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Law, Legislation and Liberty: A new statement of the liberal principles of justice and political economy (Routledge Classics) Paperback – 3 Sep 2012
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About the Author
F. A. Hayek (1899-1992) was one of the most influential and controversial political and economic thinkers of the Twentieth Century. He taught at the London School of Economics and the University of Chicago and was awarded a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1974. His The Road to Serfdom is also available in Routledge Classics.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This book certainly can be read as a foundational tract in libertarian philosophy. Hayek repeatedly concludes that "it's either the free market or socialism, and socialism inevitably leads to tyranny". It's not the overarching thesis of this book, but he sticks it in every now and then for good measure. Furthermore, chapters 8-9 where justice is discussed provide a categorical dismissal of "social justice" (always in scare quotes), which leaves little to the imagination as far as the amorality of the market is concerned.
But the good thing about Hayek is that he arrives at the occasional libertarian conclusion only after much broader arguments. They are not assumed at the outset. Hayek is also clearly devoted to the cause of democracy and he fervently espouses the rule of law. This book provides a very general and deep argument about the preconditions of trustworthy government and the appropriate restrictions by which government should abide. It poses a number of theses and questions which could significantly broaden the field of political philosophy if a diverse group of minds would actively engage with them.
For instance: (1) Governmental decisions are based on limited knowledge. What limitations on its power and scope should follow from this fact? (2) Parties serve interest groups. How can democratic decision-making be secured without logrolling and lobbying? (3) A beneficial social order can form spontaneously. Which general rules of conduct facilitate it? Hayek's answers to these questions is too complex to be recapitulated here, but his central thesis is that general laws should not be formulated by the same parliament which processes the practical affairs of government. The spontaneous development of social order, to which parliamentary bargaining is both blind and deleterious, requires that a legislative body separate from parliament is given the power to promote it.
Needless to say, I found the majority of this argument highly interesting, with the exception of the justice chapters. However, I have to deduct one star for its unduly complex structure and great length. This work was originally written as three separate volumes and this makes for some unnecessary repetition where the same questions are discussed several times from slightly different angles. Although Hayek's arguments are always a model of clarity, they are not models of conciseness. I often wished he had just let an argument stand after stating it, instead of embellishing it unnecessarily with extended supplementary comments which only make the reader forget what the main point was.
But in conclusion, reading this book without prejudice can be an eye-opening experience, so I strongly recommend it to all practitioners of political and social theory, regardless of which hue of the political spectrum they identify themselves with.
It is slow going, I have set it aside sometimes to read something else, but I do keep coming back to it for good reason.
On the negative side:
It is a long, slow read.
Some of the writing style can be ... an acquired taste? ( I liked it fine; a friend hated it.)
His examination on the origins and development of law are not all local and recent but reach back as far as possible and use logical reasoning when pressed beyond a point where written records are available. You will have to decide for yourself if he assumes too much, but I think it holds up fairly well.
Some of it can become tedious, &/or require re-reading.
You will gain knowledge and insights in more depth and exactness than a quick, light read.
Style involves personal taste and varies with individuals somewhat.
Even if you don't care for the presentation the content is worth it.
Clarity is more important than length, especially as some people have been re-interpreting the meanings of words and terms. Assumptions have shifted in historical time, and he examines some of the long term changes. More changes may come; I think this material will stand the test of time well and could be used as a reference in many works... perhaps it already is.
I remember reading in his section about evolution vs construction that biology (Darwin) drew on non-biological themes regarding the evolution of ideas which preceded him. It was particularly interesting to note that some of the original notions regarding evolution were later discounted as applied outside biology and (in some contexts) replaced by constructivist notions held by atheists who do not know that their assumptions are rooted in variations of intelligent design theory. I found this section unintentionally amusing as well as instructive.
The book(s) cover a lot of ground in some depth. It is deeply thoughtful and wide ranging.
The part of where he examines the changes in the way law was regarded and developed in the centuries where written records are available is detailed and can not be criticised as being too speculative as it only brings to light things not clearly seen ( or not outside of cloistered specialties) for some time.
He goes into depth on the subject of order evolving out of disconnected interactions with no common purpose or goal, and underlying rules or tendencies that unconsciously ( without planning or direction ) facilitate this. I found it fascinating, some people may find it tedious or confusing. The fact that he is a bit wordy should help people 'get it' who have less familiarity with some of this.
It matters because freedom matters. How few restrictions or rules are truly necessary to evolve an order is tremendously important. If you determine rules for everything, you strangle freedom; if you have no rules you have chaos that can lead to dictatorship of one sort or another to enforce some sort of sane order, and loose freedom again. What is the minimum as far as necessary rules to maximise freedom and yet create the stability necessary for civilization to flourish?
To say order evolves out of chaos given ____ conditions is not going to just be accepted without understanding anything of how or why. It is necessary for this section to be long. Many people have deep bias against uncontrolled stuff just happening; it scares some people because they don't see the development of a free order, just chaos. Freedom does not involve order to some people, it involves randomness that they cannot predict and they may fear the unknown and uncontrolled; some of them just want a safe, controlled world.
To see that freedom is not inconsistent with order can require some extensive explanations - for some people more than others. Even supporters of freedom may need to argue their case more effectively with people who do not share their assumptions. Please take your time with this; if you don't understand it you should. If you think you already understand it then do you understand it as thoroughly as you might... well enough to explain or debate with someone who doesn't?
The final book of the series involves an in depth examination of what isn't working in today's democracies and why. The examples tend to be more British than American but the underlying issues are the same. I am reminded of the introduction to an old independence tract, pre-revolutionary war. The author (Thomas Paine, I think) wrote that the fact that something had been done a certain way for so long lent it a sense of rightness whether it was in fact right or not simply due to long familiarity without close examination. However, when things are not working well, it is good to look again at what you assumed was just fine and see if it really is. Actually, wasn't that from the beginning of Common Sense?
He goes back to the drawing board and suggests new guards for our freedom that the founding fathers never considered. I stopped before I was half done and got the first 2 books of the series to start at the beginning. YOU SHOULD READ THIS. ( know screaming all caps can be considered rude. I'm sorry, but ... You really should read this. )
Other books to consider:
by Jean Bethke Elshtain
-- Sovereignty: God, State, and Self
The book talks about the evolution of the concept. There is much that you might find notable or striking. Opening a page at random: Self-sovereignty: moralism, nihilism, and existential isolation Other chapters include: God from logos to will... the sovereign state unchained.... unbinding revolution, binding constitution... sovereign self: dreams of transcendence.... The less than sovereign self and the human future... and quite a bit more.
by Mortimer J Adler:
-- 6 Great Ideas ( ideas we judge by [truth, goodness and beauty], ideas we live by [ liberty, equality and justice ])
– Aristotle for Everybody ( ages 12 to 90+)
– Ten Philosophical Mistakes (heavier reading, really good too)
– Time for Truth: Living Free in a World of Lies, Hype, and Spin