Fukuyama Reviews New Edition of Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty

Michael Giberson

The Sunday New York Times Book Review carried a review by Francis Fukuyama of the new edition of Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty. The review does Hayek the favor of distinguishing his views from those of a certain recent talk-radio enthusiast. Fukuyama noted that Hayek’s views are more complex than they are usually rendered in public discourse (both by supporters of Hayek and his opponents), and Fukuyama’s discussion provides some evidence to support that reading. Then, strangely, Fukuyama concludes his review with an overly simplistic caricature of Hayek’s work.

The review is worth reading, but complement it by reading William Easterly’s response, which asserts: “To sum up,  Hayek’s skepticism about government was NOT based on his certainty, as Fukuyama would have it,  but on his awareness of his ignorance (and everyone else’s).”

Pete Boettke’s response, “Come on Frank, you can do better than this” works as an elaboration of Easterly’s line. Boettke buries his substance in the middle of a long paragraph, here is the meaty goodness of it:

But Frank produces a caricature of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and then conflates that with The Constitution of Liberty, and then produces a confused reading of Hayek’s description of the problem situation we face as economic actors with the epistemic critique of government decision makers attempting to plan (or intervene optimally) in the economic reality that emerges from the mutual adjustments of economic actors who faced that problem situation.  To understand how we cope with our ignorance, Hayek focused on the institutions of the market economy (property, prices and profit/loss). In short, it is a cute attempt to claim that Hayek suffers from a Cartesian hubris, but it simply isn’t true.  Frank would have been much better off had he tried to take Hayek as his word in The Constitution of Liberty, and that is that he is pursuing a Humean project of ‘using reason to whittle down the claims of reason.’

For more reactions, see Don Boudreaux 1 and Don Boudreaux 2 at Cafe Hayek, and at the The Future of Capitalism blog Ira Stoll produces a letter to the editor in response from Hayek himself.

ADDED: Also see David Boaz posting at the Brittannica blog:

Reagan and Thatcher may have admired Hayek, but he always insisted that he was a liberal, not a conservative. He titled the postscript to The Constitution of Liberty “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” He pointed out that the conservative “has no political principles which enable him to work with people whose moral values differ from his own for a political order in which both can obey their convictions. It is the recognition of such principles that permits the coexistence of different sets of values that makes it possible to build a peaceful society with a minimum of force. The acceptance of such principles means that we agree to tolerate much that we dislike.” He wanted to be part of “the party of life, the party that favors free growth and spontaneous evolution.”

STILL MORE, HT to Greg Ransom at Taking Hayek Seriously: Tibor Machan and Anton Howes.

AND not every critic of Fukuyama’s review favors Hayek’s views; see Peter Drier at Huffington Post.

9 thoughts on “Fukuyama Reviews New Edition of Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty

  1. Oh come on. It’s the New York Times. The miraculous thing is that they mentioned Hayek at all.

  2. Apparently the NY Times published a review of the first edition of the Constitution of Liberty back in 1960, too. Probably with a 1/2 hour at the library I could ferret out a copy or the NYT will sell me a copy for $3.95 or with a little more probing of the university’s electronic resources, maybe I could turn up one more quickly.

    For now all the NYT gives up for free is the first two sentences: “EVEN those who accept little of his argument will find Friedrich A. Hayek’s comprehensive analysis of the nature of freedom an interesting and provocative work. “The Constitution of Liberty” develops the basic assumptions from which he derived the views expressed fifteen years ago in his book, “The Road to Serfdom.” “

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