Book Review: “The Road to Serfdom ” (F.A.Hayek)
Posted on October 6, 2009
The Road to Serfdom by F.A.Hayek
Short review: strongly recommended. A timeless classic. An analytic exposition of the same old re-cycled, cancerous, glib, smug nonsense that we hear endlessly repeated so often today. Namely that (yawn) Capitalism and the Free Market are unjust, inequitable, and dying anyway. No good has ever (EVER) come from rich, corrupt businessmen. They are exploiters and parasites. They need to be replaced by a benevolent, kind, compassionate ‘planned’ society. Administered by an Elite body of Federal Planners in Washington, who are wise and kind, (a tear trickles down our cheek), and who consist heavily of academics, intellectuals and Supreme Court Judges. We need more Government bodies, because they are fair, balanced, and wise. We need more rules, regulations, taxes and government inspectors to help business and private investment. (All kneel….)
A heavy read, requires concentration and dedication, and be prepared to look up many references. Some long paragraphs, some convoluted sentences, some ponderous pronunciations, but a work, written roughly between 1938 to 1944, which can be used as a stunning blue print to understand today’s misleading representations by left wing extremists and political agitators. .What we see today in America is nothing new. The poorly read, uninformed, short sighted, activists, eager as ever to mount the barricades, but quite unwilling to sit, read, listen… and think.
It’s the Old Marxist Brigade, the dreamers and the malcontents, revamped, with changed colors, new rhetoric, and lots of Utopian promises of ‘free lunch’ for all. In fact, they are intent on their own personal gain and self aggrandisement. Power politics as usual. Hayek foresaw it all, and described it for us in this incredibly clear sighted and clairvoyant work. This book has been an important inspirational source for many of today’s more popular trendy conservative writers, although, so it seems, most will not admit to it. (With the exception of Mark Levin in his interesting “Liberty and Tyranny “)
Long review: I like an author who entitles a chapter “Why the worst get on top ” (chapter 10). I’ve often wondered the same thing. On page 160 he says: “There are three main reasons why such a numerous and strong group with fairly homogeneous views is not likely to be formed by the best but rather by the worst elements of any society. “
He then gives “three main reasons “, which I suggest are well reasoned, well thought out, and ring remarkably true of today’s self appointed saviours of the exploited masses. Check it out yourself. I’ll quote you part of his third reason:
“It seems almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program – on the hatred of the enemy, on the envy of those better off – than on any positive task. “
P.162: “Collectivism has no room for the wide humanitarianism of liberalism but only for the narrow particularism of the totalitarian. “
Chapter 2 is called “The Great Utopia “, and if you’re a bit of a cynic like me, you’ll enjoy it. Page 77 contains the classic quote from Tocqueville “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 “.
On p. 78, Hayek says: “There can be no doubt that the promise of freedom has become one of the most effective weapons of socialist propaganda and that the belief that socialism would bring freedom is genuine and sincere. But this would only heighten the tragedy if it should prove that what was promised to us as the Road to Freedom was in fact the High Road to Servitude… “
Chapter 11 is called “The End of Truth ” and you have to smile. Maybe Hayek was a secret time traveller. Maybe he visited America in the year 2009. If he did, then he penned the opening paragraph of this chapter for Americans today. Read it, you might like it. He continues on page 172: “The moral consequences of totalitarian propaganda….are of an even more profound kind. They are destructive of all morals because they undermine one of the foundations of all morals: the sense of and the respect for truth. ”
Chapter 13 is called “The Totalitarians in our Midst “, and must have been written yesterday. It contains so many quotable quotes, I shall limit myself to two: “…there is scarcely a leaf out of Hitler’s book which somebody or other in England or America has not recommended us to take and use for our own purposes. ” (p.195)
Or how about this one, same page: “Individualism must come to an end absolutely. A system of regulations must be set up, the object of which is not the greater happiness of the individual…. but the strengthening of the organised unity of the state for the object of attaining the maximum degree of efficiency… “
This book is a classic. The introduction by Bruce Caldwell is detailed.
My two minor grumbles would be:
1) that some of the sentences are very longwinded. Lots of clauses, juxtapositions, conditional statements. I read a lot, but I frequently found myself forced to re-read a sentence, and sometimes a whole paragraph. Hayek crams a lot into every word. Anybody who says this book is an ‘easy read’, with ‘smooth prose’ possesses a much higher IQ than I do.
I still can read any page in Hayek, and enjoy it. It’s a rich offering.
2) So why in heck are there only 44 reviews so far of this masterpiece on Amazon? Many authors today, with over 1,000 reviews, widely feted with lots of rah-rah-rah and hoopla-la-la, clearly show Hayek Road-to-Serfdom influence in their work. They don’t always admit it.
For my money, THIS is a major source for many of today’s writers. Yup, you have to work at Hayek. He’s not easy. Roll up your sleeves. Take notes. You can’t watch CNN at the same time, do the crossword, and listen to your favourite rapper. But Hayek is overwhelmingly well worth every effort.
A truly great, gripping, far sighted classic.
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on September 2, 2010, 11:08 am