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The Road to Serfdom (1944)

by F. A. Hayek

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,805355,157 (4.2)42
Originally published in 1944, this book offers persuasive warnings against the dangers of central planning, along with what Orwell described as "an eloquent defense of laissez-faire capitalism." Hayek shows that the idea that "under a dictatorial government you can be free inside," is nothing less than a grievous fallacy. Such dictatorial governments prevent individual freedoms and they often use psychological measures to perform "an alteration of the character of the people." Gradually, the people yield their individuality to the point where they become part of the collectivist mass.… (more)

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English (25)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (3)  Portuguese (Brazil) (2)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (35)
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With the pending decision in the LoperLight case in the next few weeks I read this book again to moor my bearings on the threat of the administrative state, to weigh against the need to address complex needs through regulation. ( )
  cjneary | May 20, 2024 |
This was probably the only political book that I found myself agreeing with almost all the way through. It approaches socialism logically from a pretty liberal point of view and makes a lot of really strong points about how we interpret change and attempt to implement it. The best way to get yourself hooked on this book's concept/see if you like it is by reading the one page conclusion; if you agree with it, you'll love the book. ( )
  mrbearbooks | Apr 22, 2024 |
Lido ( )
  Correaf | Feb 21, 2024 |
Last year forced me to to see if I am hallucinating about the world or we truly (collectively to use phrase as cliche as it can be) want to implement the world out of the dystopian books and movies (which are, as I try to explain to people whole the time, warnings, not bloody blueprints!).

To be honest I was reluctant to pick this one up because (as I can see is general feeling among some reviewers that [tried to or fully] read the book) US republicans recommend it. So I expected some tirade related to socialism in general (you know kind of like US citizens get terrified when somebody says Sweden is social state (keep in mind I say social not socialist, difference is huge because I know socialist states, same first six characters but completely different thing)).

And how surprised was I by this book..

First, book is about the eternal conflict between state and individual. US citizens will never understand this because they never had this type of struggle and only pressure from federal government they get is for revenue purposes (I know I am simplifying but you gotta admit this is more or less only intrusion of big government).

While US was created using most enlightened political approaches at the time, Europe had to go through lots of motions not to mention bloody wars that sometimes lasted 30, sometimes 100 years, ferocity of which US [thankfully] cannot even imagine, until they reached the same state post-1945. During that period lots of things happened and it was not until two world wars in 20th century that Western Europe (and to a degree countries going eastward, towards Central Europe and border with Russia; Spanish for example had to wait additional 30 years) finally fully accepted libertarian democracy as a main mechanism for driving their societies forward (do note that up to 1914 there were a lot of monarchies, duchies and empires in Europe - although some were more enlightened than others they were very ruthless with dissidents).

At the time when this book was written (1944) UK was the most free society in the world (similar to US today). Mainland was held by one of the most oppressive regimes ever, Hitler's Nazi Germany. Further east another totalitarian state existed and at this time it was actively fighting Germany - USSR.

Author uses UK and as a contrast both Nazi Germany and USSR to show what are the traps and dangers when individual rights are replaced with eternal loyalty to the faceless and supreme-ruling body of numerous bureaucrats that live for only one reason - controlling and directing the others what to do (usually 99% of population).
If Hitler did not follow his racial policy (note that eugenics were popular all over the world at the time as was Italian style of state corporations) and caused horrors that will echo through eternity as vilest thing ever done, he would be just one more German dictator with world domination obsession. I shudder when I think what would happen then.

And this is where the core of the book lies - pointing to the dangers of totalitarian state and how easy it is for open free society to become totalitarian.

Written in a very clear and understandable way [and very German type of sentence that force you to pay attention and actually read, not skim the pages] author gives viewpoint as a European main-lander that emigrated to UK for a very reason of escaping the omnipotent state. Being an immigrant he saw things that prompted him to write the book (and believe me, immigrants usually almost immediately identify this type of things - main populace behaves like frogs in slowly boiling water while immigrants usually come to the new country running away from these horrors - this gives them unique view of the society dynamics).

