Skip to main content
Listen to Acton content on the go by downloading the Radio Free Acton podcast! Listen Now

Sirico Parables book

    Friedrich August von Hayek was known all over the world. From the publication of his The Road to Serfdom in 1944, his name was a reference for passé thinking in the new world of Keynesian economics. By the time that Hayek received the Nobel Prize in Economic Science in 1974, he had become more and more associated with the solutions to the crises caused by Keynesian economics. Now, at his death almost two decades later, Hayek is not only associated with the successful repudiation of Keynes' theories, but also with the solutions to the wider social and constitutional crises that are corollaries to Keynes' economic model.

    Hayek was won over from the general social democratic thinking of his university years by reading Ludwig von Mises' Socialism (1922). He joined Mises' famous seminar in Vienna, and became associated with Mises' work on business cycles. Thus, when Hayek accepted a chair at the London School of Economics in 1931, he contributed to the debate on central economic planning which Mises had originally joined.

    Hayek's work on technical economics was and is highly acclaimed. Yet, he believed that the rational evidence disproving wrong economic thinking such as Keynes', ultimately was shown to be insufficient. Scholars continued to accept wrong economics because there were deeper aspects which caused some to prefer the wrong to the right.

    Expanding his horizons from his purely economic foundations, Hayek built on the science of economics, and was able with sure footing to explore much wider areas, especially political, legal, and constitutional philosophy.

    Lord Acton's writings played a central role in the development of Hayek's thought during the last fifty years of his long life. Like Acton, Hayek emphasized the central importance of morality in the development of an advanced civilization, although unlike Acton, Hayek was a professed agnostic. He showed that a prosperous and advancing economy required a sound moral order. Parallel to his understanding of the development of law as an evolutionary process, he viewed morality also as the result of an evolutionary process. Civilizations acknowledge the moral principles which experience shows lead to a healthy society of prosperity and liberty.

    In The Fatal Conceit, published in 1988, he writes, “To understand our civilisation, one must appreciate that the extended order resulted not from human design or intention but spontaneously: it arose from unintentionally conforming to certain traditional and largely moral practices, many of which men tend to dislike, whose significance they usually fail to understand, whose validity they cannot prove, and which have nonetheless fairly rapidly spread by means of an evolutionary selection - the comparative increase of population and wealth - of those groups that happened to follow them. The unwitting, reluctant, even painful adoption of these practices kept these groups together, increased their access to valuable information of all sorts, and enabled them to be 'fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it' (Genesis 1:28). This process is perhaps the least appreciated facet of human evolution.”

    Hero of Liberty image attribution: DickClarkMises at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

    Most Read