Today we celebrate the birthday of one the most important political and economic philosophers of the 20th century, Friedrich von Hayek. Born in Vienna, educated in Freiburg, Chicago and London, Hayek was one of the leading minds supporting the resurgence of classical liberalism. While Hayek’s work won him a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, the impact of his ideas and writings came to shape economic and policy debates far beyond college campuses. None of these impacts is more evident than Hayek’s influence on CPS founder and former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
To illustrate this, in the spring of 1975 – the period immediately following Thatcher’s election as head of the British Conservative Party – Hayek and Mrs Thatcher had a meeting in London. While the content of the meeting is still unclear, the influential nature of its results became evident in a meeting at the Conservative Research Department later that summer. The topic at hand that day was the need for a moderate Conservative political agenda. Although the speech being made by a fellow member had not finished, Mrs Thatcher decided she had heard enough. Thatcher reached into her bag, removing of a copy of Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty. “This,” she interjected, while holding up the book for all to see, “is what we believe.” Mrs Thatcher concluded by commandingly slamming the book down onto the table, punctuating her passion for the truths advocated within Hayek’s text.
Hayek’s ideas profoundly influenced the direction of British politics and economics for the decade in which Mrs Thatcher lead the British Conservative Party. A letter from Thatcher to Hayek in May 1979 displays the thoughtful admiration and gratitude the Prime Minister felt towards the advice she had received from the Professor:
“…I am very proud to have learnt so much from you over the past few years. I hope that some of those ideas will be put into practice by my government in the next few months. As one of your keenest supporters, I am determined that we should succeed. If we do so, your contribution to our ultimate victory will have been immense.”
Sir Keith Joseph echoed this sentiment in a letter to Hayek in the summer of 1975 in which he stated:
“I am touched that so outstanding a man as you should take the time to write me so encouragingly on reading the report of the Free Enterprise Luncheon…”
Consequently, it is not just the leadership of the Conservative party during this period that owes so much to the work Hayek. It is the innumerable lives of those lifted from poverty and political subjugation in an attempt to make the world a freer, more just community of individuals. The Centre for Policy Studies continues to this day because of the success of the philosophies of Hayek and others in disseminating the message of the free market and limited government.