Discussion, Construction and Evolution: Mill, Buchanan and Hayek on the Constitutional Order
22 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2006
Date Written: December 20, 2005
There is little doubt that J. S. Mill was one of the greatest classical liberals of the nineteenth century. F. A. Hayek holds the same distinction for the twentieth century. It is, then, something of a puzzle that Hayek is so critical of Mill. In his conversation with James Buchanan, Hayek remarked that the "delusion" that democratic politics is sufficient to limit government authority began with the British utilitarians, including J. S. Mill. Mill's was a "false liberalism" that "always" tended towards "socialism or collectivism": "design theories necessarily lead to the conclusion that social processes can be made to serve human ends only if they are subjected to the control of individual human reason, and thus lead directly to socialism."
It is testimony to the power of Hayek's thought, and his command over the texts, that not only could he make a case, so implausible on its face, but his reading Mill out of the classical liberal tradition proved definitive in some circles. We should not forget that Hayek was also the editor of the celebrated "John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor: Their Correspondence and Subsequent Marriage."
This paper attempts to explain, first, the puzzle of why Hayek was so disenchanted with the economic liberalism of Mill. We link Hayek's criticism of Mill with Buchanan's criticism of Hayek, arguing that both disagreements turn on the role for discussion within the economic and political sphere. We identify the source of Buchanan's unhappiness with Hayek. Buchanan rightly supposed, we show, that Hayek's institutional Darwinism left little room for discussion within the liberal order. The question as Hayek posed it is whether there is role for discussion in "choice of law" the way there is role for discussion in the "choice of legislation." For Mill and Buchanan, the answer is yes; but for Hayek, the answer is no.
Keywords: J. S. Mill, F. A. Hayek, James Buchanan, discussion, construction, social evolution, Darwin, Adam Smith, law, legilstation, liberty
JEL Classification: B20, B31, K00, H00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation