Book Review: The Road To Serfdom

The Road To Serfdom:  The Definitive Edition, by F.A. Hayak, edited by Bruce Caldwell

This is a book that I enjoyed reading some time ago, but I was unaware of its context, and knowing the context in which this book was written makes it all the more interesting.  At least according to the lengthy introduction to this book and the author’s own testimony, this book was written for British socialist thinkers as a critique of the utopian idealism that many socialists had and still have to this day.  The book was received thoughtfully and generally positively and then crossed over the Atlantic and became part of the partisan battle between economic conservative Republicans and socialist-lite Democrats, something the author did not even remotely expect would happen.  And even more interesting, this particular book led the author to shift his own thinking from more “pure” economic theory to the messier but important aspect of political economics, where he spent the rest of his career deeply involved.  All of this makes the book even more interesting, in that the author uses Nazi Germany as a refutation of socialist idealism, demonstrating the link between Nazis and socialism, something that many contemporary leftists in the US and other countries would do well to keep in mind when they falsely label themselves as anti-fascists when they are indeed just what they claim to hate most.

This particular book is between 200 and 300 pages, although the core material is not nearly so long.  This particular book begins with an editorial foreword and then an introduction that goes on for about 40 pages or so.  After this the author’s preface to the original edition, the foreword to the 1956 American paperback edition, and the preface to the 1976 edition take up another twenty pages or so before the author introduces his work.  After this the book contains sixteen chapters, the last of which is a conclusion (16).  The author begins with the abandoned road of liberty (1) and then discusses the hopes that many thinkers had for a socialist utopia (2), before contrasting individualism and collectivism (3) and discussing the way that planners sought to portray planning not as desirable but as inevitable (4).  After this the author discusses the relationship between planning and the rule of law (5) as well as the relationship between economic control and totalitarianism (6).  Then there is a discussion about who is to rule (8) as well as the tension between security and freedom (9).  After that the author discusses why the worst end up on top (10), the purpose of truth (11) in the face of propaganda, the socialist roots of Nazism (12), contemporary totalitarians (13), the relationship between material means and ideal ends (14), as well as the prospects for developing international order (15).  After the book’s conclusion there are appendices involving the author’s thoughts on Nazi Socialism as reports and comments from readers and reviewers of the book in its early days, as well as acknowledgements and an index.

This book is by no means as large or as detailed as it could have been and as the author’s later works were, which reminds me of some books I should be looking out for to read in the future.  That said, this book is still interesting in the way it points to where Hayek’s work would go as the author deals with the problems of responsibility and the way that not everyone desires to be free and that planners seek to encourage this dependency in order to increase their own power.  The author clearly views himself to be a classical liberal and a foe of planners to the right and left.  And that is not a bad place to be, to be hated by both fascists and communists because one sees the strength of a people in the behavior of individuals and feels a mutual hostility with those who would fancy themselves competent to direct the affairs of man.  The book is itself a short one but the appendices showing the thoughtful comments of early and important readers and the introduction do allow the book to be placed where its author intended so that we may see both what he meant to say and how it spread far beyond his wildest dreams and expectations.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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