What, if anything, is wrong with hayek’s model constitution?

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If politics is the art of the possible, political philosophy is the art of making politically possible the seemingly impossible. F. A. Hayek All political theories assume, of course, that most individuals are very ignorant. Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest. F. A. Hayek Friedrich von Hayek is often suspected of being at best an ambivalent friend of democracy. Some have gone further in their suspicions and thought him a more or less secret supporter of dictatorship (albeit a liberal one). Indeed, Hayek did explicitly claim in the Constitution of Liberty that ‘a democracy may well wield totalitarian powers, and it is conceivable that an authoritarian government may act on liberal principles.’ Infamously, he told a Chilean newspaper in 1981 that ‘personally, I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking in liberalism.’ Already in 1962 he had sent a copy of The Constitution of Liberty to Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar (once called by TIME magazine the ‘dean’ of European dictators and in fact the dictator who lasted the longest in twentieth-century Europe); in an accompanying note, Hayek expressed the hope that the book would assist Salazar ‘in his endeavour to design a constitution which is proof against the abuses of democracy’. Shocking words at first and perhaps also at second sight. However, such concerns about potential deformations and ‘abuses’ of democracy also need to be understood in historical context. Hayek was on one level merely articulating a liberal, self-consciously post-totalitarian sensibility that was widespread among Western political theorists in the 1950s and 1960s. Many accepted Jacob Talmon’s claim that democracy could take a totalitarian form (and that the first thinker who had espoused such a form of democracy had been Rousseau). Many also would have agreed with Hayek’s claim – typical of Cold War liberals – that democracy had at best an instrumental value: it was the only peaceful – and hence best – means of removing undesirable rulers, but it had no intrinsic worth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationLaw, Liberty and State
Subtitle of host publicationOakeshott, Hayek and Schmitt on the Rule of Law
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781316144930
ISBN (Print)9781107093386
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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