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The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents--The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume 2) Paperback – March 15, 2007
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"In my opinion it is a grand book. . . . Morally and philosophically I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it: and not only in agreement with it, but in deeply moved agreement."
--John Maynard Keynes
"A version of a recognized classic text that provides a full and rich context from which to understand its emergence and eventual powerful impact on the course of events and ideas in the twentieth century. . . . The University of Chicago Press and Bruce Caldwell have done an excellent job in dressing up this classic book for both the general reader and scholars in a variety of disciplines and the hiostory of ideas."--Steven Horwitz "EH.Net "
"It takes courage, or something like it, to declare one's offering 'The Definitive Edition'. . . . I have no hesitation, though in describing this as an excellent edition."--Roger Kimball "New Criterion "
About the Author
F. A. Hayek (1899-1992), recipient of the Medal of Freedom in 1991 and co-winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1974, was a pioneer in monetary theory and a leading proponent of classical liberalism in the twentieth century. He taught at the University of London, the University of Chicago, and the University of Freiburg.
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Like many young, intelligent, concerned people, Hayek started his adult life as a democratic socialist, the trendy thing for young people then and now. But World War I caused him to questions the assumptions he had made about the social order. In conversations with his cousin Ludwig Wittgenstein, he developed a strong desire to discover ways that humanity might avoid the tragedy of the War in future. He studied with numerous academic luminaries in Vienna after the war including the renowned economist and powerful anti-socialist Ludwig von Mises. Then, in 1931, he wrote a book that earned him an invitation to join the London School of Economics where he famously debated the demand-side guru, John Maynard Keynes. Keynes won these debates in the short run and held sway over mid-century world economic policy, but lost to history with the supply-side revolution of Freedman, Reagan and Thatcher who all acknowledged their great debt to Fredrick Hayek. This book is not Hayek’s crowning achievement in academic economics (for that work he won a Nobel Prize) nevertheless, it is his most famous and influential work.
As undergraduates, many people read Plato, particularly “The Republic”, and are enthralled. The idea that we can willfully design a perfect, conflict free society is seductive and desirable to young minds who have just left the security of the family, or not. Philosophers in the 19th century rebelled against the hegemony of determanistic materialism that had held sway since Francis Bacon began the struggle to push the Church’s Plato back into the Pandora ’s Box it came from. Successively, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Comte and Mill reopened the box. But without the Church to teach them otherwise, men began to believe they could perfect themselves. Bismarck and Woodrow Wilson made the first political attempts at a Great Society with seeming benevolence. Mussolini, Hitler, Tojo, Stalin and Mao followed their example with significantly less universally humane intent. All of these politicians believed they could organize the world into a scientifically created Eden sans deity through extensive economic planning by a central governing authority vested in academic experts. This authority would have the power to distribute goods and services in such a way that people would be freed from want and from mundane economic decisions. They could live their lives in pursuit of those things much loftier than material wealth. They could fill their days with art and science and comradery and love. Organization and planning would liberate humanity from strife, privation, drudgery and tedium. For nearly one hundred and fifty years socialist doctrine has imbued this dream-world into the heads of the young, the desperate, the hungry, the angry, the resentful and the lonely. Social economic planning was the perfect religious message for generations of men who had lost the Religion of Divinity and were searching for a religion within themselves. Many politicians believe this still today or cynically advocated such policies to accrue power from the gullible.
So the Road to Serfdom is analysis of this intense human desire to organize the world around us through planning in order to achieve some always ill-defined optimum for all. The book clearly demonstrates that the great flaw in this idea is that men can never get together and agree exactly what to plan for or what is optimal. The artist will want resources allocated to the National Endowment for the Arts; the scientist will insist that more be sent to the National Institutes for Health; the farmer will demand that subsidies for corn are the only way society can survive, parents and students will demand bursary, and the poor will clamor for support. This will inevitably lead to conflict as what each man lobbies for is not really an optimum for all but an optimum for himself. The only way these conflicts can be resolved is through a strong central authority that can coerce the cooperation of all the members of society and assign priorities for the allocation of resources. As men will always resist coercion, the applied authority must become increasingly violent to the point of being life threatening in order to impose its central economic will. As the process of organization and planning becomes ever more comprehensive, ultimate authority must eventually be concentrated in the hands of one person, a dictator. In Hayek’s words:
“Most planners who have seriously considered the practical aspects of their task have little doubt that a directed economy must be run on more or less dictatorial lines. That the complex system of interrelated activities, if it is to be consciously directed at all, must be directed by a single staff of experts, and that ultimate responsibility and power must rest in the hands of a commander-in-chief whose actions must not be fettered by democratic procedure .........[planners believe that] by giving up freedom in what are, or ought to be, the less important aspects of our lives, we shall obtain greater freedom in the pursuit of higher values.”
