1,203 of 1,276 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2007
This new edition of the RTS is worth buying even if you already own an earlier edition. The editor has included important material on how this book was developed and interpreted.
As for the book itself, the Road to Serfdom explains the rise of totalitarianism in twentieth century Europe. Yet it also made a more general argument concerning the incompatibility of democracy and comprehensive central planning. Hayek argues that the pursuit of socialist ideals leads to totalitarianism. While socialist ideals seem noble to many, those who persist in realizing these ideals will find it necessary to adopt coercive methods that are incompatible with freedom. Thus socialists must choose between their egalitarian goals and the preservation of individual liberty.
Hayek describes how Europeans came to expect progress, and became impatient for faster progress. The liberal reforms of the 19th century delivered unprecedented economic progress. Much of this was directly due to scientific discovery. The role of free competition in promoting scientific discovery was less obvious. Europeans increasingly came to believe that scientific planning of society itself could accelerate greater progress.
Europeans also changed how they thought about equality and freedom. Insistence upon freedom from want displaced the yearning for freedom from coercion. Democracy came to be seen as a means of realizing an increasing number of social goals, rather than as a means of preserving freedom. To Hayek, these were dangerous errors. Democracy could only work effectively in areas where agreement upon ultimate ends could be attained with little difficulty. A democratic government could enforce general rules of conduct that applied to all equally (i.e. free speech and free association). Democracy can never produce agreement over policies that affect specific economic results. One always gains at the expense of others in such matters. Such Economic planning places impossible demands upon democracy. This is because pursuit of specific ends requires timely and decisive action. Democracies move too slowly to attain specific ends, so arbitrary powers of government will grow. A planned economy will ultimately require acceptance of dictatorship. This is a dire consequence, as it is the worst sort of tyrants who are most adept at wielding dictatorial powers.
Some might say that these arguments are unduly pessimistic. Hayek points to the examples of Hitler and Stalin to support his case. Of course, these are worst case scenarios. Have not England, Sweden, and the US adopted large welfare-regulatory states without such tyranny? This is a fair point, yet we should remember two things. First, Hayek claimed that centralized control of the economy would destroy freedom ultimately, but gradually. Second, Western nations have not yet gone as far in planning their economies as did Russia and Germany in the 1930's. The fact that we have yet realized the horrible results of Stalinism implies neither that were are safe from despotism in the future, nor that our present situation is entirely satisfactory. One can easily argue that we have already started on the wrong path. For instance, Hayek's chapter on `The End of Truth' applies to modern political correctness.
Hayek wrote this book not only to warn people about the limits of democracy and the incompatibility of planning and freedom. This was the start of his project concerning the abuse of reason. His warning is also about the tendency to overestimate the abilities of even the best and brightest individuals. Not even the best and brightest can comprehend modern societies. Socialists who favor comprehensive planning, and even modern liberals and conservatives who want to plan part of society, proceed on a false assumption concerning human reason. Ultimately, Hayek makes a strong case for limited constitutional government. To expect more of democracy than what Madison and Jefferson intended invites disaster.
The Road to Serfdom is a profound defense of commercial society and limited government. The RTS also is where Hayek started his 'abuse of reason' project. To fully appreciate Hayek's genius in the RTS, one should read his subsequent books in this project- The Constitution of Liberty and Law Liberty and Legislation V1-3.
The RTS has its critics, mainly on the left. Due to its insightful nature the Road to Serfdom has produced hysterical responses from the left. Leftists despise the RTS simply because it strikes at the core of both democratic-socialist or Marxist beliefs. Some serious scholars have attacked the RTS (i.e. Farrant and Levy) but their objections are misguided. The Road to Serfdom stands out as a true classic, as timeless as it is insightful. It offers insights that are relevant to our current problems with growing Federal spending and regulation. Read it completely and repeatedly.
426 of 472 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2000
I was introduced to Friedrich von Hayek through reading Thomas Sowell. And I decided to read this book because it was a highly recommended read in the Freedom's Nest Website Reading List.
