Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Road to Serfdom

Rate this book
A classic work in political philosophy, intellectual and cultural history, and economics, The Road to Serfdom has inspired and infuriated politicians, scholars, and general readers for half a century. Originally published in England in the spring of 1944—when Eleanor Roosevelt supported the efforts of Stalin, and Albert Einstein subscribed lock, stock, and barrel to the socialist program—The Road to Serfdom was seen as heretical for its passionate warning against the dangers of state control over the means of production. For F. A. Hayek, the collectivist idea of empowering government with increasing economic control would inevitably lead not to a utopia but to the horrors of nazi Germany and fascist Italy.

First published by the University of Chicago Press on September 18, 1944, The Road to Serfdom garnered immediate attention from the public, politicians, and scholars alike. The first printing of 2,000 copies was exhausted instantly, and within six months more than 30,000 were sold. In April of 1945, Reader's Digest published a condensed version of the book, and soon thereafter the Book-of-the-Month Club distributed this condensation to more than 600,000 readers. A perennial best-seller, the book has sold over a quarter of a million copies in the United States, not including the British edition or the nearly twenty translations into such languages as German, French, Dutch, Swedish, and Japanese, and not to mention the many underground editions produced in Eastern Europe before the fall of the iron curtain.

After thirty-two printings in the United States, The Road to Serfdom has established itself alongside the works of Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, and George Orwell for its timeless meditation on the relation between individual liberty and government authority. This fiftieth anniversary edition, with a new introduction by Milton Friedman, commemorates the enduring influence of The Road to Serfdom on the ever-changing political and social climates of the twentieth century, from the rise of socialism after World War II to the Reagan and Thatcher "revolutions" in the 1980s and the transitions in Eastern Europe from communism to capitalism in the 1990s.

F. A. Hayek (1899-1992), recipient of the Medal of Freedom in 1991 and co-winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1974, was a pioneer in monetary theory and the principal proponent of libertarianism in the twentieth century.

On the first American edition of The Road to Serfdom:
"One of the most important books of our generation. . . . It restates for our time the issue between liberty and authority with the power and rigor of reasoning with which John Stuart Mill stated the issue for his own generation in his great essay On Liberty. . . . It is an arresting call to all well-intentioned planners and socialists, to all those who are sincere democrats and liberals at heart to stop, look and listen."—Henry Hazlitt, New York Times Book Review, September 1944

"In the negative part of Professor Hayek's thesis there is a great deal of truth. It cannot be said too often—at any rate, it is not being said nearly often enough—that collectivism is not inherently democratic, but, on the contrary, gives to a tyrannical minority such powers as the Spanish Inquisitors never dreamt of."—George Orwell, Collected Essays

274 pages, Paperback

First published September 18, 1944

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Friedrich A. Hayek

224 books1,425 followers
Friedrich August von Hayek CH was an Austrian and British economist and philosopher known for his defense of classical liberalism and free-market capitalism against socialist and collectivist thought. He is considered by some to be one of the most important economists and political philosophers of the twentieth century. Hayek's account of how changing prices communicate signals which enable individuals to coordinate their plans is widely regarded as an important achievement in economics. Hayek also wrote on the topics of jurisprudence, neuroscience and the history of ideas.

Hayek is one of the most influential members of the Austrian School of economics, and in 1974 shared the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics with Gunnar Myrdal "for their pioneering work in the theory of money and economic fluctuations and for their penetrating analysis of the interdependence of economic, social and institutional phenomena." He also received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991 from president George H. W. Bush.

Hayek lived in Austria, Great Britain, the United States and Germany, and became a British subject in 1938.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
10,668 (46%)
4 stars
7,393 (32%)
3 stars
3,328 (14%)
2 stars
982 (4%)
1 star
562 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,634 reviews
Profile Image for Cami.
419 reviews115 followers
July 26, 2016
This book captures the frustration of classical liberals (as opposed to modern liberals) when they see collectivist policies enacted despite the overwhelming evidence that socialism brings about disastrous results.

Having grown up and lived in Austria during World War I and later moving to Great Britain, Hayek was particularly frustrated when he saw Britain and the United States making the same mistakes of the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Hayek argues that collectivism eventually leads to tyranny. Central economic planning gives too much power to the government, which essentially puts that power in the hands of a small group rather than in each individual.

My favorite quote: “Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”

Hayek’s thesis is very pertinent today in that when the federal government does meddle too much with the free market it causes problems and then those problems ironically are seen as the failing of the free market and not the ineptitude of government.
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
805 reviews3,860 followers
September 27, 2020
He inspired Milton Friedman. There´s nothing to add to that, it´s just making one speechless.

As soon as abstract, not measurable, highly abstract, not concrete concepts and words such as freedom, justice, right, etc. are used, it´s often a highly alarming sign, signal, and warning that something is going terribly wrong, that the author has left reality and entered the spheres of speculation, guessing, or just doing as if subjective, in the best cases just eccentric, DIY creative problem solving ideas can be implemented in larger systems or even the world.

It reminds me of playing Chinese whisperers, silent post, for two reasons. First, because those pseudo fringe science wannabe intellectuals are as arrogant as possible while behaving like stubborn kids and second, because one begins with a stupid idea that gets copied and modified and mutates to more and more idiotic, tragically real-life appliances.

It´s also a bit like a brainstorming, a creative technique, an idea constructing session completely getting out of control. I´ll give it a try. Let´s say that I am biased and hate capitalism such as Hayek hated socialism without any reason, mixed it with pseudo psychology and constructed his crude and inhuman theories.
So I want anything in the property of the state, ban private companies, install a system such in China or with communism. Does one see how stupid and onesided that is, this black and white, good and bad, evil economy and friendly economy? But wait, if we instead say that our economic system is as onesided and stupid as communism, that´s, of course, unacceptable treason.

One could produce thousands of stupid fringe theories while misusing social sciences and humanities. Oh wait, that´s permanently done, my mistake.

I´ve said most about this topic in my reviews of Roslings´ Factfulness
Pinkers´ Enlightenment Now
and Friedmans´ Capitalism and Freedom.

These books are just a repetition of the same yada bla without any accuracy or legitimacy.

Some facepalm quotes:
“I am certain, however, that nothing has done so much to destroy the juridical safeguards of individual freedom as the striving after this mirage of social justice.”
“Although we had been warned by some of the greatest political thinkers of the nineteenth century, by Tocqueville and Lord Acton, that socialism means slavery, we have steadily moved in the direction of socialism.”
„Wir verdanken den Amerikanern eine große Bereicherung der Sprache durch den bezeichnenden Ausdruck weasel-word. So wie das kleine Raubtier, das auch wir Wiesel nennen, angeblich aus einem Ei allen Inhalt heraussaugen kann, ohne daß man dies nachher der leeren Schale anmerkt, so sind die Wiesel-Wörter jene, die, wenn man sie einem Wort hinzufügt, dieses Wort jedes Inhalts und jeder Bedeutung berauben. Ich glaube, das Wiesel-Wort par excellence ist das Wort sozial. Was es eigentlich heißt, weiß niemand. Wahr ist nur, daß eine soziale Marktwirtschaft keine Marktwirtschaft, ein sozialer Rechtsstaat kein Rechtsstaat, ein soziales Gewissen kein Gewissen, soziale Gerechtigkeit keine Gerechtigkeit – und ich fürchte auch, soziale Demokratie keine Demokratie ist.“

Because of much talk and discussion about the replication crisis with friends and in general, I will add these thoughts to all following nonfiction books dealing with humanities in the future, so you might have already seen it.

Sorry folks, this is one of my last rants, I am sick and tired of this and want to focus on true science and great fiction instead, not this disturbed fairytales for adults who never had the chance to built a free opinion because most of the media they consume to stay informed and get educated avoids any criticism of the current economic system.

Without having read or heard ideas by Chomsky, Monbiot, Klein, Ken Robinson, Monbiot, Peter Singer, William McDonough, Ziegler, Colin Crouch, Jeremy Rifkin, David Graeber, John Perkins, and others, humans will always react to people like me, condemning the manipulation Hayek was practicing with terrifying success, with anger and refusal.

These authors don´t hide aspects of the truth and describe the real state of the world that should be read instead of epic facepalms like this. They don´t predict the future and preach the one only, the true way, ignoring anything like black swans, coincidences or the, for each small child logical, fact that nobody knows what will happen, and collect exactly the free available data people such as Hayek wanted to ignore forever.

Some words about the publication crisis that even have some positive points at the end so that this whole thing is not that depressing.

One could call the replication crisis the viral fake news epidemic of many fields of science that was a hidden, chronic disease over decades and centuries and has become extremely widespread during the last years, since the first critics began vaccinating against it, provoking virulent counterarguments. I don´t know how else this could end than with nothing else than paradigm shifts, discovering many anachronisms, and a better, fact- and number based research with many control instances before something of an impact on the social policy gets accepted.

A few points that led to it:

I had an intuitive feeling regarding this for years, but the replication crisis proofed that there are too many interconnections of not strictly scientific fields such as economics and politics with many humanities. Look, already some of the titles are biased towards a more positive or negative attitude, but thinking too optimistic is the same mistake as being too pessimistic, it isn´t objective anymore and one can be instrumentalized without even recognizing it.

In natural sciences, theoretical physicists, astrophysicists, physicians… that were friends of a certain idea will always say that there is the option of change, that a discovery may lead to a new revolution, and that their old work has to be reexamined. So in science regarding the real world the specialists are much more open to change than in some humanities, isn´t that strange?

It would be as if one would say that all humans are representative, similar, that there are no differences. But it´s not, each time a study is made there are different people, opinions, so many coincidences, and unique happenings that it´s impossible to reproduce it.
Scandinavia vs the normal world. The society people live in makes happiness, not theoretical, not definitive concepts.
One can manipulate so many parameters in those studies that the result can be extremely positive or negative, just depending on what who funds the study and does the study wants as results.

One could use the studies she/ he needs to create an optimistic or a pessimistic book and many studies about human nature are redundant, repetitive, or biased towards a certain result, often an optimistic outcome or spectacular, groundbreaking results. Do you know who does that too? Statistics, economics, politics, and faith.

I wish I could be a bit more optimistic than realistic, but not hard evidence based stuff is a bit of a no go if it involves practical applications, especially if there is the danger of not working against big problems by doing as if they weren´t there.

A few points that lead away from it:

1. Tech
2. Nordic model
3. Open data, open government,
4. Blockchains, cryptocurrencies, quantum computing, to make each financial transaction transparent and traceable.
5. Points mentioned in the Wiki article
6. It must be horrible for the poor scientists who work in those fields and are now suffering because the founding fathers used theories and concepts that have nothing to do with real science. They worked hard to build a career to just find out that the predecessors integrated methods that couldn´t work in other systems, let's say an evolving computer program or a machine or a human body or anywhere except in ones´ imagination. They are truly courageous to risk criticism because of the humanities bashing wave that won´t end soon. As in so many fields, it are a few black sheep who ruin everything for many others and the more progressive a young scientist is, the more he is in danger of getting smashed between a hyper sensible public awareness and the old anachronism shepherds, avoiding anything progressive with the danger of a paradigm shift or even a relativization of the field they dedicated their career to. There has to be strict segregation between theories and ideas and applications in real life, so that anything can be researched, but not used to do crazy things.

