August von Hayek’s Thoughts on the Working of SocietyJune 27, 2021
Hayek argues that the institutions of social life and the economy are in fact the product of human action, not the product of human design and planning. The institutions that shape the society, as opposed to being the product of human design and planning; it arises entirely spontaneously as people come face to face and exchange.
In his writings, Hayek points to a widespread but incorrect view of the way social institutions work. Simply put, this is the idea that since man himself creates the institutions of society and civilization (such as laws, moral codes, and social institutions), he should be able to change them as he wishes to meet his desires and aspirations.
(Most) social rules, moral codes, customs, and laws work just like that, prohibiting certain acts without touching a very broad set of reasonable behaviors. As for common purposes, as seen in the example of the path, there is no need for common purposes for a beneficial result to occur.(1)
The problem is that the relationship between individual rules and the resulting general order is so complex and inextricable that we cannot predict which set of rules will work and which will not.
It is of course possible for us to build social organizations that operate according to rules of our own choosing, but they must necessarily be limited in scope and scale.
We are not smart enough to know in advance what new ideas and arrangements will take place in the future.
Since no mind can explain and control anything more complex than itself, a centrally administered society is under the threat of a certain upper limit in complexity.
Democratic Foundation of Institutions
Hayek argues that the view that institutions are created by people, and therefore they can be changed, is based on a profound misunderstanding of the real foundations of social life and institutions, and that rebuilding society would be a huge mistake in this respect.
While social institutions appear to be built, they are not pre-planned or invented. The formation of a path along a field is another example of how an individual act can have beneficial but unplanned consequences. Therefore, although the motives of individuals are completely selfish, these motives still serve to create a situation that appears as a cooperative. The relationship between individual behavior and the social pattern it creates is therefore not a simple one at all.
In this framework, before attempting to rationally reshape society, it is necessary to grasp its functioning.
The Importance of Individual Freedom
By the concept of freedom Hayek refers to the situation in which one is not subject to the arbitrary rule of another. The liberal or free society Hayek aims at is one in which the subordination of individuals to the will of others and the use of force are minimized.(2)
The abolition of individual liberty and the organization of society according to a central plan may promise some benefits, but their disastrous consequences are more credible.
The aim of freedom is not predictable, predictable developments, but new and unexpected developments. Hayek believes that any incomplete defense of freedom will expose the very foundations of freedom to attack.
The coercive power necessary for a free society is not the power to make the people behave in a certain way, but the power to prevent citizens from breaking the rules and to prevent them from attempting such acts. People are free in rule-guided secrets of behavior, and only those who break the rules are subject to coercion.
Legal Framework of a Free Society
A free society is not commanded by those in power, but relies on its members’ acceptance of general rules of conduct and their prevailing convictions as to what actions are just or unjust. Hayek states that the law in its true sense arises from this set of general rules. Because in this sense, the law is about the determination and discovery of the rules of fair behavior, not the orders aimed at the government administration.(3)
As societies develop and rely less on orders and more on general rules, this judicial function of the chief or primary authority will increase. Disputes will arise and more and more judicial decisions will need to be established. An attempt to justify and justify such judicial decisions will lead to an attempt to put the rules in words. Thus, while in the past the rules were all about being obvious and known, now people are trying to express exactly what the rules really are.
The judge has to try to establish what the rules are and, when these rules are insufficient, to modify our thinking about them. The judge cannot hold and present new rules, because he has no way of saying whether they will be destructive to the general order. The government itself is the general rule.