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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best edition of Hayek's seminal work of political philosophy,
This review is from: The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents: Text and Documents - the Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek) (Paperback)
This seminal treatise from Austrian economist and political philosopher Friedrich von Hayek was written as early as 1944, during WW2 when he was living in England as a political exile from the Nazis. In `The Road to Serfdom' Hayek went against the grain of current political thought advocating post-war collectivism/socialism. Britain's Labour Party (who were to win the July 1945 election) were planning to build on the command economy introduced by Churchill's wartime coalition to win the war against Hitler, by taking into post-war government ownership - for the `public good' - large parts of the economy including coal mines, steel works and railways. Hayek demonstrated the uncomfortable (and at the time unfashionable) truth that this collectivist trend was in essence the same as that which had paved the way to Stalinism in Russia and Nazism in Germany; that such socialist-collectivist thinking was - even if advocates start out with the most benign utopian motives - dangerous and ill-advised, and would lead both to eventual impoverishment and to the inevitable erosion of individual freedom.
The book is very well written in clear English. It's not a polemic, but a polite and reasoned examination of the realities of human nature and the consequences which follow attempts at social planning. Hayek shows government attempts at planning and control of the economy - even parts of it - leads to the erosion of freedom for individuals who eventually become 'serfs' of the state, having the option of no other employer. `Social security' according to Hayek, is incompatible with the maintenance of personal freedom. Even if some privileged group like the workers in a particular industry gain advantage for themselves by the creation of a government monopoly (like coal mining for example, if the state becomes the only employer), this advantage is always at the expense of everybody else and any gain is temporary and illusory. With only one employer freedom of action is removed, and with socialism the eventual result is the emergence of two `classes': the planners and the serfs.
Hayek examines the contrast between liberal economic ideas of the 18th and 19th centuries (the word `liberal' is not used by Hayek in the same way as that currently employed in American political discourse, where it tends to mean `socialist') based on freedom under the rule of law, versus the arbitrary laws characteristic of the patronising `we-know-what's-best-for-you' tyranny inherent in socialist thinking, usually rationalised as a necessary expedient for the success of social planning. The author also demonstrates ideas of re-distributive `social justice' through a planned economy to be misguided: only the millions of unpredictable and complex human interactions between people with different levels of skill and motivations, where people can move around and work wherever and for whoever they choose - can determine naturally where individuals end up in a complex social hierarchy. No one individual or small group can possibly understand or decide which occupations should be rewarded by how much: the market ultimately will decide this, on its own. In Chapter 15 `The Prospects of International Order' the author shows that liberal-economic ideas tend to be internationalist and lead to the erosion of national boundaries and increasing international co-operation, whereas socialist-collectivist ideologies inevitably end up being nationalistic and militarist (look at examples like Nazi Germany, the USSR and, more currently, North Korea for proof of this). There is an excellent, cogently argued chapter about the Marxist origins of Nazism which traces the road to power of Hitler's party back to the corporatist-socialist ideas governing Germany in the 19th century and makes clear that Hitler was merely in the right place at the right time to exploit the prevailing Zeitgeist; that the Nazis were in some way radically different to the prevailing ideological climate which preceded them is a myth.
The ideas Hayek laid out in TRtS have been generally vindicated by subsequent history. Things turned out as he predicted everywhere from the Soviet Union and its East European vassal states, to China, Vietnam, North Korea, Albania and Cuba, to places in Africa where collectivist-socialist ideas were tried like Ethiopia, Mozambique and more recently Zimbabwe. The stature and reputation of this book has grown over the decades to the point where all serious political and economic thinkers (even the current government in China which in the 1980s finally abandoned collectivism and brought in their `open-door policy') accept its thesis as fundamentally true, though they might quibble with details at the edges.
