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Rehabilitating Self-Help: Why Hayek Was Wrong about Samuel Smiles

By Roger Donway

In 1976, Friedrich Hayek effectively read Samuel Smiles out of the classical-liberal movement. In The Mirage of Social Justice, Hayek said that the work of Samuel Smiles (1812-1904) constitutes a snare and a delusion for pro-capitalists. Smiles's defense of free enterprise, Hayek lamented, seemed to be "the only defence of it which is understood by the general public."1 And this prominence of Smiles, Hayek warned, "bodes ill for the market order." Self-Help, Smiles's internationally famous 1859 book, had praised capitalism as a system inherently conducive to honest advancement in business. But such a defense, Hayek lectured classical liberals, was merely a pro-capitalist version of the "social justice" illusion. See the EconTalk podcast episode Deirdre McCloskey on Capitalism and the Bourgeois Virtues. Thereafter, Smiles appears to have lost favor among classical liberal economists. For example, Smiles is not among the 132 biographical entries in the Cato Institute's Ency...

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