Liberalism and the Justice of Limits
In volume two of Hayek’s Law, Legislation, and Liberty trilogy, provocatively entitled The Mirage of Social Justice, the author pronounces the popular notion of “social justice” a sham, a “superstition,” nothing more than a “hollow incantation.”1 Hayek goes on to declare “social justice” to be “empty and meaningless,”2 dismissing it as “a universally used expression which to many people embodies a quasi-religious belief.”3 In Hayek’s judgment, the term “social justice” has “no content whatsoever,” and its continued invocation must be regarded as “either thoughtless or fraudulent.”4 Hayek believes that the popularity of the idea of “social justice” rests on the mistaken assumption that a society is capable of exercising the kind of agency which can be properly attributed only to individuals. According to Hayek, justice only may be “predicated about the intended results of human action but not about circumstances which have not deliberately been brought about by men.”5 Just as it would be absurd, for example, to speak of the justice of the laws of nature, given that gravity is neither just nor unjust but simply is, similarly it is nonsensical to speak of a just or an unjust society. In Hayek’s view, talk of social justice only makes sense in the context of a command society in which some kind of “directing authority” seeks to realize particular ends. But in a free society—one in which the government is constrained to act through general, abstract rules, it is inappropriate to speak of “social justice” because there is no directing authority, only autonomous individuals pursuing their own aims within a general framework of rules.