Hayek on institutions and design

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December 13, 2011 by galudwig

I got myself a Kindle about six months ago and this allows me to easily highlight sentences. By now, I’ve got almost two hundred pages of quotes. Here’s the first thing I highlighted on my Kindle!

Those who believe that all useful institutions are deliberate contrivances and who cannot conceive of anything serving a human purpose that has not been consciously designed are almost of necessity enemies of freedom. For them, freedom means chaos.

Friedrich August Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, page 67.

Though I ended up not liking the book as much as I thought as I was going to, the book still is full of interesting observations and I cannot help but like his descriptions of the spontaneous order of voluntary human cooperation. His greatest book in my opinion is The Fatal Conceit, but unfortunately I read a paper version (I know, that’s so 2002) and don’t have my notes with me.

In the above quote I feel he pinpoints an essential problem with how most people perceive order, ie as something which can only result from conscious design, as opposed to being the result of action on the part of individuals in a free society. When one believes that order can only spring from premeditated plans, logically, liberty is a value which can and must be compromised on in order to bring about an orderly society. But everywhere we look, we see the spontaneous order of the market, of nature, of liberty at work. And everywhere we investigate, we see that it is conscious design on the part of coercive institutions that brings about outcomes which were never intended.

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