Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

Learning liberty? The role of education in Hayek’s free economic order

Fritz Roland, University of Siegen

Friedrich Hayek is well known as a liberal thinker and proponent of a free economic order. The paper examines his take on education for protecting that order. Hayek’s outlook on the function of education rests on the conviction that it cannot be reduced to conveying of knowledge and skills, but that it also pertains – in the sense of a humanistic education – to the development of shared values and convictions, which promote social cohesion. Hayek is critical of conceptions that understand education solely in terms of its economic exploitability and links this notion to totalitarian regimes. In Hayekain terms, freedom must be much rather considered an ultimate goal and thus a benchmark for the arrangement of any educational system. Furthermore, for Hayek the upkeep of a free political order fundamentally rests on public opinion being supporting of this goal. Freedom cannot be realized in societies that do not adequately appreciate the presence thereof. With respect to this, a key figure in Hayek’s conception is the “man of independent means”, a financially and professionally independent individual that is free to devote his/her energies to tread new paths apart from gainful employment and can thus propose new solutions to social and economic problems. The fundament for a free society thus lies within an economically free population that does largely not necessarily depend on aid and financial assistance for survival. Furthermore, Hayek’s concept of “2nd-hand traders in ideas”, educational entrepreneurs that attempt to distribute new knowledge throughout society, helps us to understand the diffusion of ideas via public intellectuals and thus to correctly asses the power of ideas within the realm of education, demonstrating the limited influence of economists on the interpretation of their work. Hayek’s ideas thus help us to recognize the necessity to look beyond “economics proper” and to develop techniques of effectively communicating economic knowledge.

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Keywords: Austrian school; economic education; Friedrich Hayek; freedom; educational entrepreneurship

Paper file