Hamowy on Hayek and the English common law

I’ve got a tribute at Cato at Liberty to the great libertarian scholar Ronald Hamowy, who specialized in intellectual history and in particular the Scottish Enlightenment of David Hume, Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson. Hamowy was a friendly but nonetheless acute critic of Friedrich Hayek, and I quote Daniel Klein’s summary of Hamowy’s bracing critique of Hayek on English common law as spontaneous order:

The final critical essay concerns Hayek’s tale of the common law. Hayek’s idea of spontaneous order is most prominently applied to the complex workings of the economy — “the incredible bread machine” — but also finds application in the evolution of customs, language, law, and science. Hayek was keen to show the viability of capturing a dynamic system of law under the conceptual umbrella of spontaneous order. In making his case, he portrayed the English common law as such a system. Hamowy looks hard at the history and character of English common law, and concludes that Hayek’s historic tale fails on two counts: first, its substance was not all that libertarian, and second, its evolution was not all that spontaneous. Hamowy advises us against citing the English common law as an example of spontaneous-order law.

More: David Boaz.

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