Law, Legislation and Liberty

Francois-Rene Rideau
Mon, 14 Feb 2000 05:38:00 +0100

Dear cybernethicians,

   I'm currently reading "Law, Legislation and Liberty", by F.A.Hayek,
and I'm quite happily surprised by what I knew was a good book, but is
actually much better than that.

   I knew Hayek for having read "The Road to Serfdom", the book that
dispelled my socialist illusions, and then "The Fatal Conceit", a nice
case against socialism that intrigued me even more by what it didn't say
than it convinced me by what it said. Meanwhile, I learnt that Hayek was
a Nobel Prize winner, which only made my curiosity even more acute.

   In LLL, Hayek shows that his profound thinking can do much more than
just dispell myths (which he still does excellently): he builds the very
theory of liberty, based on what we may now recognize as cybernetical
arguments; and indeed, he reckons the term, although he traces the
intellectual history behind it centuries before the term was coined,
or the concept even formed. All in all, this book is maybe THE first
(both in time and in importance) Great Book about cybernethics, since
its arguments are definitely cybernetical, and its purpose is definitely
ethical. I have realized a few years ago how (classical) liberalism was
actually a cybernetical theory, but was still happily surprised that this
insight had been not only dimly felt, but deeply understood and thoroughly
developed, by a top-notch (classical) liberal economist decades ago (the
first volume was originally written back in the late 1960's). To
illustrate the previous comment, let me excerpt a short paragraph of this
long but never boring book (at least to me, at least, up to the point
where I read the book):

	In an external environment which constantly changes and in which
	consequently some individuals will always be discovering new
	facts, and where we want them to make use of this new knowledge,
	it is clearly impossible to protect all expectations. It would
	decrease rather than increase certainty if the individuals were
	prevented from adjusting their plans of action to the new facts
	whenever they became known to them. In fact, many of our
	expectations can be fulfilled only because others constantly alter
	their plans in the light of new knowledge. If all our expectations
	concerning the actions of particular other persons were protected,
	all those adjustments to which we owe it that in constantly
	changing circumstances someboy can provide for us what we expect
	would be prevented. Which expectations ought to be protected must
	therefore depend on how we can maximize the fulfilment of
	expectations as a whole.
		-- F.A. Hayek, "Law, Legislation and Liberty", I.4., p.103

Even to those who don't have time to read the whole thing, I recommend
the first chapter, that is a constitutes one of the nicest texts ever
on the use of reason, its power and its limits.

As usual, his style is very readable: unlike your usual social science crook,
he never unnecessarily uses complex technical vocabulary, and when he has
to use a few words whose meaning would be unclear to the reader at large,
he takes time to explain in detail the meaning of the word he uses, and
the meanings he does not use. He gives enough examples and clarifications
to be clearly understood, yet stays abstract and concise enough so as never
to be boring. A lot of scholarly notes are inserted at the end of each volume,
showing the enormous amount of research that was invested in building this
monument, that shows that you can _both_ develop strongly argumented ideas
and provide solid information on the history of ideas.

At first, a reader may feel irritated by someone who speaks with such a
tone of blatant obviousness that he may seem arrogant; but that is only
until the reader realizes that indeed these ideas are obvious to a man who
has worked them out so long and so much, as they will become to the reader
when he has thought about it. The fact that Hayek was during his whole
life opposed with dogmatic contradiction from the vast majority of the
public explains why he doesn't care about issueing excuses and cautious
style. On the other hand, readers familiar of discussions on electronic
media will appreciate the frankness of Hayek and his straight-to-the-point

All in all, a humbling book that I recommend to all those who ever wonder
about the meaning of the word "liberty". A Great Classic. The kind you
wish not to have read yet so as to be able to enjoy reading it for the
first time. Yet the kind you enjoy re-reading once in a while.

PS: if reading Bastiat made some effect on you, but you weren't satisfied
by the voluntarily limited object of his pamphlets, and the too little he
could expose of the justifications behind the principles he invokes, then
the scholarly works of Hayek may only challenge and please you. Hayek is
definitely more abstract, and his principles are definitely better

[ François-René ÐVB Rideau | Reflection&Cybernethics | ]
[  TUNES project for a Free Reflective Computing System  |  ]
Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind,
as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.
	-- G.K. Chesterton