Principles or Expediency?

“Principles or Expediency?” In Toward Liberty: Essays in Honor of Ludwig von Mises on the Occasion of his 90th Birthday, September 29, 1971. Sponsoring Committee F. A. von Hayek; F. A. Harper, Secretary. Menlo Park, California: Institute for Humane Studies, 1971, vol I, pp. 29–45.


“A condition of liberty in which all are allowed to use their own knowledge for their own purposes, restrained only by rules of just conduct of universal application, is likely to produce for them the best conditions for achieving their respective aims. Such a system is likely to be achieved and maintained only if all authority, including that of the majority of the people, is limited in the exercise of coercive power by general principles to which the community has committed itself. Individual freedom, wherever it has existed, has been largely the product of a prevailing respect for such principles which, however, have never been fully articulated in constitutional documents. Freedom has been preserved for prolonged periods because such principles, vaguely and dimly perceived, have governed public opinion. The institutions by which the countries of the Western World have attempted to protect individual freedom against progressive encroachment by government have always proved inadequate when transferred to conditions where such traditions did not prevail. And they have not provided sufficient protection against the effects of new desires which even among the peoples of the West now often loom larger than the older conceptions — conceptions that made possible the periods of freedom when these peoples gained their present positions.”

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