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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
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.
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135 of 146 people found the following review helpful
on 14 June 2006
The thesis of this book is quite a simple one. No one person or group of people can possibly have enough knowledge to effectively run an economy. No-one is able to collect and make use of sufficient information even about the past, let alone the present. Any attempt, therefore, to plan the future is bound to fail. Hayek goes on to postulate that this failure must result in the rule of a dictator as a last desperate fallback to take command of the spiralling chaos. The experience he had in mind, of course, was Nazi Germany whose fate he saw as ineluctable from the birth of the German welfare state in the late 19th Century. The command economy signifies the submission of the individual to the dictates of the planners in whose hands is concentrated the power that was once dispersed among many industrialists. The individual is thus reduced to the condition of the serf who ends up without even the power to sell his labour to a higher bidder.

This is a defence of private property, and the responsibility of the individual for his own fate whatever it may be. It is not libertarian; it does not wish to whittle down the power of the state to a bare minimum. However, aside from the legislation of basic standards, it argues for the exclusion of centralised power from the quick of economic life and the enabling of choice even to the poorest. It is a fundamental text of what was once called liberalism, and is as relevant today as it ever was.
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62 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on 4 February 2004
Written in 1944, in clear, modern English, this book must be one of the all time classics. In a forensic but highly readable analysis, Hayek explains that social justice is the goal of all systems, Socialism, Liberalism etc, and that they are just different approaches as to how to achieve it. He then shows how Socialism despite its very good intentions inevitably leads to the opposite of its goal. Liberalism is seen as the only genuine method to achieve true social justice. It is one of the most rigorous deconstructions of political thought I have ever read and is worthy of a law court, yet remains hugely readable.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
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.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
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.

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.

NB avoid the `abridged' and `Readers' Digest' versions of this book and make sure you read the complete original, which is only about 240 pages; that way, you'll understand the full force of Hayek's thesis in detail.

In summary: important, thoughtful, enlightening, readable, brilliant.
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77 of 87 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 20 October 2005
This book has been heavily criticized by the left, and with reason, for it saws the legs under their table.
Hayek's book is a frontal attack on the socialist dream of a centrally planned economy, which should wipe out the cyclical swings in a free market system.
For Hayek, a centrally planned economy is a synonym for slavery.
Hayed argues rightly that the replacement of free enterprise and competition by collectivism equals he abolition of democracy.
As L. Trotzky remarks (quoted in this book): 'In a country where the sole employer is the state, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle - who does not work shall not eat - has been replaced by a new one - who does not obey shall not eat.'
A centrally planned economy creates a totalitarian system where the end justifies the means, which in other words means a denial of all morals. Moreover, the individual is not respected as a man but becomes a cog in an enormous bureaucracy, where tolerance is not tolerated.
For real liberals (like B. Russell) power has been the archevil; to the strict collectivist it is a goal in itself.
Hayek is by any means not a pure liberal, because he insists that every state should provide a system of social insurance wth a minimum income for all.
Hayek's warnings have been gravely vindicated by the gruelng inhumanity of the totalitarian regimes, created after World War II.
This is a great book about liberty and independence, truth and intellectual honesty, peace and democracy and respect for the individual qua man.
A must read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 14 January 2013
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!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 5 September 2003
In this seminal text Hayek set out to warn the British people in 1944 of the dangers that Socialism could bring upon them if they did not take stock and mend their ways. In the age where all three of the main political parties (even a self-described "Liberal" one) espouse the apparent benefits of "social justice"; where multinational companies are portrayed as demons; and "Make Trade Fair" (i.e. unfree) is fashionable, The Road to Serfdom provides a valuable ideological solvent of these present-day Socialist theories.

Hayek buries the Marxist myth that National-Socialism and Fascism were a "stage" of capitalism, and instead demonstrates that National-Socialism and Fascism were but different strands of collectivist thinking, just as Socialism is. In Germany, National-Socialism had its roots in the alliance between nationalistic conservatives of the Right and Socialists of the Left; a union of illiberal and anti-capitalist forces in the decades before Hitler's rise to power in the 1930s. For example, in 1892 the Social Democrat politician August Bebel proclaimed to Bismarck that German Social Democracy "is a sort of preparatory school for militarism".

