January 1, 2005

Knowledge, Economics, and Coordination

Understanding Hayek's Legal Theory
  • Christopher Coyne

    Associate Director, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
  • Peter J. Boettke

    Director, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
  • Scott Beaulier

    Academic Dean, College of Business at North Dakota State University
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Legal scholars and economists alike have been quite critical of F.A. Hayek’s legal theory. According to Richard Posner, Hayek’s legal theory is “formalist” and serves as a useless guide for legal scholars and judges. Alan Ebenstein claims that Hayek’s arguments in technical economics fail. Therefore, Hayek’s research program in economic science should be abandoned, but his program in social philosophy should be preserved. We argue that these criticisms are misplaced, and we contend that Hayek’s legal theory cannot be separated from his economic theory. To establish this point, we trace the evolution of Hayek’s thought from his earlier writings in technical economics to his later writings on legal theory. Both Posner and Ebenstein fail to appreciate the subtlety of Hayek’s legal theory because they understand Hayek’s work in law in isolation from his work in economics.

Read the article at NYU Law.