The worst bad science practice includes, from Wikipedia, taken from the article about the replication crisis:

1. The replication crisis (or replicability crisis or reproducibility crisis) is, as of 2020, an ongoing methodological crisis in which it has been found that many scientific studies are difficult or impossible to replicate or reproduce. The replication crisis affects the social sciences and medicine most severely.[
2. The inability to replicate the studies of others has potentially grave consequences for many fields of science in which significant theories are grounded on unreproducible experimental work. The replication crisis has been particularly widely discussed in the field of psychology and in medicine, where a number of efforts have been made to re-investigate classic results
3. A 2016 poll of 1,500 scientists reported that 70% of them had failed to reproduce at least one other scientist's experiment (50% had failed to reproduce one of their own experiments).[8] In 2009, 2% of scientists admitted to falsifying studies at least once and 14% admitted to personally knowing someone who did.
4. „Psychological research is, on average, afflicted with low statistical power."
5. Firstly, questionable research practices (QRPs) have been identified as common in the field.[18] Such practices, while not intentionally fraudulent, involve capitalizing on the gray area of acceptable scientific practices or exploiting flexibility in data collection, analysis, and reporting, often in an effort to obtain a desired outcome. Examples of QRPs include selective reporting or partial publication of data (reporting only some of the study conditions or collected dependent measures in a publication), optional stopping (choosing when to stop data collection, often based on statistical significance of tests), p-value rounding (rounding p-values down to 0.05 to suggest statistical significance), file drawer effect (nonpublication of data), post-hoc storytelling (framing exploratory analyses as confirmatory analyses), and manipulation of outliers (either removing outliers or leaving outliers in a dataset to cause a statistical test to be significant).[18][19][20][21] A survey of over 2,000 psychologists indicated that a majority of respondents admitted to using at least one QRP.[18] False positive conclusions, often resulting from the pressure to publish or the author's own confirmation bias, are an inherent hazard in the field, requiring a certain degree of skepticism on the part of readers.[2
6. Secondly, psychology and social psychology in particular, has found itself at the center of several scandals involving outright fraudulent research,
7. Thirdly, several effects in psychological science have been found to be difficult to replicate even before the current replication crisis. Replications appear particularly difficult when research trials are pre-registered and conducted by research groups not highly invested in the theory under questioning.
8. Scrutiny of many effects have shown that several core beliefs are hard to replicate. A recent special edition of the journal Social Psychology focused on replication studies and a number of previously held beliefs were found to be difficult to replicate.[25] A 2012 special edition of the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science also focused on issues ranging from publication bias to null-aversion that contribute to the replication crises in psychology.[26] In 2015, the first open empirical study of reproducibility in psychology was published, called the Reproducibility Project. Researchers from around the world collaborated to replicate 100 empirical studies from three top psychology journals. Fewer than half of the attempted replications were successful at producing statistically significant results in the expected directions, though most of the attempted replications did produce trends in the expected directions.
9. Many research trials and meta-analyses are compromised by poor quality and conflicts of interest that involve both authors and professional advocacy organizations, resulting in many false positives regarding the effectiveness of certain types of psychotherapy
10. The reproducibility of 100 studies in psychological science from three high-ranking psychology journals.[44] Overall, 36% of the replications yielded significant findings (p value below 0.05) compared to 97% of the original studies that had significant effects. The mean effect size in the replications was approximately half the magnitude of the effects reported in the original studies.
11. Highlighting the social structure that discourages replication in psychology, Brian D. Earp and Jim A. C. Everett enumerated five points as to why replication attempts are uncommon:[50][51]
12. "Independent, direct replications of others' findings can be time-consuming for the replicating researcher"
13. "[Replications] are likely to take energy and resources directly away from other projects that reflect one's own original thinking"
14. "[Replications] are generally harder to publish (in large part because they are viewed as being unoriginal)"
15. "Even if [replications] are published, they are likely to be seen as 'bricklaying' exercises, rather than as major contributions to the field

Continued in comments
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,302 reviews22.1k followers
December 25, 2019
I could be wrong, but surely not even the greatest fans of Hayek could believe this is a particularly nuanced book. The central thesis is that everyone that disagrees with Hayek is either a totalitarian or someone who is inadvertently leading society down the road towards totalitarianism. This doesn’t only include Marxists and Fascists – who Hayek equates as identical – nor even members of the Labour party in Britain who might be considered ‘fellow travellers’, but even many of the younger members of the Conservative party too. You see what I mean about ‘nuance’ then perhaps? Not only is everyone else wrong, but any differences between them are as nothing when compared with what binds them in common. There literally can be no nuance.

Decades later Maggie Thatcher would flung down a copy of Hayek’s ‘The Constitution of Liberty’ during a meeting with members of her party and yell, “This is what we believe”. It fits, of course. Both held that there was no alternative and that any deviation from the one true path inevitably leads to destruction and serfdom. ‘Freedom’ is somewhat oddly defined if there is, ultimately, only one available choice.

The later preference for forced choices by radical free market types is perhaps one of the most potent current criticisms of this book. Worth reading in this context is William Davies’ ‘The Limits of Neoliberalism’, particularly in relation to Nudge theory. As the book Nudge makes clear, while it takes free market ideas very seriously, it also believes that people might make better decisions if they were nudged towards them. This ought to otherwise seem problematic if you really believed what Hayek says here. You see, central to his thesis is that such an understanding of what is best for others isn’t possible, in fact, it is fundamentally impossible. The thing that makes capitalism, and radical free market capitalism in particular, such a fantastic system is the fact that ‘experts’ are kept away from decision about what might make the lives of others better. It is hard to no think that Hayek would view these ‘nudges’ as little more than a further step down the road to serfdom.

There are infinitely better criticisms of this book than I’m going to provide in this little review. Some of those include ‘Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste’ and ‘Capitalist Realism’. Why I find this book particularly terrifying is that it really has a distasteful understanding of what ‘freedom’ means. Freedom here is the elimination of every kind of safety net, it means dog eat dog, it means the war of all against each, it means an almost ludicrous extreme of competition, because only in this is the purity of individualism able to be assured. Any restrictions on individualism is understood as inevitably leading to fascism/communism/social democracy, all of which are seen as basically identical – he literally says as much here.

Society is understood as a kind of information exchange where money is the chief form of data and therefore money needs to be protected from any distortion (say, imposed inflation) since money (or prices, rather) allow everyone in society to know which choices they should make that will best suit their needs. The reason why any form of planning is ineffective (and ultimately evil), is because the whole system is so insanely complex that any form of centralised planning inevitably introduces inefficiencies to the entire system. This makes the whole system worse for everyone – but since the planners benefit by keeping their own jobs regardless of the poor outcomes of their plans, those inefficiencies compound. People then are forced to accept products they do not want and this leads to further distortions in the proper price signals within the system which then further multiplies inefficiencies. And because there is no way of seeing what a more efficient system would look like outside the plan, the plan is still held to be the most efficient organisation of the system.

Rather than planning, a system based on the anarchy of economic activity is the only system capable of meeting the needs of the whole of society and of producing freedom at the same time. Since there is no central planner, individuals are able to understand the messages contained in the highly situated contexts they live within and from within the prices of good they observe, and that means they are able to act in ways that meet their needs from within those circumstances. The system is self-regulating, because competition ultimately leads to a situation where the people who are most efficient and best at meeting the needs of those around them are the only people who will succeed. The system also can only exist on increased freedom – to the extent that freedom can be equated with economic anarchy – since any restriction on this freedom will necessarily be imposed upon it from outside (by the dreaded planners who we have already decided will lead us to fascist-communist-collectivism).

Any individual may end up crushed under the driving wheel of progress, in fact, this is inevitable and necessary – for risk cannot be mitigated in the system without distorting the system as a whole. And since competition is the engine of progress, and competition means ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ – then the economic equivalent of Darwinian natural selection is, however regrettable, inevitable.

Thus Hayek presents his vision-splendid of unfettered free markets. His expectation, of course, is that although some people will inevitably be crushed under foot – overall, most people will be better off under this system than under any other system capable of operating. There are occasional nods to the benefits of democracy, but it isn’t at all clear how ‘democracy’ can be exempt from also being seen as yet another collectivist project that undermines his radical individualism. Thatcher’s ‘there is no society, only individuals’ rings in your ears while reading this. Certainly, Hayek imposes stringent limitations upon democracy – democracy clearly can’t place any limits on the radical free market he proposes.

Part of me wants to say that after four decades of living in lock-step with Hayek’s ideal of laissez faire capitalism, and the gross inequality that has produced, and the ecological suicide we are gormlessly heading toward, that perhaps some of those who yelled the loudest that radical free market economics would lead to the promised land should be a little embarrassed now. That certainly has not proven to be the case. As Capitalist Realism makes all too clear – the GFC only proved to his followers that Hayek’s ideas were not implemented stringently enough. And that is the beauty here. Hayek’s ideas are so over-the-top, so utopian (or dystopian, rather) that it is impossible for them to ever be fully implemented – even in Chile under a dictator – and so there will always an escape clause. Even after the Thatcher nightmare there was an escape clause that said, ‘if only his ideas had been more consistently followed…’

I doubt we will move on from these ideas any time soon – they form a solid plank of our current received wisdom, our axiomatic truths. Those who benefit from such ideas are rich beyond imagining and they hold so much power with their wealth that it isn’t in the least bit clear to me how an opposition to these views would be possible to be sustained. And so, we will continue to march proudly over the cliff, each in turn proclaiming our freedom even as we begin our descent under the iron clad laws of gravity. As someone or other much wiser than me once said, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. I guess therein lies Hayek’s greatest legacy.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
April 24, 2010
6.0 stars. On my list of "All Time Favorite" Books. One of the most important books ever written and most concise, brilliant, scathing and impressive argument against the "planned economy" that has been, or likely ever will be, written. Hayek, while always being respectful to the adherents of the idea that state control over resources and goals is the right approach, nevertheless absolutely destroys each and every argument and rationale alluded to by such people.

His general thesis that socialism, communism, fascism will inevitably lead to totalitarianism and the loss of freedom for the individual is demonstrated without skipping logical steps or leaping to a conclusion not supported by the preceding argument. It is powerful, powerful stuff.

His conclusion is that the only way to truly create and just and free society is to re-adopt the "classic liberalism" of the 19th century (more closely linked today with libertarianism). Government should be limited and exist only to (1) protect the people in time of war or national emergency and (2) provide "the rule of law" which means basic rules that apply equally to everyone (i.e.,no special treatment, no unfair treatment)and that do not change and allow competition and the market to decide the success or failure of individuals. This does not guaranty anyone success or failure, but rather guaranties everyone the "opportunity" for success or failure. While such a system is not without flaws that may at times lead to abuses that people of good conscience may find objectionable, Hayek makes a powerful case that it is the only system that provides the opportunity for success to everyone.

Any change to the system that modifies this (i.e., grants special assistance or rules to benefit one group) necessarily hurts another group and this kind of intervention leads to the determination by a small group of people without all necessary factual evidence (as no group can ever be fully informed of all of the variables that go into how a society operates) based on its "opinion" of what the correct result should be. This imposing of the values and morals (which all opinion is derived from) of one person or a group people on society necessarily is done at the expense of the morals and values held by others. Hayek argues that such an action is fundamentally flawed.


Profile Image for Marcus.
311 reviews309 followers
September 24, 2010
The Road to Serfdom is not an anti-government book, it's definitely not a libertarian or pro-laissez-faire capitalism or even a pro-democracy book. It's purely and simply an anti-socialism book. And, just to be clear, to Hayek, socialism primarily means central-planning. It's chapter after chapter of reasons why socialism, despite it's apparently noble goals, both will not work in the practical sense, and how it tends to lead to totalitarianism.

Hayek's arguments are level-headed and logical. He is careful not to insult his opponent and goes out of his way to point out their good intentions.

Despite the fact that The Road to Serfdom is currently being championed by conservatives, Hayek calls himself a liberal and the book is written with fellow liberals in mind. There is no contradiction. Definitions, especially in the world of politics, have a way of changing. For Hayek liberalism was tantamount to freedom and liberty. Today the definition of the world "liberal" has shifted. In economics, liberalism is now a synonym for equality, and significantly, not equal freedom for all, but rather equal, or at least more equal, distribution of resources.

In a time when on one hand the accusation of socialism is bandied about as a slur and on the other there is a strong anti-capitalist movement that champions the same socialism, it's useful to understand not only what socialism really is, but what the implications for society are. They might not be what you think.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,439 followers
November 28, 2017
I tried to read this several times, beginning back when I almost convinced myself I might be able to understand (read: respect) what Republicans were thinking. I'm sorry to say that is over, at least for now. If we can lie, cheat, and steal our way to power, what difference does it make what is just?

I made some notes before I gave up. Putting them here in case I ever get back to this in time to challenge Paul Ryan personally.

This book has gone through so many editions, it is worth noting which one is referenced. Bruce Caldwell, Professor of Economics at Duke University, wrote the introduction to this 2007 edition, published, as ever, by the University of Chicago Press. It is said current Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan gives out copies of this book to his staff when they begin working for him The staff must discuss the book in small groups like bible study because—I guaran-f-ing-tee you—a young and busy staff in D.C. will not know what the heck Hayek is talking about, much less apply it to the U.S. economy in the context of the world.