It is rumoured that TRtS had a profound influence on the political philosophy of Margaret Thatcher and that she carried a copy in her famous handbag, which might be one reason so many of the declining endangered species of socialist-collectivist ideologues rail against it - though it's doubtful if many of them have read it, let alone understood the author's detailed, patient and insightful deconstruction of socialist thinking. Also the famous British socialist George Orwell heaped praised Hayek's book, once he'd read and understood its detailed arguments, and his writing `1984' in 1948 was in no small part influenced by it.
The book is not perfect. Hayek repeatedly cites Germany as a living example of the ultimate consequence of socialist thinking and plays down the equally relevant (in 1944) example of the USSR probably because of political expediency, Stalin being an important British/US ally against the Nazis at the time. He doesn't dwell on the potentially damaging consequences of an unregulated free market, though he does not wholly neglect the issue and makes a strong case for a regulatory framework of agreed laws to restrain the potential excesses of unrestricted private enterprise. The writing style, though clear and readable, is a little formal by the standards of the 21st century and might turn some readers off. However, TRtS is absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in the political ideas which have shaped human societies in the past two centuries and its importance cannot be overstated: it might even be said with justification that if you've never read it, then you're not really politically educated.
Sadly, the lessons from Hayek's work have not been learned by everyone. Here we are in the 21st century and STILL we have attempts at social engineering with `political correctness,' `multiculturalism' and `affirmative action' programs caused by a `government-should-fix-it' mentality.
The `definitive' edition includes a new introduction summarising the background to `The Road to Serfdom' and demonstrating its continued relevance to the modern-day socio-political landscape. Expanded notes, corrections of some citation errors in earlier printings and a useful appendix complete the package.
In summary: important, thoughtful, enlightening, readable, brilliant. This is the best edition, the one to buy.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still Relevant,
This review is from: The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents: Text and Documents - the Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek) (Paperback)
Writing in the middle of WWII, F.A. Hayek was concerned with what he was seeing: far from learning lessons from the destructive forces of fascism and communism, many politicians and intellectuals in the west were getting ready to wholeheartedly embrace some of the policies and practices that led to the rise of some of the most vile and destructive regimes in history. The title of the book evokes the old adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and Hayek readily acknowledges that most proponents of state control of economy would be vehemently opposed to the methods that are necessary to implement those policies. Unlike many in his time and unfortunately many more today, Hayek did not see fascism and communism as polar opposites of each other, but rather two aspects of the same socialist ideology. Sometimes those that are most alike are most opposed to each other, and the communist portrayal of fascists and Nazis as right wing movement was a label that stuck to this day. Hayek perceived this to be very dangerous, not least because it would create an environment in which self-proclaimed leftist ideologues would face far less scrutiny than those on the self-proclaimed right. This is the reason why Hayek dedicated this book to "socialists of all parties."
The most remarkable thing about this book is that it has aged so well. The style of writing, the ideas presented, and the importance of what it had to say are as fresh and relevant today as they were when the book was first written. This, to me at least, is quite unsettling. It is rather sad that after all these years we still have to debate the same premises that were spelled out so clearly during one of history's worst moments.
35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "All that is gold does not glitter",
This review is from: The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents: Text and Documents - the Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek) (Paperback)
This definitive edition has been edited and provided with a Foreword and Introduction by Bruce Caldwell who retained the prefaces and forewords of earlier editions. The text has been enhanced by explanatory notes and new appendices that are listed at the end of this review.
Even after six decades, The Road To Serfdom remains essential for understanding economics, politics and history. Hayek's main point, that whatever the problem, human nature demands that government provide the solution and that this is the road to hell, remains more valid than ever. He demonstrated the similarities between Soviet communism and fascism in Germany and Italy.
The consensus in post-war Europe was for the welfare state which seemed humane and sensible for a long time. Now it is clear that this has led to declining birth-rates amongst native Europeans, mass immigration from North Africa and the Middle East, and a tendency to exchange their ancient cultural values for multiculturalism and moral relativism which is just another form of nihilism as the French philosopher Chantal Delsol observes.
