The Road to Serfdom

The Road to Serfdom

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by Friedrich A. Hayek

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A classic work in political philosophy, intellectual and cultural history, and economics, The Road to Serfdom has inspired and infuriated politicians, scholars, and general readers for half a century. Originally published in England in the spring of 1944—when Eleanor Roosevelt supported the efforts of Stalin, and Albert Einstein subscribed lock, stock,

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A classic work in political philosophy, intellectual and cultural history, and economics, The Road to Serfdom has inspired and infuriated politicians, scholars, and general readers for half a century. Originally published in England in the spring of 1944—when Eleanor Roosevelt supported the efforts of Stalin, and Albert Einstein subscribed lock, stock, and barrel to the socialist program—The Road to Serfdom was seen as heretical for its passionate warning against the dangers of state control over the means of production. For F. A. Hayek, the collectivist idea of empowering government with increasing economic control would inevitably lead not to a utopia but to the horrors of nazi Germany and fascist Italy.

First published by the University of Chicago Press on September 18, 1944, The Road to Serfdom garnered immediate attention from the public, politicians, and scholars alike. The first printing of 2,000 copies was exhausted instantly, and within six months more than 30,000 were sold. In April of 1945, Reader's Digest published a condensed version of the book, and soon thereafter the Book-of-the-Month Club distributed this condensation to more than 600,000 readers. A perennial best-seller, the book has sold over a quarter of a million copies in the United States, not including the British edition or the nearly twenty translations into such languages as German, French, Dutch, Swedish, and Japanese, and not to mention the many underground editions produced in Eastern Europe before the fall of the iron curtain.

After thirty-two printings in the United States, The Road to Serfdom has established itself alongside the works of Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, and George Orwell for its timeless meditation on the relation between individual liberty and government authority. This fiftieth anniversary edition, with a new introduction by Milton Friedman, commemorates the enduring influence of The Road to Serfdom on the ever-changing political and social climates of the twentieth century, from the rise of socialism after World War II to the Reagan and Thatcher "revolutions" in the 1980s and the transitions in Eastern Europe from communism to capitalism in the 1990s.

F. A. Hayek (1899-1992), recipient of the Medal of Freedom in 1991 and co-winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1974, was a pioneer in monetary theory and the principal proponent of libertarianism in the twentieth century.

On the first American edition of The Road to Serfdom:
"One of the most important books of our generation. . . . It restates for our time the issue between liberty and authority with the power and rigor of reasoning with which John Stuart Mill stated the issue for his own generation in his great essay On Liberty. . . . It is an arresting call to all well-intentioned planners and socialists, to all those who are sincere democrats and liberals at heart to stop, look and listen."—Henry Hazlitt, New York Times Book Review, September 1944

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

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**** Hayek's warning against the dangers of state control over the means of production was not heeded when it was first published in 1944. He discusses individualism and collectivism, economic control and totalitarianism, and the socialist roots of Naziism. This 50th anniversary edition includes an introduction commenting on the rise of socialism after WWII and the transitions from communism to capitalism in Eastern Europe, plus three prefaces from previous editions. Cited in BCL3. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

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The Road to SERFDOM

By F. A. Hayek
Copyright © 1994 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-32059-5

Chapter One
The Abandoned Road

A program whose basic thesis is, not that the system of free enterprise for profit has failed in this generation, but that it has not yet been tried. -F. D. ROOSEVELT

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. Have we not all striven according to our best lights, and have not many of our finest minds incessantly worked to make this a better world? Have not all our efforts and hopes been directed toward greater freedom, justice, and prosperity? If the outcome is so different from our aims-if, instead of freedom and prosperity, bondage and misery stare us in the face-is it not clear that sinister forces must have foiled our intentions, that we are the victims of some evil power which must be conquered before we can resume the road to better things? 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 least were until recently, certain of one thing: that the leading ideas which during the last generation have become 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 those which we expected.

While all our energies are directed to bring this war to a victorious conclusion, it is sometimes difficult to remember that even before the war the values for which we are now fighting were threatened here and destroyed elsewhere. Though for the time being the different ideals are represented by hostile nations fighting for their existence, we must not forget that this conflict has grown out of a struggle of ideas within what, not so long ago, was a common European civilization and that the tendencies which have culminated in the creation of the totalitarian systems were not confined to the countries which have succumbed to them. Though the first task must now be to win the war, to win it will only gain us another opportunity to face the basic problems and to find a way of averting the fate which has overtaken kindred civilizations.

