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on 20 September 2016
I happen to regularly walk past the house in Cambridge where, I believe, Hayek wrote this book. I also happen to believe, to enlarge my conception of humanity, that I should read books I don't think I am going to agree with. So I confess I had thought this book would be a rant that was to be later eagerly gulped down by the mean-spirited politicians of the 1980s and the neoliberals of this century, for whom I imagine (in my own lazy way) the lofty ideal of 'freedom' elevates what is simply selfishness. Of course I may be doing such people an injustice – I certainly hope I am not being merely envious.

This book, however, was not at all as I expected. Yes, it is a polemic against collectivists, socialists and planners; yes, it is fiercely argued, but often in a most generous way to his opponents individually. Hayek is rarely dismissive or contemptuous of the objects of his criticism. His life experience in pre-war Austria helps him to notice when the left-wing intellectuals of his time (he writes in 1943/44) unknowingly repeat the rhetoric of Nazism, but this, for Hayek, is tragic and foolish and rarely malicious. He is of course critical of Marx, but he has clearly read him closely and sympathetically; most unusually but with refreshing fair-mindedness Hayek acknowledges Marx's moral and principled intentions. Hayek's discussion throughout anticipates the arguments of his objectors in a way that suggests the capacity to be empathic with those he disagrees with – his points are deeply considered; his targets are not of the usual 'straw man' type. If, George Orwell-style, the writing style is a book is a prefiguration of the polity the author wishes to bring into existence, I repeatedly had the feeling that a truly Hayekian state would be a more generous one than has, in our days – and we are surely living in a post-Hayek age – come to pass.

The emotional intensity of his analysis comes from his personal knowledge of the gradual agglomeration of collectivist or völkisch ideologies and state planning in Germany that led – inexorably, in Hayekian retrospect – to the barbarity of Nazism. Written in exile in Cambridge at the turning of the tide in the Allies' struggle for victory, but with the outcome still not beyond doubt, Hayek debates with urgency the nature of the peace to come, and the founding principles for a just and lasting settlement. This is NEVER facile quasi-deterministic economism, but a passionate plea for freedom and morality. Most strikingly it is a lyrical, loving appreciation, by someone from a very different culture, of the virtues of a *British* market system, not (solely) for the sake of economic efficiency but as a way of increasing individual freedom *and* responsibility.

In our post-Brexit age, we may all benefit from a reminder of some of the principles underlying a broader and deeper conception of Britishness. Readers may be also surprised and fascinated to read his arguments for a European federal system.

Thoroughly recommended.
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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 April 2017
Bought for husband as a present.
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on 13 May 2017
As expected.
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on 24 March 1999
A better argument against "the socialists of all parties" could not be made. In this masterpiece, Hayek lays out brilliantly and convincingly why ANY attempt to centralize decision making with government is at best a small step down "The Road to Serfdom." Hayek skewers the--even now--widespread notion that society can legislate its way to a better world. Supporters of both "the right" and "the left" can't help but see their faulty logic countered by the reasoned arguments of this book.
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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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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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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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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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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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