We are reading The Constitution of Liberty for my graduate course in Constitutional Political Economy. The first thing that one must remember in reading Hayek is that there is a difference between Hayek, and Hayekianism, and it is a difference which his own career of life-long learning reflects. What particular policy position Hayek holds at any point in time is not, in my opinion, as the general argumentative style that he pursues in making his case. It is often the case, I would argue, that Hayek's argumentative style is more open to imaginative exploration in the policy sciences than Hayek himself was willing to go. In short, Hayekianism is much more radical than Hayek himself was prepared to go.
This fact in Hayek studies if recognized, would move us beyond what I consider fruitless litmus tests of whether Hayek was a social democratic or a classical liberal. Such studies done by Hans Hoppe and Walter Block decades ago do not contribute to understanding Hayek's ideas, though they may identify a certain lack of imagination in Hayek the man. The corrective to that lack of imagination is the reality that Hayek was constantly learning throughout his career and finding new implications of his own thought. Think about his evolution with respect of monetary policy from Monetary Nationalism to The Constitution of Liberty to The Denationalization of Money. Each step of that long path of radicalization, Hayek the man gave way to Hayekian ideas.
The next point that should be remembered is that at the time Hayek grew up intellectually, rights based arguments were employed more on the left than as a defense of individual rights. Rather than pursue a natural rights defense of liberalism, Hayek developed a "rule utilitarian" argument, and a non-rationalistic defense of liberalism at that. (see p. 6) But as Hayek says, if we want to convince people who do not share our moral suppositions, then we must not simply take those moral suppositions for granted. "We must show that liberty is not merely one particular value but that it is the source and condition of most moral values."
Hayek translates that intellectual task into a quest to find the right framework which provides individuals with the widest scope to discover that which is in their interest to discover. To discover not only the most effective means to obtain given ends, but to discover what ends they believe are most valuable to pursue. "Liberty," Hayek argues, "is essential in order to leave room for the unforeseeable and unpredictable." (p. 29) The progress of civilization, he further argues, depends critically on the opportunity for fortuitous accidents to happen.
The Constitution of Liberty then lays out the case for general rules (the rule of law) as opposed to privileges provided through the law, and attempts to consistently and persistently apply the generality condition to questions of public policy. Hayek seeks a consistency between the general framework of rules and the public policies chosen within the framework to address questions from employment to education, with monetary and fiscal policy in-between. Many of the students were not persuaded by Hayek's arguments. But again, I wonder how much of this is caught up in the difference between Hayek and Hayekianism.
What do you make of the Hayekian defense of liberty based on our human ignorance?