As soon as I started reading this book, I developed a warm feeling toward the author. In his original introduction, Hayek started with: "When a professional student of social affairs writes a political book, his first duty is plainly to say so. This is a political book...." His candor and his confidence were so befitting with his great intellect.
Noting that Hayek was an Austrian, I was impressed by his mastery of the English language and I enjoyed his writing style. With mild language and in simple terms, Hayek made very sweeping predictions and patiently explained his reasoning with convincing arguments based on economic and human behavioral theories.
Hayek's thesis was that central economic planning will inevitably lead to governmental control of every facet of its citizen's life, and hence toward a totalitarian state. Hayek's other insightful observations: Nazism, Fascism and communism all have the same roots. In a totalitarian state, it is always the ruthless and the unsophisticated who ascend to the top. Extensive governmental control harms the society not just in delivering dismal economic results, but, more seriously, it produces a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people.
One must not forget that when Hayek wrote this book, his was very much a voice in the wilderness; he was ridiculed and denounced by his contemporaries. But his ideas stood the test of time! And blessedly, he lived to see that - to see first the building and eventually the fall of the Berlin Wall.
This little book was said to have had definitive influence on such giants as Churchill, Thatcher, Reagan and many others. Perhaps the book's influence was best attested to by its being banned in the USSR, China and many other totalitarian countries.
This book belongs on your book shelf.
456 of 517 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2008
Friedrich Hayek, the Nobel prize winning economist, wrote this brilliant classic as a critique of government intervention and manipulation in markets. I am neither an economist nor a political scientist, but I was led to this book after watching with horror the recent outrages that are consciously being inflicted on us by our elected officials, most recently the bailout and socialization of the two giant mortgage lenders, Freddie and Fannie. I couldn't remember that I ever received any share of the loot when those companies were making huge profits and their CEOs were earning tens of millions per year, but now I find that our elected officials have written a blank check in my name, the taxpayer, to bail out these companies' losses and stupidity, and then handed the check to a group of unelected officials (and, surprise, surprise, those two companies spend hundreds of millions on congressional lobbying). Privatize the gains, socialize the losses: sounds like a win-win situation for somebody.
This kind of disastrous socialism is exactly what Hayek critiques in devastating form in this book, specifically government control of the economy. Apparently, they say, this book has been very influential, but a layman could certainly never tell by looking around. Hayek was writing from the perspective of a central European who had recently witnessed first-hand the unfolding development of National Socialism (Nazism) in Germany, and he is warning that the exact same attitudes and policies that had been followed in Germany were uncritically being followed by the Allies, merely at a few years distance.
He begins by recollecting the ideals of old, classic liberalism, "the forgotten road". Of course, in Hayek's context, "liberal" means the true, historic liberalism of limited government, free markets, and private property, not "liberal" in the bastardized sense somehow hijacked by Leftists to mean unlimited government, socialized markets and massive forced wealth redistribution. He looks at the rise of collectivist thinking versus individual (it's all for the greater good); the problems of central planning in a democracy (someone in power makes the economic decisions for everybody else); the downfall of the Rule of Law (government is no longer bound by fixed rules announced beforehand but instead possesses arbitrary power limited only by its own discretion); the inextricable link between centralized economic planning and totalitarian regimes (if we're going to follow a plan, someone's got to force everyone to follow it); the problem of deciding how the society's production will be distributed; a chapter showing that "nothing is more fatal than the present fashion among intellectual leaders of extolling security at the expense of freedom" (Republicans apparently didn't get the memo); how in a socialized economy the worst individuals inevitably rise to the top (Really? Can it be? Obama and McCain?); the necessity of manipulating truth in a socialized society; and the fact that Nazism was a direct outgrowth of socialism and socialist ideology.
The relevance of the points enumerated above does not require comment. We are running madly down the road to serfdom, which is the road of socialism. Unfortunately for those of us who are being dragged along against our will, history is not neutral, and we will suffer the consequences of other peoples' decisions, just as the Jews in Germany did and the Russians in the Soviet Union did. Socialism has always led to poverty and oppression, and freedom, on the rare occasions it has been tried, has produced unparalleled prosperity. Hayek shows in detail why. We've decided to give socialism another try. God help us.
