After having read The Hobbit, I decided to pick up a text from a completely different genre: The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek. This book was published in 1944 just as the catastrophe of World War II was winding down, and the threat of totalitarianism seemed to be defeated. “Something like that,” people would think when Germany or Italy were called to mind, “would never happen here.” Much to Europe’s chagrin, this was not the case; with Hayek calling attention to the concern that we too, in the England, the United States, and the rest of the free world, are in danger of becoming exactly the horror we just fought. Being written immediately after we defeated the Axis Powers with the help of the Soviets, The Road to Serfdom was published at a time when many turned to communist and socialist ideas. As Hayek demonstrates in his book, however, totalitarianism was not a reaction to the socialism and economic planning of our Soviet friends, but rather, it was a result of following these ideologies to their conclusions.
After beginning with observation on the then-current socialism-ization of political philosophy in society, Hayek goes onto to prove the liberal case for government amidst an ever-growing base of supporters of economic planning. The book describes how socialism, although seen as nothing more than a philosophy of equality and the common good, in order to achieve the common good, requires a systematic method applied by a government. In socialism, in order to reach this goal, all property in society must be unified, and the people must become a collective that will work towards this objective. In liberalism, on the other hand, there is no such common goal, as people are more individualist. Since different needs rank above or below others to different people in each’s definition of the common good, the problem with socialism is that since no universal ethical code exists, one must be forced on the people, and their needs will be ranked by the ethical code of the government, even if said code is immoral. In liberal societies, where there is Rule of Law, i.e. restrictions on government, government is confined to only certain types of regulation, and within the laws that government can pass, the people may do as the please. The difference in planned societies is that, as their is no such Rule of Law (and can’t be one if full planning is to be allowed), the government may enforce arbitrary laws, and become a moral institution in the way I mentioned above. Because of this, planned societies are inherently dictatorial, and a man’s money is controlled by the government. And “where the sole employer is the state,” objects Trotsky to Stalinist measures, “the old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.”
After giving an exhaustive argument for the dangers of a planned societies, Hayek traces the fascist Nazi movement to it’s socialist roots, explains why the worst become the leaders, and lays out his view for what must be done. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in political philosophy, libertarianism, or socialism. Because if there’s one thing I think most of us can agree with Hayek: “A policy of freedom for the individual,” he finishes, “is the only truly progressive policy.”