The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek excerpts

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Excerpts from The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek, first edition 1944

“Nearly half a century ago, most of the smart people sneered when Friedrich Hayek published The Road to Serfdom. The world was wrong and Hayek right.” — Ronald Bailey

“In the negative part of Professor Hayek’s thesis there is a great deal of truth. It cannot be said often enough – at any rate, it is not being said often enough – that collectivism is not inherently democratic, but, on the contrary, gives to a tyrannical minority such powers as the Spanish Inquisitors never dreamed of.” — George Orwell

“I have made it a practice to inquire of believers in individualism how they came to depart from the collectivist orthodoxy of our times. For years, the most frequent answer was a reference to the book for which I have the honor of writing this introduction.  Professor Hayek’s remarkable and vigorous tract was a revelation particularly to the young men and women who had been in the armed forces during the war … they had observed a collectivist organization in action. For them, Hayek’s predictions about the consequences of collectivism were not simply hypothetical.” — Milton Friedman, from his Introduction to the 1971 edition

“We were the first to assert that the more complicated the forces assumed by civilization, the more restricted the freedom of the individual must become.” — Benito Mussolini

“The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capital … assume an authority which could safely be trusted to no council … which nowhere would be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had the folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it.” — Adam Smith

“The control of the production of wealth is the control of human life itself.” — Hilaire Belloc

“The finest opportunity ever given to the world was thrown away because the passion for equality made vain the hope for freedom.” — Lord Acton

“I should have loved freedom, I believe, at all times, but in the time in which we live I am ready to worship it.” — Alexis de Tocqueville

“Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom, socialism restricts it … while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.” — Alexis de Tocqueville

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. — Benjamin Franklin

“When authority presents itself in the guise of organization, it develops charms fascinating enough to convert communities of free people into totalitarian States.” — The Times (London)

“In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation.” — Leon Trotsky (1937)

FA Hayek

We all are, or at least were until recently, certain of one thing: that the leading ideas which during the last generation were common to most people of good will 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 what we expected.

Perhaps the greatest result of the unchaining of individual energies was the marvelous growth of science which followed the march of individual liberty from Italy to England and beyond.

The people of the West continued to import German ideas and were even induced to believe … that the political ideals of England and America were hopelessly outdated and a thing to be ashamed of.

What our planners demand is a central direction of all economic activity according to a single plan, laying down how the resources of society should be “consciously directed” to serve particular ends in a definite way.

The modern movement for planning is a movement against competition as such, a new flag under which all the old enemies of competition have rallied … What in effect unites the socialists of the Left and Right is this common hostility to competition and their desire to replace it by a directed economy.

The common features of all collectivist systems may be described … as the deliberate organization of the labors of society for a definite social goal … In short, they are totalitarian in the true sense of the new word we have adopted to describe the unexpected but nevertheless inseparable manifestations of what in theory we call collectivism.

The “social goal”, or “common purpose for which society is to be organized is usually vaguely described as the “common good”, the “general welfare” or the “greatest interest”. It does not need much reflection to see that these terms have no sufficiently definite meaning to determine a particular course of action.

The cry for an economic dictator is a characteristic stage in the movement toward planning … In Germany, even before Hitler came into power, the movement had already progressed much further.

When we want to test the usefulness of the principle of “fairness” in … economic planning, we must apply to some question where the gains and losses are seen equally clearly … In such instances it is generally recognized that no general principle such as fairness can provide an answer … There can be no doubt that planning necessarily involves deliberate discrimination between the particular needs of different people.

Few things are more certain to expose one to the reproach of being a reactionary than if one protests against a measure on the grounds that it is a violation of the rights of the individual.

Most planners who seriously considered the practical aspects of their task have little doubt that a directed economy must be run on more or less dictatorial lines … The consolation our planners offer us is this authoritarian direction will apply “only” to economic matters … It is largely the consequence of the erroneous belief that there are purely economic ends separate from the other ends of life … Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is the control of the means for all our ends.

The power conferred by the control of production and prices is almost unlimited … not only in our capacity as consumers [but] even more so in our position as producers.

The fact that the opportunities open to the poor in a competitive society are more open to the rich does not make it less true that in such a society the poor are much more free than than a person commanding much greater material comfort in a different type of society … the competitive system is the only one where it depends solely on him and not on the favors of the mighty.