Now, it is somewhat difficult to think of Germany and Italy, or of Russia, not as different worlds but as products of a development of thought in which we have shared; it is, at least so far as our enemies are concerned, easier and more comforting to think that they are entirely different from us and that what happened there cannot happen here. Yet the history of these countries in the years before the rise of the totalitarian system showed few features with which we are not familiar. The external conflict is a result of a transformation of European thought in which others have moved so much faster as to bring them into irreconcilable conflict with our ideals, but which has not left us unaffected.

That a change of ideas and the force of human will have made the world what it is now, though men did not foresee the results, and that no spontaneous change in the facts obliged us thus to adapt our thought is perhaps particularly difficult for the Anglo-Saxon nations to see, just because in this development they have, fortunately for them, lagged behind most of the European peoples. We still think of the ideals which guide us, and have guided us for the past generation, as ideals only to be realized in the future and are not aware how far in the last twenty-five years they have already transformed not only the world but also our own countries. We still believe that until quite recently we were governed by what are vaguely called nineteenth-century ideas or the principle of laissez faire. Compared with some other countries, and from the point of view of those impatient to speed up the change, there may be some justification for such belief. But although until 1931 England and America had followed only slowly on the path on which others had led, even by then they had moved so far that only those whose memory goes back to the years before the last war know what a liberal world has been like.

The crucial point of which our people are still so little aware is, however, not merely the magnitude of the changes which have taken place during the last generation but the fact that they mean a complete change in the direction of the evolution of our ideas and social order. For at least twenty-five years before the specter of totalitarianism became a real threat, we had progressively been moving away from the basic ideas on which Western civilization has been built. That this movement on which we have entered with such high hopes and ambitions should have brought us face to face with the totalitarian horror has come as a profound shock to this generation, which still refuses to connect the two facts. Yet this development merely confirms the warnings of the fathers of the liberal philosophy which we still profess. We have progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which personal and political freedom has never existed in the past. Although we had been warned by some of the greatest political thinkers of the nineteenth century, by De Tocqueville and Lord Acton, that socialism means slavery, we have steadily moved in the direction of socialism. And now that we have seen a new form of slavery arise before our eyes, we have so completely forgotten the warning that it scarcely occurs to us that the two things may be connected.

How sharp a break not only with the recent past but with the whole evolution of Western civilization the modern trend toward socialism means becomes clear if we consider it not merely against the background of the nineteenth century but in a longer historical perspective. We are rapidly abandoning not the views merely of Cobden and Bright, of Adam Smith and Hume, or even of Locke and Milton, but one of the salient characteristics of Western civilization as it has grown from the foundations laid by Christianity and the Greeks and Romans. Not merely nineteenth- and eighteenth-century liberalism, but the basic individualism inherited by us from Erasmus and Montaigne, from Cicero and Tacitus, Pericles and Thucydides, is progressively relinquished.

The Nazi leader who described the National Socialist revolution as a counter-Renaissance spoke more truly than he probably knew. It was the decisive step in the destruction of that civilization which modern man had built up from the age of the Renaissance and which was, above all, an individualist civilization. Individualism has a bad name today, and the term has come to be connected with egotism and selfishness. But the individualism of which we speak in contrast to socialism and all other forms of collectivism has no necessary connection with these. Only gradually in the course of this book shall we be able to make clear the contrast between the two opposing principles. But the essential features of that individualism which, from elements provided by Christianity and the philosophy of classical antiquity, was first fully developed during the Renaissance and has since grown and spread into what we know as Western civilization-are the respect for the individual man qua man, that is, the recognition of his own views and tastes as supreme in his own sphere, however narrowly that may be circumscribed, and the belief that it is desirable that men should develop their own individual gifts and bents. "Freedom" and "liberty" are now words so worn with use and abuse that one must hesitate to employ them to express the ideals for which they stood during that period. "Tolerance" is, perhaps, the only word which still preserves the full meaning of the principle which during the whole of this period was in the ascendant and which only in recent times has again been in decline, to disappear completely with the rise of the totalitarian state.

