The Review of Austrian Economics, 15:1, 5–34, 2002.
2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Manufactured in The Netherlands.
F. A. Hayek: The Liberal as Communitarian*
C. R. M
Department of Economics, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15239
Abstract. At the heart of Friedrich A. Hayek’s social philosophy is a regard for the socially-constituted nature
of man: the individual is not taken to be asocial or pre-social, but rather it is recognized that society deﬁnes the
individual. The neglect of this aspect of Hayek’s work by both liberal and communitarian, as well as libertarian,
writers within political philosophy has led to his position being misrepresented, for Hayek’s brand of liberalism
is more akin to one variant of modern communitarianism than it is to the libertarian strain of liberal thought.
JEL classiﬁcation: B31, B53.
Friedrich August von Hayek (1899–1992) is generally regarded as one of the premier
advocates of liberalism in the twentieth century, and rightly so. He consistently throughout
his career championed the ideals of individualism and the moral requirement of a liberal
political and economic order. Yet at the heart of Hayek’s social philosophy is a regard for the
socially-constituted nature of man: the individual is not taken to be asocial or pre-social,
but rather it is recognized that society deﬁnes the individual. This is a point which is often
neglected in considerations of Hayek’s political and social philosophy. Fellow liberals may
acknowledge it, but focus attention on his individualist perspective; communitarians may
acknowledge it, but highlight the negative aspects of his liberalism.
It will be argued here that the positions of both liberal and communitarian, as well as
libertarian, writers within political philosophy present only a selective reading of Hayek.
Consider the communitarian argument. The caricatured liberal accepts the predicate of an
unconstituted self, for whom social obligation is secondary to personal rights. He rejects
holism and organicism in favor of atomism, positing as the basic unit of analysis an egoistic
individual situated outside his social milieu: there is a divergence of agency and structure.
Having thus characterized liberalism, communitarian writers center their attacks on the
insufﬁciency of the atomic postulate, and then proceed to question the justiﬁcation of the
social contract, the minimal state, and the central place of right and justice (distributive
and procedural) within the social order. They argue that liberal approaches to social order
This is an expanded version of a paper presented at the 26th annual meeting of the History of Economics
Society, held at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, 25–28 June 1999; the Seminar in Critical Realism
at Cambridge University, 8 November 1999; and the J. M. Kaplan Seminar in Political Economy at George Mason
University, 25 February 2000. I wish to thank Stephan Boehm, Peter Boettke, Susumu Egashira, Tony Lawson,
Mark Perlman, Mario Rizzo, Jochen Runde, Karen Vaughn, and participants in the session for comments on early
drafts. This essay is part of a larger project funded by a generous grant from the Earhart Foundation, Ann Arbor,
Present address: 309 McJunkin Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15239.