The Road to Serfdom

The Road To Serfdom

Author: F.A. Hayek

Publisher: The University of Chicago Press

An extremely interesting book of which the original text was written in 1944 by F.A. Hayek an economist of the Austrian school and a classical liberal. Classical liberalism is distinct from social liberalism. Classical liberalism is concerned with laissez-faire capitalism and small government and the government should maintain a hands off approach while social liberalism is concerned with social issues and believes that government should have a hands on approach. In America as we have come to view the philosophy of the politics of left and right a classical liberal actually holds conservative views. The social liberal holds what we view as liberal in our present meaning.

The following are excerpts from his book. For the amount of information it is overall an easy read.


“Contemporary events differ from history in that we do not know the results they will produce. Looking back, we can assess the significance of past occurrences and trace the consequences they have brought in their train.”


“One need not be a prophet to be aware of impending dangers.”


“Yet, though the road be long, it is one on which it becomes more difficult to turn back as one advances. If in the long run we are the makers of our own fate, in the short run we are the captives of the ideas we have created. Only if we recognize the danger in time can we hope to avert it.”


“Is there a greater tragedy imaginable than that, in our endeavor consciously to shape our future in accordance with high ideals, we should in fact unwittingly produce the very opposite of what we have been striving for?”


“It seems almost as if we did not want to understand the development which has produced totalitarianism because such an understanding might destroy some of the dearest illusions to which we are determined to cling.”


“When the course of civilization takes an unexpected turn – when, instead of the continuous progress which we have come to expect, we find ourselves threatened by evils associated by us with past ages of barbarism – we naturally blame anything but ourselves.”


“However much we may differ when we name the culprit – whether it is the wicked capitalist or the vicious spirit of a particular nation, the stupidity of our elders, or a social system not yet, although we have struggled against it for a half a century, fully overthrown – we all are, or at last were until recently, certain of one thing: that the leading ideas which during the last generation have become common to most people of goodwill and have determined the major changes in our social life cannot have been wrong. We are ready to accept almost any explanation of the present crisis of our civilization except one: that the present state of the world may be the result of genuine error on our own part and that the pursuit of some of our most cherished ideals has apparently produced results utterly different from those which we expected.”


“As is so often true, the nature of our civilization has been seen more clearly by its enemies than by most of its friends………….”


“It is true, of course, that in Germany before 1933, and in Italy before 1922, Communists and Nazis or Fascists clashed more frequently with each other than with other parties. They competed for the support of the same type of mind and reserved for each other the hatred of the heretic. But their practice showed how closely they are related.”


“ “Planning” owes its popularity largely to the fact that everybody desires, of course, that we should handle our common problems as rationally as possible and that, in so doing, we should use as much foresight as we can command.”


“What in effect unites the socialists of the Left and the Right is this common hostility to competition…….”


“By destroying competition in industry after industry, this policy puts the consumer at the mercy of the joint monopolist actions of capitalists and workers in the best organized industries.”


“Such independent planning by industrial monopolies would, in fact, produce effects opposite to those at which the argument for planning aims. Once this stage is reached, the only alternative to return to competition is a control of the monopolies by the state – a control which, if it is to be made effective, must become progressively more complete and more detailed.”


“While there can thus be little doubt that the movement toward planning is the result of deliberate action and that there are no external necessities which force us to it, is worth inquiring why so large a proportion of the technical experts should be found in the front rank of the planners. The explanation of this phenomenon is closely connected with an important fact which the critics of the planners should always keep in mind: that there is little question that almost every one of the technical ideals of our experts could be realized within a comparatively short time if to achieve them were made the sole aim of humanity.”


“That our present society lacks such “conscious” direct and towards a single aim, that its activities are guided by the whims and fancies of irresponsible individuals, has always been one of the main complaints of its socialist critics.”


“Nor can a coherent plan be achieved by breaking it up into parts and voting on particular issues. A Democratic assembly voting and amending a comprehensive economic plan clause by clause, as it deliberates on an ordinary bill, makes nonsense. An economic plan, to deserve the name, must have a unitary conception. Even if a parliament could, proceeding step-by-step, agree on some scheme, it would certainly in the end satisfy nobody. A complex whole in which all the parts must be most carefully adjusted to each other cannot be achieved through a compromise of conflicting views. To draw up an economic plan in this fashion is even less possible than, for example, successfully to plan a military campaign by democratic procedure. As in strategy it would become inevitable to delegate the task to the experts.”


“Many separate plans do not make a planned whole – in fact, as the planners ought to be the first to admit, they may be worse than no plan. But the Democratic legislature will long hesitate to relinquish the decisions on really vital issues, and so long as it does so it makes it impossible for anyone else to provide the comprehensive plan. Yet agreement that planning is necessary, together with the inability of democratic assemblies to produce a plan, will evoke stronger and stronger demands that the government or some single individual should be given powers to act on their own responsibility. The belief is becoming more and more widespread that, if things are to get done, the responsible authorities must be freed from the fetters of democratic procedure.”


“Most planners who have seriously considered the practical aspects of their task have little doubt that a directed economy must be run on more or less dictatorial lines.”


“That people should wish to be relieved of the bitter choice which hard facts often impose upon them is not surprising. But few want to be relieved through having the choice made for them by others. People just wish that the choice should not be necessary at all. And they are only too ready to believe that the choice is not really necessary, that it is imposed upon them merely by the particular economic system under which we live.”


“In the much wider sphere in which he then still lived on his own products, he was free to act as he chose.”


“The situation is now entirely different. During the liberal era the progressive divisions of labor has created a situation where almost every one of our activities is part of a social process. This is a development which we cannot reverse, since it is only because of it that we can maintain the vastly increased population at anything like present standards.”


