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Hayek, Friedrich August von (1899–1992)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S075-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

An Austrian-born British economist who turned political philosopher, Hayek was best known for his critique of socialism and the modern welfare state. Writing as an avowed classical liberal (he repudiated the label ‘conservative’), he attempted to develop his account of the market as a mechanism facilitating economic coordination into a more general theory of law and politics.

Hayek’s liberalism was first formulated as a response to totalitarianism, which he regarded as a tendency manifest in the regimes of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, and inherent in proposals for central planning in society. This was the basis of his early opposition to socialism and his theory of limited constitutional government under the rule of law. The development of his political thought, however, saw him become increasingly critical of government and its interventions in the spontaneous evolution of society. Society was a ‘spontaneous order’ and not the product of human design. The threat to this order or civilization came from mankind’s mistaken confidence in reason’s capacity to take control of social processes to shape society in accordance with particular ideals. Socialism, as well as proposals for social justice, he regarded as variants of this tendency, which he labelled ‘constructivist rationalism’. This social philosophy was underpinned by a philosophy of science which emphasized the subjective character of the data of the social sciences.

Citing this article:
Kukathas, Chandran. Hayek, Friedrich August von (1899–1992), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S075-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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