But by giving up economic control do we attain that greater freedom? No. There was no such thing as recreation in Soviet Russia, Hitler had an entire program to fill peoples spare time, the Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy), and North Korea’s uber thug, Kim Jong-un, has of late constructed a ski resort though very few people have the money or the nutritional health to use it. All these systems insisted that you will relax and recreate as they tell you. You will read the books they tell you to read. You will perform only the plays they tell you to perform. You will live your life for their priorities. For a planned society to work, people eventually must surrender complete control of their lives, even their leisure, to the planners for the sake of the whole.
Collectivist sentiment arose in the 19th century as a backlash against unrestrained, Laissez-faire Capitalism. Most of today’s remaining socialists view this Laissez-faire Capitalism as the enemy they are still fighting though such a system is long gone and unlamented. Who would play Monopoly if there were no rules at all and theft and deceit were the norm; that is lawless Laissez-faire economic anarchy. But who would play Monopoly if the rules changed at the violent and arbitrary insistence of an all-powerful “Planner” controlling every aspect of the board; that is Socialism. But why should we play either game with our economic lives? People use the term “The Third Way” to try and accommodate planning without resort to dictatorship. But Hayek shows the impossibility of this Third Way and points us to the only way. What Hayek advocates is a Capitalist system with clearly defined rules that apply to everyone, no exceptions, and enduring restraints and limits on the power of government. He argues for consistency and democracy where the playing field is level for everyone and we are all free economic entities making our own economic decisions based on our own desires, our own resources and our own conscience. What he argues is Edmond Burke, 175 years on in an effort to correct the horrific damage we have inflicted on ourselves with the hubris that we could actually perfect ourselves through planning without throwing away our very humanity.
Unfortunately, over 70 years after its completion, Hayek’s description of planners and his warning about their cynical attitude toward personal competence and responsibility can be seen hard at work within our own supposedly free democratic government. In the weeks before I wrote this, a powerful academic from MIT, economist Jonathan Gruber, renowned as the architect of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) has been discovered to have said that “the stupidity of the American voter” made it important for him and Democrats to obscure the true costs of the health care program from the public. “That [hiding the details] was really, really critical for the thing to pass,” said Gruber. “But I’d rather have this law than not.” Thus, Gruber’s ends justify any means including mass deception of the populous of the world’s greatest democratic republic, a populous he openly regards as incompetent and stupid. Deception is the first form of violence perpetrated on the people by planners when they achieve power. For such self-appointed experts, their plan is so important that the vox populi must be silenced first only by stealth, but surely force will soon follow. Their plan is just too important. This is Hayek’s warning for posterity. William F. Buckley Jr. said it best, following Hayek, “I am obliged to confess I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University.” Or MIT.
Life is and will be always a struggle toward freedom and dignity for each man and woman. That freedom and dignity can never be perfectly attained, but what of these we can manage only comes through personal economic empowerment. That empowerment comes when we throw off the yoke of powerful individuals and defiantly refuse the thralldom they offer in exchange for illusions of security and freedom from the mundane. After the implosion of the former Soviet mega-dictatorship, numerous influential people threw off that yoke and immerged from the economic morass of Socialism to lead the Eastern bloc back toward prosperity on the model of the modern Western democracies and Capitalism based on knowledge they had gained from smuggled copies of this book and those of Hayek’s successor, Milton Friedman. Millions of people had gladly descended down the wrong path and now had to claw their way back out of the Cave Plato had lead them into. Hayek showed them that way back. Many people emerging from under the heel of that Evil Empire have attested to the enlightenment they received from the banned copies of the works of Hayek. Hayek showed these oppressed people as he has shown the ages that to allow people who strive through Plato’s supreme creation of societal hubris to plan and design and control our society for our own good is “The Road to Serfdom.”