The ideas in this book began as a memo to the director of the London School of Economics in the 1930s, which then became a magazine article, and then, during WWII, became a monograph of its own. When it was published in the United States—was it 1944?—it became a surprise popular hit, though hated by the intelligensia.

I skimmed the book only. Words like “freedom” are bandied about with great earnestness—freedom from coercion—and I can’t believe we are still talking about this in 2017. No, I am not going to go back and fight these arguments all over again. We spent much of the twentieth century watching one insufficiently great man after another tell us they’ve got our backs.

In the end, after a lifetime of hard knocks, we find that, no, in fact, corporations took care of themselves and cared about us only insofar as we needed enough money to buy their product. We discovered that corporations really needed rules and regulations to do the right thing because they defined their responsibility more narrowly than we did. After all, they were responsible to shareholders, not customers, not citizens who give them space, water, energy, raw materials.

I’m tired of replaying this argument over and over because over and over we discover that corporations don’t actually do the right thing.

p. 20 “If you have any comprehension of my philosophy at all, you must know that one thing I stand for above all else is free trade throughout the world.”

p. 28 “A final criticism has sometimes been called the “inevitability thesis” or the “slippery slope” argument: Hayek is claimed to have said that, once a society engages in a little planning, it is doomed to end up in a totalitarian state….Any departure from the practice of free enterprise, any joke that reason and science may be applied to the direction of economic activity, any attempt at economic planning, must lead us remorselessly to serfdom…”
Profile Image for Bookshark.
207 reviews6 followers
May 21, 2012
The historical analysis upon which this book depends amounts to nothing more than extremely poor scholarship masquerading as thoughtful contrarianism. Hayek's conflation of Nazism with Socialism merely because they have similar names in German is an example of stupidity on the level of mistaking the PATRIOT Act for patriotism or the Ministry of Peace for peacefulness. This distracting error is unfortunately the foundation of the entirety of his argument. His theory of authoritarianism consists of extrapolations from misplaced assumptions about Nazi Germany and disproven projections about the direction the U.S. & Britain are heading in the post-war era. His quaint economic theory tells us little about contemporary authoritarian regimes and even less about modern social democracy. In sum, don't bother.
Profile Image for Jason Holt.
17 reviews
February 1, 2011
There is an old cartoon (found here) which summarizes the logic of this work rather perfectly. Essentially, the government gets involved in your life, they dictate how you live, then they kill you.

The notions in this text are trifling at best.

Hayek never confronts the fact that a lack of some centralized body somewhere making decisions for you does not mean an end to governance. Clearly, businesses govern. They also plan. To take this power away from a centralized and (at least ostensibly) publicly accountable body and to diffuse this power throughout the business community is not to rid oneself of governance. It simply means that businesses are the government.

If we are to acknowledge the quite obvious tendency for capital to move toward those with the most capital, that is, for businesses to develop into monopolies and oligopolies, then one might see that Hayek's model accomplishes nothing less than the restoration of the same feudal structures he's supposedly warning against.

His argument, if taken to the same disparate conclusions as the one's he takes communism and socialism to, would result in the ownership of all land by a handful of oligarchs. We would then tend their land for a pittance. We would be serfs.
Profile Image for sologdin.
1,719 reviews642 followers
July 14, 2015
Introduced by Chicago don Milty Friedman, who assures us that “the free market is the only mechanism that has ever been discovered for achieving participatory democracy” (xi). Preach it, Brother Milt!

So-called 'collectivism' had been burying purported 'individualism,' apparently, in Padre Fred’s 1944 analysis, but was unexpectedly checked by the time of Frere Milt’s semicentennial celebratory gala binge. Fra Milt is pleased to report that Father Fred was dead wrong in his predictions that collectivist statism was taking over the UK, mostly because “central planning was sacrificed rather than individual liberty” (xiii) (i.e., parliamentary procedure kept the sky from falling), but also because collectivism is “mired in bureaucratic confusion and inefficiency” (id.). That latter cliché is not rigorously evidenced, but is taken as a postulate of market fundy-triumphalism. ‘Confusion’ is of course cipher for public due process and ‘inefficiency’ the normal code for unions plus intentionally non-profit.

Gubmint nevertheless grew and tried to regulate bidness, usually at the behest of “special interest groups” (xiii), the cryptograph for ‘not rich people.” Despite Hayek being 100% wrong about statist takeover, Brother Milty confirms that “Hayek’s central insight” is correct: “coordination of men’s activities through central direction and through voluntary cooperation are roads going in very different directions: the first to serfdom, the second to freedom” (xiii-xiv), because medieval economics is characterized precisely by state planning and public ownership of the means of production. (Also NB: coordination of activity centrally through a large corporation is presumably perfectly acceptable!)

Fra Milt concludes with charm: “The bulk of the intellectual community almost automatically favors any expansion of governmental power so long as it is advertised as way to protect individuals from big bad corporations, relieve poverty, protect the environment, or promote ‘equality’” (xv-xvi). NB: the same topos found in objectivism, which traffics in similar rhetorics of mendacity; Milt objects to the expansion of state power when the object is to protect 'individuals,' when they are to be protected from corporations--manifestly not an 'individualist' position.

This text is ripe for a derridean reading from the “Outwork,” the preface to end all prefaces ( Dissemination ), considering the guest intro here, the 1976, 1956, 1944 prefaces, and author’s introduction proper, all preceding the text itself. It’s a parade of horribles. 1976 preface concedes, in a moment of rare candor, “I was myself uncomfortable about the possibility that in going beyond technical economics, I might have exceeded my competence” (xxi). Well, quite. Notes an equivocation: “At the time I wrote [1944], socialism meant unambiguously the nationalization of the means of production and the central economic planning which this made possible and necessary” (xxiii); however, “socialism has come to mean chiefly the extensive redistribution of incomes through taxation and the institutions of the welfare state” (id.). 1976 backs away from the thesis that “any movement in the direction of socialism is bound to lead to totalitarianism” (xxiv). A concession that there is no necessary connection between ‘socialism’ and ‘totalitarianism,’ no matter what Papa Freds thinks they mean on a given day.

If anyone thought that Freds meant that any step toward socialism leads to totalitarianism, however, we might excuse their apparently erroneous belief on the basis of the 1956 preface, wherein Big Poppa admits that his audience is already against fascism and communism (which he identifies as substantially identical, in a standard reckless construction), and that “democratic socialism is a very precarious and unstable affair” (xxxii), revealing the true polemical target, and associating by the bye New Deal policies with totalitarianism by implication even though “hot socialism is probably a thing of the past” (id.). Notorious lets us know his ideological roots pretty plainly in 1956: “But in Britain, as elsewhere in the world, the defeat of the onslaught of systematic socialism has merely given those who are anxious to preserve freedom a breathing space” (xliv). 1944 preface affirms that his argument is “derived from certain ultimate values” (xlv). Preface does not disclose them, but his lebensraum reference in 1956 clears it up for me.

Author’s own original introduction opens with epigraph from Lord Acton, rightwing fan favorite, that “Few discoveries are more irritating than those which expose the pedigree of ideas” (3). With that kind of arrogance, the reasonable reader can assume that the text will lay out the intellectual pedigree of socialist doctrine. As it happens, the text examines almost no socialist doctrine of any flavor whatsoever. It does eventually get around to laying out a thesis regarding the “socialist roots of Nazism” (183-198), which links Marxism to Hitler through figures such as Sombart, Plenge, and others; it’s the strongest part of the text, as it is at least specific--but my five-year old daughter could do better. The entire section relies upon equivocations; Pops is not content with his original definition of ‘socialism,’ as we have seen.

The book’s purpose: “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” (6). So, the causal relation is allegedly socialism --> fascism. If the Acton epigraph is aimed at democratic socialists/social democrats, as per the 1956 preface, then this causal relation is not much concern, even if it is assumed arguendo to be true. That is, it’s not at all irritating anyone with the pedigree of socialism to point out that fascism is its alleged evil offspring. It doesn’t make any sense, unless Bigg Poppa is expecting us to accept a non distributio medii or affirmed consequent fallacy. Later, pedigree for coercion and lack of freedom of thought is located in “the French writers who laid the foundations of modern socialism” (28), without reference to any particular writer or text, except Saint Simon, who is quoted slightly as wanting to treat disobedient persons as cattle, which is not exactly an idea that arises exclusively (or even) in socialism (cf. Ottoman governance theory).

Entire volume relies on an equivocation fallacy, broadly maligning ‘socialism,’ no matter how that term is defined (as hinted by the 1976 preface). The conflict between Nazis and commies is “the kind of conflict that will always arise between rival socialist factions” (11). Doggfather is not interested, yet, in substantiating this puerile equivalence, but rather prefers to point out that “German socialists have found much support in their country from certain features of the Prussian tradition; and this kinship between Prussianism and socialism, in which in Germany both sides gloried, gives additional support to our main contention” (11). Noted: socialism shares a continuity with ‘prussianism,’ which must be a reference to Bismarck or whatever else in the deep history of Germania that the Doggfather wishes us to infer with neoliberal psychic powerz.

Begins the argument proper with the contention that ‘we’ are unwilling to consider the ‘crisis’ as the result of a “genuine error on our part and that the pursuit of some of our most cherished ideals has apparently produced results utterly different from those which we expected” (14). We should therefore “not forget that this conflict has grown out of a struggle of ideas within what, not so long ago, was a common European civilization and that the tendencies which have culminated in the creation of the totalitarian systems were not confined to the countries which have succumbed to them” (id.). This is a curious admission for Atomic Dogg to make. The current crisis (WW2, surely, but more, perhaps) is the result of “most cherished ideals” and grew out of the common civilization, of which prussianism seems to have been a part. No problem. It’s not like extraterrestrials started the war or zombies took over (objectivism’s position on zombies & socialism notwithstanding). If all that is true, then why dogmatically state that everyone is unaware of “not merely the magnitude of the changes which have taken place during the last generation but the fact that they mean a complete change in the direction of the evolution of our ideas and social order” (15-16)? I suppose “our ideas” are not the same as “our most cherished ideals,” then? Apparently all of the evil altruists (sorry, hard not conflate this with Ayn Rand) “have progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which personal and political freedom has never existed” (16). This last point is dogmatically stated throughout the text, and never evidenced with any rigor. Never mind the fact that it all grew out of civilization or progressively developed; we are solemnly informed of “How sharp a break not only with the recent past but with the whole evolution of Western civilization the modern trend toward socialism” (16), which is something that must be measured by reference to the “longer historical perspective” back to the Bible and the bloody Romans, which are held up as exemplars of ‘individualism’ along side Montaigne, Erasmus, Pericles, and Thukydides. Heh, yeah. So, never mind that you just said right before this that the crisis grew out of European civilization, progressively developed, is rooted in prussianism--now it’s some sort of epistemic ‘break’ from the entire tradition of the West. (As an aside, is anyone actually persuaded by argumentum ad antiquitatem?) Confirmed thereafter in his concern to “show how completely, though gradually and by almost imperceptible steps, our attitude toward society has changed” (24) (NB: the ‘steps‘ aren‘t shown). Mmkay. Revise and resubmit when you get your story straight, P-Funk.

Not only is Stalinism worse than fascism (31), but marxism led to fascism (32), fascism is the stage reached after communism fails (id.), and all the fascist leaders began as socialists (id.). Fascists and communists are the same, compete with each other for the same personnel, and hate each other as heretics (34). Socialism transitioned to fascism so easily because they are so closely related (35). And so on. It’s a mess, and it’s thoroughly mendacious. That last point, for instance, is simply, manifestly erroneous; at which point did a state with socialism (as Big Poppa defined it in 1944--state ownership of the means of production with central planning (37 (a mere 3 pages later))) exist, and then transition to fascism? The answer was never in 1944, and remains never now. The errors are so coarse, the confusions so gross, that it can only be intentional misrepresentation, as no one is this stupid.