166 of 187 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2010
I read it at the University, here in Guatemala, where my University has a library that is called Ludwig Von Mises and the Auditorium's name is Friedrich Von Hayek.
Once you read this book, it is impossible not to believe in freedom and to know that freedom and big interventionist government are not compatible concepts.
The principles are so basic that you do not need to be an economist (I am not) to understand them. If people do not trust themselves to make decisions because "people are ignorant or greedy" then they will give someone else the power to decide for them (government) that is the road to serfdom. People will lose their freedom to decide which insurance, retirement plan or things to buy, which charity to help, these decisions will be made by powerful burocrats (that maybe who friends of someone in government) that will know what is best for you. Big taxes so government will decide better what do do with the money you earned.
I have seen my government follow all these steps that go to the road of serfdom and I have seen exactly the results Hayek points out, I have been seeing that happens for 20 years (since I read the book). The book is so logical that after reading, if you have common sense and do not have a burocratic position to defend, you will definitely become a libertarian.
170 of 192 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 2000
"The Road to Serfdom" is a classic for many reasons, but the chief among them is that nothing else so clearly and completely shows the degeneration of liberty inherent in the handing of arbitrary power to a bureaucracy.
Hayek wrote "The Road to Serfdom" in Britain in 1944. He wanted to examine Soviet Russia in comparison to wartime Britain; however, British authorities prohibited that approach due to the alliance of the time; and therefore, Hayek instead compared to Britain none other than National Socialist (i.e., Nazi) Germany. Nothing is lost -- and at the time, at least, much was gained -- in the trade.
The comparison, of course, is between a totalitarian socialist state and a democratic socialist state. Hayek shows that the only difference is the degree of benevolence of those leading the two countries; he also shows that, once arbitrary power is handed over, it usually cannot be regained.
No review can do "The Road to Serfdom" adequate justice. On the other hand, since the book is quite short, and since it is one of those books about which it can be right said that if you haven't read it you are not educated, I say just go and read it for yourself. You too will see what millions already have.
109 of 122 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2000
Hayek's classic book is a dissertation on why political freedom is, and can only be, inextricably linked to economic freedom. Originally published in 1944, his specific examples of socialist planning gone wrong are (were) Italy, the USSR, and most prominently, Germany. He primarily uses the British for comparison and contrast purposes, and directs many of his remarks toward Western European nations who were flirting with their own versions of socialist economic planning. He felt that these nations were ultimately going down the same road that the Germans had already traveled two or three generations earlier.
Hayek's central thesis is that individual liberty (economic and political) and collectivism are mutually exclusive, and that even the most well-intentioned socialist society will ultimately evolve into a totalitarian state. Hayek elaborates upon the following key arguments (and others): (1) Collectivism represents the undoing of liberalism (in the classic sense). (2) Socialism necessitates that the efforts of the populace be directed towards a common goal, often called something like "the common good." The economic system must be centrally planned in order to achieve this goal. Such planning amounts to coercion, and individual liberty is sacrificed for the degree of security a socialist state provides. (3) A free society operates according to the Rule of Law, where the rules are known beforehand. The economy of a free society consists of the net sum of individual decisions made within the known legal framework. By contrast, a centrally planned society relies upon government decisions that must be made on the basis of current necessity, what Hayek calls "arbitrary government." (4) Money promotes economic liberty, acting as the medium to provide the individual with the freedom to use his compensation in whatever manner he chooses, rather than being dependent upon a compensation whose specific nature is determined by others. (5) Socialism is inherently nationalistic or ethnocentric, because the leading party often must rally the populace to focus against a threatening group in order to effectively promote its own agenda. A "one-world" socialism that unites across peoples, nations, and ethnic backgrounds is not workable. (6) True believers in a socialist society must hold the interests of the State as higher than their own. Those who will move up the ranks in a socialist society are often prepared to do anything on behalf of the state, no matter how much this opposes one's own moral principles. Those who are amoral are thus more likely to "succeed" in a socialist hierarchy. Hayek holds out little hope that a socialist utopia will work if only "good people" are put in charge.