I would recommend it for anyone who wants to know the basic difference between Socialism (aka Communism as well as Fascism) and Capitalism (Free Market Society)
I only have two rare books, but after reading this and loving it, my husband purchased an original volume, first edition, from a rare book seller in London for me as a Christmas gift. I treasure it.
Few books end up on the all-time list of serious masterpieces - books that no individual of any ideological substance whatsoever should dare skip. If that list was filled up with every really good book out there, the list would lose its meaning. The depth of the list is in the selectivity of books that make the list. There can be no doubt that The Road to Serfdom belongs on the list. It is not just Hayek's defining body of work; it is the best book on the subject written in the 20th century, and it is perhaps the very best book written in the 20th century - period. I am known for my liberal use of superlatives, and I have cried wolf in times past at my own risk, but this is not such a case. Even apart from the events of the last few months, The Road to Serfdom is a brilliant piece of economic, political, and cultural commentary. What I did not understand in past reads of this masterpiece is the brilliant piece of prophecy that it represents.
When my schedule allows me to speak and write these days, I am trying to speak and write exclusively on one topic: the war on economic freedom taking place right before our very eyes. What Hayek does in this book is challenge the need for putting the modifier "economic" before the noun "freedom", for Hayek knew better than any intellectual of the 20th century that assaults on economic liberty were assaults on the very fundamentals of liberty we hold dear. To Hayek, there was no distinction: political freedom was dependent upon economic freedom, and the suppression of one would inevitably lead to the destruction of the other. He was right then, and his words are right now. This was not a fight over political philosophy; it was a fight over the dignity of man.
Hayek's work was not fully appreciated until decades after its publication. The thesis that Hitler and Stalin were political oppressors whose rise to power could have been predicted by the European love affair with national socialism that preceded their reign was largely seen as melodramatic, harsh, and illogical. Intellectuals then wanted the same thing they want today: to believe that their precious collectivism can co-exist with peace and harmony - with benign governance and good citizenship. The underlying tenet of socialism was disproven then in the same way it can be disproven today: it discriminates between particular needs of different peoples, it presupposes a superior efficiency from government in central planning that flies in the face of common sense and history, and it massively distorts the risks and rewards that make society function. But to Hayek, the philosophical refutation of socialism was a refutation of all collectivism - not just its more extreme and unpleasant forms. Any economic system that distorted the price mechanism was doomed to fail, and Hayek's classic work on the merit of the price system is even more recognized today than yesteryear for its cogency and brilliance. The government can not accomplish its utopian ends by interfering with a price system, because only a price system can "register all the relevant changes in circumstances and provide a reliable guide for individual's actions." This is not the academic point of a philosophically-minded economist; government distorting of prices and wages has led to utter catastrophe for decades, from its present manipulation of mortgage market rates, to past Nixonian wage and price controls that put the country on the edge of economic disaster. To rob private parties of the ability to "sell and buy at any price that they can find a partner to the transaction" is to rob them of an essential element of a free society. Consumers, producers, employers, and employees are all victims to government intervention in this arena. Hayek predicted it sixty-five years ago, and the period of time since his prediction can be accurately described as "Hayek's vindication".
Hayek was not writing of Barack Obama in 1944. Barney Frank and present House leadership were just infants, if they were born yet at all. In fact, he was not even writing specifically about America, as the greater threat to liberty that he saw in 1944 was in the direction the European countries would take after the war inevitably ended. To Hayek, a series of economic policies were in motion that were intolerable. In 2009, it is this side of the pond now being tested by the challenges Hayek foresaw so long ago. The re-read of his book I just completed leaves one eerily feeling that perhaps Hayek saw into the future. While it may have been England in 1944 that he chastised for "losing her intellectual leadership", and becoming an "importer of ideas", can any of us deny that the same must now be said for America? Hayek believed that what England and Europe did from 1931-1939 created the mess they had from 1940-1944. Likewise, this reviewer confidently posits that, if not corrected, America is presently sowing the seeds for what will be a 2015-2020 that we will not believe if we do not change course. Will we have the "moral courage" for this change, as Hayek pleaded with his contemporaries to do?