The gradual transformation of a rigidly organized hierarchic system into one where men could at least attempt to shape their own life, where man gained the opportunity of knowing and choosing between different forms of life, is closely associated with the growth of commerce. From the commercial cities of northern Italy the new view of life spread with commerce to the west and north, through France and the southwest of Germany to the Low Countries and the British Isles, taking firm root wherever there was no despotic political power to stifle it. In the Low Countries and Britain it for a long time enjoyed its fullest development and for the first time had an opportunity to grow freely and to become the foundation of the social and political life of these countries. And it was from there that in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it again began to spread in a more fully developed form to the West and East, to the New World and to the center of the European continent, where devastating wars and political oppression had largely submerged the earlier beginnings of a similar growth.

During the whole of this modern period of European history the general direction of social development was one of freeing the individual from the ties which had bound him to the customary or prescribed ways in the pursuit of his ordinary activities. The conscious realization that the spontaneous and uncontrolled efforts of individuals were capable of producing a complex order of economic activities could come only after this development had made some progress. The subsequent elaboration of a consistent argument in favor of economic freedom was the outcome of a free growth of economic activity which had been the undesigned and unforeseen by-product of political freedom.

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. That the inventive faculty of man had been no less in earlier periods is shown by the many highly ingenious automatic toys and other mechanical contrivances constructed while industrial technique still remained stationary and by the development in some industries which, like mining or watch-making, were not subject to restrictive controls. But the few attempts toward a more extended industrial use of mechanical inventions, some extraordinarily advanced, were promptly suppressed, and the desire for knowledge was stifled, so long as the dominant views were held to be binding for all: the beliefs of the great majority on what was right and proper were allowed to bar the way of the individual innovator. Only since industrial freedom opened the path to the free use of new knowledge, only since everything could be tried-if somebody could be found to back it at his own risk-and, it should be added, as often as not from outside the authorities officially intrusted with the cultivation of learning, has science made the great strides which in the last hundred and fifty years have changed the face of the world.

As is so often true, the nature of our civilization has been seen more clearly by its enemies than by most of its friends: "the perennial Western malady, the revolt of the individual against the species," as that nineteenth-century totalitarian, Auguste Comte, has described it, was indeed the force which built our civilization. What the nineteenth century added to the individualism of the preceding period was merely to make all classes conscious of freedom, to develop systematically and continuously what had grown in a haphazard and patchy manner, and to spread it from England and Holland over most of the European continent.

The result of this growth surpassed all expectations. Wherever the barriers to the free exercise of human ingenuity were removed, man became rapidly able to satisfy ever widening ranges of desire. And while the rising standard soon led to the discovery of very dark spots in society, spots which men were no longer willing to tolerate, there was probably no class that did not substantially benefit from the general advance. We cannot do justice to this astonishing growth if we measure it by our present standards, which themselves result from this growth and now make many defects obvious. To appreciate what it meant to those who took part in it, we must measure it by the hopes and wishes men held when it began: and there can be no doubt that its success surpassed man's wildest dreams, that by the beginning of the twentieth century the workingman in the Western world had reached a degree of material comfort, security, and personal independence which a hundred years before had seemed scarcely possible.

What in the future will probably appear the most significant and far-reaching effect of this success is the new sense of power over their own fate, the belief in the unbounded possibilities of improving their own lot, which the success already achieved created among men. With the success grew ambition-and man had every right to be ambitious. What had been an inspiring promise seemed no longer enough, the rate of progress far too slow; and the principles which had made this progress possible in the past came to be regarded more as obstacles to speedier progress, impatiently to be brushed away, than as the conditions for the preservation and development of what had already been achieved.

There is nothing in the basic principles of liberalism to make it a stationary creed; there are no hard-and-fast rules fixed once and for all. The fundamental principle that in the ordering of our affairs we should make as much use as possible of the spontaneous forces of society, and resort as little as possible to coercion, is capable of an infinite variety of applications. There is, in particular, all the difference between deliberately creating a system within which competition will work as beneficially as possible and passively accepting institutions as they are. Probably nothing has done so much harm to the liberal cause as the wooden insistence of some liberals on certain rough rules of thumb, above all the principle of laissez faire. Yet, in a sense, this was necessary and unavoidable. Against the innumerable interests which could show that particular measures would confer immediate and obvious benefits on some, while the harm they caused was much more indirect and difficult to see, nothing short of some hard-and-fast rule would have been effective. And since a strong presumption in favor of industrial liberty had undoubtedly been established, the temptation to present it as a rule which knew no exceptions was too strong always to be resisted.

