Hayek, Ideas, and Economic History


  • Samuel DeCanio King’s College London, UK


This article examines the role of ideas, tradition, and economic history in the context of F. A. Hayek’s theory of social knowledge.  While Hayek often emphasized the beneficial consequences of unintended and spontaneous action, his accounts of the transmission of ideas within society identified what he believed were errors in intellectuals’ interpretations of economic history.  These errors were subsequently transmitted to the mass public and, by structuring common sense understandings of institutions’ consequences, influenced political debate and action as well.  Although Hayek believed the patterns associated with capitalism’s history were capable of understanding and historical explanation, his claims regarding the errors in historians’ understanding of economic growth indicate that the spontaneous orders that Hayek defended in the realm of economic action could, in the context of historical inquiry, generate and perpetuate patterns of error and myth.