To believe that the power thus conferred on the state is merely transferred from others is erroneous. It is a power which is newly created and which in a competitive society nobody possesses.

As the coercive power of the state will alone decide who is to have what, the only power worth having will be a share in the exercise of this directing power. There would be no economic or social questions that would not be political questions.

The conflict between the Fascist or National Socialist and the older socialist parties must, indeed, very largely be regarded as the kind of conflict which is bound to arise between rival socialist factions. There was no difference between them about the question of its being the will of the state which should assign to each person his proper place in society.

The planning for security which has such an insidious effect on liberty … is planning designed to protect individuals or groups against diminutions of their income … This kind of security or justice seems irreconcilable with freedom to choose one’s employment … Certainty of a given income can, however, not be given to all if any freedom of choice in one’s employment is to be allowed.

It may, indeed, be questioned whether anyone can realistically conceive of a collectivist program other than in the service of a limited group [it] seems to presuppose a greater degree of similarity of outlook and thought that exists between men merely as human beings … Collectivism on a world scale seems to be unthinkable – except in the service of a small ruling elite.

The intensity of a moral movement like that of National Socialism or communism can only be compared to the great religious movements of history. Once you admit that the individual is merely the means to serve the ends of the higher entity called society or the nation, most of those features of totalitarian regimes that horrify us follow of necessity.

The most effective way of making everybody serve the single system of ends toward which the social plan is directed is to make everybody believe in those ends … It is essential that people should come to regard them as their own ends … This is, of course, brought about by the various forms of propaganda.

Totalitarian propaganda … are destructive of all morals because they undermine one of the foundations of all morals: the truth.

Few traits of totalitarian regimes are … so characteristic of the whole intellectual climate as the complete perversion of language … The worst sufferer in this respect is, of course, the word “liberty” … as this process continues the whole language becomes despoiled, and words become empty shells deprived of any definite meaning.

It seems that pure mathematics is no less a victim and that even the holding of particular views about the nature of continuity can be ascribed to “bourgeois prejudices.”

The word “truth” itself ceases to have its old meaning … with the individual conscience as the sole arbiter … it becomes something to be laid down by authority.

Our generation likes to flatter itself that it attaches less weight to economic decisions than did its parents or grandparents … When we consider the claims for social reconstruction which are most strongly pressed, it appears that they are almost all economic in character.

A complex civilization like ours is necessarily based on the individual’s adjusting himself to changes whose cause and nature he cannot understand: why he should have more or less, why he should have to move to another occupation, why some things he wants become more difficult to get than others, will always be connected with such a multitude of circumstances that no single mind will be able to grasp them … the director of a completely planned society … could not fully do so without explaining and vindicating his whole plan – which means, of course, that it could not be explained to more than a few.

It was men’s submission to the impersonal forces of the market that in the past has made possible the growth of a civilization … it is thus by submitting that we are every day helping to build something that is greater that any one of us can fully comprehend.

Individual freedom cannot be reconciled with the supremacy of one single purpose to which the whole society must be entirely and permanently subordinated. The only exception … is war.

Let a uniform minimum be secured to everybody by all means; but … all claims for privileged security of particular classes must lapse.

Morals are of necessity a phenomenon of  individual conduct [that] can exist only exist in the sphere in which the individual is free to decide for himself … As Milton said: “If every action which is good or evil … were under pittance and prescription and compulsion, what were virtue but a name.”

The virtues [of] independence, self-reliance, and the willingness to bear risks .. are essentially those on which the working of an individualist society rests. Collectivism has nothing to put in their place [and] has left a void filled by nothing but the demand for obedience and the compulsion of the individual to do what is collectively decided to be good.

The Left intelligentsia, indeed, have so long worshiped foreign gods that they seem to have become almost incapable of seeing any good in the characteristic English institutions and traditions.

One has only to visualize the problems raised by economic planning of even an area such as western Europe to see that the moral bases for such an undertaking are completely lacking … Planning on an international scale, even more than is true on a national scale, cannot be anything but a naked rule of force, an imposition by a small group on all the rest … Any international authority … could easily exercise the most tyrannical and irresponsible power imaginable.