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 of his actions. Liberty and responsibility are inseparable.
Freedom granted only when it is known beforehand that its effects will be beneficial is not freedom.
Justice, like liberty and coercion, is a concept which, for the sake of clarity, ought to be confined to the deliberate treatment of men by other men.
The particulars of a spontaneous order cannot be just or unjust. Nature can be neither just nor unjust. Only if we mean to blame a personal creator does it make sense to describe it as unjust that somebody has been born with a physical defect, or been stricken with a disease, or has suffered the loss of a loved one.
Without a theory the facts are silent.
I strongly feel that the chief task of the economic theorist or political philosopher should be to operate on public opinion to make politically possible what today may be politically impossible.
The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.
# A FREE SOCIETY
What a free society offers to the individual is much more than what he would be able to do if only he were free.
It is largely because civilization enables us constantly to profit from knowledge which we individually do not possess and because each individual's use of his particular knowledge may serve to assist others unknown to him in achieving their ends that men as members of civilized society can pursue their individual ends so much more successfully than they could alone.
In a civilized society it is indeed not so much the greater knowledge that the individual can acquire, as the greater benefit he receives from the knowledge posssessed by others, which is the cause of his ability to pursue an infinitely wider range of ends than merely the satisfaction of his most pressing physical needs. Indeed, a 'civilized' individual may be very ignorant, more ignorant than many a savage, and yet greatly benefit from the civilization in which he lives.
The case for individual freedom rests largely on 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.
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.
Perhaps the fact that we have seen millions voting themselves into complete dependence on a tyrant has made our generation understand that to choose one's government is not necessarily to secure freedom.
Human envy is certainly not one of the sources of discontent that a free society can eliminate. It is probably one of the essential conditions for the preservation of such a society that we do not countenance envy, not sanction its demands by camouflaging it as social justice, but treat it, in the words of John Stuart Mill, as 'the most anti-social and evil of all passions.'
Once politics become a tug-of-war for shares in the income pie, decent government is impossible.
The greatest danger to liberty today comes from the men who are most needed and most powerful in modern government, namely, the efficient expert administrators exclusively concerned with what they regard as the public good.
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.
# SPONTANEOUS ORDERS
A spontaneous order
is a system which has developed not through the central direction or patronage
of one or a few individuals but through the unintended consequences of
the decisions of myriad individuals each pursuing their own interests through
voluntary exchange, cooperation, and trial and error.
This process of spontaneous evolution is not restricted to explaining the growth of the economic order but can also account for the development of language, money, culture, law, social conventions and even morals and ethics. Although the spontaneous order develops through individuals pursuing their own interest, the individuals still behave by following commonly held rules rather than by acting in a random fashion, and these rules are themselves the product of evolution.
Many of the greatest things man has achieved are not the result of consciously directed thought, and still less the product of a deliberately coordinated effort of many individuals, but of a process in which the individual plays a part which he can never fully understand.
Ever since the beginning of modern science, the best minds have recognized that "the range of acknowledged ignorance will grow with the advance of science." Unfortunately, the popular effect of this scientific advance has been a belief, seemingly shared by many scientists, that the range of our ignorance is steadily diminishing and that we can therefore aim at more comprehensive and deliberate control of all human activities. It is for this reason that those intoxicated by the advance of knowledge so often become the enemies of freedom.
Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant.
All political theories assume, of course, that most individuals are very ignorant. Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest.
Human reason can neither predict nor deliberately shape its own future. Its advances consist in finding out where it has been wrong.
I very seriously believe
that capitalism is not only a better form of organizing human activity
than any deliberate design, any attempt to organize it to satisfy particular
preferences, to aim at what people regard as beautiful or pleasant order,
but it is also the indispensable condition for just keeping that population
alive which exists already in the world. I regard the preservation of what
is known as the capitalist system, of the system of free markets and the
private ownership of the means of production, as an essential condition
of the very survival of mankind.
Our alternative is either to stick to a moral tradition which we haven't invented, which most people cannot explain, and which economists can only retrospectively account for, in order to maintain the present four billion people living on this world, or to give up and allow a large part of this population to die of starvation.
The manner in which the benefits and burdens are apportioned by the market mechanism would in many instances have to be regarded as very unjust if it were the result of a deliberate allocation to particular people... but the impersonal process of the market... can be neither just nor unjust, because the results are not intended or foreseen.
It is, indeed, part of the liberal attitude to assume that, especially in the economic field, the self-regulating forces of the market will somehow bring about the required adjustments to new conditions, although no one can foretell how they will do this in a particular instance. There is perhaps no single factor contributing so much to people's frequent reluctance to let the market work as their inability to conceive how some necessary balance, between demand and supply, between exports and imports, or the like, will be brought about without deliberate control. The conservative feels safe and content only if he is assured that some higher wisdom watches and supervises change, only if he knows that some authority is is charged with keeping the change 'orderly'.
The more the state "plans" the more difficult planning becomes for the individual.
Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it 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, which values are to be rated higher and which lower, in short, what men should believe and strive for.
# MAJORITY VIEWS
The discussions of every age are filled with the issues on which its leading schools of thought differ. But the general intellectual atmosphere of the time is always determined by the views on which the opposing schools agree. They become the unspoken presuppositions of all thought, and common and unquestioningly accepted foundations on which all discussion proceeds.
It is only because the majority opinion will always be opposed by some that our knowledge and understanding progress. In the process by which opinion is formed, it is very probable that, by the time any view becomes a majority view, it is no longer the best view: somebody will already have advanced beyond the point which the majority have reached. It is because we do not yet know which of the many competing new opinions will prove itself the best that we wait until it has gained sufficient support.
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.
With the exception only of the period of the gold standard, practically all governments of history have used their exclusive power to issue money to defraud and plunder the people.
There are no better terms available to describe the difference between the approach of the natural and the social sciences than to call the former "objective" and the latter "subjective." ...While for the natural scientist the contrast between objective facts and subjective opinions is a simple one, the distinction cannot as readily be applied to the object of the social sciences. The reason for this is that the object, the "facts" of the social sciences are also opinions - not opinions of the student of the social phenomena, of course, but opinions of those whose actions produce the object of the social scientist.
John Ranelagh writes of Margaret Thatcher's remark at a key Conservative Party meeting in the late 1970's, "Another colleague had also prepared a paper arguing that the middle way was the pragmatic path for the Conservative party to take .. Before he had finished speaking to his paper, the new Party Leader [Margaret Thatcher] reached into her briefcase and took out a book. It was Friedrich von Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty. Interrupting [the speaker], she held the book up for all of us to see. 'This', she said sternly, 'is what we believe', and banged Hayek down on the table." (John Ranelagh, Thatcher's People: An Insider's Account of the Politics, the Power, and the Personalities. London: HarperCollins, 1991.)
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