Those intellectuals who laid the groundwork for National-Socialism (Fichte, Rodbertus and Lassall) are at the same time prominent Socialist thinkers. Professor Werner Sombart, an influential German Marxist theorist who Engels claimed was the only German professor who truly understood Marx's Das Kapital, at the same time portrayed the First World War as a war between two conflicting ideologies: England was the liberal, capitalist, individualist protagonist and Germany was the representative of an heroic culture which viewed war as sacred: to view war as senseless slaughter is, Sombart claimed, the outcome of English commercialism. Another German Marxist who helped lay the foundation for Hitler was Professor Johann Plenge, who also claimed that WWI was a struggle between two ideas; the "ideas of 1789" (freedom) and the "ideas of 1914" (organisation). The organised German war economy, Plenge contended, "is the first realisation of a socialist society". The Road to Serfdom demonstrates how Marxist thinkers did much of fascism's propaganda for it and made Hitler's rise all-but-inevitable by driving out liberalism from Germany.

Perhaps more importantly, Hayek demolishes the concept of "social justice" or "distributive justice". "Social justice" generally means the wealth in a society should be redistributed according to ideas of fairness and what socialists consider "just" and equitable through a state planned economy. Hayek convincingly argues that only human actions can be "just" or "unjust" and that a free-market economy cannot be "just" or "unjust" because it has not and could not be consciously brought into being by one person or one organisation precisely because it is unplanned and made up of many people. In a free competitive economy only a mixture of individuals' skill and luck determines where individuals will be placed on the ladder of income and wealth. Individuals' relative position to each other is not the outcome of any one person's deliberate action but the result of a process over which no one person or organisation has any control. Consequently it is illogical to judge this situation in terms of justice or to suggest a different outcome would have been more "just" because nobody has acted unjustly.

Hayek also proves that private property is one of the strongest bulwarks of liberty in existence: it is only because the control of the means of production is divided among many individuals acting independently that nobody has complete power over all of us and that we as individuals can decide what to do with ourselves. If all the means of production were vested in a single authority, whoever exercises this control has complete power over us. Hayek asserts that the power which a millionaire, who may be my neighbour and conceivably my employer, has over me is very much less than that which a minor official who wields the coercive power of the state and on whose discretion it depends how I am to be allowed to live or to work in the name of "social justice". To abolish private property would be to abolish freedom itself.

When originally published, The Road to Serfdom was criticised for being a largely negative work; that is, it demonstrated what should not be done. Hayek responded in 1960 by publishing a positive work advocating liberal principles: The Constitution of Liberty. I would recommend reading that book after finishing this one.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 21 April 2013
I picked this from my stack with both excitement and trepidation. Excitement because this is one of the most famous books of the last century on political economy and trepidation because it is also a favourite of right-wing laissez-faire pundits. It didn't take me long to start marking off objections which just confirmed my suspicions. And then at some point into the book I realised the author was not against government per se or for laissez-faire economics. Hayek was against the concentration of power, full stop; for having been through the rise of National Socialism (Nazism) he was taken aback by sympathetic views in Britain, his new country, on State organization of all affairs as was common in the Germany leading to the rise of Hitler. Of course, Hitler exploited this to devastating effect. In economics, Hayek was in favour of competition as the best way for directing economic affairs and guaranteeing individual liberties. He was firmly opposed to monopolies or oligopolies. In government as in business Hayek thought concentrated power will verily be abused per Lord Acton's famous saying: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

So what do I think of this book. It is immense and essential reading. It really is and I kept marking stuff all over the place. For all those capitalists on the left, as I am, who may be afraid of reading this book please toss that fear into the abyss. It's a good thing to have a lot of perspective and this book will challenge your beliefs in a healthy way. I found myself re-examining my wholehearted support for the European Union in the form that it is in today and that was a good thing. One should keep growing in thought and ideas. I am not sure I agree as one reviewer suggests that this book is the most important book against totalitarianism since I can think of works by Hannah Arendt but this may well be the more readable.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
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.
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