Hayek's vicarious secularization of providential theology

Tim Christiaens*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Friedrich Hayek's defense of neoliberal free market capitalism hinges on the distinction between economies and catallaxies. The former are orders instituted via planning, whereas the latter are spontaneous competitive orders resulting from human action without human design. I argue that this distinction is based on an incomplete semantic history of "economy." By looking at the meaning of "oikonomia" in medieval providential theology as explained by Giorgio Agamben and Joseph Vogl, I argue how Hayek's science of catallactics is itself a secularization of providential theology. This exposes Hayek to three criticisms: (1) he unjustifiably neglects the possibility of tendencies toward spontaneous disorder in free markets, (2) he condemns the "losers" of neoliberal competition to being providential waste on the road to general prosperity, and (3) he imposes on people the duty to consent to a neoliberal order that hinders them from cultivating their inoperativity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-95
Number of pages25
JournalPhilosophy and Social Criticism
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Hayek
  • neoliberalism
  • Agamben
  • economic theology
  • governmentality


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