In this timeless classic, Hayek examines issues like planning and power, the fallacy of the utopian idea, state planning versus the rule of law, economic control, totalitarianism, security and economic freedom. He brilliantly explains how we are faced with two irreconcilable forms of social organization. Choice and risk either reside with the individual or s/he is relieved of both. Societies that opt for security instead of economic freedom will in the long run have neither.
Complete economic security is inseparable from restrictions on liberty - it becomes the security of the barracks. When the striving for security becomes stronger than the love of freedom, a society gets into deep, deep trouble. The way to prosperity for all is to remove the obstacles of bureaucracy in order to release the creative energy of individuals.
The government's job is not to plan for progress but to create the conditions favorable to progress. This has been proved by the impressive economic expansion under Reagan and Thatcher and by the amazing growth of the Asian Tiger economies, and most recently India since it started implementing sensible economic policies. Everywhere entrepreneurial energy is unshackled, massive improvements follow.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the contrast between phenomenal growth in formerly communist countries like Estonia or Poland or even the economic health of the UK as measured against the stagnant economies of Germany and France during the first years of the millennium. Old Europe would have benefited by a Thatcher and the French would have welcomed Polish plumbers instead of being resentful.
Hayek warns against utopian yearnings that are exploited by politicians, the stealthy way in which welfarism diminishes individual freedom, the totalitarian impulse and different types of propaganda. As pointed out by Chantal Delsol in Icarus Fallen, lack of personal responsibility leads to perpetual adolescence where citizens conflate desires with rights. Defining this process as the "sacralization" of rights, she shows that freedoms are then transformed into entitlements.
What a pity people don't learn; what a blessing we have in The Road to Serfdom as a reminder and a warning. The new Appendix of Related Documents include: Nazi-Socialism (1933), Reader's Report by Frank Knight (1943), Reader's Report by Jacob Marschak (1943), Foreword to the 1944 American Edition by John Chamberlain, Letter from John Scoon to C. Hartley Grattan (1945) and Introduction to the 1994 Edition by Milton Friedman. The book concludes with an index.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A guide for modern politicians,
Hayek expands on a political and economic theory, gained over 40 years of war and peace, that if correct shows we are heading down the the road to totalitarianism. Attacked by those on the left and the right of the political divide Hayek shows that current economic practice and gradual political restriction of individual freedom for the 'social' good will lead to a dictatorship whether it be by fascists or communists. He argues that both these political ideologies are the same in the end for the common man!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic economic study contrasts democracy and socialism,
Friedrich A. Hayek, an Austrian economist, wrote this classic defense of democracy and market economies in 1944. That it remains a bestseller is a testament to the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of his critique of socialism and centrally planned economies. The Road to Serfdom cites the influence of Karl Marx and other German philosophers who primed German citizens to embrace the totalitarian rule of Adolph Hitler. The Great Depression of the 1930s stepped up questions about capitalism and boosted support for socialism among the people of democratic countries. But Hayek warned that citizens of America, England and other democracies put their freedom at risk when they extolled the goals of socialism. This edition of Hayek's classic includes a comprehensive introduction by the book's editor, ample annotation of the original text and an appendix with numerous related documents, as well as the introduction to the 1994 edition by monetary policy expert Milton Friedman. getAbstract recommends this book to readers who want to know the seminal works in this field and to explore the philosophical differences between socialism and capitalism.
