Hayek on Responsibility for One’s Fate

Maybe you “didn’t build that” entirely on your own, but if you act as if you did, you probably will build more.

It is often contended that the belief that a person is solely responsible for his own fate is held only by the successful. This in itself is not so unacceptable as its underlying suggestion, which is that people hold this belief because they have been successful. I, for one, am inclined to think that the connection is the other way round and that people often are successful because they hold this belief. Though a man’s conviction that all he achieves is due solely to his exertions, skill, and intelligence may be largely false, it is apt to have the most beneficial effects on his energy and circumspection. And if the smug pride of the successful is often intolerable and offensive, the belief that success depends wholly on him is probably the pragmatically most effective incentive to successful action; whereas the more a man indulges in the propensity to blame others or circumstances for his failures, the more disgruntled and ineffective he tends to become.

This is from Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, 1960, Chapter 5, “Responsibility and Freedom.” It’s one of my favorite passages.

A related one is my justification for cheerfulness and optimism. Both John Stossel and Robert Higgs have asked me why I’m so cheery and optimistic. Part of my answer is that it helps me get out of bed every morning and motivates me to work toward my personal and political goals. My optimism probably is not entirely justified. But it motivates me and probably helps me make the world a slightly better place.

Additional note: This is the other part of my answer to John Stossel. It doesn’t relate directly to the Hayek point though.

HT2 Dan Klein.

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