BOOK REVIEW / A prophet in our own country: Hayek on Hayek: An Autobiographical Dialogue, ed Stephen Kresge & Leif Wenar: Routledge, pounds 19.99

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
UNLIKE many of his followers, the Nobel Prize-winner F A Hayek has a claim to be taken seriously even by those who disagree with his views. A strong defender of the values of classical liberalism - the free market, the dignity of the individual, civil liberties and limited government under the rule of law - and a prescient critic of the socialist orthodoxies of his age.

In economics Hayek argued that the market should be thought of not as a field of competition but a mechanism for the efficient distribution of economic knowledge. In The Road to Serfdom, his best-known work, published 50 years ago, he challenged the then fashionable view that Fascism was the logical culmination of capitalism and that socialism was inevitable. Both Orwell and Keynes - hardly conservatives - admired the book.

This semi-autobiography, assembled from Hayek's own writings, charts both the life and the thought. Born in 1899 to a prominent Austrian family, he was lucky to attend Vienna University when it was a place of extraordinary intellectual ferment: 'The contrast between the University as I knew it and the present is such that I avoid going to Vienna now,' he wrote. A cousin of Wittgenstein, a student of the positivist philosopher Moritz Schlick, a protege of the free-market economist Von Mises and later a close friend of Karl Popper, he was part of the great Viennese reaction against traditional metaphysics, Marxism and psychoanalysis. In 1931, he accepted a visiting professorship at the London School of Economics and stayed for 20 years.

The Road to Serfdom was to have its biggest impact in the United States, yet it was written principally as a warning to the British that the planned economy being advocated by self-styled 'progressives' would lead to the extinction of the liberal values that the British had pioneered.

Though Keynes and Hayek often clashed on economics in the Thirties, Hayek never wrote a critique of the one work that really mattered, The General Theory of 1936. By 1950, believing that he had missed his chance, and with Keynesianism ascendant, he moved first to Chicago and then to Freiburg, where he remained a professor until his retirement in 1967.