4.0 out of 5 stars An insightful timeless classics that gives many "aha" moments!,
During the 2010 general election campaign in the UK, there was a lot of talk about "fairness", which no one quite knew what it meant. "Fairness" sounded good and was an indisputable virtue - who would challenge the notion of "fairness"? That made "fairness" a supreme soundbite for the campaign. It was also a time when anticapitalist sentiments were strong in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008-9, the banking sector was under ferocious attack which turned hysterical, developed countries were trapped in the longest and deepest recession known since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and government debt spiraled out of control to crisis point in many rich countries on the back of a weak economy. The public was angry; there were immediate economic and financial hardships that individuals did not want to face or take responsibility for. Blames were disproportionately levied on the banks, and the political rhetoric fuelled that sentiment; what could have drawn more public support and sympathy than sharing a identified common enemy and promising to put it in rein? The pubic hatred towards the bankers was frightening because it was beyond rationality. The public wanted solutions to their personal problems and they turned to the state rather than themselves. I was sitting on the edge of my seat each day listening to the media coverage. I was scared, scared of what institutional heritage we would leave for our children. Virtues, that the British have spread around the world more than anyone else, were treated with contempt. There was an unspeakable sadness in me, when I saw how little people treasured what they had, how little appreciation people had of the beauty of the society they were in, and in turn how readily they were in trading their long-term liberty, a battle hard won over the centuries, for an immediate, easy short-term relief. I saw a vision of society breaking down right before my eyes, and yet I felt I was all alone in being gravely alarmed.
In The Road to Serfdom, I met a kindred spirit in Hayek. I felt vindicated that my concern was not unfounded, and my instinct was expounded so professionally and eloquently that I felt I had been released from my responsibility to speak my mind. Hayek not only speaks my mind in this classics, he illuminates the conflict to me and gives me insights into human nature and collective behaviour that I did not see before. But while we rightly admire his intellectual prowess, let's not overlook his human side - the passion and urgency with which he speaks his message. He was engaged in a fierce battle of the minds and ideologies that shaped the modern world and he endeavoured to turn the tide. No one could have stood in that position without some personal conviction.
The timeless central message of the book - that socialism / collectivism will inevitably lead to a totalitarian rule and in turn is in direct conflict with the virtue of personal liberty (in the 19th century definition) - is well-known, well-covered and well-analysied. You may say, history is not science; how one can predict history with such categorical certainty? This is where Hayek shows his intellectual prowess. From his economics background, he defines the tasks that collectivism MUST entail. Then he sets the tasks against the setting of democracy and proves that democracy cannot churn out arbitrary decisions as demanded by collectivism. In the end only a totalitarian rule can "plan" an economy. He also argues that it is naive to believe that one can ringfence the sphere of "planning" to economic field, and preserve individual liberty outside this field. By his analysis, it is inevitable that economic planning will infiltrate all aspects of personal life, and no boundary can be realistic, due to the intertwined relationship between economic life and personal life. Suppose you are convinced by Hayek's arguments up to this point and ask, "so what if collectivism produces totalitarianism, if it delivers social good?" To that, Hayek answers by a chapter entitled, "Why the worst got on top". The gist of the argument is that those bureaucrats in charge of making economic decisions for the society as a while would soon see how it contravenes individual freedom, and anyone with a conscience would call it a quit. This means that only the ruthless and reckless are able to succeed in such a system and fulfil the roles as demanded for collectivism. Not only that, Hayek repeatedly says that collectivism concentrates power and wealth in the state to an unprecedented level, and hence "the worst got on top". History is full of examples to support his hypothesis, and this is how Hayek opens his book, "One need not be a prophet to be aware of impending dangers. An accidental combination of experience and interest will often reveal events to one man under aspects which few yet see."(p.57)
But to me, what makes this book stands out is not the overarching message. Rather it is Hayek's astounding insights into human nature, the development of history and our collective tendencies. These understandings normally bypass average people but are crystal clear to Hayek. Here are a handful of my moments of enlightenment:
1) If socialism is so dangerous, why is it so popular? Why are people so readily forsake the principles (i.e. free markets) which have brought them unprecedented growth and much blessing? Hayek's answer:
"The result of this growth surpassed all expectations. Wherever the barriers to the free exercise of human ingenuity were removed, man became rapidly able to satisfy ever widening ranges of desire. And while the rising standard soon led to the discovery of very dark spots in society, spots which men were no longer willing to tolerate, there was probably no class that did not substantially benefit from the general advance. We cannot do justice to this astonishing growth if we measure it by our present standards, which themselves result from this growth and now make many defects obvious. To appreciate what it meant to those who took part in it, we must measure it by the hopes and wishes men held when it began: and there can be no doubt that its success surpassed man's wildest dreams, that by the beginning of the twentieth century the working-man in the Western world had reached a degree of material comfort, security, and personal independence which a hundred years before had seemed scarcely possible.
