transformation and the manner in which scientific knowledge is presented. In comparison to being a member of the economics department, he fared substantially better on the Committee on Social Thought. On March 7, 1954, Hayek requested funding from the Guggenheim Foundation for his travels to Italy and Greece. He did this not only for his study of John Stuart Mill, but also because he believed that visiting these non-industrialized regions would help him better understand how tradition and culture develop in agrarian societies. He was concerned in the development of nonrational, but nonverbally explicit, rules and traditions. He planned to publish two books on the liberal order, The Constitution of Liberty and "The Creative Powers of a Free Civilization" (eventually the title for the second chapter of The Constitution of Liberty). He completed The Constitution of Liberty in May 1959, with publication in February 1960.[2]


According to Bruce Caldwell, the challenges posed by H. D. Dickinson and John Maynard Keynes to Hayek's ideas on political philosophy and economics, Dickinson asked for a positive program from opponents of collectivism, while Keynes wanted guidance on where to draw the line between good and bad government intervention. Hayek addressed these challenges in this book.[3]

"Why I am Not a Conservative" is a critique of conservatism. Hayek argues that conservatism is too focused on preserving the status quo and is resistant to change, which can lead to a lack of progress and innovation. He also argues that conservatism is often associated with authoritarianism and can be a threat to individual liberty.[4]

Table of Contents[edit]

  • Introduction

Part I – The Value of Freedom[edit]

Part II – Freedom and the Law[edit]

  • 9. Coercion and the State
  • 10. Law, Commands, and Order
  • 11. The Origins of the Rule of Law
  • 12. The American Contribution: Constitutionalism
  • 13. Liberalism and Administration: The Rechtsstaat
  • 14. The Safeguards of Individual Liberty
  • 15. Economic Policy and the Rule of Law
  • 16. The Decline of the Law

Part III – Freedom in the Welfare State[edit]

  • 17. The Decline of Socialism and the Rise of the Welfare State
  • 18. Labor Unions and Employment
  • 19. Social Security
  • 20. Taxation and Redistribution
  • 21. The Monetary Framework
  • 22. Housing and Town Planning
  • 23. Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • 24. Education and Research

Postscript: Why I am Not a Conservative


Sidney Hook criticized Hayek's belief in the superiority of tradition over reason and his rejection of intelligent social control. Hook argued that history shows the dangers of relying solely on non-rational processes, and planning can coexist with democracy and freedom. Hook also criticizes Hayek's narrow definition of freedom and his binary thinking. While he acknowledged Hayek's value as a cautionary voice, he ultimately said that Hayek's economic philosophy could lead to disaster.[5]

Lionel Robbins agreed with Hayek's emphasis on the non-rational element in social habits and institutions, but expressed concern that this emphasis may lead to indiscriminate acceptance and admiration of all institutions and habits, including those that are harmful. Robbins noted a contrast between Hume and Burke, with Hume being more willing to subject institutions to critical scrutiny based on public utility, while Burke's conservatism sometimes becomes indefensible. Robbins also disagreed with Hayek's classification of nineteenth century English Utilitarians as "false" Continental Rationalists, and argued that their thought was squarely within the tradition of English empiricism and not deserving of the label "false" liberalism. Robbins also suggested that Bentham and his followers were not doctrinaire individualists, but rather had nuanced views on economic organization and were not necessarily supportive of collectivization.[6]

Frank Knight criticized Hayek for its lack of attention to the critical events and principles of the Liberal Revolution that established democratic societies, emphasizing the importance of democracy, political order, and rule of law. Knight criticized Hayek for being scornful towards politically organized freedom. Knight accused Hayek of making anarchist statements that exclude rulers and limit legislation logically, and that Hayek's criticisms of democracy imply that the government should do nothing unless to enforce universally known laws. He also criticized Hayek's treatment of equality, arguing that his extreme absolutism is a mistake. Knight further accused Hayek of reaching a supreme absurdity in his discussion of equality of opportunity, ignoring the role of social structures in shaping opportunities and the consequences of history and social forces on individual achievements.[7]

Jacob Viner argued that Hayek's conclusions are unconditional because Hayek selected extreme positions to attack and works with a limited set of values. According to Viner, This approach can lead to logical fallacies, such as attacking a straw man or the fallacy of the unexplored remainder. He also questioned Hayek's doctrine appears similar to social Darwinism and historicism.[8]

Ronald Hamowy criticized Hayek's views on coercion and the difficulty in defining it within his theoretical framework. He criticized Hayek's proposed framework, arguing that it allows for the concentration of power in the hands of the state and can lead to the overthrow of personal liberty. Hamowy concluded that Hayek's position on coercion and freedom must be rejected due to its inconsistencies.[9] Hayek responded to Hamowy's criticism.[10]

The Constitution of Liberty was notably held up at a British Conservative Party policy meeting and banged on the table by Margaret Thatcher, who reportedly interrupted a presentation to indicate, in reference to the book, that "This is what we believe".[11][12][13]

The Constitution of Liberty was placed 9th on the list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the twentieth century compiled by the biweekly conservative magazine National Review.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Caldwell, Bruce, "Editorial Foreword", in Hayek, Friedrich A. von (2011). The constitution of liberty : the definitive edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-31537-9.
  2. ^ Ebenstein, Alan O. (2001). Friedrich Hayek : a biography. New York: Palgrave. ISBN 0-312-23344-2.
  3. ^ Caldwell, Bruce (2004). Hayek's challenge : an intellectual biography of F.A. Hayek. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 288–289. ISBN 0-226-09193-7.
  4. ^ Cite error: The named reference HayekConstitution was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  5. ^ Hook, Sidney (February 21, 1960). "Of Tradition and Change: The Constitution of Liberty by F. A. Hayek,". New York Times Book Review.
  6. ^ Robbins, Lionel (1961). "Hayek on Liberty". Economica. 28 (109): 66–81. doi:10.2307/2550455. ISSN 0013-0427.
  7. ^ Knight, Frank H. (December 1967). "Laissez Faire: Pro and Con". Journal of Political Economy. 75 (6): 782–795. doi:10.1086/259359. ISSN 0022-3808.
  8. ^ Viner, Jacob (1961). "Hayek on Freedom and Coercion". Southern Economic Journal. 27 (3): 230–236. doi:10.2307/1055089. ISSN 0038-4038.
  9. ^ Hamowy, Ronald (1961). "Hayek's concept of freedom: A critique". New individualist review. 1 (1): 28–31.
  10. ^ Hayek, F. A. (1961). "Freedom and Coercion: Some Comments on a Critique by Mr. Ronald Hamowy". New Individualist Review. 1 (2): 70–72.
  11. ^ Berlinski, Claire (December 22, 2011). "Five myths about Margaret Thatcher". The Washington Post.
  12. ^ Mcdonough, John E. (May 22, 2021). "The Tortured Saga of America's Least-Loved Policy Idea". POLITICO. Retrieved 2022-01-31.
  13. ^ Feser, Edward (January 28, 2007), "Introduction", The Cambridge Companion to Hayek, Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–12, doi:10.1017/ccol0521849772.001, ISBN 978-0-521-84977-7, retrieved 2022-01-31
  14. ^ "The Non-Fiction 100". National Review. 3 May 1999.

External links[edit]