What is worrisome, things he talks about are very much present today (and similarities are worrying to say the least):
- educational system that is very critical of its own society, very values and properties that enable that same educational system and provide means to professors and teachers to live and work - freely; so critical that everyone feels ashamed and just avoids talking about their own national prides. What is expected is constant mea-culpa and covering oneself with ashes .... always and forever which is stupid to say the least.
- elites/politicians that are weak, have great power and like to feel smart (hey we follow the science - sounds familiar eh?) and are not willing to give up their power once they obtain it (again, very familiar) so they look for ways to cling to it and if possible expand it. They have plans and everything is very clear (for them, others do not matter, they need to follow orders).
- people that are blunted by their everyday life, so attuned to the lies and corruption they do not react anymore (instead of acting in a constructive (accent on constructive) way). This makes them perfect mass for the maniacs in power to mold them.
- scientists that think they are able to think better for the masses, they will do everything right and cannot make mistake (heh! I was surprised this was trend in 1940's and by the looks of it even before, obviously when they think they hold the intellectual ground they tend to stay on the high-horse) - again similarities with modern times and last year in particular ..... terrifying
- humanist-science guys that draw inspiration from 18th/19th social movements whose ideals have more in common with ancient Sparta and Northern Korea today, highly militarized, closed societies, with rulers to whom purpose is everything, who think to manage the society by placing people like plant cogs where they are most effective (of course keeping managerial roles for themselves) and if they have no purpose ..... well Hitler's, Mussolini's and Stalin's state just erased them. I was horrified when I heard how UK intelligentsia said for Hitler that he is the worst but (semi-quote)might be the first one to find the way of handling the state and its populace for the future(/semi-quote)...... in 1940's......during the UK's gravest hour one of their sociologists says this.........what! But then again today we have actual destruction - for whatever reason, perceivable as good or bad- praised by everyone. So not that much different, right? It seems that approach violence-is-the-ultimate-leveler and we need strife, strife is always popular amongst revolutionaries (as can be seen these totalitarian states always need struggle, eternal struggle, otherwise people would start thinking and we cannot have that!)
- media that is under the state control, propaganda firing on all 8 cylinders, supporting the official story and blocking everyone else (again .... right, yeah? I don't want to repeat myself)
- new linguistic gymnastics to mess with peoples understanding of things and thus obfuscating what is actually going on
- industry monopolies that try to take over the free market and use state as an enforcement tool (again, bloody hell, social events are truly cyclic)

State and individual need to cooperate - latter needs to be able to progress and work on its goals, be resilient and independent, former needs to ensure physical escalations don't take place, that there are general rules of conduct between all parties involved and that poorest or in dire circumstances are taken care of. Author is not against social-welfare state as long it does not block its citizens from living normally and individually free.

State needs to protect its own citizens and citizens need to protect the state from external or internal enemies. There is always push-pull relationship here, state trying to gain more power, individual trying to get more freedom and independence. But this dynamic is what makes life of the citizen, from ancient Rome to modern times. They need to be in balance.

When state takes over the power and starts dictating the rules then problems arise. Hey, millions died of famine because we had 10 year plan to build industry - mainstream will say hey that was part of the project altogether, all good. You cannot question the plan or the planners. Otherwise everything goes down.
To make sure everyone believes in party line (what is called today mainstream media) there must be no doubt, there must be full loyalty and obedience. And this brings in force and oppression (because power [and trust] over constituency is lost - remember those drug-like-raids because household has 3 instead of 2 persons in? Bring down that door, throw in stun grenades and possibly deploy counter-terrorist forces - get them!), restrictions (taking care of older than X years, sorry maybe in 20 years, building roads to wherever is now priority) and colossal level of mind-twisting propaganda in media and education to ensure everyone is in line with the decision (whether they like it or not). Again... right? Right.

For this not to happen people need to be aware of the core values of their society, they need to cherish it and first and foremost they need to cherish the individual freedoms. Once this stops (and majority people have attention span of the golden fish and thinking is something majority also avoids) we are surrendering ourselves to the mercy of people of dubious moral quality (authors explanation how unscrupulous people tend to rule totalitarian societies is excellent) - once in power people tend to keep it and expand it, never relinquish it. And so grip is ever tightening.

Excellent book, might be tricky if you start reading with some preconceived notions and assumptions (I was guilty of this) but very soon it is clear that author is against omnipotent totalitarian (today somebody gives it a cutey-cute nickname nanny] state and wants people to be able to prosper on their own not to be limited on what they can do with their lives. How totalitarian state came to be - was it tsarist regime before, already militarized society or free state - does not matter. Once state starts with planning the life of its populace everything goes down because planning implies one idea for all and to pursue it there can be no discussion, there can be no debate, no doubt, there can only be execution. People that want to do the planning are usually those that think they cannot err, they think they know the best but forget (in my opinion intentionally) that coercion and enforcement of someones idea of how things are supposed to go makes prison out of state itself.