"What in the future will probably appear the most significant and far-reaching effect of this success is the new sense of power over their own fate, the belief in the unbounded possibilities of improving their own lot, which the success already achieved created among men. With the success grew ambition - and man had every right to be ambitious. What had been an inspiring promise seemed no longer enough, the rate of progress far too slow; and the principles which had made this progress possible in the past came to be regarded more as obstacles to speedier progress, impatiently to be brushed away, than as the conditions for the preservation and development of what had already been achieved." (p. 70-71)
2) on political rhetoric and persuasion, here are the hidden agenda:
"It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program - on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off - than on any positive task." (p. 160-161) Does it ring the bell?
"The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they, or at least the best among them, have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognised before....the most efficient technique to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning.... If one has not one's self experienced this process, it is difficult to appreciate the magnitude of this change of the meaning of words, the confusion which it causes, and the barriers to any rational discussion which it creates... And the confusion becomes worse because this change of meaning of the words describing political ideals is not a single event but a continuous process, a technique employed consciously or unconsciously to direct the people. Gradually, as this process continues, the whole language becomes despoiled, and words become empty shells deprived of any definite meaning, as capable of denoting one thing as its opposite and used solely for the emotional associations which still adhere to them." (p. 174-175) So beware of empty political soundbites, which are designed to borrow our allegiance to some old concepts and to confuse us!
3) Some of the worst atrocities we have witnessed were committed by totalitarianism bred from collectivism. Sometimes, I wonder how human beings are capable of doing such evils. An explanation lies in the group identity.
"Apart from the basic fact that the community of collectivism can extend only as far as the unity of purpose of the individuals exists or can be created, several contributory factors strengthen the tendency of collectivism to become particularist and exclusive. Of these, one of the most important is that the desire of the individual to identify himself with a group is very frequently the result of a feeling of inferiority and that therefore his want will be satisfied only if membership of the group confers some superiority over outsiders. Sometimes, it seems, the very fact that these violent instincts which the individual knows he must curb within the group can be given a free range in the collective action toward the outsider, becomes a further inducement for merging personality in that of the group...There is a profound truth expressed in the title of Reinhold Niebuhr's Moral Man and Immoral Society ... "an increasing tendency among modern men to imagine themselves ethical because they have delegated their vices to larger and larger groups," To act on behalf of a group seems to free people of many of the moral restraints which control their behaviour as individuals within the group. " (p. 162-163)
4) Instead of being compassionate, collectivism is amoral and cultivates an incompassionate and selfish society.
"Where there is one common all-overriding end, there is no room for any general morals or rules." (p. 168)"We are neither entitled to be unselfish at someone else's expense nor is there any merit in being unselfish if we have no choice." (p.216) "There can be no limit to what its citizen must be prepared to do, no act which his conscience must prevent him from committing, if it is necessary for an end which the community has set itself or which his superiors order him to achieve." (p. 167)"...there is literally nothing which the consistent collectivist must not be prepared to do if it serves "the good of the whole," because the "good of the whole" is to him the only criterion of what ought to be done. "(p. 166)"Once you admit that the individual is merely a means to serve the ends of the higher entity called society or the nation, most of those features of totalitarian regimes which horrify us follow of necessity." (p. 168)
More eerily familiar is this description of a collective society, which we can find some resonance in today's welfare state!
"There is much to suggest that we have in fact become more tolerant towards particular abuses and much more indifferent to inequities in individual cases, since we have fixed our eyes on an entirely different system in which the state will set everything right. It may even be, as now without compunction collectively indulge in that selfishness which as individuals we had learned to a little to restrain.