Cites de Tocqueville for the proposition that democracy and socialism have only equality in common, “while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude” (29), which is offered as self-evident fact, without any substantiation whatsoever. Eventually throws this proposition under the bus, however, as ‘democracy’ is not very interesting to Thug Life except as a truncheon to beat leftists. We see this, not only in the prefatory remarks regarding social democrats, but also in the inane expansion of the target from ‘socialism’ to ‘collectivism,’ which includes ‘liberals’ (as understood in the US) (39). Collectivism is defined childishly as marked by central planning (39), which planning is to be opposed because ‘inefficiency’ (41), but also because “it is impossible to assume control over all the productive resources without also deciding for whom and by whom they are to be used” (46). (Gang Starr heads all the way down this slippery slope with “And whoever has sole control of the means must also determine which ends are to be served” (101)). Both of these objections are unevidenced by Doggfather, principally because they are completely false, but even were they true, Pops is too indolent to think through the details of the argument, preferring to sweep grandly and generally all manner of facts and whatnot under the newly whitewashed rug.

Individualism is “this recognition of the individual as the ultimate judge of his ends, the belief that as far as possible his own views ought to govern his actions” (66). Individuals should “be allowed, within defined limits, to follow their own values and preferences rather than someone else’s; that within these spheres the individual’s system of ends should be supreme and not subject to any dictation by others” (id.). This is a quaint kindergarten notion, a solipsism that is thoroughly depoliticized, ahistorical, a fantasia. Any market participant should know that an individual is unable to dictate terms to the market, for, as you just fucking said, the market “enables entrepreneurs […] to adjust their activities to their fellows”: “the price system will fulfill this function only if competition prevails, that is, if the individual producer has to adapt himself to price changes and cannot control them“ (56 emphasis added). The economic participant is always already governed by the external; Big Poppa is not interested in this implosion, of course, but it dicks up the primary basis for his preference for private property. He shrugs away the obvious objection in canards such as how in the market system “no person’s view about what is right and desirable overrules that of others” (113). ORLY?!

Total obfuscation in comments such as “German anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism spring from the same root” (154), which is as apodictically false as can be. We also see that no cliché is left undefecated in “a movement like that of National Socialism or communism can probably be compared only to those of the great religious movements” (164).

Our antenna should alert on unevidenced proclamations that those with authority for an economic plan will inevitably “impose their scale of preferences on the community for which they plan” (73). It is outrageous in its hubris, in its cynicism--but also in its hypocrisy: for which capitalist allows notice & comment on corporate policy? Delegation of economic authority to a public planning board will result in “arbitrary decisions” (74), leading to the completely candid confession that “Democracy is essentially a means, a utilitarian device for safeguarding internal peace and individual freedom,” and is “by no means infallible or certain”--for “there has often been much more cultural and spiritual freedom under an autocratic rule than under some democracies” (78). And out with it: “A true ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ even if democratic in form, if it undertook centrally to direct the economic system, would probably destroy personal freedom as completely as any autocracy” (78-79). This contempt for democratic polity is revealed in Bigg Poppa’s legal illiteracy (like Rand, he has no law, and accordingly errs in his discussions of it), such as when he suggests that the ‘rule of law,’ “stripped of all technicalities […] means that government in all its actions is bound by rules fixed and announced beforehand--rules which make it possible to foresee with fair certainty how the authority will use its coercive powers” (80 emphasis added). Any reference to ‘technicalities’ regarding the law should disqualify the utterance, and probably the utterer--because law is ‘technicality.’ His notion that ‘everything should be known beforehand’ is also manifestly erroneous; plenty in law applies retroactively.

Reader can thus only laugh when Biggy Freds suggests that central planners will not want to “be fettered by democratic procedure” (97). (Didn’t you just tell us that democratic procedure doesn’t matter, and what matters is private property?) Ultimately, the ‘individualist’ position here, as found in Rand’s ‘objectivism,’ is profoundly illiberal, retaining only a preference for markets and private property (both Rand and Pops will not be completely committed to markets, of course, and will allow differing degrees of monopolization). This makes the argument here structurally identical to fascism, and therein lies the principal stupidity of Pops’ argument; he had defined socialism as central planning over state ownership of the means of production. Fascism however never got to either prong of that definition. Fascism did have anti-liberal components, regarding liberalism as too much too soon; fascism attempts to arrest history, to turn back the clock. Whereas the fascists would undo liberalism’s egalitarianism while retaining property and markets, the socialist proper position is that liberalism is not enough too late. This set of basic distinctions is manifest in the most basic writings on the subject (cf. Paxton’s Anatomy of Fascism, Griffin’s Modernism and Fascism, Lemkin’s Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, Neumann’s Behemoth). Pops doesn’t care about any of that. Pops only cares about property.

It’s a sad commentary on the world that this, one of the worst books ever written, is also considered one of the most important. It’s actually embarrassingly bad, especially in its most famous bits, such as the dogmatic assertion that the price system under competition is “an apparatus of registration which automatically records all the relevant effects of individual actions and whose indications are at the same time the resultant of, and the guide for, all the individual decisions” (55)--this argument simply removes the mystery one step, and then is, without more, declared efficient and just. This “automatic coordination” is graceful, whereas central planning is “incredibly clumsy, primitive, and limited in scope” (id.)--nevermind that the alleged efficiency in the market mechanism is based precisely on pricing participants out of the market, which may not matter for irrational luxury goods, but when it results in market starvation (or market famines, as in Victorian India or Ireland, or during the general crisis of the ‘30s) , that’s a bit different. Automatic coordination is deprivation and death, but because it’s papered over with woad-warrior FREDUM!!1, it’s the fault of the deprived or the decedent, who obviously wasted their freedom.

I have only commented on the lowest of the low points. The lowest point, probably, is the crude suggestion that “one of the surprising features of the political emigration from Germany is the comparatively small number of refugees from the Left who are not ‘Jews’ in the German sense” (203). This is deception beyond measure, as the German left had been destroyed just after WWI and then again by the NSDAP in the ‘30s; the suggestion here is accordingly outrageous, and the suggester scum of the earth, considering that the surviving leftists in germania during WWII were sweating it out in concentration camps or acting as part of the armed resistance. So fuck you, Pops, and fuck Brother Milt, and fuck Ayn Rand, just because.

Recommended for readers who experience the horror inspired by the idea of everything being directed from a single center, persons who claim as a virtue that under one system we shall know less, and those who believe that it is not difficult to deprive the great majority of independent thought.

Profile Image for Patrick Peterson.
473 reviews202 followers
June 11, 2023
2020-06-24 - I first read this book my junior/senior(?) year in college, over spring break, on a trip to Florida (1976). I remember trying to talk about some of the amazing ideas I was reading in the book with the two other students in the long car rides from northern NY state to Panama City, FL and back ... and being pretty disappointed. Both were quite reflexive, though fairly moderate, statist/socialists. One was into history, but he was so smart and lazy, that he did not seem to take anything seriously. The other was not really into thinking these kind of issues through very much. Not auspicious.

But that reading, and reading various chapters again, several times since, has stuck with me very well all these years. Some references and footnotes also helped cement my growing awareness of and appreciation for the writings of Ludwig Mises, whose path breaking work "Socialism" turned Hayek from his previous social democratic convictions to a much more classical liberal approach.

Hayek writes compelling, fascinating history, using clear logic and creative arguments in this book (and other books and articles for sure), that defend a free society and explain the flaws of socialism. But there is a somewhat compromising tone, and line of argument by Hayek, beginning with the dedication to the "Socialists of all parties," that just is not as satisfying to me, as the more consistent lines that Mises pursues.

However, considering how many folks have found this book to be revelatory in their examinations of the ideas of socialism and free markets, I do not want to pooh pooh it at all. 2023-06-11 For instance, I just learned in the new documentary The HongKonger (about Jimmy Lai) that he was HUGELY influenced by this book - "It changed my life forever."

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in exploring the implications of various socialist policies that have been and continue to be proposed and implemented. The truths that Hayek outlined over 75 years ago have stood up very well, as befits any classic work such as this.

The writing may not be the easiest for the current generation to follow, but I assure you the energy expended will be very worthwhile in enlightenment gained. And don't miss the footnotes for further exploration. Most are simply marvelous, and may clue you in to even better books and ideas, or at least great back up for various points made here.
Profile Image for Howard Olsen.
121 reviews26 followers
September 9, 2007
Finally got around to reading this libertarian/conservative classic. It's short, but deep, combining economics, politics, sociology, and a short history of Socialist thought, to create the greatest critique of the collectivist impulse that you can read. Hayek's message is blunt: despite the freedom and liberality that is western man's birthright, there is an inevitable clamor for order and equality that arises from the intellligensia and the wealthy. This clamor leads to the demand-often in the guise of "a new freedom"-for stronger government regulation and guidance of economic activity. But the increase of government activity in the private sphere makes people so dependent on government largesse that the recipients are reduced to a modern form of serfdom-forever tied to the government that can determine whether they eat or starve. Hayek was writing during WW2, so much of his critique centers on the National Socialism of the Germans, but he makes clear that the Marxists and Laborites were just as bad. Hayek's analysis of German thought is especially interesting, inasmuch as he traces a tendency towards planning and collectivization in Germany going back decades. Rather than the modern cartoon villian portrait of Hitler that we now know, Hayek portrays that Nazis as simply finishing an effort to nationalize the German economy that began in Bismark's time and was the overarching goal of that nation's political, scientific, and capitalist elite. Hayek's arguments are often subtle and academic, but he pulls no punches, and is eminently quotable. a must read for anyone who cares about politics, and its intersection with economics
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,883 reviews16.6k followers
January 13, 2021
This is one of those books that inspires strong emotion from several camps, readers and reviewers either loving it or hating.

First written in the early 1940s and first published in 1944, this was a direct response to not only national socialism but to Britain’s trend towards greater centralization and social programs. In summary, Hayek is explaining his cautionary treatise that going down the road towards socialization in government will lead to totalitarian rule and state domination of the individual.

Championed by classical liberals the world over and libertarians and anarchists in the past couple of decades this has also been the target of derision and scorn from socialists and other proponents of central economic planning since its publication. Hayek was also critical, in 1944, of Stalinist programs and was concerned about Britain and America following in the same programs.

When I think of a group of economists, I imagine a cacophony of sound, hands waiving in the air with reams of paper flying discordantly around the chaotic scene. This work has certainly contributed to the acrimony.


Profile Image for Mel.
88 reviews2 followers
September 3, 2014
1/2 star not simply for Hayek's preachy, condescending tone, but because this book was the catalyst for the gutting of the State by the flying monkeys of the Chicago School under Milton Friedman. From Pinochet's Chile to Thatcher's Britain to post-Soviet Russia, Hayek's callous version of individualism and "competition" gave a veneer of legitmacy to an explosion of untramelled human greed in which millions of people lost any security of income or employment whilst a few within the charmed circle of power were enriched outrageously. In fact, outrage is the only appropriate response to this book.
Profile Image for James Henderson.
2,044 reviews166 followers
October 25, 2019
This is one of the foundation books for my personal philosophy. Along with his other works, the thought of Friedrich von Hayek is basic to my own individualist world view. In this book Hayek contends that liberty is fragile, easily harmed but seldom extinguished in one fell swoop. Instead, over the years “the unforeseen but inevitable consequences of socialist planning create a state of affairs in which, if the policy is to be pursued, totalitarian forces will get the upper hand.” He asserts that liberty has developed from an a posteriori recognition of humans’ inherent limitations – particularly the restrictions of their knowledge and reasoning. Most importantly, no planner or group of planners, however intelligent and well resourced, can possibly obtain and process the countless bits of localized and tacit information required such that a government plan meets its objectives. Only price signals emitted in an unhampered market enable harmony and efficiency to arise spontaneously from many millions of individuals’ plans. Hence government intervention in the plans of individuals, even if undertaken by men of good will, inevitably leads to loss of liberty, economic stagnation (at best) and war and impoverishment (at worst).

While much of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom focused on correcting erroneous ideas and sloppy thinking that misled (and still mislead) many to support socialistic expansions of government power, that is not all it did. It also reiterated the case for individualism and its economic manifestation—free markets. Since convincing careful thinkers requires such an affirmative case as well as defensive debunking, the book’s diamond 75th anniversary is a propitious time to remember what only individualism provides, so that we will not continue to follow a path of “replacing what works with what sounds good,” as Thomas Sowell described it.

The essential features of…individualism…are the respect for the individual man qua man…the recognition of his own views and tastes as supreme in his own sphere…and the belief that it is desirable that men should develop their own individual gifts and bents.
The attitude of the liberal toward society is like that of the gardener who tends a plant and, in order to create the conditions most favorable to its growth, must know as much as possible about its structure and the way it functions.

