I think the main interest of the third volume of Friedrich Hayek’s 1973-1978 trilogy Law, Legislation, and Liberty, titled The Political Order of a Free People, resides in its strong liberal critique of democracy as we know it. My review of this third volume is just out on Econlib. A few excerpts of my review (the quotes are of course from the book):

The first broad argument of the book is that democracy has diverged from its original ideal and degenerated into an unlimited and totalitarian democracy. Unlimited democratic power can be traced back to the decline of Athenian democracy at the end of the 5th century BC when, as Aristotle noticed, “the emancipated people became a tyrant.” In a similar way, the British Parliament became sovereign, that is, theoretically omnipotent, in 1766, when it “explicitly rejected the idea that in its particular decisions it was bound to observe any general rules not of its own making.”

Liberal democracy originally referred simply to “a method of procedure for determining government decisions” or, more practically, for getting rid of governments without bloodshed. Democracy was a protection against tyranny. It is an error to view democracy not as “a procedure for arriving at agreement on common action,” but instead “to give it a substantive content prescribing what the aim of those activities ought to be.”

The current, unlimited democracy leads to rent-seeking (competition for government privileges), the triumph of special interest groups, and legal corruption. The cause is that a government with unlimited powers “cannot refuse to exercise them,” so everybody will rush to the public trough.

I previously reviewed on Econlib the two previous volumes, respectively Rules and Order, and The Mirage of Social Justice. As the reader of my reviews will realize, I try to provide a summary of Hayek’s theory, but I also draw a few parallels with other theories, and raise some questions or doubts.

For those who are not already familiar with Hayek’s thought, I would recommend reading my reviews in the same order as the books.