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Customer Review

1,279 of 1,355 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive Indeed!, May 4, 2007
This review is from: The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents--The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume 2) (Paperback)
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.
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Showing 1-10 of 52 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 25, 2008, 2:17:32 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 25, 2008, 2:19:10 PM PST
TMOT says:
Full disclosure up front: I haven't read the book yet.

However, you say: "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."

This is a common perception/argument, and I doubt that Hayek puts any major spin on it that I haven't heard before. You CANNOT analyze the tendency towards authoritarianism in countries with socialist economies without taking into account the tremendous economic and military pressure applied to them by the governments of the remaining capitalist nations (these governments being almost completely run by the economic elites within them!). For instance, Stalinism is commonly treated by the right wing as a natural growth of Leninism/Bolshevism or socialism more generally. While I'm no big fan of Lenin, this is totally distorted picture. The pressures on revolutionary Russia in its infancy cannot just be brushed aside as though they were not determining factors. How many American schoolchildren (or adults, for that matter) are even aware that America and other Western powers invaded Russia under the banner of an anti-communist "White Army"?

Anyway, I do plan to read the book soon--I've heard it presents a good summary of the problems with economic central planning. I've heard many of these before, and they are convincing, which is why I would tend toward market socialism if any kind of socialism at all.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 21, 2008, 9:42:31 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 21, 2008, 10:07:22 AM PDT
Well, as you said, you have not read this book (though you may have by now). Hayek's core arguments are developed in chapter 5. Understanding this book is easier if you have a background in Hayek's early work on economic planning and equilibrium.

As to the 'external pressure' argument, I find it implausible. External pressure goes both ways. The US and UK were subject to external pressure or threats from the Soviets and their satelites and allies. Stalin applied tremendous military pressure against the rest of the world, especially the Baltic states and against Poland. Even after Stalin, the West faced the Soviet nuclear arsenal, and large Soviet conventional forces stationed in Central Europe. The Soviets and their allies also supported campaigns in Africa, Asia, and Central America. The East did exert pressure against the West. Yet Western nations like the UK and USA did not become totalitarian states with Gulags, while the Soviet Union did. Each side exerted pressure against the other, but only one side murdered millions in camps.

As for market socialism, the economic case against it is as solid as the case against totalitarian central planning. The reason for this is simple. Market socialism aims at simulating spot markets only. Market socialist proposals include central direction of capital investment. Capital investment is the critical factor in determining the rate and pattern of future economic development. So-called market socialism does in fact rely on politicized central planning in the critical area of planning future investment. It is therefore subject to the same kind of long run inefficiency as Soviet style Socialism.

I think it is time to give to end the debate over socialism. The track record of overt socialism is deplorable, and modern socialists (i.e. Roemer, Shweikart, Burkzak) really have nothing new to say. It would be more productive to debate the relative merits of limited welfare/regulatory states versus free market/free trade regimes. This is where the real debate is today. Socialism should be the topic of historical analysis. It should not be taken seriously as proposal for reform.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2009, 8:44:33 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 2, 2009, 11:56:46 PM PST
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In reply to an earlier post on Jan 14, 2009, 8:57:12 PM PST
"And please, stop using amazon as an outlet for your crazy rhetoric."

Isn't that what you're doing? Last I checked, you were the one that seeked out a book with a well-known libertarian and very free market philosophy so you could tell a reviewer you strongly disagree with him? You might as well walk into a church and shout that "your god is wrong, my god is more right."

Who's the one using Amazon for their rhetoric as opposed to simply giving a review of a book that people would probably only go to because of their shared ideology?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 3, 2009, 12:11:11 AM PST
R. D. Ferreira,

Last I checked, you have no clue whatsoever of the reason in which I am here at this page. Perhaps I check economic discussion in general as I find it intriguing. Perhaps I was interested in reading reviews of the Road to Serfdom to see if it was worth purchasing. Perhaps I am in fact an ideologue who wants to pick fights. What does any of this speculation matter?? For whatever reason I came to this page, I saw something I completely disagreed with and felt inclined to post a response.

However, since you are so concerned with my decision making process - I have read the book. Thereafter, I reviewed it. Upon reviewing it, I stumbled upon D.W. MacKenzie's review and his subsequent reply to the above reviewer of his review. I found his review appalling and wrote my above response. I then edited my old review, including my critique of MacKenzie in it. Why? Because MacKenzie reframes the argument of Hayek in the Road to Serfdom so well that I thought it would be quite useful to copy and paste my critique of MacKenzie to the main body of my review.

Last I checked, you were making things up to conform to a picture that exists only in your mind. The good news is, as you are honing your skills in this realm, you are one step closer to being accepted into the Mises Institute.

As far as MacKenzie and his crazy rhetoric, I meant that to apply not simply to this review he has written, or reviews he has generally written, but the majority of his contribution to economics related topics in Amazon. This is my personal opinion of him, not yours. I do not expect you to agree or disagree, as different circumstances have led you to see this much differently than myself. It is perhaps difficult to qualify, however I have seen him in so many different threads spewing ideological nonsense that I feel it quite important to provide counter arguments for people that have not had the time to study economics thoroughly. I take the general view that opinions matter and influence people, even in Amazon forums, and especially in a world where we rely on specialists for information. So that is why I generally feel the need to reply to things I feel are not handled in the appropriate manner. Would you now like to know my favorite color and shoe size as well?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 13, 2009, 9:07:00 PM PDT
Mr. Marangos, You and I disagree on a great many things; however, if I may offer one small piece of advice: not every comment needs a response. Sometimes it's best to ignore them and focus on the task at hand.

Posted on Apr 12, 2009, 8:00:22 AM PDT
This was a very good and helpful review. I find the RTS fascinating, yet difficult. Timeless, yes. Relevant today, 2009, Mr Obama's New Deal, oh! yes.
But what a constant barrage of ideas, arguments, contrasts and deductions. It's good to read what others think of the RTS. I wonder if you would consider writing a much longer review of this book, maybe chapter by chapter, and publishing it on your own website. It would help serious students of RTS, such as myself, identify the main arguments.
I keep re-reading paragraphs, as I think my limited mind is at times overwhelmed by the torrential flow of wordy logic. I'm having to make notes as I go along.
Similarly, I hope any critics of this book will take the trouble to articulate their doubts, by referencing the text. As opposed to vague "I didn't like this book" statements.
Thank you again.

In reply to an earlier post on May 18, 2009, 3:59:08 PM PDT
L.C.P.L.I.C. says:
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In reply to an earlier post on Nov 9, 2009, 5:28:21 PM PST
Eric Blair says:
Isn't it peculiar how socialist economies always deteriorate under the competitive pressures of the world while adjacent free market economies blossom!

Posted on Nov 9, 2009, 5:30:56 PM PST
Eric Blair says:
What a thoughtful review! I have wondered about this book for years. I now realize that I owe it to myself to read it!
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