… is from page 63 of one of F.A. Hayek’s most brilliant public lectures, his December 1945 Finlay Lecture delivered at University College, Dublin; it’s titled “Individualism: True and False”; I quote not from the version linked here but, rather, from the version that appears as the “Prelude” to Hayek’s Studies on the Abuse and Decline of Reason, Bruce Caldwell, ed. (2010), which is volume 13 of the Collected Works of F.A. Hayek (footnote deleted; link added):
It is a serious confusion thus to speak of principle when all that is meant is that no principle but only expediency should rule; when everything depends on what authority decrees to be ‘the interests of society’. Principles are a means to prevent clashes between conflicting aims and not a set of fixed ends. Our submission to general principles is necessary because we cannot be guided in our practical action by full knowledge and evaluation of all the consequences. So long as men are not omniscient, the only way in which freedom can be given to the individual is by such general rules to delimit the sphere in which the decision is his. There can be no freedom if the government is not limited to particular kinds of action but can use its powers in any ways which serve particular ends. As Lord Acton pointed out long ago: “Whenever a single definite object is made the supreme end of the State, be it the advantage of a class, the safety or the power of the country, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or the support of any speculative idea, the State becomes for the time inevitably absolute”.