The Limits of Spontaneous Order

McNamara, Peter. Claremont Review of Books. Spring 2005.


Friedrich Hayek was an influence on Ronald Reagan and a substantial influence on Margaret Thatcher, not to mention on a legion of lesser lights in the conservative and libertarian movements. In the Soviet Bloc he was an inspiration to the oppressed and, after the fall of Communism, a guide along the road from serfdom. Given this record, Hayek’s name should be better known. One might even think that his influence would have launched a conspiracy theory or two. Two intellectual biographies by Bruce Caldwell and Alan Ebenstein, both libertarians, bring a sympathetic ear to Hayek’s life and work.

Born in 1899 into comfortable circumstances in cosmopolitan and imperial Vienna, Hayek was a precocious if somewhat erratic learner, dabbling in many areas of science and literature. In all, his family, his city, and the young man himself fairly embodied the promise of the modern world. During World War I, Hayek spent a year in an artillery unit on the Italian front and, although his personal circumstances were little affected, he returned to a Vienna where the political and intellectual landscape had changed decisively. In some ways, explaining this social earthquake would be the theme of Hayek’s career.

Claremont Review of Books