Btw on one of the comments that said author compares Nazis and Stalin's Communists as if they were the same....in 1940's they were almost identical in the way they expressed love to their populace, they had more common elements than differences, read any book on the period from 1917 to Stalin's death, he was running for all means and purposes a concentration camp, cutting heads left and right just for the fun of it (that eternal struggle, you cannot have anyone relaxing). When he died people thought it was just one of his elaborate plays to check their loyalty. Only through the Hitler's blunder and invasion of Russia Western allies got unexpected ally in the East that would prove to be a multiplying force that enabled two-side strike that finally ended the war. I don't want to think what would happen if Germany did not attack Russia when it did. ( )
2 vote Zare | Jan 23, 2024 |
Hayek’s classic defense of classical liberalism is a political and moral tour de force. Considering that it was written by an Austrian Jew who’d emigrated to Britain early in the Nazi era, its grace and generosity towards national enemies and ideological opponents is remarkable. His main argument isn’t so much that individual liberty, limited government, the rule of law, and competitive markets constitute the most efficient economic system producing the greatest general prosperity and the greatest personal freedom. Hayek makes this argument powerfully, but he’s most concerned to show that the then-current disdain for classical liberalism and the clamor for centralized economic planning would inevitably lead to arbitrary, coercive government, destruction of individual liberties and of the rule of law, greater class or interest group resentments, and also to economic inefficiency with less general prosperity. At least if the movement toward collectivism goes unchecked, it leads to totalitarianism, which necessarily is anti-democratic, anti-rational, dangerously amoral with the concept of truth largely inverted, and it consequently attracts the most unscrupulous people to positions of power. Hayek also points out the essential equivalence of collectivism of the Right and of the Left.

Although widely panned by the intelligentsia of the time, the book has always gotten a lot of attention and it’s been very influential. I believe history has amply demonstrated the soundness of the overall arguments. Considering history and the stakes, I find it difficult to be as generous as Hayek was toward those whose ideological rigidity prevents them from learning its lessons. If the book has any weaknesses, perhaps the most important one is that it doesn’t systematically outline the appropriate roles of government in a capitalist democracy. The book could be construed as being anti-government, which it isn’t; Hayek clearly says that an extensive welfare state isn’t incompatible with a competitive market economy, and that wealthy nations can and even should provide some forms of social insurance. He especially emphasizes the importance of government establishing the rule of law – based on general principles and applied equally to all – along with effective enforcement of contracts and administration of justice generally, as critical to the context in which markets operate properly. He’s also very much concerned with prevention of monopolies, or their minimization where elimination isn’t possible, something equally applicable to private enterprise as to government (except in the few areas where government monopolies are necessary, e.g. the military, some public utilities, etc.), but in particular a critical function of government in free markets.

Hayek just touches on monetary policy, he doesn’t deal directly with government fiscal policy, he doesn’t describe the appropriate role of central banks in economies, and he only briefly touches on what we’d call Keynesian approaches to downturns and unemployment (to say that they’re generally not effective and there are better ways to deal with those problems, without elaborating much). I think it would have clarified and strengthened his arguments if he had provided a systematic treatment of the appropriate functions of the state in a society founded on principles of classical liberalism. But it also would have made a compact and pointed book much less so – a book he considered to be urgently needed, and I think rightly. A careful reader can grasp enough of Hayek’s picture of government in a capitalist democracy to see its essential functions and limitations, and that they’re sensible. The book as is keeps the focus on the less-than-obvious but potentially great and possibly imminent danger, and it does a superb job of tracing its history and development (particularly in Germany over several decades prior to the Nazis’ rise), of describing the dreadful society it leads to, and of showing how and why this happens. It’s a fairly detailed 20th c. way of saying, like Franklin, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Basically, economic and political freedom are inseparable, both of which require private property and free, competitive markets with the state ensuring the rule of law. ( )
1 vote garbagedump | Dec 9, 2022 |
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In short, it forces one, unless they choose not to read the book or uncritically shrug Hayek’s arguments off, to actually ponder and critically analyze the positions that they hold.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
F. A. Hayekprimary authorall editionscalculated
Chamberlain, JohnForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Friedman, MiltonIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vergara, JoséTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once. David Hume
I should have loved freedom, I believe, at all times, but in the time in which we live I am ready to worship it.  A. De Tocqueville
To the socialists of all parties
First words
When the course of civilization takes an unexpected turn -- when, instead of the continuous progress which we have come to expect, we find ourselves threatened by evils associated by us with past ages of barbarism -- we naturally blame anything but ourselves.
"The welfare and the happiness of millions cannot be measured on a single scale of less and more."
"If those whose usefulness is reduced by circumstances which they could neither foresee nor control were to be protected against undeserved loss, and those whose usefulness has been increased in the same way were prevented from making an unmerited gain, renumeration would soon cease to have any relation to actual usefulness."
"One of the inherent contradictions of the collectivist philosophy is that, while basing itself on the humanistic morals which individualism has developed, it is practicable only within a relatively small group."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Per WorldCat, ISBN 0226320553 is for The Road to Serfdom: The Definitive Edition: Text and Documents,
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Originally published in 1944, this book offers persuasive warnings against the dangers of central planning, along with what Orwell described as "an eloquent defense of laissez-faire capitalism." Hayek shows that the idea that "under a dictatorial government you can be free inside," is nothing less than a grievous fallacy. Such dictatorial governments prevent individual freedoms and they often use psychological measures to perform "an alteration of the character of the people." Gradually, the people yield their individuality to the point where they become part of the collectivist mass.

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Haiku summary
What's this book about?
It's paved with good intentions.
Enough of a hint?

The State should rule all.
That sounds great! Oh, hello there,
Hitler and Stalin.


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