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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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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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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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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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VINE VOICEon 7 August 2016
The Road to Serfdom is the sort of book I read commentaries of while studying Politics at university rather than reading it directly. Political philosophy can be difficult to get your head round and this book tackles some weighty and complex philosophical issues.Written towards the end of WW2, Hayek offers a classical liberal critique of what were then the omnipresent totalitarian,collectivist societies which operated planned economies and restricted individual liberty quite severely. However he tries to demonstrate that almost any kind of economic planning by governments leads to this outcome,not just communist and fascist ones. Hayek is a proto Thatcherite and the ideas outlined in this book have become the dominant ideology of our times with socialism and fascism marginalised. Like most liberals and modern conservatives Hayek is more concerned with achieving greater individual liberty than with creating greater equality of wealth. He also has great faith in the invisible hand which appears to guide the market economy and doesn't think that governments should become too involved in organising the economy. I think Hayek has a point about the negative outcomes of a planned economy but he doesn't seem as concerned about the negative aspects of capitalism and individualism such as unemployment ,insecurity and inequality. I have always believed in a mixed economy,a third way between capitalism and collectivism. I believe this should be strived for by governments although it can be hard to achieve.
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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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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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on 5 July 2007
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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on 25 October 2002
Hayek wrote the original 'Road to Serfdom' which appeared in 1944 and which still, today, is a salutory reminder of the fate which awaits us should we put too much faith in the state under whichever political persuasion.
This little book, a reprint of the version which appeared in the Reader's Digest, deserves five stars for a number of reasons.
Firstly for the central message which it contains about the dangers of the collectivist state and the concentration of powers that such a state holds unto itself. Hayek dedicated his book to the socialists of all parties by which he meant that in all political parties, and indeed in the minds of many who hold no party affiliation, there are those who hold that the only way to achive a particular end is through the power of the state. He shows however, that the state which accumulates power eventually will turn that power onto the people and in the process dehumanizes those that wield power such that any revolting activity becomes justifiable. This book contains the central tenents of his arguments which are laid out in full in the unabridged version. Hayek abhors the development of the state in modern societies seeing the entity which is the state as a sort of evil empire and cautions people to be watchful and on their guard so that they maintain a healthy suspicion of the state and act to keep it from becoming too powerful. Yet, ironically, Hayek sees the tendency for such states to flourish in the so-called free societies of England and the United States. Here in New Jersey, earlier in 2002, the city of Morristown passed an ordinance which limits the number of pets which can be held in an individual household. Clearly the state intervenes too much in our lives already.
Secondly, the original Reader's Digest version, reflecting consumer demand, published this reprint at the front of it's magazine instead of at the end which was it's normal practice as well as exceeding it's normal print run many times over.
Thirdly, the editing down of the original to the condensed size is a marvel given that none of the essential essence of the original is not lost.
Hayek was originally writing in the face of the existing totalitarian regimes which existed in a number of European countries in the early 1940's and the growing strength and power of the USSR. He cautions the free nations of the West to beware the growth of the state and to fight against it. The book has a real contemporary relevance too with the world's attention being foccussed mainly on Iraq but also increasingly on the nations of Africa. Clearly the terrible and dramatic series of events unfolding in Zimbabwe are a horrific reminder of what can happen if the state and it's servants become too powerful.
For anyone believing in freedom this is a must read book.
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on 27 January 2014
Upon inspecting the pictures of this edition you might be fooled, as I was, into thinking you'll receive a proper 'book'. Instead, you'll be sent an appalling collection of un-numbered pages featuring large home-printed text, interspersed with small low-res black and white images - some of which have clearly been pulled directly (doubtless illegally) off random websites. The watermark for someone's blog is clearly visible in the corner of one of the images. I wouldn't necessarily find any of this problematic if it weren't for the fact that I paid - including postage - over £5 for this shoddy little number. This is unacceptable considering one can order legitimate new copies of myriad literary classics via amazon for a slither of that amount. This is the kind of amateur job you'd expect to encounter in a dingy fringe party's political bookshop, printed off their own internal press for free circulation; it is not fit for sale on amazon, and certainly not at this price. Complete rip-off.
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