- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (17 May 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415253896
- ISBN-13: 978-0415253895
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 95 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 9,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Road to Serfdom (Routledge Classics) Paperback – 17 May 2001
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'This book has become a true classic: essential reading for everyone who is seriously interested in politics in the broadest and least partisan sense.' - Milton Friedman
'This book should be read by everybody. It is no use saying that there are a great many people who are not interested in politics; the political issue discussed by Dr Hayek concerns every single member of the community.' - The Listener
The Road to Serfdom remains one of the all-time classics of twentieth-century intellectual thought. For over half a century, it has inspired politicians and thinkers around the world, and has had a crucial impact on our political and cultural history. With trademark brilliance, Hayek argues convincingly that, while socialist ideals may be tempting, they cannot be accomplished except by means that few would approve of. Addressing economics, fascism, history, socialism and the Holocaust, Hayek unwraps the trappings of socialist ideology. He reveals to the world that little can result from such ideas except oppression and tyranny. Today, more than fifty years on, Hayek's warnings are just as valid as when The Road to Serfdom was first published.See all Product description
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Short, accessibile and contained within it are politically ubiquitous ideas. This text is probably useful regardless of your position on the spectrum.
It explains why relying on 'the state' to feed you, clothe you, house you, means you are actually a serf. It has changed the principle of 'he who doesn't work doesn't eat' to 'he who doesn't obey doesn't eat'.
Not an easy read, - I had to put it down and THINK about what I had just read. - but a classic of its kind.
he attacks the socialiste by : running the economy is too complex, nobody can predict the result of any change, planning is impossible by a central instance (socialism), it will only result on less freedom. (to maximise the efficiency of planning you need fascism ).
it's not like science where you can experiment and get the ruling equation : & WIN. Multi-thread strategy is the best : where every individual is trying hack the equation for some incentive $, and a small gouvernance for checking that the game rule are the same for every body.
A central governance will surely reduce the freedom of individual : best way to maximise freedom is to minimise central planning & state power & state.
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”.
Where other writers merely rant about the dangers of collectivism Hayek makes the case with clarify and power.
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