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As with Robert Nozick (and with John Locke before them), justice is for Hayek a matter of process rather than results.
Law, Legislation, and Liberty was intended as a sequel to The Constitution of Liberty, in that Hayek wrote it to "fill in the gaps" that he felt existed in his argument in that earlier work. He wrote and published Law, Legislation, and Liberty on and off over a time-span of approximately 15 years (early-mid 1960 to mid-late 1970s), which were in part interrupted by ill health. Hayek admits that the result is at times repetitive and lacking in organization. The reason why he did not go through the effort of redoing the entire work upon completion is because he thought he might at that rate never finish it (he was 80 years old by the time volume 3 was published).
There are still plenty of great insights, which Hayek argues persuasively and in doing so manages to portray as common sense. There are also plenty of flashes of that true rhetorical brilliance characteristic of Hayek that can make his writings such a feast to the ear and mind. On the downside, however, these rhetorical gems are hidden in a large volume of pages that at times do indeed seem tedious, repetitive, and unorganized, unlike with The Constitution of Liberty, where they literally seem to jump off the page at you. All in all, read The Constitution of Liberty first, as Hayek himself suggests. And if you're not up for reading the approximately 500 pages that make up the complete Law, Legislation, and Liberty, two chapters (30 pages total) in the book The Essence of Hayek make for a comprehensive summary exposition of the ideas in the entire trilogy ("Principles of a Liberal Social Order", ch. 20 in The Essence of Hayek, covers vols. 1-2, and "Whither Democracy?", ch. 19, covers vol. 3).
In this second volume of Law, Liberty, and Legislation Hayek examines the mirage of social justice. How did socialist egalitarian convictions gain popularity in the modern world? Can socialism live up to its romanticized ideals? The idea of social justice espoused by the modern left is, as Hayek put it, a Mirage. The concept of social justice has no meaning in a free and prosperous society, and no society can be free and prosperous if it is planned on the basis of some notion of social justice.
The Law Liberty and Legislation trilogy was intended to complete the case that Hayek made for classical liberalism in The Constitution of Liberty. This trilogy combines with the Constitution of Liberty to make a powerful case for strictly limited government and free enterprise. You should read The Constitution of Liberty before starting this trilogy, but be sure to read both. Hayek's analysis of spontaneous order and government planning is highly relevant. The collapse of the USSR might have made it seem that proponents of free social order had won. But it is all too obvious that the drive for "social justice" is gaining ground. Read Hayek along with Nozick and Buchanan. These ideas are vitally important.
Hayek's work should be found in both the classroom and on the coffee table.
Perhaps surprisingly (to some of Hayek's supporters, at least), he says of John Rawls' A Theory of Justice that "the differences between us seemed more verbal than substantial," and that "we agree on what is to me the essential point. Indeed.. it appears to me that Rawls has been widely misunderstood on this central issue." (Pg. xiii)
He says that in a spontaneous order there can be "no rules which determine what anyone's position ought to be." For Hayek, "the particulars of a spontaneous order cannot be just or unjust." The concepts of "social" or "distributive" justice are "meaningless within a spontaneous order," and have meaning only within an organization. (Pg. 33)
He says that historically, it was the pursuit of justice that created the system of generic rules which in turn became the foundation and preserver of the developing spontaneous order. (Pg. 54) But he adds, "It has of course to be admitted that the manner in which the benefits and burdens are apportioned by the market mechanism would in many instances have to be regarded as very unjust IF it were the result of a deliberate allocation to particular people." (Pg. 64) It is also not to be denied that "not only the results but also the initial chances of different individuals are often very different." (Pg. 84)
Still, he suggests that the notion of "social justice" will ultimately be recognized as a "will-o'-the-wisp which has lured men to abandon many of the values which in the past have inspired the development of civilizations..." (Pg. 67) Equality of material position could only be achieved by a government with totalitarian powers. (Pg. 83)
He advises that our aim should be to have to be an order which will "increase everybody's chances as much as possible---not at every moment, but only 'on the whole' and in the long run." (Pg. 114-115) Nevertheless, he concedes that "In this sense freedom is inseparable from rewards which often have no connection with merit and are therefore felt to be unjust." (Pg. 120) He also admits that there may be a case in justice for correcting positions which have been "determined by earlier unjust acts or institutions." He cautions, however, that "unless such injustice is clear and recent, it will generally be impracticable to correct it." (Pg. 131)
This book will be of great interest to students of Hayek's later, non-economic works.
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