college: Harvard Law Students Confront Hayek’s Critique of “Social Justice”

Final Report to the Office of Public Interest Advising and Program on the Legal Profession at Harvard University:

.. in Week 6, we read a chapter by Friedrich Hayek in which he presents a free market critique of the concept of “social” justice. Discussion for that week began with participants elaborating on their written critiques of Hayek’s ideas,2 particularly his claim that the notion of “social justice” is amorphous and untenable. Instead of allowing individuals to rant unproductively, the student leader urged Fellows to situate their concerns within the specific passages of the text. Following this textual discussion, we asked participants to take a few minutes to talk in smaller groups about their organizations’ definitions of “social justice.” For many, the results of these small group discussions were surprising. Some discovered that their organizations did not have clear conceptions of social justice, or that a concept was never expressly articulated. Others found that, while there were well-formed ideas of social justice in their organizations, they were not comfortable with how uncritically those ideas were absorbed and propagated, or with how narrowly the idea of social justice was defined. After these reflections, a number of the Fellows began to take Hayek’s criticisms of “social justice” more seriously, resulting in a sharper and more nuanced discussion of the text. As one Fellow commented later: “Our discussion on the definition of social justice was a perfect example of how we can bring theory to bear on our work. This involved engaging the reader, thinking about an issue and then discussing it in the context of what we were doing everyday.”

2 The written responses that Fellows submitted prior to the session were quite negative, which was not surprising given the political orientation of most members of the group. As one Fellow wrote, “This Hayek reading really got my goat!”

2 comments to college: Harvard Law Students Confront Hayek’s Critique of “Social Justice”

  • It’s truly amazing how “original” criticism like Hayek’s can seem to people when timeless wisdom like this gets lost for several generations, only to reappear in a morally-relativistic morass like a flash of lightning on a dark horizon.

    Bravo to Hayek!

  • Roger McKinney

    This is really funny! Hayek was so far ahead of his time that most of us may never catch up with him.

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The real leaders among the reactionary social philosophers are of course all the socialists. — F. A. Hayek

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