Today marks Friedrich Hayek’s birthday. Called “the most prodigious classical liberal scholar of the 20th century,” Milton Friedman explained his importance:
“Over the years, I have again and again asked fellow believers in a free society how they managed to escape the contagion of their collectivist intellectual environment. No name has been mentioned more often as the source of enlightenment than Friedrich Hayek’s.”
One cannot compactly summarize Hayek’s contributions of 130 articles and 25 books. However, a good place to start is with his classic “The Road to Serfdom,” from which the Friedman quotation above is taken, and which passed its 75th anniversary last year. And given that many liberties we are allowed currently seem to extend no farther than the doormat outside our homes, its insights into liberty, from one who has argued powerfully for “that condition of men in which coercion of some by others is reduced as much as possible in society,” are particularly worth noting.
We are fighting for freedom to shape our life according to our own ideas.
We have progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which personal and political freedom has never existed in the past.
Wherever the barriers to the free exercise of human ingenuity were removed, man became rapidly able to satisfy ever widening ranges of desire.
The fundamental principle is that in the ordering of our affairs we should make as much use as possible of the spontaneous forces of society, and resort as little as possible to coercion.
To the great apostles of political freedom the word had meant freedom from coercion, freedom from the arbitrary power of other men.
The argument for freedom is precisely that we ought to leave room for the unforeseeable free growth.
The very men who are most anxious to plan society [are] the most intolerant of the planning of others.
Under the Rule of Law, the government is prevented from stultifying individual efforts by ad hoc action. Within the known rules of the game the individual is free to pursue his personal ends and desires, certain that the powers of government will not be used deliberately to frustrate his efforts.
Economic freedom … is the prerequisite of any other freedom.
The system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not. It is only because the control of the means of production is divided … that nobody has complete power over us.
Those who are willing to surrender their freedom for security have always demanded…it should also be taken from those not prepared to do so.
The more we try to provide full security by interfering with the market system … the greater becomes the contrast between the security of those to whom it is granted as a privilege and the ever-increasing insecurity of the under-privileged.
The competitive system is the only system designed to minimize … the power exercised by man over man…an essential guaranty of individual freedom.
The “substitution of political for economic power” … means necessarily a substitution of power from which there is no escape for a power which is always limited.
There is no other possibility than either the order governed by the impersonal discipline of the market or that directed by the will of a few individuals.
A community of free men must be our goal.
A policy of freedom for the individual is the only truly progressive policy.
Hayek once observed that “It used to be the boast of free men that, so long as they kept within the bounds of the known law, there was no need to ask anybody’s permission or to obey anybody’s orders. It is doubtful whether any of us can make this claim today.” He was one of very few pillars in the battle against eroding liberty in our affairs. And as we have chosen to move along the wrong road in many ways since, Hayek’s insights into freedom remain central to our ability to defend it from efforts that would eviscerate it.