The holder of coercive power should confine himself in general to creating conditions under which the knowledge and initiative of individuals are given the best scope so that they can plan most successfully. The successful use of competition as the principle of social organization precludes certain types of coercive interference with economic life. Planning and competition can be combined only by planning for competition but not…planning which is to be substituted for competition.
It is the very complexity of the division of labor under modern conditions which makes competition the only method by which such coordination can be adequately brought about.

Nobody can consciously balance all the considerations bearing on the decisions of so many individuals…coordination can clearly be effective only by… arrangements which convey to each agent the information he must possess in order effectively to adjust his decisions to those of others…This is precisely what the price system does under competition and what no other system even promises to accomplish. The economist's plea is for a method which effects such co-ordination without the need for an omniscient dictator. Recognition of the individual as the ultimate judge of his ends…that as far as possible his own views ought to govern his actions…forms the essence of the individualist position.

What are called “social ends” are…merely identical ends of many individuals…to the achievement of which individuals are willing to contribute…Common action is thus limited to the fields where people agree on common ends. The clash between planning and democracy arises simply from the fact that the latter is an obstacle to the suppression of freedom which the direction of economic activity requires. The more the state “plans,” the more difficult planning becomes for the individual.

Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life…it is the control of the means for all our ends. To believe that the power which is thus conferred on the state is merely transferred to it from others is erroneous. It is a power which is newly created and which in a competitive society nobody possesses. So long as property is divided among many owners, none of them acting independently has exclusive power to determine the income and position of particular people.

Contrast…two types of security: the limited one, which can be achieved for all, and which is therefore no privilege but a legitimate object of desire; and absolute security, which…if it is provided for some, it becomes a privilege at the expense of others. Individualism is thus an attitude of humility…the exact opposite of that intellectual hubris which is at the root of the demand for comprehensive direction of the social process.

Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom defended the individual—the only ultimate locus of choice, responsibility and morality—as the appropriate focus of efforts toward human improvement, at a time when failing to keep that focus threatened the entire world. That is a lesson we need to remember now as well, when many do not remember the horrors that can lead to, and so support constantly expanding government powers over its citizens.
Profile Image for Jason.
127 reviews22 followers
April 12, 2007
Hayek creates a facile equation of fascism and communism, and argues that any political or economic system that is not laissez-faire capitalism is tyranny. Hayek's seemingly deliberate misreadings of history left me unconvinced, and very uneasy with the libertarian movement, if this is to be taken as a representative text.
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,144 reviews1,851 followers
September 26, 2018
Review written in 2010

The temptation here will be to try and say too much. This is a short book, though it is thickly packed. I won't try to relate here what the author relates in the book. I will try to say a few words about the book and recommend it.

This is the same book that was released in England in 1944, but it is a new edition and thus has a new intro by the author. If you can get this edition I recommend it for the intro. This book was written during (near the end of)WWII and thus will be in some ways a bit dated. This is not in all ways a bad thing. The author expresses an opinion that the central idea argued against in this book is no longer the main threat to "liberty" or "freedom". This he states as "hot socialism". It might also be called overt socialism. He feels this has been superseded by more subtle forms. I think however this is not totally so. I also think that if read with an open mind the reader will see in action many of the things the author warns of as possibilities. Many have now come about and are fact instead of conjecture of things to come. I'll probably mention one or two as examples below.

A main reason I recommend that you find the newer edition and read the intro is language. Words mean things and words change meaning. It must be remembered that this book is not only aimed at the English, it's aimed at citizens of England in the early and middle twentieth century. In America today the word "conservative" means to most who consider themselves conservatives the conservation of the rule of law and the individual rights laid out in the U.S. Constitution. Historically conservatism has referred to the preservation or conservation of the special rights, powers and privileges of a ruling class. Today in Russia the word conservative means those who wish to conserve the Soviet system (a fact which appealed greatly to some news people in America who were of the politically left persuasion. At the time of and just after the fall of the Soviet Union they seemed to love referring to the Communist party in Russia as the conservatives). So, in this book when Dr. Hayek uses the word "conservative" this school of thought would actually be much closer to socialism and what he refers to as "collectivist thought" than otherwise.

By the same token the "Liberal" today in America tends to mean those who are of a socialist bent. Not so here. The author is using the word in the European, historical way, as in "nineteenth century liberal thought". Dr. Hayek wonders in his intro why Americans Libertarians have allowed the loss of this word to the political left (and indeed have actually begun using it). He believed that it was an essential word for the arguments. When in this book Dr. Hayek uses the word "liberal" and the phrase "liberal thought" the position he's referring to is much closer to American conservatism than liberalism.

There are other ideas and words that will be slightly different or even new to some. Understanding of language is very important here.

In the book's discussion of the world much that is current to WWII will be in the forefront but the ideas are still applicable. His discussion of (for example) the "rule of law" is universal. America was set up under "the rule of law". Our legislature is constrained by our Constitution as to what new laws it can pass and what actions it can take by laws and rules laid out establishing the nation and said legislature. The rule of law is in a very real sense all that stands between any people and despotic and/or totalitarian rule. (Side note, this past year an American legislator said that congress could pass any law it wished with no restriction. This past week the President of the U.S. signed a law that "at least says" the American military can detain any person without warrant, charge or attorney. No Habeas Corpus, apparently no recourse... Yesterday he made an illegal appointment claiming the Senate was in recess, yet the Senate isn't in recess. This is not the rule of law and it will be "more than interesting" to see if it's allowed. If so, we're in trouble.).

I recommend this one. While it isn't the easiest book it's not really difficult either. It simply requires a bit of thought (and willingness to think of course) and understanding of what the author is saying.
Profile Image for Andrea.
Author 6 books179 followers
October 6, 2011
Hayek is a huge figure in economics and of immense influence on neoliberalism, and reading this I was struck by just how deeply and completely neoliberalism goes as a theoretical framework. I know many would not agree with that (though many would), but Thatcher claimed him as her own and that is enough for me. There are also those conversations in the Mount Pelerin Society with Milton Friedman. It fascinates me that this resonance is true not just of the ideas, but also in the way language is used and in its underlying sense of victimisation, a sense that continues even as so many neoliberal policies have waxed victorious over Keynsianism across the world. The Road to Serfdom was written in 1944; I found it so chilling to see the same arguments in so much vogue today used in the context of WWII, Hitler, and Stalin. The chill comes from the fact that so little of the rhetoric has changed in over sixty years, and that really, Hayek saw the world in the same stark black and white that George W. Bush did, and both benefited greatly from it. Below are what I believe to be some of the principle strands of thought found here that were entirely familiar with present day rhetoric:

- Socialism inexorably leads to fascism, liberalism is the only alternative
- Glorification of the individual but a fear of the masses
- Necessity of limited democracy
- Money as the measure of all things
- Competition in a free market as the best regulator of society
- Growing the total wealth rather than redistribution of wealth as the solution to poverty (trickle-down economics)
- A return to ‘traditional’ individualist values
- The sacredness of private property
- The selfishness of organised labour
- Necessity of government intervention to favour the market

What struck me most forcibly was undoubtedly this claim: "Few are ready to recognise that the rise of Fascism and Nazism were not a reaction against the socialist trends of the preceding period, but a necessary outcome of those tendencies” (p 4). This equation of socialism with fascism seems only to have grown through the years, you have only to witness the immense outcry against “Obamacare”. I wondered where the hell that came from, now I know. Hayek sets Socialism up essentially as a straw man by first equating it with some brand of what I would call Stalinism (though I’ll never deny that too many calling themselves socialists supported many of these totalitarian ideas), and then insisting that any kind of government effort to achieve a more just world will lead to totalitarianism. To disagree with a critique of an Orwellian system of mind control is something I would never do; to claim that there are only two choices before us, totalitarianism or Hayek’s vision of liberalism, is equally absurd. But going back to the “Obamacare” debacle, that is clearly what many people think.

Hayek in some ways comes off as the more reasonable and kinder face of liberalism when you look through the ages; life for him is not brutal, nasty and short, and he insists that liberalism does not argue that all men are egotistic or entirely selfish (and I use ‘men’ deliberately, the only woman mentioned in the book is the poor plain girl with the futile wish to be a salesgirl in a shop). Men are simply limited in their knowledge and imagination, and it is impossible for them to agree on any but a handful of very general things. This agreement can never stretch to values of any kind. Sad but true.

Read on and there is a darker side to this. Side by side with the glorification of individual choice and freedom, there exists also the characteristic contempt for the masses. Hayek says on page 168:"Probably it is true enough that the great majority are rarely capable of thinking independently, that on most questions they accept views which they find ready-made, and that they will be equally content if born or coaxed into one set of beliefs or another. In any society freedom of thought will probably be of direct significance only for a small minority”. This of course means that any kind of mass movement requires organising the worst elements:"It is, as it were, the lowest common denominator which unites the largest number of people” (p 142). In spite of his statement that democracy cannot exist without capitalism, he wants it in its most limited form. He states tellingly: “We have no intention, however, of making a fetish out of democracy . . . . Democracy is essentially a means, a utilitarian device for safeguarding internal peace and individual freedom. As such it is by no means infallible or certain" (p 73).

Thus it is not ‘the people’ who should ultimately control things, but something else. And again there is no room for alternatives here, there is only a stark choice between totalitarianism and the market (never mind that people control and manipulate the market in myriads of ways, just look at centuries of stock market scandal). Hayek argues that in claiming man’s ability to regulate his life and society, one “fails to see that, unless this complex society is to be destroyed, the only alternative to submission to the impersonal and seemingly irrational forces of the market is submission to an equally uncontrollable and therefore arbitrary power of other men" (p 210).

Money becomes the measure of all things, the only way we can be motivated to our full potential and know what to value. He writes on page 129, "It is not merely that if we want people to give their best we must make it worth while for them. What is more important is that if we want to leave them the choice, if they are to be able to judge what they ought to do, they must be given some readily intelligible yardstick by which to measure the social importance of the different occupations…” This yardstick is salary. It is absurd to me that I should view a Wall Street trader as a thousand times more valuable to society than any teacher, fireman, nurse, or even the latest winners of the Nobel Prize in physics, but so Hayek argues.

Competition becomes the great regulator, the only possible regulator in the face of human fallibility. Hayek equates competition with justice in that neither favours one person over another, and success is based only on capacity and luck. Even he is forced to admit that this more true in theory than in fact given a system of private property and inherited wealth, but in spite of this, competition is the best we can hope for. And indeed, under a competitive system and with money as the measure of all things, we are able to find the perfect tool for recording all individual actions and guiding them, and that is prices. So precise a tool is it, Hayek compares entrepreneurs to engineers watching the hands of a few dials and adjusting their activities to the rest of humanity. To rely on anything other than competition to regulate society, even for the best of ends, will inexorably result only in fascism as it substitutes a moral rule of law (controlled by a democratic majority and we’ve already seen where that will end given the lowest common denominator belief) for an arbitrary and predictable one. I’m beginning to understand the zealousness of neoliberalism’s proponents, it’s like a rewriting of the Lord of the Rings really, a saga of good against most absolute evil. And everybody hates fascism.

Rounding it up, we have trickle-down economics: “Perhaps no less important is that we should not, by short-sighted attempts to cure poverty by a redistribution instead of by an increase in our income, so depress large classes as to turn them into determined enemies of the existing political order” (p 214-15), and what is undoubtedly a good line: “It may sound noble to say: damn economics, let us build up a decent world--but it is, in fact, merely irresponsible” (p 215). We have the return to traditional values: “If we are to succeed in the war of ideologies and to win over the decent elements in the enemy countries, we must first of all regain the belief in the traditional values for which this country stood in the past, and must have the moral courage stoutly to defend the ideals which our enemies attack” (p 224). The values are familiar too, as compassion and kindness are thrown out the window in favour of “independence, self-reliance, and the willingness to bear risks, the readiness to back one's own conviction against a majority, and the willingness to voluntary co-operations with one's neighbours” (p 218). Of course there is the sacredness of private property as the most important guarantee of freedom, not just for those who own it, but somehow for those who do not. Organised labour is bad and constraining capitalism only hurts everyone. “To the worker in a poor country the demand of his more fortunate colleague to be protected against his low wage competition by minimum wage legislation, supposedly in his interest, is frequently no more than a means to deprive him of his only chance to better his conditions by overcoming natural disadvantages by working at wages lower than his fellows in other countries” (p 231). I’ve read this so many times before it’s as though it has been copied verbatim into every report and article justifying the existence of exploitation around the world. The necessity of limited government intervention to favour the market is here too (which David Harvey would argue is one thing distinguishing neoliberalism from liberalism), as he argues strongly against a pure laissez-faire position, though you could argue that the interventions we have seen are rarely to make “the best possible use of the forces of competition as a means of coordinating human efforts”.