Contrary to some of the negative reviews below, I must argue that Hayek's book is certainly not "vicious propaganda," (and, I might add, that I sincerely doubt that Hayek's own lips were "lice-ridden.") Nowhere in the book does Hayek celebrate wealth. There is not one sentence in the book extolling the virtues of material riches. He DOES celebrate individual liberty and the superiority of a free market economy. To intelligently oppose Hayek, one must provide a literate argument against the points Hayek actually argues. In addition, one would be compelled in this debate to explain how a rigid socialist system would NOT degenerate into Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, or Stalinist Russia (or, for that matter, Pol Pot's Cambodia, Castro's Cuba, Communist China, etc.)
That said, Hayek's book is not free from criticism. He takes a few swipes at the Germans -- Hayek all but proclaims that because of their general ethnic personality the Germans as a people were an ideal setup for Naziism and ruthless obedience to Hitler. Not surprisingly, some readers may take offense to this. Hayek also concedes that in a prosperous economy a basic minimum standard of living should be guaranteed everyone, although he makes no mention of how it could be guaranteed in a manner consistent with his overall free market vision. There is not a single statistic in the entire book (some may find this a GOOD thing), nor is there mention of any specific historical event, except the ongoing war at the time. Hayek's arguments are essentially based upon logical deductions, relying upon assumptions of human nature - as individuals, large groups, or those in authority. I suppose some will find Hayek's logic dubious, although arguably the history of the fifty-plus years since Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom would back him up quite well.
259 of 296 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2007
Over 30 years ago, when I was in graduate school, this book was nowhere to be found on any Political Science or Political Theory reading list. I suppose part of the reason was that once the Nazis and Fascists had been defeated, their ideas were no longer seen as important. The question then was whether or not Communism would succeed. Furthermore, then and now, many people in academia had no complaint about government power as long as their side holds the power.
Hayek skillfully deflates that delusion by showing how the very economic powers of government created by the Social Democrats were the powers the Nazis used to consolidate their power.
This book was published 64 years ago but is as timely today as it was then.
69 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2009
The Road to Serfdom by F.A.Hayek
(Note: I own and have READ this book) (...)
Short review: strongly recommended. A timeless classic. An analytic exposition of the same old re-cycled, cancerous, glib, smug nonsense that we hear endlessly repeated so often today. Namely that (yawn) Capitalism and the Free Market are unjust, inequitable, and dying anyway. No good has ever (EVER) come from rich, corrupt businessmen. They are exploiters and parasites. They need to be replaced by a benevolent, kind, compassionate 'planned' society. Administered by an Elite body of Federal Planners in Washington, who are wise and kind, (a tear trickles down our cheek), and who consist heavily of academics, intellectuals and Supreme Court Judges. We need more Government bodies, because they are fair, balanced, and wise. We need more rules, regulations, taxes and government inspectors to help business and private investment. (All kneel....)
A heavy read, requires concentration and dedication, and be prepared to look up many references. Some long paragraphs, some convoluted sentences, some ponderous pronunciations, but a work, written roughly between 1938 to 1944, which can be used as a stunning blue print to understand today's misleading representations by left wing extremists and political agitators. .What we see today in America is nothing new. The poorly read, uninformed, short sighted, activists, eager as ever to mount the barricades, but quite unwilling to sit, read, listen... and think.
It's the Old Marxist Brigade, the dreamers and the malcontents, revamped, with changed colors, new rhetoric, and lots of Utopian promises of 'free lunch' for all. In fact, they are intent on their own personal gain and self aggrandisement. Power politics as usual. Hayek foresaw it all, and described it for us in this incredibly clear sighted and clairvoyant work. This book has been an important inspirational source for many of today's more popular trendy conservative writers, although, so it seems, most will not admit to it. (With the exception of Mark Levin in his interesting "Liberty and Tyranny")
Long review: I like an author who entitles a chapter "Why the worst get on top" (chapter 10). I've often wondered the same thing. On page 160 he says: "There are three main reasons why such a numerous and strong group with fairly homogeneous views is not likely to be formed by the best but rather by the worst elements of any society."
