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Friday, November 1, 1985

Book Review: Hayek: His Contribution to the Political and Economic Thought of Our Time by Eamonn Butler


Universe Books, 381 Park Ave. S., New York, NY 10016), 1985 • 168 pages • $7.95 paper; $15.00 cloth

What has given socialism so strong a grip on the minds of successive generations is that it was developed, by Karl Marx, into so systematic and inspiring a body of ideas that it could withstand the refutation of numerous of its tenets. The ideology of freedom, if it is to reclaim the confidence and imagination of our brightest minds, must be developed into a body .of ideas equally comprehensive and exciting.

This has been the achievement of Professor Friedrich A. von Hayek, one of the most illustrious figures active in the social sciences today and one of the most prestigious names associated with the freedom movement. During many of his most productive years, his work was too far ahead of its time to be given the attention it so richly deserves. As academia has begun to catch up, how ever, Dr. Hayek has come into his own, as witness the outpouring of literature inspired by his seminal works, and the numerous honors which he has achieved (most conspicuous of which is the 1974 Nobel Prize for Economics, which he shared with Dr. Gunnar Myrdal).

One of the most notable contributions to the constantly expanding Hayek literature, is Eamonn Butler’s slim introductory volume, only recently released in the United States. Although other works, such as philosopher John Gray’s latest book, delve far more deeply into Hayek’s work and contain more profound and original insights, Butler’s contribution may become the definitive first source and introduction to Hayek’s system.

It is in one sense difficult to recommend any introduction to Hayek’s work, since the primary source material is itself beautifully written and presented with a simplicity wholly disproportionate to the depth of insight contained. The Road to Serfdom, for instance, was written for a popular audience and may be read without introduction or clarification. And even more detailed and advanced works, such as The Constitution of Liberty and Law, Legislation and Liberty, are written with clarity and legibility.

The value of a concise introduction, such as Mr. Butler’s, is that it presents, in one volume, the whole range of Hayek’s thought, conveying a sense of its scope and comprehensiveness, but emphasizing the inter-connectedness of works produced over a long span of years and the consistency of the system by which they are united. As Hayek has remarked, “a student of complex phenomena may long himself remain unaware of how his views of different problems hang together and perhaps never fully succeed in clearly stating the guiding ideas which led him in the treatment of particulars.”

This fear is surely less well-founded for him than for most social scientists, and one is clearly ira-pressed, by his work, with the suggestion that he is profoundly aware of the “guiding ideas” which lead him. Nevertheless, room is left, which Butler fills, for a concise, nontechnical synopsis. Here we have, telescoped and simplified for the new reader, both the guiding ideas and the particulars of Hayek’s systematic attempt to relay the intellectual foundations of the free society.