Social justice and economic planning do not belong in the same sentence. Not only is the attempt to create the former through the latter completely impossible, it is patently immoral and discriminatory. Artificially attempting to equalize incomes will push income levels further apart, distort the incentive system that a free society depends on, and ignore the validity of prices that help guide the way for us. But Hayek was no Ayn Randian - he saw social justice as a key characteristic in any moral society, but he scoffed at the idea that coercion or centrism could ever create anything resembling "social justice". This was a problem of means and ends: the collectivists wanted to use means to create desired ends that neither worked, nor ought to work.
Hayek profoundly understood the self-refuting error of collectivism and central planning: the "very men most anxious to plan society are the most dangerous if allowed to do so", and they are the "most intolerant of the planning of others". I fondly think of Milton Friedman's famous appearance on Phil Donahue's show many years ago (a popular hit on YouTube), in which Friedman counters Donahue's claim that capitalism is flawed by the evil intentions of capitalists, with the hard facts regarding the evil intentions of central planners (you know, guys like Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot). Collectivism is necessarily totalitarian, and this is a message that the nanny-state of 2009 will not tolerate young people learning. Hayek persuasively argues that in a collectivist society, it is the last people you would want doing central planning who are most eager to do so. "The lowest common denominator unites the largest amount of people."
Hayek was a keen critic of those who lambasted free trade purely out of their own protectionist motives. He was appalled by the willingness of the socialists of his day to sacrifice truth for propaganda (knowingly) if they thought it would advance an ideological agenda. For Hayek, truth was not negotiable.
Hayek understood the folly of using monetary policy to drive a social agenda, and it is frankly stunning to me that we are still operating with the absurd dual mandate of the Federal Reserve today that we had decades ago (by "dual mandate", I refer to the idea that the central bank's role is to maintain a stable currency, AND create full societal employment). Hayek understood as the great lovers of freedom in both the Chicago school and Austrian school have understood ever since: to subject the monetary policy to such a dual mandate would politicize the process, decimate one objective for the sake of the other, and put us on a continued cycle of booms and busts. Today, the rhetoric from Washington D.C. no longer offends our intellect by even pretending that they care about such prehistoric ideas as a stable currency. Free market realities that temporarily hurt one group while helping the overall society are mocked as "laissez faire", and the "politics of do-nothing". Hayek knew why "doing nothing" was so incredibly preferable to "doing the wrong thing".
The challenge of Hayek's day was a challenge of courage. He pleaded with his readers to have the courage to not accept the status quo, and to embrace contemporary problems with a fresh outlook, and with a long-term perspective. He never lost sight of the fact that a policy of individual freedom was the "only truly progressive policy". This exhortation is a powerful one, and one I pray on a daily basis that we will take heed of now. The great things that have made our Republic great are under attack. The enemy in 2009 is the same as the enemy of Hayek's day. Socialism and collectivism are parasites that appeal to man's most evil instinct: the impulse to surrender responsibility, and to simply be led. From the Israelites demanding a King to Americans demanding national health care, ancient history is no different than modern history. With warriors like F.A. Hayek on the side of freedom, I refuse to believe that history belongs to the socialists. But as Hayek taught us sixty-five years ago, the stakes are high. May God keep us off the road to serfdom.
"Independence and self-reliance, individual initiative and local responsibility, the successful reliance on voluntary activity, noninterference with one's neighbor and tolerance of the different, respect for custom and tradition, and a healthy suspicion of power and authority: Almost all the traditions and institutions in which democratic moral genius has found its most characteristic expression, and which in turn have molded the national character and the whole moral climate of England and America, are those which the progress of collectivism and its inherently centralistic tendencies are progressively destroying."