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Freedom or Serfdom?: The Case for Limited, Constitutional Government and Against Statism Paperback – June 22, 2015
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Title: Freedom or Serfdom? The Case for Limited, Constitutional Government and Against Statism
Author: Hal Lillywhite
Review: In the opening of Freedom or Serfdom Lillywhite discusses the intentions, actions and results of Government. The serfdom which Lillywhite mentions is The Road to Serfdom which was a book written between 1940 and 1943 by Austrian British economist and philosopher Friedrich von Hayek, in which he "[warns] of the danger of tyranny that inevitably results from government control of economic decision-making through central planning." To define serfdom: [The] condition in medieval Europe in which a tenant farmer was bound to a hereditary plot of land and to the will of his landlord. A proportion of the grain the serf grew on his holding had to be given to his lord. The lord could also compel the serf to cultivate that portion of the lord’s land that was not held by other tenants (called demesne land). The serf also had to use his lord’s grain mills and no others. Giving the illusion of freedom while being held in chains.
As we approach the 1/4 mark in the book Lillywhite move onto the topic of information immunity. When Lillywhite talks about this he mentions that there is a unquestioned and unquestionable belief that government power is good, that we must trust government and reject constitutional limitations on that government. We must ask them appropriate questions and provide well-documented information to counteract the statist claims. Lilywhite also makes the distinction between an individual and the collective an example of this is in the USSR, a person was worth only what he produced for the benefit of the collective, the opposite of this is in a free society any group that exists is for the benefit of individuals and for no other purpose this could be a religious, recreational or government group, it has no value apart from the individuals it serves. He also discussed the pros and cons of both being an individual or being part of a collective as well as what happens when an individual is absorbed by the collective. Lillywhite also touches on some important issues like race, gender and social class and how we judge and are judged based on these assumptions. It resonated with me when Lillywhite points out that we still face bigotry, poor education, crime and a host of other problems in our modern society and how we need individuals to face these problems but this can't be done if we still denigrate individualism. It is very true that we cannot grow independence by fostering dependence, we cannot develop men and women of action by molly-coddling our citizens.
As we cross the 1/4 mark in the book Lillywhite begins to discuss stage one thinking or making a decision without thinking out its consequences. Thinking beyond stage one helps avoid mistakes that could be much more serious than buying the wrong car or even marrying the wrong person like a decision that would affect a whole country and last for generations. I loved the quotations used by Lillywhite at the beginning of each chapter, some ranging from classical literature to scholars. One example Lillywhite makes is that police departments were forced to hire more minorities to meet quotas this then caused a direct reduction in standards, leading to poor police work and thus more crime. Most victims of that extra crime were the very minorities the change was supposed to help because of too much attention to poorly thought-out theory, no attention to results. It is easy to think that we solve problems by giving orders, making rules, and spending money but we then we fail to follow up; we fail to assure that what we did was actually effective. The rules and laws become "the goal" rather than a means to reach the goal. Another example is the institution of “Obamacare,” this was supposed to solve the problem of people not having health insurance but it seems that more people have lost health insurance than have gained it as a result of this law.
As we approach the half way mark in the book Lillywhite discusses revolutions and why some fall and some succeed at it boils down to the fact that " it is easier to destroy a bad government than to create a good one." He also touches briefly on the delegation of power in modern and historical societies and the foundations of law, although most of the legal documents he refers are American the principles apply worldwide. Lillywhite also looks in details at the American judicial systems, the Constitution and the problems these cause and face today. An interesting point made is when Lillywhite discusses tunnel vision, This is the flip side of the stage one thinking which he discussed earlier while stage one thinking is concerned with the future; we fail to ask “then what?” we thus ignore what can happen going forward. Tunnel vision, on the other hand, ignores information from the past and present. He also uses an example for World War 2 to illustrate this point which I found partially interesting. I loved the Margaret Thatcher quote Lillywhite uses " The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money." Because it is so true and my family actual remember Thatcher being around and the devastation she caused especially in Wales.
As we cross into the second half of the book Lillywhite returns to the idea of the individual and the collective with emphasis on the difference between free and forced collectives especially in Government. He discussed the different forms of statism and how people living within this form of Government are subject to constant control although it doesn't matter if your government be communist, socialist, dictatorship or some other form of collectivism because all governments
limit the power of the individual to determine the course of our lives. He also returns to individualism and how Government can provide an environment that encourages freedom and individual choice, a great example he uses is rent. In this example the statist would have central planners determine how much rent a landlord is allowed to charge, as is done for many apartments in New York City. The law there limits increases in rental rates, especially for apartments likely to be occupied by lower income renters. On the other hand, cities like Portland, Oregon have no rent control at all. I found this interesting to read as it applies to many people's everyday lives. Lillywhite also goes into depth on the different types of Government what they promise, what they provide and everything in between which will appeal to many different types of people and cultures. Lillywhite also brings up the very relevant point in relation to the rules of law and how laws can seem to apply differently to people of different social status and how unregulated actions can be punished differently in different countries which was quite surprising. I also really enjoyed how Lillywhite inject some of his own experiences into this book.
