Brett Williams's Reviews > The Road to Serfdom

The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich A. Hayek
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it was amazing

Why freedom must be saved over and over again

Hayek gives us a step by step development from well meaning socialist ideals to the cataclysm of their results over time. Hayek, a Nobel Laureate and Medal Of Freedom winner, writes from his life experiences in Austria during Germany’s completion of National Socialism with the ascension of Hitler, whereupon he moved to Britain seeing the same social principles dominate there. Italy, the USSR, and China allowed additional observations from a distance. His analysis goes far in clearing the mess that is modern human social evolution, showing how humans behave under the three systems of capitalism, socialism, tyranny, and how one gets from the first to the later. One of his most enlightening morsels is that the system we create, creates us. That is, once we enact a new system of living, humans mold themselves to it. Different regimes produce different human types. (Zimbardo’s “Lucifer Effect”) Early on we see a redefining of old words with new meanings. Freedom had once meant freedom from coercion, from arbitrary power over others, from arbitrary restrictions on individual choice. The “new freedom” becomes freedom from necessity, from compulsion, from circumstance. Excepting immediate needs of war and natural disaster, “Individual freedom,” writes Hayek, “cannot be reconciled with the supremacy of one single purpose to which the whole society must be entirely and permanently subordinated.” Like radical equality (complete in every way), “economic freedom” is represented as an indispensable condition of “real liberty” as liberty is dispensed of. Morals are of necessity a phenomena of individual conduct, notes Hayek, existing only in a sphere of individual freedom where one decides for themselves. Let the State dictate morality, as it eventually must under socialism, and morality disappears from individuals. People come to see themselves as more ethical because they have delegated their vices to larger and larger groups. Progression hastens another socialist teaching – the deliberate disparagement of all activities involving economic risk, and a moral opprobrium cast on gains which makes risks worth taking. Schools and press present the spirit of commercial enterprise as disreputable and making profit as immoral. “Where to employ a hundred people is represented as exploitation, but to command the same number is honorable.” No longer is independence but State-sponsored security what provides rank and status.

Though socialists promise themselves a more abundant life, free of economic tethers, they must come to renounce it. As organized direction increases, the variety of ends must give way to uniformity, as no government can address the millions of products and services a blind price system manages without “managers.” Recalling Hoffer’s “True Believer” and the control required for any dogma to protect itself from challenge, the evolving socialist society must create glorious goals “for the people,” close itself off from external influence, and lose a sense of and respect for truth as the world shrinks around them to support the social ambition. Successful socialism requires creation of a common view on essential values. It is not a rational conviction, but the acceptance of a creed that is required to justify the national plan. As the rule of law is blind, it is also incompatible with a government deliberately aiming at material equality for certain groups as “distributive justice” attempting to produce the same results for different people all under the guise of “social justice” or “greater equality” [“diversity,” “inclusivity,” “sensitivity”]. “I have never accused the socialists of deliberately aiming at a totalitarian regime, or even suspected they had such inclinations,” writes Hayek. However, what are unforeseen yet inevitable consequences of social planning create conditions eventually requiring totalitarianism in order to succeed. Notice, economic control leads to control of all kinds. Once government is enlisted to service these higher virtues of economic equality through planned, collectivist, distributions, then someone, sometime has to start making arbitrary choices about who to benefit and who to penalize. High morals born from capitalistic democracies are the same morals demanding socio-economic equality for all, tired of waiting for results, weary of abuses and corruptions. (Sounding a great deal like America’s move to Supreme Court test cases in the 1960s when Congressional legislation seemed time consuming and uncertain, as laws could be made from the bench instead.) The very opposite of intensions are created, sinking not only capitalism and democracy but morality as well, as tyranny rises to do the hard job of social control required to service the new dogma. At this point the ground is set for the National Socialist’s elevation of Hitler, socialist Fascist’s ascension of Mussolini, and the United Soviet Socialist Republic’s embrace of Stalin. Moral values socialists pride themselves in are the product of institutions they end up destroying, and the poor remain poor, or worse under tyranny, unless they are lucky enough to become one of the tyrants. It’s no wonder Hayek is seen still at the political science and policy journal shelf in bookstores. He serves as a permanent reminder that, as he writes, freedom must be won over and over again in order to be maintained.


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Finished Reading
April 1, 2014 – Shelved

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