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The Fatal Conceit

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The Fatal Conceit

The Fatal Conceit
Author Friedrich Hayek
Country United States
Language English
Series The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek
Subject Politics, Economics
Publisher University of Chicago Press (US), Routledge Press (UK)
Publication date
Pages 194
OCLC 24815557

The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism is a non-fiction book written by the economist and political philosopher Friedrich Hayek and edited by William Warren Bartley.

The title of the book is a reference to a passage from Adam Smith, in his Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Main thesis and arguments

The book attempts to conclusively refute all forms of Socialism by demonstrating that socialist theories are not only logically incorrect but that the premises they use to form their arguments are incorrect as well. To Hayek, the birth of civilization is due to the start of societal traditions placing importance on private property leading to expansion, trade, and eventually the modern capitalist system, also known as the extended order.[1] Hayek argues that this demonstrates a key flaw within socialist thought, which holds that only that which is purposefully designed can be most-efficient. Moreover, statist ("socialist" is Hayek's terminology) economies cannot be efficient because of the dispersed knowledge required in a modern economy. Additionally, since modern civilization and all of its customs and traditions naturally led to the current order and are needed for its continuance, any fundamental change to the system that tries to control it is doomed to fail since it would be impossible or unsustainable in modern civilization. Price signals are the only means of enabling each economic decision maker to communicate tacit knowledge or dispersed knowledge to each other, in order to solve the economic calculation problem.


  • Introduction: Was Socialism a Mistake?
  • Chapters:
  1. Between Instinct and Reason
  2. The Origins of Liberty, Property and Justice
  3. The Evolution of the Market: Trade and Civilisation
  4. The Revolt of Instinct and Reason
  5. The Fatal Conceit
  6. The Mysterious World of Trade and Money
  7. Our Poisoned Language
  8. The Extended Order and Population Growth
  9. Religion and the Guardians of Tradition
  • Appendices:
A. 'Natural' vs. 'Artificial'
B. The Complexity of Problems of Human Interaction
C. Time and the Emergence and Replication of Structures
D. Alienation, Dropouts, and the Claims of Parasites
E. Play, the School of Rules
F. Remarks on the Economics and Anthropology of Population
G. Superstition and the Preservation of Tradition


There is much scholarly debate on how much influence William Warren Bartley had on writing the book.[2] Officially, Bartley was the editor who was supposed to prepare the book for publication once Hayek fell ill in 1985; however, the inclusion of material from Bartley's philosophical point of view and citations that other people provided to Bartley[3] have led people to question how much of the book was written by Hayek and whether Hayek knew about the added material. Bruce Cadwell thinks that the evidence "clearly points towards a conclusion that the book was a product more of [Bartley's] pen than of Hayek's. ... Bartley may have written the book".[4]


It may be admitted that, so far as scientific knowledge is concerned, a body of suitably chosen experts may be in the best position to command all the best knowledge available... [Yet] scientific knowledge is not the sum of all knowledge... [A] little reflection will show that there is ... the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place. It is with respect to this that practically every individual has some advantage over all others in that he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made, but of which use can be made only if the decisions depending on it are left to him or are made with his active cooperation.

See also


  1. ^ Hayek, F.A. "The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism". The University of Chicago Press. 1991. Page 6.
  2. ^ Alan Ebenstein. "The Fatal Deceit".  
  3. ^ Friedman, Jeffrey (1998). "What's Wrong with Libertarianism?". Critical Review. Summer 1998: 463. 
  4. ^ Karl Popper, a Centenary Assessment Vol. 1: Life and Times, and Values in a World of Facts, p. 120
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