Elgar Companion to Hayekian Economics
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Elgar Companion to Hayekian Economics

Edited by Roger W. Garrison and Norman Barry

The Elgar Companion to Hayekian Economics provides an in-depth treatment of Friedrich August von Hayek’s economic thought from his technical economics of the 1920s and 1930s to his broader views on the spontaneous order of a free society. Taken together, the chapters show evidence both of continuity of thought and of significant changes in focus.
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Chapter 10: Hayek and spontaneous order

Craig Smith


When one discusses political philosophy with an informed, but non-expert, layperson, it is usual to find that they associate particular thinkers with a key term or concept that they have picked up from their general reading. Mention Rawls and the ‘veil of ignorance’ may be referenced; cite Nozick and something about ‘Wilt Chamberlain’ will likely be mumbled back; mention Hayek and there is a good chance that the phrase ‘spontaneous order’ will pop up. Hayek’s association with the idea of spontaneous order is well deserved as he is the most significant theoretical exponent of the idea in modern times. The aim of this chapter is to examine the central role that the idea of spontaneous order plays in shaping Hayek’s theoretical approach to social science and social theory in general. Hayek once stated that, during his career, he had made one discovery (‘the approach of the utilization of dispersed knowledge’) and two inventions (the ‘denationalization of money’ and his ‘system of democracy’) (Caldwell, 2004, p. 206). However, on examining the body of his work, it becomes clear that the guiding concepts behind his various research projects and his inventions and discovery are the ‘twin ideas of evolution and the spontaneous formation of order’ (Hayek, [1978] 1984a, p. 177). So pervasive is the idea of spontaneous order in Hayek’s work, and so profitably did he explore its implications, that it is no exaggeration to say that it forms the spine of his life’s work.

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