Front Page Titles (by Subject) Introduction: The Revival of Interest in Hayek—A Unified Research Program in Hayek\'s Writings? - Literature of Liberty, Winter 1982, vol. 5, No. 4
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Introduction: The Revival of Interest in Hayek—A Unified Research Program in Hayek's Writings? - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Winter 1982, vol. 5, No. 4 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Introduction: The Revival of Interest in Hayek—A Unified Research Program in Hayek's Writings?
In the recent revival of public and scholarly interest in the values of limited government and the market order, no one has been more centrally significant than Friedrich A. Hayek. His works have figured as a constant point of reference in the discussions both of the libertarian and conservative theories of the market economy; they have also provided a focal point of attack for interventionist and collectivist critics of the market. Hayek's return to such a pivotal position in intellectual life is remarkable when we recall that for several decades his work was subjected to neglect and obscurity. It was not until 1974 at the age of 75 that he was belatedly acknowledged by being awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science. During the three decades after 1945, when certain Keynesian ideas seemed to have been vindicated by the prevailing government policies of economic interventionism, Hayek may have seemed an intransigent and isolated figure, whose chief importance was that of an indefatigable critic of the spirit of the age. It was, however, during these very same years, in which he turned from economic theory to political thought, that Hayek made his greatest contributions thus far to the formulation of a public philosophy, including most notably his Constitution of Liberty (1960), surely the most powerful and profound defense of individual freedom in our time. It is noteworthy that, in the revival of interest in Hayek's work, his contributions to political philosophy have attracted as much interest as have his works in economic theory.
The Unity and Coherence of Hayek's Writings: Conception of Mind & Unity of Knowledge
In all of this revival of scholarly interest, however, Hayek's work has rarely been viewed as a whole. In fact, it has often been suggested that what we find in his writings is a series of unconnected episodes, in which questions are addressed in a variety of disciplines on a number of disparate historical occasions, rather then a coherent research program implemented over the years. Even Hayek's friends have sometimes discerned important tensions and conflicts in his writings, leading them to argue that his work encompasses methodological and political positions which are in the last resort incompatible. Against this view, to which I once subscribed myself, I want now to submit that Hayek's work does indeed disclose a coherent system of ideas. Hayek's system of ideas may not perhaps be wholly stable, but in this system positions covering a range of academic disciplines are in fact informed and unified by a small number of fundamental philosophical conceptions. Identifying these basic philosophical positions, and showing how they infuse his entire work, is the chief aim of this review of Hayek's work. It will not be my argument that Hayek's system lacks difficulties or internal tensions. I will try, however, to show that his work is given a cohesive and unitary character by the claims in theory of knowledge and in theoretical psychology which inform and govern his contributions to many specific debates.
My strategy in this survey of Hayek's work is to seek the unifying wellspring of his thought in his conception of the mind and in his account of the nature and limits of human knowledge. My argument will be that Hayek's general philosophy—a highly distinctive development of post-Kantian critical philosophy—informs and shapes his contributions to a variety of academic disciplines (jurisprudence and social philosophy as much as economic theory and the history of ideas), and Hayek's philosophy does so in ways that have been persistently neglected or misunderstood. In particular, Hayek's account of the structure of the mind, of the nature and limits of human knowledge, and of the use and abuse of reason in human life pervades his writings down to their last details, and gives to his work over the years and across many disciplinary boundaries the character of a coherent system. We can see the structure of Hayek's system of ideas and we can realize its capacity to yield an integrated view of man and society only when we have adequately specified its philosophical foundations. It is only once we have grasped these philosophical foundations of his thought, again, that we may fully appreciate his originality as a thinker and the measure of his achievement as a social theorist.
Overview of Topics Covered in This Essay
I begin my survey by examining briefly the chief claims Hayek makes in his centrally important but sadly neglected treatise in theoretical psychology, The Sensory Order (1952), where he most systematically and explicitly develops his account of the mind and of human knowledge. Having set out the principal features of Hayek's view of the mind and of the forms of human knowledge, I shall try to show how these conceptions inform his account of a spontaneous order in society, and how they condition his distinction between ‘economy’ and ‘catallaxy,’ his elaboration of the argument about economic calculation under socialism, and his distinctive position as to the appropriate theory and methods for economics. I proceed then to examine how Hayek applies his general philosophy to the relations of individual liberty with the rule of law. In the course of this survey I will canvass some of the most important criticisms of Hayek's system, concentrating particularly on the claim that his conception of a spontaneous order in society is unclear, and his use of it objectionable. It is often argued that, when taken in conjunction with its twin idea of cultural evolution by the natural selection of rival social practices, the idea of spontaneous social order has a conservative rather than any liberal or libertarian implication, since it appears to entail blind submission to the result of any unplanned social process. Against this criticism, which expresses the common view that Hayek's political thought is an unstable compound of conservative or traditionalist and liberal or libertarian elements, I will argue that the idea of spontaneous social order in Hayek's work is best seen as a value-free explanatory notion and that invoking this idea illuminates rather than undermines the bases for the commitment to liberty.1a
In developing my argument by way of an examination of the criticisms of a number of writers in opposed intellectual traditions—Michael Oakeshott, James Buchanan, and Irving Kristol, for example—I will conclude that Hayek's chief achievement is in his reviving the intellectual tradition of classical liberalism of which varied strands in contemporary conservatism and libertarianism are quarreling offspring. In the course of this survey I will, also, identify three principal achievements of Hayek's social philosophy: (1) his demonstration of the import for social theory of an erroneous Cartesian theory of the mind and the role of this theory in inspiring modern attempts at the rational design of social life; (2) his theory of the liberal order, which is a synthesis of the theories of justice of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and David Hume (1711–1776) with a devastating critique of contemporary conceptions of distributive justice; and (3) his proposal for a resolution of a central difficulty of classical liberal theory in the intriguing ideas of a market in traditions.
The upshot of my assessment of Hayek's thought will be that, whereas his critics have identified ambiguities, tensions, and unclarities in some of his formulations, the interest and appeal of his system remains unimpeached. Despite (or even because of) its problematic aspects, Hayek's system of ideas remains a powerful and compelling research program—in my own opinion, the most promising we have at our disposal—for classical liberal social philosophy.
[1a.] Hayek does not consistently employ the idea of spontaneous social order as an explanatory device of this sort, and some of the difficulties of his thought arise from this ambiguity. At the same time, Hayek's use of the idea of a spontaneous order in society is his most brilliant use in the context of social theory of his conception of knowledge as at bottom at once conceptual and practical. The spontaneous or undesigned patterns of order in society have the advantage over planned or constructed orders, first and foremost, because planned orders can utilize only explicit or conscious knowledge. Hayek's great thesis, then, is that, contrary to Descartes’ unwitting interventionist disciples, spontaneous order is the fundamental order in society because it embodies that practical or tacit knowledge of which theory is only a precipitate or an abridgement. If we accept that the Cartesian view of knowledge and mind is in error, we have no alternative but to acknowledge that the constructivist projects of modern interventionism are all attempts to do the impossible—to replace inarticulate and tacit knowledge by articulate theory, and spontaneous order by conscious control.