It’s not just ideas, but attitudes that have continued strong. The way that the right-wing always perceives itself as the underdog, as under attack. Hayek bemoans the fact that socialism is dominant while liberalism is in fact the motor of progress, so taken for granted that people can no longer recognise it. As he states, “It might be said that the very success of liberalism became the cause of its decline” (p 19). There might have been some truth when he was writing, but the rhetoric continues long after the years of Reagan and Thatcher completely turned it around. There is also the same clarion call to sacrifice, “It is essential that we should re-learn frankly to face the fact that freedom can only be had at a price and that as individuals we must be prepared to make severe material sacrifices to preserve our liberty”, when the growing gap between rich and poor since these policies have become victorious make it so clear just whose sacrifice is required. It is hard to see why sacrifice should still be necessary after so many decades of it. The good times never arrived for most people I’m afraid.

The interesting things that don’t quite mesh with the neoliberal world today? He does admit that some kind of basic safety net may be necessary, even a good thing, as long as it doesn't inhibit competition. There is also the railing against monopolies. Hayek argues that they also lead to totalitarianism, not quite purposefully but in effect. I think possibly he might not be happy with the giant corporations we see today, it’d be an interesting question and one I’d quite like to ask him. The outcome of policies self-described as neoliberal has, in effect, been the death of competition; I would claim that this is inevitable in a system where the only measure of value is wealth and the only regulatory mechanism is competition, but it would be interesting to hear Hayek’s response. And the ultimate irony? He also states quite clearly that democracy works best in very small nations, smaller even than the UK…what would he make of America, the country which has done more to promote his views in theory than any other?
Profile Image for Wick Welker.
Author 6 books382 followers
September 17, 2021
This is how you fabricate moral panic about social programs.

This is a difficult book to review because it was written in the 1940s within a certain cultural and political milieu but I’m also reading it as a person living in 2021 where this book has grown in prominence and has taken on new meaning. I will therefore give a brief review of what I think of this famous work in isolation and which is followed by a critique of the modern significance and the harm that its ideology has perpetrated. Unfortunately for Hayek, we have the benefit of the last 50 years which serve as repudiation of his doctrine. There is incredible irony that the very neoliberal policies put in place in the 1970s, highly influenced by people like Hayek, have led to what could be described as a neo feudal state today.

It extremely important to nail down definitions. The Road to Serfdom is a polemic against socialism. Here is where definition is crucial: socialism for Hayek specifically means total state control over the economy. So socialism for Hayek is probably what we would call communism today. Hayek’s conclusions about communism are fairly self-evident: it’s bad. Having the government control the means of production and set prices? No one wants that. Hayek has a lot of common sense stating that, of course, the state must provide an appropriate legal framework in which free trade can operate to suppress monopolization and labor exploitation. He also discusses the inevitable disruption and monopolization that comes with tech advancements and how there should be state measures in place to step in. I agree with him when he says that if the state had all control over the economy, they would have to assign arbitrary moral value to jobs and that the government would be in total control of employment, salary and livelihood. He states that this would inevitably lead to the in-group (probably the racial dominant group) inevitably exploiting the minority group. Keep in mind, Hayek is highly influenced by Nazi Germany and these are the conclusions he is drawing and witnessing within the borders of Germany.

The basis and foundation of his argument about central economic planning is sound, his slippery slope reasoning that follows is mostly entirely invalid. Hayek believes that any amount of social planning or social programs will invariably lead to totalitarianism. He makes this assertion many times with the debate fallacy of slippery slope reasoning. Hayek has an incredibly naive trust in laissez faire economics. The man actually believes in the Adam Smith myth of free markets. He believes that free markets operate separately from the state without recognizing the truth: the markets have always been in collusion with the state. They are two sides of the same coin. He also went as far to say that social planning cannot happen because of racial and ethnic differences—that the racial majority will never bow to the needs of the outgroup. He also, incredulously, believes that socialism is to blame for monopolized markets and has unfettered trust that free markets will limit monopolization. It was at this point I was really rolling my eyes. Hayek doesn't see the truth: no society is purely capitalistic or socialistic. That's a fairy tale.Not once does Hayek provide any support for his argument that even the meekest social welfare program will inevitably lead to totalitarianism. Basically, he starts on a foundation against communism and runs with it with very little evidence thereafter.

It’s important to review the impact of people like Hayek, Friedman and the Chicago boys at the time. People like Hayek helped the winds turn in the 1970s with the famed Powell memo and the Business Round Table which redefined freedom as unfettered corporate latitude. The public listened and agreed. Hayek helped usher in the age of neoliberalism from 1970 to present day. And what has been the fallout? Well, we have the greatest wealth inequality in perhaps the history of humankind. You have 40 year wage stagnation for half of all Amercans with no “reinvestment” into the labor class that trickle down economics is supposed to employ. We have vast financialization, leveraged buyouts, increased shareholder power, stock buybacks, enhanced dividends and CEO golden parachutes. We possibly have the most monopolized markets that have ever existed in which the average American rents their labor for not even a living wage. Sounds a little like serfdom doesn’t it?

And what about the social programs used by the US, UK and other western countries? Have we had a totalitarian regime suddenly fall out from all this terrible “socialism”? Of course not. Social welfare does not lead to Nazism. Sorry, that is completely nonsensical. This is how you fabricate moral panic. This is how you fabricate wars that have destabilized, destroyed and killed millions of people in Asia and South America. There is nothing more dangerous than an idealistic economist. I believe Hayek was well intentioned when he wrote this book but his theories have been used to exercise extreme and flagrantly brutal economic and foreign policies that have resulted in poverty, war and death. I make no exaggeration, the Chicago Boys ideas have resulted in economic devastation and have enriched the very few.

It’s time to reject neoliberalism, the myth of free markets and see the truth: fascism can come from any ideology. We are living with the worst wealth disparity in history directly from ideas promulgated by Hayek’s acolytes. It’s time to move on
Profile Image for FotisK.
367 reviews167 followers
August 30, 2018
Αυτό είναι ένα βιβλίο που απέφευγα να διαβάσω για χρόνια και ένας οικονομολόγος/ φιλόσοφος που οι μεν κήνσορές του δαιμονοποιούν, οι δε υπέρμαχοί του λατρεύουν ως Προφήτη. Παρέμενε να προσδιορίσω την αξία του ίδιου του έργου, όσο το δυνατόν αποστασιοποιημένα και κλινικά.
Έχει πολύ σωστά λεχθεί πως οι φιλόσοφοι/ θεωρητικοί δεν πρέπει να κρίνονται από τις πράξεις των "μαθητών" τους, αλλά από τα όρια της σκέψης τους. Πιστεύω πως αυτό ισχύει τόσο στην περίπτωση τόσο του Χάγιεκ όσο και του Μαρξ, του Νίτσε κ.ο.κ. Το γεγονός πως η Θάτσερ όμνυε στο όνομα του ενός ή ο Στάλιν του άλλου, δεν πιστεύω πως πρέπει να αποτελεί δικαιολογία αποκλεισμού, τουλάχιστον από πλευράς μου.
Αφότου επομένως ξεπέρασα τις όποιες ιδεολογικές αγκυλώσεις μου, αφοσιώθηκα σε ένα κείμενο ευφυές, έμπλεο επιχειρημάτων και εμπεριστατωμένης κριτικής, παθιασμένης υπεράσπισης της ελευθερίας και του δυτικού ατομοκεντρισμού, απευθείας επίγονο των κλασικών κειμένων του Διαφωτισμού και Φιλελευθερισμού, στην παράδοση των Mill, Smith, Locke κ.ο.κ.
Προφανώς είναι πολύ πιο εύκολη η ανάγνωσή του πλέον, δεδομένου πως ο βασικός του αντίπαλος, ήτοι ο κεντρικός σχεδιασμός, ο κολεκτιβισμός, έχουν όχι μόνο εξαφανιστεί ως υπαρκτές εναλλακτικές, αλλά έχουν χάσει και την όποια βαρύτητά τους στο φαντασιακό των Δυτικού τύπου δημοκρατιών. Βεβαίως ο Χάγιεκ δεν στέκεται εκεί, παρά συνεχίζει απτόητος ως τον πυρήνα των απόψεων του αντιπάλου του – του σοσιαλισμού όχι μόνο ως οικονομικού μοντέλου, αλλά ως κοσμοθεωρίας αλλά και νοοτροπίας ακόμα.
Και το πράττει μεθοδικά, ανελέητα, με γνώση και επιχειρήματα άξια θαυμασμού - ιδίως αν σκεφτούμε πως την εποχή που το έγραψε οι συζητήσεις περί κεντρικού σχεδιασμού (από Δεξιά και Αριστερά) ήταν της μόδας και ο ίδιος εκτός. Έπρεπε να περάσουν κάποιες δεκαετίες για να δει τις ιδέες του να έρχονται στο προσκήνιο και να γίνονται πράξη (τουλάχιστον εν μέρει, και όχι πάντα από τους ιδανικότερους εκπροσώπους, αν και αυτή είναι η ιλαροτραγική μοίρα των ιδεών).
Υπάρχουν δευτερευόντως κάποιες άλλες σκέψεις, οι οποίες όμως δεν έχουν να κάνουν τόσο με την κριτική αποτίμηση των ιδεών του Χάγιεκ (μου λείπουν οι γνώσεις για κάτι τέτοιο): Ως γνήσιος εκπρόσωπος του πνεύματος του Διαφωτισμού αποδεικνύεται αξεπέραστος στην κατάδειξη των θεωρητικών αδυναμιών, των κενών, των αντιφάσεων των αντιπάλων του. Αλλά όπως συμβαίνει και με εκείνους, τα προβλήματα αρχίζουν όταν επιχειρείται το αναπόφευκτο πέρασμα από το αρνητικό στο θετικό. Όχι στο πόσο τρωτά είναι τα επιχειρήματα των αντιπάλων, αλλά πόσο στέρεα δομημένη και "αεροστεγής" είναι η κοσμοθεωρία που οι ίδιοι ευαγγελίζονται.
Μπορεί λοιπόν ο φιλελεύθερος καπιταλισμός του Χάγιεκ να λειτουργεί εξαιρετικά στο έργο του και να σε πείθει -πιθανώς- για την μοναδική και αναπόδραστή του αλήθεια, αλλά η σκληρή πραγματικότητα έχει πάντα τον τρόπο να εισβάλλει στα κενά και να αποδομεί και την πλέον "αεροστεγή" κατασκευή. Λογικό, δεδομένου πως κάθε ανθρώπινη θεωρία φέρνει αναπόφευκτα εντός της τον "σπόρο" του ανολοκλήρωτου, του ημιτελούς, του πεπερασμένου. Ως τέτοια λοιπόν αξίζει να αντιμετωπιστεί (από εμένα τουλάχιστον) και η οπτική του Χάγιεκ.
Τι απομένει; Ο θαυμασμός για τον ρυθμό του κειμένου και το πάθος για Ελευθερία (όπως την εννοεί ο ίδιος, τέλος πάντων). Ταυτόχρονα, η ενστικτώδης επιφύλαξη στον κλασικό πειρασμό των αναγωγών (άλλη αναπόφευκτη παγίδα, στην οποία οι περισσότεροι θεωρητικοί υποκύπτουν) ή, τέλος, στο γεγονός πως εκείνοι που ασπάζονται ασμένως την κοσμοθεωρία του Χάγιεκ είναι – ως επί το πλείστον- άνθρωποι που έχουν (πολύ) φαγητό στο τραπέζι τους και (μεγάλη) στέγη στο κεφάλι τους. Οι λοιποί "κολασμένοι τη�� Γης", ούτως ή άλλως, δεν έχουν την πολυτέλεια των θεωρητικών αντιπαραθέσεων, ώστε να συνδράμουν με τα επιχείρηματά τους.
Profile Image for Douglas Wilson.
Author 273 books3,658 followers
June 25, 2009
What a fine book. What a timely book. Those who want to understand Obamonomics need to read this. Those who have read it already should probably read it again. The political world is divided into two main groups -- those who think controlling everything from the center is a good idea and those who do not. Each side of that divide has its variations, but those are the basic options. Those on the fascist side (control) have the hard totalitarians and the soft totalitarians, but that is basically a difference between those who want to hang you by the neck and those who want to smother you with a feather pillow. At any rate, those who love freedom need all the intellectual ammo they can get these days, and this book has plenty.
Profile Image for Amy.
2,636 reviews417 followers
August 21, 2018
There is something a little awe-inspiring about reading a book and realizing how much of your personal philosophy and intellectual heritage you owe to it. I got the same feeling the first time I read Two Treatises of Government. When I consider the impact this book has had on my life and work, it amazes me it took me this long to read it.
This should be required reading alongside 1984. It conveys the problems of socialism and yet eerily resembles a conversation we could be having today.
Thought-provoking and inspiring, I highly recommend this one.
Profile Image for Xander.
429 reviews147 followers
January 12, 2021
Friedrich Hayek, a 20th century economist and social scientist, chose to wrote The Road to Serfdom (1943) at a time when the Allied forces were still battling the totalitarian force of Germany, Italy and Japan. As Hayek mentions in the preface, he wrote this book not because he was the most qualified person to do this, but because a book like this was necessary while nobody else seemed to realize this.