As we approach the 3/4 mark in the book, Lillywhite raises discussion on an issue I wholeheartedly disagree with and that is climate change. Lillywhite writes “The global warming/climate change issue is certainly controversial, as it should be. Both sides get paid, some by industry and some by taxpayers. However, censorship of scientific discussion is not only unconstitutional, it is the surest way to stop scientific progress. Galileo was forced to recant his claim that the earth revolved around the sun. Will we return to similar scientific censorship today?” but makes no mention of things like recent example of scientific censorship across the board nor does he mention the evidence which leans toward proving the climate change doesn’t exist and is a hoax first made substantial by key political figures like Margaret Thatcher. While he uses to point to highlight censorship and the freedom of speech in modern society – it isn’t a wholly factual statement and while many will disagree with me there have been many scientific papers published on this topic. Lillywhite also revisits the many John’s he introduced in the beginning of this book and presents us with more thought-provoking questions. He also looks at private property and how things are owned, collectivists provide equality in misery; the free market provides plenty but with inequality. Ultimate the question is why the difference? I also enjoyed thinking about how private property and ownership changes a whole society rather than just the individual.
As we cross into the final section of the book Lillywhite discusses the fine line we walk between actively defending freedom and not defending it at all and how the maintains our illusion of freedom. He also makes the interesting point that danger lies not in sudden changes, but in gradual movement toward more and more government power. We won’t lose our freedom immediately but rather, we risk trading it away little by little for convenience which makes a lot of sense if you sit and think about it for a few minutes. Lillywhite ultimately asks the question we all think; can we trust our politicians and the answer most will lean towards is no because powerful Government positions naturally attracts those who are power hungry and therefore more likely to make selfish decisions ignoring the wants and needs of the people they are governing. Lillywhite also talks about the connection between Government and the Press and the manipulations that occur in this process, he also makes connection between Government and education and how the Government can use education to indoctrinate the next generation with their own ideals and values that may not be reflected in the society as a whole.
Overall, I found this book to be highly informative and it poses a lot of moral and ethical questions to the reader that really make you think about how these issues affect your own life. While Lillywhite do inject a lot of his own opinions, it is well known that political views are subjective to the person you are talking to/ or the person’s work you are reading. I would recommend this book to people interested in politics with emphasise on American politics. Lillywhite in-depth analysis on subjects like education, the media and Government manipulation were absolutely riveting to read although don’t expect it to be a quick read as there are plenty of times where you have to put the book down in order to process and look further into some of the points the author makes.
statism available today”. While it certainly aspires to that, it falls quite a bit short of that ultimate goal.
First the good points. The writing is serviceable although, as with most self-published books it would have benefitted from a professional editor. The author is nothing if not enthusiastic about his subject and that enthusiasm shows even if he occasionally crosses over to fanaticism. He is reasonably well read on his subject as the extensive bibliography attests - though his reading list is noticeably narrow in its ideological outlook. Less dogmatic conservatives like Russell Kirk or William F Buckley are noticeably absent from the listing. And finally, the author manages to avoid social conservative subjects like gay marriage or abortion and largely confines himself to political and economic conservatism.
That being said, the author tends towards dogmatism. ”On the other hand” is almost totally lacking - there is only one side of any question and that side is always extreme and inflexible conservatism. The book is sprinkled with ”just so stories” and analogies which are attractive at first glance but don’t stand up well under deeper thought and analysis.
For instance, to warn us against what the author perceives as the dangers of ”creeping socialism”, Nikita Khrushchev is quoted, ”we’ll keep feeding you small doses of socialism until you finally wake up and find you already have communism.” Of course, Khrushchev’s record on political prognostication was not all that spectacular. More importantly however, no country ever went communist via ”creeping socialism”. Russia, China, Viet Nam and Cuba became communist through violent armed revolution while the former communist countries of eastern Europe had communism imposed on the bayonets of the Red Army.
Similarly, he warns us that ”humans … must struggle to fully develop,” , presumably to dissuade us from providing too much assistance to the poor, downtrodden, or unfortunate humans or alleviating their ”struggles”. In support of this he analogizes assisting a chicken to hatch from its egg when it is having difficulties pecking its way out of its shell. Doing so, he claims, will kill the hatchling. ”(C)hicks need the exercise they get from their battle to escape the shell (and) without it they will be so weak that they are unlikely to survive.
Humans, of course, are not chickens and what is detrimental for one is not necessarily bad for the other. Additionally, the author ignores the likelihood that chickens unable to peck their way out of their shell quite possibly may die if they are not assisted in the hatching process - a result which may be acceptable when dealing with a flock of poultry but unacceptable with human beings.
Nor does he seem recognize that chicks having difficulties may be weaker to start with - that being the very cause of their hatching difficulties. They are ”so weak they are unlikely to survive” not because they were assisted in the hatching process but rather because they were weak to start with.
The books is rife with similar fractured analogies
In short, the truly shriven among the hard right conservatives may enjoy the book as it reinforces their innate biases and preconceived political weltbild. Others will find it much less enjoy able and will find themselves in a running argument with the printed pages.