He then gives "three main reasons", which I suggest are well reasoned, well thought out, and ring remarkably true of today's self appointed saviours of the exploited masses. Check it out yourself.
I'll quote you part of his third reason:
"It seems almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program - on the hatred of the enemy, on the envy of those better off - than on any positive task."
P.162: "Collectivism has no room for the wide humanitarianism of liberalism but only for the narrow particularism of the totalitarian."
Chapter 2 is called "The Great Utopia", and if you're a bit of a weathered cynic like me, you'll enjoy it. Page 77 contains the classic quote from Tocqueville "Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude".
On p. 78, Hayek says: "There can be no doubt that the promise of freedom has become one of the most effective weapons of socialist propaganda and that the belief that socialism would bring freedom is genuine and sincere. But this would only heighten the tragedy if it should prove that what was promised to us as the Road to Freedom was in fact the High Road to Servitude..."
Chapter 11 is called "The End of Truth" and you have to smile. Maybe Hayek was a secret time traveler. Maybe he visited America in the year 2009. If he did, then he penned the opening paragraph of this chapter for Americans today. Read it, you might like it. He continues on page 172: "The moral consequences of totalitarian propaganda....are of an even more profound kind. They are destructive of all morals because they undermine one of the foundations of all morals: the sense of and the respect for truth."
Chapter 13 is called "The Totalitarians in our Midst", and must have been written yesterday. It contains so many quotable quotes, I shall limit myself to two: "...there is scarcely a leaf out of Hitler's book which somebody or other in England or America has not recommended us to take and use for our own purposes." (p.195)
Or how about this one, same page: "Individualism must come to an end absolutely. A system of regulations must be set up, the object of which is not the greater happiness of the individual.... but the strengthening of the organized unity of the state for the object of attaining the maximum degree of efficiency..."
This book is a classic. The introduction by Bruce Caldwell is detailed.
My two minor grumbles would be:
1) that some of the sentences are very long winded. Lots of clauses, juxtapositions, conditional statements. I read a lot, but I frequently found myself forced to re-read a sentence, and sometimes a whole paragraph. Hayek crams a lot into every word. Anybody who says this book is an 'easy read', with 'smooth prose' possesses a much higher IQ than I do.
I still can read any page in Hayek, and enjoy it. It's a rich offering.
2) So why in heck are there only 44 reviews so far of this masterpiece on Amazon? Many authors today, with over 1,000 reviews, widely feted with lots of rah-rah-rah and prime time hoopla-la-la, clearly show Hayek Road-to-Serfdom influence in their work. They don't always admit it.
For my money, THIS is a major source for many of today's writers. Yup, you have to work at Hayek. He's not easy. Roll up your sleeves. Take notes. You can't watch the 'Commie News network' (CNN) at the same time, do the crossword, and listen to your favorite rapper. But Hayek is overwhelmingly well worth every effort.
A truly great, gripping, far sighted classic.
45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2010
This is Friedrich Hayek's magnum opus. It is so, however, not because it his most insightful, his most deep, or his most innovative book (his more specialized works in political philosophy and economics claim those titles), but because it is the opposite, that is, a general book, and because this is the kind of book that the world most needed then, and most desperately needs again now.
I say this because Professor Hayek's work is essentially a restatement of the age-old principles of classical liberalism, dating at least back to the Enlightenment, in light of the then seemingly insurmountable approach of socialism, which Hayek feared (rightly) would lead to a totalitarianism just as deadly as that of Nazi Germany. Hence Hayek's thesis is twofold: it is a warning against the path Great Britain was on at that time (which is a path well-trod by the twenty-first century), which Hayek believes leads to slavery, to misery, and to totalitarian control; at the same time, Hayek makes these critiques in light of the central tenets of old liberalism (to be clear to reviewers, this liberalism has nothing to do with modern day "liberalism") - free markets and individual liberty.
