Magazine article Reason

The Re-Constitution of Liberty

Magazine article Reason

The Re-Constitution of Liberty

Article excerpt


The Nobel Prize-winning economist CA. Hayek was one of the 20th century's most influential theorists of a free society. His most thorough explanation of how to build a free and option-filled world is The Constitution of Liberty, originally published in 1960. In March the University of Chicago issued The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition as part of its ongoing 19-volume series The Collected Works of F.A. Hayek. The latest version of the classic bookwas edited by Ronald Hamowy, a former student of Hayek's at the University of Chicago. Senior Editor Brian Doherty interviewed Hamowy by phone in March.

Q: Where does Constitution of Liberty stand in Hayek's body of work?

A: This is clearly his most important work, where he lays the basic foundation of what constitutes the free society. It's an extremely difficult job, and although he doesn't quite bring it off, he comes close. From his response to its reviews, he was depressed to get such a slight reaction from the academic world. He would have preferred to have greater impact. But in the end it has made a difference and will continue to make a difference.

Q: When the book came out, you critiqued his definition of coercion in the University of Chicago libertarian student journal, New Individualist Review. Why?

A: This is a flaw which is not in the first draft of some of the chapters, which he published in 1955 as The Political Ideal of the Rule of Law, based on lectures he'd given at the National Bank of Egypt.

Hayek states that liberty can be defined as the absence of coercion, and that coercion exists when "one man's actions are made to serve another man's will, not for his own but for the other's purpose" and can exist when "the alternatives before me have been so manipulated that the conduct that the coercer wants me to choose becomes for me the least painful one. …

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