"It is true that the virtues which are less esteemed and practiced now - independent, self-reliance, and the willingness to bear risks, the readiness to back one's own conviction against a majority, and the willingness to voluntary cooperation with one's neighbours - are essentially those on which the working of an individualist society rests. Collectivism has nothing to put in their place, and in so far as it already has destroyed them it has left a void filled by nothing but the demand for obedience and the compulsion of the individual to do what is collectively decided to be good." (p. 217-8)
As I close the book, I seem to get the message that there is no middle ground between capitalism and collectivism, and yet searching for this "third way" is precisely the current endeavour. Granted that socialism in Hayek's book and socialism in today's terminology refers to quite different things. Nonetheless the appeal and pressure to move away from free enterprises with minimal state intervention and a small government to some hybrid is never relented. I wonder the focus of our effort in addressing the shortcomings of a market economy has been misguided. While Hayek is very clear which path we are not to take, it leaves us no wiser on which path we should take. The direction of state intervention is briefly addressed but it is not discussed. Meanwhile, China is attempting another model, making free enterprise to serve its totalitarian regime. Does Hayek's message imply that this model is internal incoherent and will break at some point and somewhere? Perhaps another book similar to Hayek's is due to draw insights for us to comprehend the world we are living in!
But as I close the book, I share Hayek's lamentation: "A foreign background is sometimes helpful in seeing more clearly to what circumstances the peculiar excellencies of the moral atmosphere of a nation are due. And if one who, whatever the law may say, must forever remain a foreigner, may be allowed to say so, it is one of the most disheartening spectacles of our time to see to what extent some of the most precious things which England, for example, has given to the world are now held in contempt in England itself." (p. 219) And what are the precious things referred to here? The English ideals of liberalism. Let's not give them up without a fight and due care, and be mindful of what Hayek describes as "the supreme tragedy" that "in Germany it was largely people of good will ... who prepared the way for, if they did not actually create, the forces which now stand for everything they detest." (p. 58-9)
5.0 out of 5 stars Never out of date,
In the last couple of years this man has been vindicated as the only visionary who realised almost a century ago the inherent unmanageability of the markets and spoke in favour of deregulation.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Cassandra for our time.,
If you are considering buying Friedrich Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom”, make sure to get this definitive edition. Bruce Caldwell’s excellent introduction and scholarly footnotes provide insight and context essential for understanding this important work.
So, it’s five stars for Caldwell’s editorship.
What of the book itself? Four stars, I think.
Hayek came to the LSE from Vienna in the early 1930’s. He was already making a reputation as an economist and he was soon offered a visiting professorship at LSE. The ideas that gave rise to this work, first published in England in book form in March 1944, began as a memo to Lord Beveridge (his LSE director) ten years earlier. Hayek was convinced that Beveridge and many British intellectuals were hopelessly naïve about the true nature of National Socialism in Germany and were equally unable to comprehend the extreme authoritarianism of Stalin’s form of communism. Hayek, whose political philosophy might be characterised as ‘Whig’ in English terms, was fearful that the liberal cultures and widely cherished assumptions of post-enlightenment Europe were rapidly giving way to brutalising and authoritarian regimes. These often masqueraded as “efficient planned economies” in pursuit of an unobtainable goal of notional ‘equality’.
Hayek was deeply sceptical about the capacity of planned (or ‘command’) economies to deliver ‘equality’ without imposing draconian controls on labour and rights of free movement. He regarded any such tampering with the natural process of free-trade and interpersonal negotiations as a meddlesome and dangerous attempt to subvert social Darwinist ideals. He never mentions Darwin but there is little doubt that he believes in a ‘natural evolving order’, not of inherited privilege but ability, discovery and enterprise. To Hayek this natural order, however chaotic, is far more sympathetic to personal liberty than a rationalised and efficient impersonal order, however well planned. So, for Hayek, some degree of inequality reflects the natural differences in chance, ability and determination.
