Friedrich Hayek: AN Unrepentant Old Whig

  • Sean Irving

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines how Friedrich Hayek's concern with free market action led him to adopt a neo-roman concept of liberty and it traces how this development informed his view of the relationship between government, democracy and the economy. For Hayek, liberalism that made freedom in economic life its core concern was the 'true' liberalism, and he distinguished this from a 'false' liberalism that advocated government action as a means of enabling 'self-development'. Influenced by Carl Schmitt, Hayek viewed the democratic process as encouraging false liberalism. Recognising the contested nature of liberalism, over the course of the 1940s and '50s he set out to decontest it: to win acceptance of his definition of the tradition. He sought to demonstrate the legitimacy of his true liberalism with reference to intellectual history and the work of Whig authors. It was in their work that Hayek came into contact with the neo-roman concept of liberty. Theirs however was a partial interpretation of Roman liberty. The generally privileged status of the Whig authors, combined with a genuine fear of government, resulted in a focus on the danger of public power, or imperium, to the exclusion of private power, or dominium. This complemented Hayek's own opposition to government economic activity. This thesis contends that arriving at a concept of liberty was the pivotal point in Hayek's intellectual career. From then on his work ceased to be defensive. Instead, despondent at the growing appeal of social justice in the 1960s and alarmed at union influence and inflation in the '70s, he actively promoted an alternative free market vision. This culminated in his intellectual emergency equipment: the 'denationalisation of money' and 'a model constitution'. Informed by his partial version of the neo-roman concept, he advocated a weak state and a curtailment of democratic power. Despite his strong focus on imperium there are points in Hayek's thought at which he recognises that private power can also pose a threat to free market action. This thesis concludes with the suggestion that integrating a more comprehensive version of the neo-roman concept of liberty into Hayek's thought results in a very different vision of the appropriate relationship between government, democracy and the economy to the one he developed.
Date of Award31 Dec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorStuart Jones (Supervisor) & Bertrand Taithe (Supervisor)


  • Liberalism
  • Neoliberalism
  • Republicanism
  • Hayek

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