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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading Even For Lefties
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...
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good defence of liberal democracy from the dark 1940s
First published in 1944, Hayek's polemical work is a defence of classical liberalism in the face of totalitarianisms of both right- and left-wing hues. The author deplores all sorts of `collectivism', that is departures from such aspects of liberalism as the free market, individualism and the minimal state. Thus, conservatives such as Bismarck (responsible for business...
Published on 5 July 2007 by Gerard Noonan


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading Even For Lefties, 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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As competition and democracy address means, socialism and planned economies address ends., 2 May 2010
By 
Morten Pedersen (Guildford, UK) - See all my reviews
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Lots of superior ideas have ultimately lost out, and society today looks the way it does mainly because of competition. For anyone to plan, or even attempt to plan this complex economy in an anywhere near optimal way, this task is substantially beyond the capacity of any individual on the planet. The best we can do is to construct a system in which we can predict future state behaviour on basis of our own = a legal framework. Within this framework, we are free to invest the fruits of our labour in any way we want, as long as it doesn't cause societal harm. This is our current system.

A state planned economy, however, will have to plan those decisions for us. They will have to decide how many cars/telephones/tonnes of wheat we produce next year, and consequent thereof, in order to efficiently run this system, dictate where we live, what we do for a living, and control our access to unbiased information that could ultimately lead to harm of the planned economy. Therefore, promises of "freedom" in a socialist state will become the exact opposite of what it promises.

After reading this book, it is obvious Orwell drew a significant part of his inspiration for '1984' from this work.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading regardless of your own viewpoint., 18 July 2013
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Friedrich von Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom in 1944 when the UK was at a turning point. The nationalistion of industry towards the war effort left the British state in an unusual position. Current tendencies and popular thought had meant that British society had, like their German contemporaries, been transitioning from an individualist to a collectivist one. The Second World War led to a jump in this process and to the nationalistion of huge tracts of the British economy. This meant that the government was in a prime position to transition the country into a fully socialist state. This book was written in response to this process in an effort to halt the movement. In many ways it was successful as the election of Thatcher and even Reagan led to a reliberalisation of these societies which was in no small way influenced by Hayek.

The book itself states that at the time most people saw the inequality a liberal society had produced as the largest social problem facing them at the time. The impatience for greater equality was leading to the state being called upon to take command over sectors of the economy in order to provide an equitable distribution of income and more security. Hayek argues that what is initially done to promote security eventually leads to a society where people are no longer free to choose how they wish to live. Instead the government chooses where they work and how much they are paid in the interests of securing "equality". A democracy functions as, in areas where the majority agrees, laws can be created to govern people. Where there is not common agreement (e.g. how children should be raised) individuals are allowed to make their own moral choices. In this system the state does not deliberately advantage particular people, instead it provides a standard set of rules which govern all equally. But when the government decides to take control of the factors of production (in collectivism) it must necessarily make choices that disadvantage some over others. For example if the state reduces the pay of industrial workers it has given an advantage to other people. The main distinction is that here the government has made a personal choice and in doing so has forced its citizens to accept its own "moral" standards. In this sense Hayek sees totalitarian states as being unjust as they force all individuals to adhere to the morals of the minority of people who run government. Collectivist states require absolute agreement (you can't create half a plan) and therefore anyone who disagrees with the economic plan will be unable to live according to his/her own morals.

The book is written well and is essential reading to understand liberalism regardless of whether you are left or right wing. Its polarising effect can still be seen by reading some of the different reviews of the book.
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133 of 144 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Liberalism Redux, 14 Jun. 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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61 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most important book you will read, 4 Feb. 2004
By 
B. Jacobs (London) - See all my reviews
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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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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the great classics of political philosophy: readable, insightful & hugely influential, 25 Sept. 2011
By 
The Guardian (UK) - See all my reviews
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars Secure a minimum income for everybody, 20 Oct. 2005
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A solvent of Socialism; a liberal classic., 5 Sept. 2003
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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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Take the weight off your shoulders, 23 Oct. 2013
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This book takes the weight of your secret disappointment with the Socialist idea right off of your shoulders and helps you understand that it wasn't anything you did, it was always going to go to s***.

A brilliant intelligent accurate and indispensable work for anyone interested in any ism, particularly Social-ism.

Be warned it'll have you raising issues of fact with clarity and reason at your 'progressive' dinner parties and horrifying the hosts so much you'll have to find a whole new circle of friends!
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good defence of liberal democracy from the dark 1940s, 5 July 2007
By 
Gerard Noonan "noonangerard" (Limerick, Ireland) - See all my reviews
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First published in 1944, Hayek's polemical work is a defence of classical liberalism in the face of totalitarianisms of both right- and left-wing hues. The author deplores all sorts of `collectivism', that is departures from such aspects of liberalism as the free market, individualism and the minimal state. Thus, conservatives such as Bismarck (responsible for business cartels) share the dock with communists such as Lenin. In a chapter entitled `The Socialist Roots of National Socialism', Hayek argues that collectivist achievements such as the welfare state and the war economy paved the way for the collectivism of the Nazis: `Few are ready to recognize that the rise of Fascism and Nazism was not a reaction against the socialist trends of the preceding period, but a necessary outcome of those tendencies.' (p. 4). This is a mirror image of the classic Marxist argument that Fascism, far from being a reaction against the upheaval in the capitalist economy in the 1930s, was in fact the logical culmination of capitalism, the last redoubt of the bourgeoisie.
Intriguing an argument as it is, I think Hayek over emphasizes the socialist element of National Socialism: as far as I know Hitler was quite happy to allow German capitalists to make large profits as long as they agreed to economic planning. Also, the German Workers' Party adopted `National Socialist' and `Workers' in the title only to attract working class votes, and not out of any enthusiasm for Marxism. Hayek would probably object that planning is planning regardless of whether capitalists are allowed to make profits or not.
This, of course, is the central conceit of the book and its Achilles heel: that all planning is bad and precipitates the onset of totalitarianism: `There is no other possibility than either the order governed by the impersonal discipline of the market or that directed by the will of a few individuals...' (p. 205). This argument is disingenuous. While Hayek recognizes that there are degrees of classical liberalism - he eschews what he calls the `dogmatic laissez-faire attitude' (p. 37) - he fails to concede that there are likewise degrees of collectivism. As a work of prediction, 'Serfdom' proved very wide of the mark, for although various postwar European governments instituted what Hayek would refer to as `collectivism' and `planning', they operated within the framework of liberal democracy, private property, and individual political liberty.
In spite of such objections, given all I had read about it, I was expecting Serfdom to be worse than it was. Given the atmosphere it was written in, the book's thesis is actually quite progressive. Maybe that's why such progressives as John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell and George Orwell either gave it favorable reviews or were sympathetic to its argument. As a defence of liberal democracy, Hayek's polemic is indispensable.
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