As for Hayek's analysis itself, it is nothing short of brilliant. Again, Hayek more meticulously works out the details of his political theory in works like the "Constitution of Liberty", but here he is at his best, providing the big picture of the threat of socialism, in all its guises, and what it represents to any country which values individual freedom. A number of chapters will seem prescient, such as "The End of Truth" (Orwell's 1984 clearly borrows from this), detailing how under a totalitarian regime, truth becomes a matter of utility for the ruler, a pliable tool rather than an objective goal to be sought and conformed to. Most scary, Hayek shows how this is partly accomplished by the manipulation of language.
There are two things, however, which make this book so accessible, and therefore serve as the quintessential introduction to classical liberal thought. First, it is remarkably conciliatory towards opponents. Hayek is not a firebrand or an ideologue, but an intellectual, who holds strong views, but knows and respects members of the opposite camp. Hence, he dedicates this book, "to socialists of all parties," and never lowers himself to the level of diatribe or rambling. His earnest goal is to open his readers' minds to ideals that are perishing, and he knows eristic does not accomplish that. This alone allows the book to stand in marked contrast to any contemporary book. Second, however, Hayek's book is still read because though the circumstances have changed, it is as relevant as though it were written yesterday. As Milton Friedman says in his introduction, during the first half of the twentieth century people praised socialism but practiced capitalism; today, we praise capitalism but practice socialism. We are moving, sluggishly it is true, but certainly nonetheless, down the same road that Hayek feared sixty-six years ago. We are traveling down the road to serfdom.
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2010
This review is of the unabridged audio version, but the my feelings on the work as a whole applies to the audio and printed versions.
Hayek has been placed on a lofty perch by people that I don't think actually read or understood this book. The Road to Serfdom is one of the most logically thought out and presented arguments against planned economies I have ever heard by a long shot. Friedrich Hayek can't hide his age or German heritage with his older, turn of the century writing style, but is still accessible to anyone with a High School reading comprehension level (something in short supply these days) and a good understanding of European history. I enjoyed his unemotional, serious, and analytical approach to something that today can't be discussed without sarcastic vitriol. Being a German who later moved to England he was uniquely qualified to discuss the subject as he had first hand experience with the clash of political ideas that defined the first half of the Twentieth Century.
What I enjoyed about this book the most is that I thought it was going to be one thing but it turned out to be something very different.
1.) This isn't a book about economic theory. Hayek supposes that the reader understands the difference between free markets, controlled markets, Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism. What the book is really about is the political and social conditions that go hand in hand with these theories. His assertion is that controlled, or planned, economies ultimately rely on the subverting of personal freedoms and the subjugation of liberty to work. Then he actually EXPLAINS WHY! Using history instead of hysterics he methodically lays out how even well meaning Utopian socialism can lead to totalitarian fascism.
2.) From the outset of the book the author, like Milton Friedman, defines the idea of what a "classic liberal" is. He does this, not only because "liberal" is the proper nomenclature for ideologies like Capitalism, democracy, freedom of speech, etc; but because he says, right in the Forward, that he DOESN'T LIKE CONSERVATIVES. He says he finds them backwards and too interested in "mystical" things. Later, he also defends regulation by government as necessary for creating a stable environment within which free markets can grow and succeed. More than once he objects to complete laissez faire.
3.) Unlike Milton Friedman, in Hayek's work I found an absence of the categorical distrust of government that is indicative of "conservative" literature. Hayek of course champions free market capitalism , as well as democracy and independence of thought, but in a way that avoids emotion soaked nationalism. Which seems fitting since he illustrates how easily out of control nationalism also leads to fascism.
4.) Hayek is a humble person with a great intellect that allows him to explain a subject. He doesn't badger the reader with self aggrandizing proclamations that he knows "the truth" or that his work is going to save the world from a grave calamity that is just around the corner. He is eloquent, informed, and persuasive in an educated way that makes theatrics unnecessary. Next to the merits of his arguments, I find the method of his argumentation to be just as important.
I would rank this work up there with Common Sense and the Federalist Papers as important books to read; and like the Federalist Papers or the Christian Bible as a work that is far to often referenced to by people that don't seem to have grasped the work as a whole.