Why is he so resistant to the concept of social and economic planning? Because it reminds him of the excesses of Hitler and Stalin, it seems. Hayek probably knew far better than his English colleagues the nature of these regimes. This was a period when Stalin spoke contemptuously of his “necessary idiots”, by which he meant western intellectuals who sang the praises of Soviet Russia without having any knowledge of the Gulag or the terror trials.
His central thesis is that we surrender our powers to the planners at our peril and that ‘planning’ (as opposed to natural economic metamorphosis) involves first the reduction and then eventually the annihilation of liberty and individuality.
While the book is elegantly written, provocative and interesting it is not in any sense perfect. Some obvious criticisms spring to mind:
1) Is socialism really the twin of Nazism as he claims? To Hayek they seem congruent (see chapter 12, p181).
2) Didn’t real serfdom as opposed to his metaphorical “serfdom” precede both capitalism and socialism? Real serfdom has its origins in feudal traditions of gross inequality in which inherited privilege and vast tracts of property are concentrated in an aristocracy. In pre-revolution Russia a count, such as Tolstoy, actually owned not merely his estate but also his farm workers. Hayek is in danger of subscribing to the “myth of the golden past”.
3)Could soviet Russia have defeated Hitler in the crucial battles of 1942/3without central planning of the war economy? Hardly. Was that victory worth the terrible cost? Probably.
4) Was Clement Attlee, the ‘modest’ socialist planner of all planners, the victor of the 1945 general election, a despot? That accusation would be laughable. Thus Attlee is for Hayek that impossible chimera, a planner with a human face.
Caldwell acknowledges that while Hayek was respected at LSE for his fine intellect he was regarded by most academics there as on the “wrong side”. Hayek became far more popular in post-war America and we know that Margaret Thatcher was said to have found him “inspirational”. That is odd and reveals a misunderstanding of his political roots. Hayek was not a Tory. He hated inherited privilege and influence and went on to argue that: “A conservative movement, by its very nature, is bound to be a defender of established privilege and to lean on the power of government for the protection of privilege” (See his foreword to the 1956 American paperback edition, p46). He would have been a free-market ‘Whig’ had he lived a hundred years earlier. He was an old-fashioned Darwinian Liberal; a clear thinker whose warnings are still pertinent. Since most western (and some far eastern) economies are now planned with a precision he would have loathed, he would probably say that his nightmare has come to pass.
Yet many economies have achieved the trick of combining a Hayekian free-market with a socialist welfare state. These ‘mixed’ economies have achieved gains for many. The mass are better off, live longer and are more secure, while the gifted still have freedom to shine in a way that Hayek would have doubted possible in a planned economy.
But welfare provision has had to evolve just as Hayek would have predicted. In Darwinian terms it is simply too easy to ‘exploit’.
The road to serfdom is non-technical and easy to read, by the standard of most books on economics. But the argument emerges rather slowly and Hayek cannot resist the temptation to make the same point several times, even in adjacent chapters. His original editor should have insisted on the removal of this reiteration.
His early reviewers were quite caustic. Berlin called it “awful”, Tead described it as “long-winded and over written”. But the American public liked it and it sold well. It chimed with ‘Cold War’ rhetoric and the Readers’ Digest even serialised sections. That is most unusual for an academic book.
In case every reader tries to make it fit with their own ideology, it is worth noting that it was written for a British audience during wartime and that the dedication to the first edition was:
“To socialists of all parties”.
5.0 out of 5 stars A timely reminder of the need to protect our freedoms,
This seminal work of the twentieth century is said to have been a formative influence on Margaret Thatcher. It is certainly worth reading today, when our freedoms face insidious threats.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great,
I am sorry I don't have the time to write long sentences and I think it would be better to return to the classic system of reviewing, but it's a very good service!
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The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents: Text and Documents - the Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek) by Friedrich A. Von Hayek (Paperback - 1 Mar 2007)
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