“However bitter the experience, it would be very much worse in a planned society. There individuals will have to decide not whether a person is needed for a particular job but whether he is of use for anything, and how useful he is. His position in life must be assigned to him by somebody else.”


“The problem is, of course, even more important because in the world as it is men are, in fact, not likely to give their best for long periods unless their own interests are directly involved.”


“In the sphere of executive work the problem of sanctions for negligence arises in a different but no less serious form. It has been well said that, while the last resort of a competitive economy is the bailiff, the ultimate sanction of a planned economy is the hangman. The powers the manager of any plant will have to be given will still be considerable. But no more than in the case of the worker can the manager’s position and income in a planned system be made to depend merely on the success or failure of the work under his direction. As neither the risk nor the gain is his, it cannot be his personal judgment, but whether he does what he ought to have done according to some established rule, which must decide. A mistake he “ought” to have avoided is not his own affair; it is a crime against the community and must be treated as such. While so long as he keeps to the safe path of objectively ascertainable duty he may be  more sure of his income than the capitalist entrepreneur, the danger which threatens him in case of real failure is worse than bankruptcy. He may be economically secure so long as he satisfies his superiors, but the security is bought at the price of the safety of freedom and life.”


“The conflict with which we have to deal is, indeed, a quite fundamental one between two irreconcilable types of social organization, which, from the most characteristic forms in which they appear, have often been described as the commercial and the military type of society. ………. Either both the choice and the risk rest with the individual or he is relieved of both. The Army does, indeed, in many ways represent the closest approach familiar to us to the second type of organization, where work and worker alike are allotted by authority and where, if the available means are scanty, everybody is alike put on short commons. This is the only system in which the individual can be conceded full economic security and through the extension of which to the whole of society it can be achieved for all its members. The security is, however, inseparable from the restrictions on liberty and the hierarchal order of military life – it is the security of the barracks.”


“No doubt an American or English “Fascist” system would greatly differ from the Italian or German models; no doubt, if the transition were affected without violence, we might expect to get a better type of leader. And, if I had to live under a Fascist system, I have no doubt that I would rather live under one run by Englishmen or Americans than under one run by anybody else.”


“The skillful propagandist then has the power to mold their minds in any direction he chooses, and even the most intelligent and independent people cannot entirely escape that influence if they are long isolated from all other sources of information.”


“And the most efficient technique to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning. Few traits of totalitarian regimes are at the same time so confusing to the superficial observer and yet so characteristic of the whole intellectual climate as the complete perversion of language, the change of meaning of the words by which the ideals of the new regime are expressed.”


“The worst sufferer in this respect is, of course, the word “liberty”. It is a word used as freely in totalitarian states as elsewhere.”


“Gradually, as this process continues, the whole language becomes despoiled, and words become empty shells deprived of any definite meaning, as capable of denoting one thing as its opposite and used solely for the emotional associations which still adhere to them.”


“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 for only a small minority.”


“The impetus of the movement toward totalitarianism comes mainly from the two great vested interests: organized capital and organized labor. Probably the greatest menace of all is the fact that the policies of these two most powerful groups point in the same direction.”


“……….. There can be little doubt that if we continue on the path we have been treading, it will lead us to totalitarianism.”


“The movement is, of course, deliberately planned mainly by the capitalist organizers of monopolies, and they are thus one of the main sources of this danger. Their responsibility is not altered by the fact that their aim is not a totalitarian system but rather a sort of corporative society in which the organized industries would appear as semi-independent and self-governing “estates”. But they are as shortsighted as were their German colleagues in believing that they will be allowed not only to create but also for any length of time to run such a system. The decisions which the managers of such an organized industry would constantly have to make are not decisions which any society will long leave to private individuals. A state which allow such enormous aggregations of power to grow up cannot afford to let this power rest entirely in private control.”


“ …….the fate of our civilization will ultimately depend on how we solve the economic problems………….”


“There need be little difficulty in planning the economic life of a family, comparatively little in a small community. But as the scale increases, the amount of agreement on the order of ends decreases and the necessity to rely on force and compulsion grows.”


“To imagine that the economic life of a vast area comprising many different people can be directed or planned by democratic procedure betrays a complete lack of awareness of the problems such planning would raise.”


“If anything is evident, it should be that, while nations might abide by formal rules on which they have agreed, they will never submit to the direction which international economic planning involves – that while they may agree on the rules of the game, they will never agree on the order of preference in which the rank of their own needs and the rate at which they are allowed to advance is fixed by majority vote.”


“Those who are so ready to ride roughshod over the rights of small states are, of course, right in one thing: we cannot hope for order or lasting peace after this war if states, large or small, regain unfettered sovereignty in the economic sphere. But this does not mean that a new superstate must be given powers which we have not learned to use intelligently even on a national scale, that an international authority ought to be given power to direct individual nations how to use their resources. It means merely that there must be a power which can restrain the different nations from action harmful to their neighbors, a set of rules which defines what a state may do, and in authority capable of enforcing these rules. The powers which such an authority would need are mainly of a negative kind; it must, above all, be able to say “No” to all sorts of restrictive measures.”


“What we need and can hope to achieve is not more power in the hands of irresponsible international economic authorities but, on the contrary, a superior political power which can hold the economic interest in check, and the conflict between them can truly hold the scales, because it is itself not mixed up in the economic game. The need is for an international political authority which, without power to direct the different people what they must do, must be able to restrain them from action which will damage others.”


“When we want to prevent people from killing each other, we are not content to issue a declaration that killing is undesirable, but we give an authority power to prevent it. In the same way there can be no international law without power to enforce it.”