The effective limitation of power is the most important problem of social order

Research Paper (undergraduate) 2010 13 Pages

Politics - Political Theory and the History of Ideas Journal





Social Order

Problem of Unlimited Power in relation to social order

Expansion of Power

Limiting Power so that the spontaneous order prevails
Deprivation of power
Limits through the constitution
Limits through the control of revenue
Limit through functions not class
Limits via external checks - Makeweights
Limit through law
Limit through principle




Jouvenel (1948) – On Power, (pg. 316) quoted Motesquieu “All history shows that every man who has authority is led to abuse it; he does not stop until he comes up against limitations”.


Hayek (1982) – Law, Legislation, Liberty Volume 1, Rules and Order quoted Adam Smith “The man of system…..seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chessboard. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chessboard have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chessboard of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, ad is very likely to be happy and successful If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably and human society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.


Unlimited power has reared its ugly head from the times of monarchy right up to the current times of prevailing democracy. Democracy has been the funnel through which there is the supposed transfer of power in one man to those of the people. However, esteemed writers such as Hayek, Hoppe, Jouvenel and Rothbard in some respects have all referred to “abuse of the state” or “failure of democracy” as relating to the unbridled powers of the rulers (the government) over the ruled (people).


One of the aspects of the limitation of power by government is the arrogation unto itself of that same power which it must use to administer onto others but which in itself is a “self-governing-self” situation. Hoppe (2001) quotes Mises view of democracy was “self-determination, self-government, self-rule” not majoritarian rule or “compulsory democracy” under the state.

Governments are the ones who administer or manage social order and are the same ones who must arrogate unto themselves the power to do so. This situation creates a dual role, where under general ethical and moral codes of conduct tend to point towards a need for the separation of duties to be effectively administered in the name of equality and fairness but for which there is no immediate apparent solution. This paper will seek to explain why this is a problem for social order using some of the arguments posed mainly by Hayek and delve further into some solution-oriented discussion around measures that can be used to curb or limit this unbridled power. In order to set the basis for this explanation the paper will also define power and social order from Hayek’s perspective.

Finally, this paper will analyze and synthesize some of the scholarly thought and philosophical undertakings and arguments mainly from Hayek (1982) in understanding how “the effective limitation of power is the most important problem of social order”.

Social Order

Hayek (1982) explains the concept of order and relates this back to “social order”. Hayek (1982) explains that there are two sources of order the one that is made and the other that is grown. “Order is an indispensable concept for the discussion of all complex phenomena, in which it must largely play the role the concept of law plays in the analysis of simpler phenomena”.

Hayek (1982) surmises that “it is clear that every society must in this sense possess an order and that such order will often exist without having been deliberately created”. This is referred by Hayek (1982) as the “spontaneous” order. The made order or “artificial” order is one in which Hayek (1982) refers to as an “exogenous order or an arrangement.especially where we have to deal with a directed social order, as an organization”.

For the purposes of this paper it is sufficient to utilize just the outline arrived at above to distinguish the social order Hayek (1982) refers to that is threatened by unlimited power.

The spontaneous order that Hayek (1982) refers to is directly related to the fundamental principle of individual freedom when he says that “the only moral principle which has ever made the growth of an advanced civilization possible was the principle of individual freedom, which means that the individual is guided in his decisions by rules of just conduct and not by specific commands”.

This spontaneous order or social order as referred to by Hayek (1982) is the basis upon which effective limitation of power has been the most important problem. Power has essentially not been effectively limited which has resulted in the problems experienced currently in society and social life. Individual freedom has been usurped in many ways by the high-handedness of states and governments in legislative assemblies.

Hayek (1982) notes that Government is necessary for the formation of social order so that all individual rights can be protected “against all coercion and violence from others.” However when Government, via democratic means for example, it does not mean that they can’t get this power through any other means such as in a monarchy in the Middle East country like Qatar or Saudi Arabia, Hayek (1982) states that they, the government, claims the “monopoly of coercion and violence” and “becomes also the chief threat to individual freedom”. This is so as they have been able to assume the resources of the country in which they govern including military, security and national defense forces as well as local security personnel and institutions. Having this power as the single most important national entity, the government is now able to assume the monopoly to be able to subvert individual rights and liberties via the use of coercion simply because they control the security resources.

The rise of socialist movements has subverted individual freedom around which centuries of evolution of law has served to create a wall around for the protection of the individual and his right to life, liberty, security and property without it being infringed upon. As Hayek (1982) notes “Nobody with open eyes can any longer doubt that the danger to personal freedom comes chiefly from the left, not because of any particular ideals it pursues, but because the various socialist movements are the only large organized bodies which, for aims which appeal to many, want to impose upon society a preconceived design. This must lead to the extinction of all moral responsibility of the individual and has already progressively removed, one after the other, most of those safeguards of individual freedom which had been built up through centuries of the evolution of law”.

Problem of Unlimited Power in relation to social order

Both Hoppe (2001) and Rothbard (1973), by provision of reasoned arguments, succinctly illuminate the dangers of the state and the power-brokers called government. Jouvenel (1948) creates another perspective of power, in that it inhibits the individual who has been afforded that power and they tend to be consumed by it, what is sometimes termed, hubris or a complacency and arrogance of a leader.

Jouvenel’s (1948) views on limitations of power can be described as “To men familiar from childhood with Roman history and knowing it infinitely better than that of their own country, the idea of one authority checking another seemed natural enough. The difficulty consisted in finding an equivalent suitable for introduction into modern constitutions. It was perhaps neither practical nor prudent to introduce internal tensions into a Power which had been a unity for centuries. But Western society did, as history showed, offer the possibility of limiting Power by means not of an internal but of an external check.”(pp. 317)


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Title: The effective limitation of power is the most important problem of social order