In fact, The Road to Serfdom is one big essay in which Hayek criticizes socialism and pleads for a return to 19th century liberalism. He sees liberalism as the only remedy to avoid another disaster like the earlier world wars and the rise of totalitarianism.

Why does Hayek see socialism as the biggest threat to humanity? Well, socialism is the first step on the inevitable road to totalitarianism - serfdom. How does this work? Socialism is a reactionary movement which takes a stand against capitalism and liberalism; it sees in these developments the collapse of society. In other words: socialism battles the individual freedom to choose and buy whatever we want in our lives (within practiable, personal limits, of course). So in essence, the socialist wants to abolish individual freedom - "freedom without economic and political equality isn't worth having".

According to socialism, the remedy to these liberal depredations lies in taking control over the economic power. Socialists see economic power as the means to obtain their ends: radical equality. This means, in effect, the collectivization of all means of production - one group or party determines who shall get what, and when. According to Hayek, this collectivist thinking leads to Central Planning (see for example, Hitler's Five Year Plan and the plans of the infamous Soviet Plan Bureau). But to make a planned economy possible, it is necessary to control all the variables in the economic system. In other words, the government has to ensure that all its citizens do what it wants, and when - and voila, we have arrived at the totalitarian state which proactively stifles all criticism and personal freedom of movement.

(This, by the way, is exactly what happened in practice. Hitler put the German intelligentsia, as soon as he was able to, in concentration camps; he also made sure that all the intellentsia of occupied countries were the first ones to go. Stalin did something similar in his continuous purges, in which millions of people were killed. Totalitarian regimes cannot afford criticism to surface; it has to control peoples' minds via indoctrination and propaganda.)

The above mechanism - totalitarian control of peoples' lives via economic policy - is, according to Hayek, the true origin of the totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Soviet Russia (among others). And the danger lies in the fact that Hayek, writing in 1943 England, sees the socialist ideology being worshipped (and followed) by intellectuals, politicians, scientists and civilians alike. In other words: he sees England moving along the same path that Germany in the 1920's took. This is, ultimately what he means with 'The Road to Serfdom' and what he warns his audience for.

The strength of Hayek lies in the fact that he not only offers a critique on contemporary society and that points out the inherent dangers of socialism; he also offers a remedy to the collectivist danger. According to Hayek, we should look back to 19th century liberalism (the British version) - with its emphasis on intellectual honesty, personal freedom, competition of thought, and capitalism - for a solution to the totalitarian crisis.

Why should we do this? Well, simply because in a capitalist and liberal democracy, all the people have the individual freedom to do and choose whatever they want - within their natural and practical limits. Even though in such a society bad things will still happen to individual people, these bad things are at least - sort of - random and impersonal. In a socialist state, the party determines who gets what and who doesn't. This is injustice, since this will inevitably lead to the oppression and suffering (not to mention death) of the masses. Not so in a liberal democratic society, in which the government is limited by the rule of law, and in which justice applies in general and not to particular cases. What Hayek means with this, is that liberal democracy and capitalism are impersonal and inarbitrary, whereas socialism is personal and arbitrary (not to mention boundless).

Hayek is the first to admit that liberal democracy and capitalism have their own inherent ills, but he also (correctly, in my opinion) points out that in all the alternative systems, individuals are much worse off - in materially, jurdicially and politically. As Churchill once said: "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have tried from time to time." In socialism the party determines what you will do (even free time was completely determined in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia), and what you will eat, and where you will work. The party knows it all - how much shoes should be produced, how much wheat should be harvested. This, of course, is an illusion - with devastating practical results (it is calculated that, for example, 8 million Ukranians were starved to death by Stalin's economic policiy).

A free market, says Hayek, ensures the impartiality of the system regarding each individual. So does a democratic rule of law. You are judged on your own merits in a democratic, liberal society. A lot of people mistake such a view (as Hayek portrays brilliantly in this book) with a libertarian society, in which the government only upholds the law, enforces order and leaves its citicizens to look after themselves. This is not what Hayek has in mind. He argues for a liberal government, which intervenes strategically (and scientifically informed!) in economics to ensure each and every citicizen a minimum ammount of subsistense (in food, clothes, shelter), without destroying the incentives of people to try to make a living and in doing so, earning money, improving the lives of themselves and their children. It is the interaction of a society of such individuals, all trying to earn money to improve their lives, that slowly and gradually uplifts itself - without any (arbitrary) Central Planning taking place.

So in short, Hayek's central message: collectivism leads - inevitably - to immense suffering, total control of peoples' lives by the state and war; individualism leads to material wellbeing, personal freedom and peace.

To finish this review, I'd like to add two personal remark on The Road to Serfdom.

1. I find it amazing that in 2017, many people still believe in the collectivist myth - namely the myth that everyone should be made equal to all others, in all respects. It is really worrying that many people - including young people, no, especially young (and bright) people - vote (extreme) leftist and call themselves socialists, marxists, neo-marxists, etc.

To paraphrase Hayek, we live with many totalitarians in our midst, and it seems they have found a way - this time by using culture, instead of economics - to enforce their collectivist ideology on us. The radical equalization that Stalin and Hitler dreamt of, is taking place before our very eyes: biological differences are pronounced to be social constructs, created by white men; sexual preference is pronounced to be culturally determined; ethics has been radically relativized (all cultures are equal, even the ones that practice female genital mutilation or that enforce religious views on the non-believers); truth (and thereby science) is pronounced to be not absolute, anything goes (by dialectically deconstructing every statement made).

In short: each and every individual is pronounced to be like all the rest. Individual differences should be destroyed: no gender, no nationality, no race, no nothing. The marxist ideology, which was in its origin an economic one, has been put into practice via the collectivization of culture, and it is very ironic that this happened with the help of the capitalists (i.e. the multinationals who profit by international immigration and globalization, in order to ensure low wages, low taxation, and the evasion of national, democratically made laws).

The point I want to make is that we - at least this seems to me to be the case - that we have fallen into the trap that Hayek sketches in this book: the toleration of socialists in our midst and thereby the gradual taking over of society by socialism (political, cultural, etc.). I think we should immediately retreat to our reading rooms and study Hayek some more. Tolerance of individual freedom and difference is the key to a happy life; all tries to enforce equality is doomed to failure and will lead to oppression and suffering!

2. As for my second remark, I want to commend Hayek for his gifted foresight. In the last chapter of The Road to Serfdom, Hayek dares to look forward - to a time when the war is finished - and he sees major economic difficulties. People have to submit to lower peace-time wages (during the war they artificially earned more than they were used to), which means, in effect, submitting to a (former) lower standard of living. He deems it likely that the Unions will block the attempts of the government and the companies to lower the wages, and I cannot help but wonder if the later crises - for which Margaret Thatcher is so well-known - are the delayed result of the second World War.

Another problem Hayek foresees, is the problem of keeping the peace in Europe. His remedy for this problem is a federal international organization, which has the power (according to the rule of law) to intervene in attempts of countries showing international agression. So Hayek sees a federal organisation, endowed with negative powers (i.e. prevention), as the solution for Europe's perpetual state of war. In a sense, this is exactly what the European Union - in an economic and political sense has become: an international organization that tries to find compromises when a conflict of interests between two or more of her member states surfaces. And in a sense, NATO is the military federal and international organization that Hayek promotes - as is the United Nations (maybe even more so than NATO).

Truly amazing to read someone in 1943 advocating international cooperation as a means to keep the peace. One more reason to read Hayek in these Euro-skeptic times.
Profile Image for Jonny.
21 reviews
July 28, 2010
“We are today living out the dim echo—like light from a fading star—of a debate conducted seventy years ago by men (John Meynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek) born for the most part in the late nineteenth century. To be sure, the economic terms in which we are encouraged to think are not conventionally associated with these far-off political disagreements. And yet without an understanding of the latter, it is as though we speak a language we do not fully comprehend.”
- Tony Judt ‘What is Living and What is Dead in Social Democracy’

Having read Judt’s lecture I was inspired to pick up the Road to Serfdom because it has been so influential and the ideas expressed in it have been so persistent. Many of these concepts have influenced economic policy since the time of Regan/Thatcher and Hayek’s ideas continue to permeate economic policy discussions to this day.

Hayek’s thesis is made clear at the outset and he repeats it ad nauseam throughout the book. Perhaps he makes his arguments so forcefully because at the time of its writing (1944) the ideas expressed in this classic of “libertarianism/market liberalism” were widely seen as being discredited by the Great Depression and the subsequent collapse of all that was classically liberal in European society during the 1930s and 1940s. However, the world did not immediately move in Hayek’s direction. In the years following World War II most Western democracies adopted a great range of Social Democratic policies (progressive income taxes, generous social welfare provisions, and an attitude towards organized labor that saw them as equal partners in a tripartite structure with the state and business) that were generally accepted by the parties of both the center right and left. Hayek’s prominence rose in the 1970’s as neoliberal ideologies became ascendant. It is because of these developments that the main points of Hayek’s will be very familiar to most readers.

For Hayek, the “planner” cannot see the infinite complexities present in the economy and the social world. Therefore, the planner—even the well meaning one—rules trough a kind of authoritarian imposition which distorts the self-correcting mechanisms of the market and often has unforeseen consequences. The origins of the worst authoritarianisms (e.g., Nazism, Stalinism) can be found within all such “planning.” At the outset Hayek admits that by socialism he only means industrial state gigantism associated with the central planning in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Hayek’s point is that whatever undesirable outcomes occur as a result of market social relations—he freely admits that “inequalities of opportunity” exist in capitalist society—things turn out worse when “the state” gets involved beyond the ways in which classical political economy (e.g., Smith, Ricardo) suggests. The state needs to establish a framework in which markets can flourish, but all central economic “planning”—whether done by democrats or dictators leads to “serfdom.” To be fair, in the preface to the 1976 edition he clearly states that he never argues that “any movement in the direction socialism is bound to lead towards totalitarianism” (xxi) although it has unforeseen consequences.

Hayek is uninterested in examining malfunctions and the potential authoritarianism in markets themselves—they exist as a mystically perfect entity. It goes without saying that the realm of liberal freedom ends at the factory’s entrance. As Marx famously quipped, there will be “no admittance except on business.” Apparently, the private tyranny of a boss over their employee is of no concern. Although Hayek and Keynes are often popularly presented as antagonists, Keynes’s identification of the concept of “lack of effective demand” and his examinations of what happens when markets suffer from such deflationary spirals seems much more interested in examining the potential problems with markets as such. Although Hayek may have examined the functioning of markets in his technical economic work, it is notable that in The Road to Serfdom—his most widely cited text—the actual workings of markets are not examined in any detail. At several points in the text Hayek concedes that it is important that people do not starve, otherwise the state has no obligation to attend to the welfare of the less fortunate because to do so would involve the imposition of one universal moral code on the whole of society.
Additionally, I read in Hayek only a lukewarm endorsement of democracy. Hayek claims that “democracy is essentially a means, a utilitarian device for safeguarding internal peace and individual freedom” (p. 70). This is the individual freedom is that found in the marketplace. This explains why Hayek’s disciples such as Milton Friedman could support Augusto Pinochet’s bloody dictatorship in Chile in the 1970s. Hayek seems willing to countenance democracy so long as it facilitates the accumulation of private wealth, which for him is the true essence of freedom. The Road to Serfdom is ultimately an extended argument against what Hayek identifies as “collectivism.” Unfortunately, many political discussions have been unable to move beyond this simplistic collectivist/individualist dichotomy. To me, a true democrat sees that the participation of the individual in a collective public sphere constitutes the lifeblood of democratic processes.

Perhaps it is a testament to the contemporary power of neoliberal ideology that when discussing the basic duties of society to make sure that people don’t suffer too much privation he uses rhetoric that would not be out of place in speech given by Tony Blair or Barack Obama. In many respects, we have been living in a world constructed by policy makers under Hayek’s influence. The continual deregulation of the financial markets in the US that caused the 2008 crash in the past 30 years has created an massive amounts of wealth for a tiny sliver on the top of the income bracket while the real wages (adjusted for inflation) of most Americans remained flat even during the boom years. Bizarrely, no matter how spectacular the failures of these policies Hayek’s disciples claim that the problems that resulted from these crises arose from a failure to implement these policies more fully. The failure of their neoliberal utopia to emerge only means they need to push harder for its realization. However much I disagree with Hayek’s thesis, he presents it in a measured and articulate manner that shares none of the hyperbole of much of the current US libertarian movement. I think that if Hayek were alive today he would at least be reasonable enough to see that the Obama administration is a far cry from some authoritarian communist machine hell bent on crushing the system of free enterprise.
Profile Image for Hamidur.
62 reviews41 followers
August 27, 2018
Edit: August 2018

My politics has changed somewhat in the couple of years since I wrote the review below. I was somewhat of an anarchist at that time and my position on state control and centralization were pretty much aligned with the book's argument except it came from a socialist perspective. I've changed my position drastically on how centralized or state controlled a socialist state should be but left the review unchanged since it doesn't fundamentally alter my position on the book.

I've recently started reading economics books by liberal/neo-liberal/libertarian-capitalist writers to better understand their points. But I'm finding them not much superior than the arguments I come across from "anarcho"-capitalists and right wing libertarians on the internet.

For one thing, Hayek lumps the Nazis with socialists and communists because they're all "collectivists." Never mind the fact that fascists speak about "class collaboration" when socialists are interested in the class struggle in society. Never mind the fact that one of fascism's central tenet is nationalism and socialism/communism/anarchism are vehemently anti-nationalist ideologies. Never mind how Hitler arrested 11,000 socialists for "illegal socialist activities" in 1936 or how he had special concentration camps just for leftists. Never mind this from Hitler's book where he very clearly says that his intention was only to crush the Left while appropriating their symbols:

We chose red for our posters after particular and careful deliberation, our intention being to irritate the Left, so as to arouse their attention and tempt them to come to our meetings—if only in order to break them up—so that in this way we got a chance of talking to the people— Hitler, Mein Kempf

Facts and history getting in the way of the narrative wouldn't be great for Mr. Hayek, would it? No, this is the same kind of tactic that was used by Friedman in Capitalism and Freedom and it's the same tactic used by neo-feudalist, free market ideologues today: set up a false dichotomy between the free market and a totalitarian state, knock over state control, and claim you've won the argument against evil socialism. The fact that there are socialists who want the workers controlling the means of production rather than the state is not even glanced at because then it becomes difficult to make simplistic, tired arguments.

I'm also amused by how easily these economists make bombastic claims such that the free market is the only way for individuals to be free, without bothering to go into any of those pesky—and rather philosohical—details about what economic freedom really means. Is it simply the freedom to choose which master one works for today? Or is it the freedom for the worker to have autonomy and engage in voluntary associations with his workers rather than be part of a top down, hierarchical structure that is the capitalist workplace?

Another important theme of the book is Hayek railing against central planning. I couldn't help but wonder whether he was aware that one argument leftists make against capitalist workplaces is that they're simply the state writ small, existing as extremely centralized, hierarchical structures with no democratic control. I'll copy what the Anarchist Library wrote on this because it captures the essence of the argument perfectly:

... private property is the state writ small, with the property owner acting as the “sovereign lord” over their property, and so the absolute king of those who use it. As in any monarchy, the worker is the subject of the capitalist, having to follow their orders, laws and decisions while on their property. This, obviously, is the total denial of liberty (and dignity, we may note, as it is degrading to have to follow orders). And so private property (capitalism) necessarily excludes participation, influence, and control by those who use, but do not own, the means of life.

I don't see much difference between this tyranny and tyranny of the state. The only major difference is that one is free to leave and find himself another job. But for the vast majority of the workers, working for a boss is the fate since the system demands a class of workers. One or two individuals might find a better job and might even become a boss themselves but it's not possible for everyone to become a boss. So what freedom is it if you get to choose which master you serve today? Surely, having the freedom to choose one lord over another wouldn't have been that big of a deal to a feudal peasant.

Philosophically void, should be read only to understand that the ideology of libertarian-capitalism/liberalism stands on but a shaky foundation, supported by pseudo-intellectual nonsense from the modern day preachers of capitalism.
Profile Image for Public Scott.
628 reviews15 followers
September 10, 2014
Ah, finished at last. This was a bit of a hate-read for me, but I was surprised that I didn't hate it with quite the intensity I expected.

I was able to appreciate Hayek's arguments against full-scale government planning as predicting a lot of what went wrong with the Soviet Union. Still, I am unmoved by his slippery slope argument that any socialist policies inevitably lead to totalitarian government. Give me a break.

Also, this notion that Nazi Germany came about because of socialist policies adopted before World War I, while ignoring all of the other economic factors - onerous reparations, hyperinflation, depression - that helped pave the way for Hitler's rise... can you be serious?

Overall, I found it very hard to finish this book or concentrate on what the author was saying. Sometimes his focus was too close on the specific perils of a planned economy. Other times his focus was way too broad on gloom and doom warnings of what might happen if this or that happens in a planned economy - predictions that have oftentimes been proven wrong in the last 70 odd years.

The enduring popularity of this work is a bit of a mystery to me.
Profile Image for Shahab Samani.
130 reviews39 followers
February 27, 2018
متاسفانه ترجمه به اندازه ای بد و در انتقال مطلب گنگ و ناتوان است که امکان ادامه ی کتاب وجود ندارد. خیلی از کت��ب های کلاسیک ، مهم و تخصصی در حوزه های مختلف این گونه در ایران نابود شده اند و دیگر خوانده نمی شوند . ترجمه ی بد باعث می شود که دیگر نه کسی کتاب را تا اخر بخواند و نه مترجم دیگری به فکر ترجمه دوباره کتاب بیفتد به این علت که به لحاظ اقتصادی معمولا ترجمه دوباره کتاب به صرفه نیست و در بازار با استقبال مواجه نمی شود و این غم انگیز است .
Profile Image for Taha Rabbani.
160 reviews193 followers
March 25, 2019
ترجمه بده. فقط به یک نمونه اشاره می‌کنم:
«نفرت عمیق آلمانی از هر چیزی به جای نفرت از باورهای خاص که هم‌اکنون بر آلمانی‌ها سیطره دارد بیش از هر چیز خطرناک است.» منظوری که می‌شه از این جمله برداشت کرد اینه: «نفرت عمیق از آلمانی‌ها به‌جای نفرت از باورهای خاصی که هم‌اکنون بر آلمانی‌ها سیطره دارد بیش از هر چیز خطرناک است.»
این جمله‌ای است که به‌هرحال بدون مراجعه به متن اصلی می‌شه اصلاحش کرد، ولی وقتی تعداد این اشکالات زیاد بشه، مثل خوردن ماهی با تیغ می‌شه، عذاب‌آور و ناممکن. عطا بخشیده شد به لقا. باشد که روزی از متن اصلی بخونم.
Profile Image for Mark.
404 reviews14 followers
December 22, 2022
The misanthrope takes his ball and goes home. No one notices.

It’s telling that the only willing publisher of angry little man Hayek’s retort to reality was the U of Chicago, home of other bankrupt and defunct, but unfortunately still influential and destructive far-right philosophies of economics.

The Road to Serfdom ends where it begins, as pseudo-intellectual propaganda (i.e. justification) for unfettered bugger-thy-neighbour capitalist “winners”.

The book started as an angry memo that made the argument that the 1930s fascist takeover in Germany in fact was a liberal socialist movement… Really. He may have even believed this. Many of his disciples certainly do believe it, contrary to reason.

The memo didn’t garner Hayek enough attention, so he turned it into an article, which was also largely ignored by anyone with a few brain cells.

Once the UK was pulled into the war, Hayek’s colleagues at the LSE were appointed as government advisors and given other wartime duties. Hayek was not selected, perhaps because he was a “foreigner”, but then, so were many of his colleagues that found useful roles. No one wanted Hayek. So, he wrote. Angrily, hyperbolically, and rather badly.

The angry memo / article became an angry book that no one wanted to publish, read, or edit. Hayek sorely needed editing, as he is all over the place: Pro-something in one section, anti-that something in another section. It is pure reaction, penned to incite reaction.

Hayek and his cognitive dissonance is perfect for aspiring far-right ideologues. They can cite angry, obscure Hayek to pretend their fascist policies have grounding in “sound” economic philosophy. These fascists can safely assume none of their ignorant supporters will ever read Hayek, or any book of actual merit, so Hayek becomes an imprimatur that represents far-right intellectualism. It fits, as it is all vapid, hollow, and counter-factual. A “freedom” how-to — but only if you do exactly what your leader says.
4 reviews1 follower
July 29, 2011
The Road to Serfdom is a book that has divided the post-war divided world. In developed countries that practice capitalism, Hayek's book created a stir although his influence was a shadow of the effect Keynes had on countries. No body said 'I'm an Hayekian now'. Hayek barely finds a place in my economics textbook. This book told me why he was never respected in his life.

With all respect to Hayek and his intellect, this book falls short of being the ultimate attack on socialism it set out to be. In the end, Hayek has done more good than harm to the social democrats he chose to upset in this book. His attack on collectivism succeeded only temporarily in the USA and UK in the 1980's. And even this was only political success, economically and socially, two of the world' greatest countries UK and USA were destroyed by the so-called interpretation of this book by their harsh leaders. I will not blame this entirely on Hayek or the book but it just shows how ill-informed this book is.

Socialism might be a thing of the past, Marxism may have crumbled but certainly collectivism remains. And not only does it remain, it will remain and must remain. Collectivism provided us with most of things we use everyday-roads, hospitals, schools etc. Planning saved our countries during war and famines. Yet Hayek chooses to attack it. He believes Utopia can never be achieved. His pessimism of the government is very high and seems very biased. Had he lived so see democratic socialism into the 21st century and the economic crises of 1995 and 2008, he'd have discarded this book himself. This book is a biased, capitalist-driven book full of vested interests. This book will go down as one of the least academic and most controversial books of all time-one that enriched a few and destroyed many.
Profile Image for Laila.
253 reviews21 followers
April 9, 2019
This is not an easy thesis to digest but I more or less understood the main arguments and I agree with the author analysis. What so sobering in reflection of the arguments in this book is the realization as to how little we learn from history that socialism is only good in theory but in practice it bring nothing but misery to humanity and it would takes decades to recover from it, if any. Democracy isn't perfect but only in this system of governance that humanity able to thrive and prosper and live in relative peace with each other. Presently, liberty and individual freedom is under threat, it's a global phenomenon. Should we be concern? Absolutely. Just imagine living in a world where you can't even think for yourself. You life is regulated by someone higher up. You can't question authority, just obey. You can't do what you love and love what you do. You're one of many. No individuality. How bleak is that? Liberty and individual freedom, once gone, it may not return in your life time, so it's pays to fight for it in order to preserve it and pass it on to future generations. (Disclaimer: I'm not promoting violence here but active participation in political process, dialogue, education.)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,634 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.