But, with this attitude taken by many popularizers of the liberal doctrine, it was almost inevitable that, once their position was penetrated at some points, it should soon collapse as a whole. The position was further weakened by the inevitably slow progress of a policy which aimed at a gradual improvement of the institutional framework of a free society. This progress depended on the growth of our understanding of the social forces and the conditions most favorable to their working in a desirable manner. Since the task was to assist, and where necessary to supplement, their operation, the first requisite was to understand them. The attitude of the liberal toward society is like that of the gardener who tends a plant and, in order to create the conditions most favorable to its growth, must know as much as possible about its structure and the way it functions.

No sensible person should have doubted that the crude rules in which the principles of economic policy of the nineteenth century were expressed were only a beginning-that we had yet much to learn and that there were still immense possibilities of advancement on the lines on which we had moved. But this advance could come only as we gained increasing intellectual mastery of the forces of which we had to make use. There were many obvious tasks, such as our handling of the monetary system and the prevention or control of monopoly, and an even greater number of less obvious but hardly less important tasks to be undertaken in other fields, where there could be no doubt that the governments possessed enormous powers for good and evil; and there was every reason to expect that, with a better understanding of the problems, we should some day be able to use these powers successfully.


Excerpted from The Road to SERFDOM by F. A. Hayek Copyright © 1994 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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The Road to Serfdom 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
On April 9, 1944, George Orwell, wrote a review of Hayek's 'Road to Serfdom' along with 'The Mirror of the Past' by K. Zilliacus. It was published in the London 'Observer,' and was called 'Grounds for Dismay.' Orwell believed that both men had written excellent arguments for opposite if not diametrically opposed political and economic theories. Hayek's work espoused for Laissez Faire Capitalism, and Zalliacus for Communism. Orwell stated, 'Taken together, these two books give grounds for dismay. The first of them is an eloquent defence of laissez-faire capitalism, the other is an even more vehement denunciation of it. They cover to some extent the same ground, they frequently quote the same authorities, and they even start out with the same premise, since each of them assumes that Western civilization depends on the sanctity of the individual. Yet each writer is convinced that the other's policy leads directly to slavery, and the alarming thing is that they may both be right.... Between them these two books sum up our present predicament. Capitalism leads to dole queues, the scramble for markets, and war. Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader worship, and war. There is no way out of this unless a planned economy can somehow be combined with the freedom of the intellect, which can only happen if the concept of right and wrong is restored to politics. Both of these writers are aware of this, more or less but since they can show no practicable way of bringing it about the combined effect of their books is a depressing one.' Orwell had yet to write his classic books, 'Animal Farm' (1945) and '1984' (1949)when he wrote this revies. Orwell found the proposition that both Capitalism and Collectivism - Communism were repleat with evils. Orwell still believed that a 'planned economy' (socialism) that preserved individual freedom, was required to save Western Civilization. Until Hayek published 'The Road to Serfdom' all the 'smart people' (Hayek's words)believed that socialism was the acceptable middle ground between Capitalism and Communism. Socialism had swept through European thought. It was 'The Road to Serfdom' that made the inteligentsia of the world stop and take pause about their fascination with Socialism. As you can see Orwell was dismayed, believing there was no clear cut choice for the survival of our civilization. By 1960,Hayek observed in his next great Classic, 'The Constitution of Liberty' that once the 'smart people' realized that socialism, with its required centralization of power, had brought them down the road to totalitarianism, they became disillusioned with socialism per se, but then governments throughout the world, attempting to retain power re-introduced or borrowed the German 'Wohlfahrstaat'(Welfare State) which as Hayek explains was a variable of 18th Century German or Prussian rule--also known as the 'Polizeistaat,' a word developed by German Historians to describe the more favorable aspects of the 18th Century government. The concept of the welfare state was developed by the German acedemic 'Sozialpolitiker' which means socialists of the chair and fully developed from 1870 and first put into practice by Bismark. In England, Hayek explains the Fabians adopted the German practice which was more fully developed under Lloyd George. In America the 'welfare state' was accepted under the ruse of being constitutional under the 'General Welfare' clause in the US Constitution. Hayek dedicated his life to combat the evils of socialism, the concentration of power in centralized governments that promised equal distribution of the products of labor. A promise that is very attractive, but in order to achieve, the people must deliver immense power to the centralized planning commissions or the central govenment. Communism required the control of the means of production as well as the power of distribution by the same governmental central control. Hayek explains the e
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this book, Hayek clearly shows that people need to stop and think about the political processes going on around them. In today's culture, there is a great deal of apathy about everything, from politics to daily activities, and this is what Hayek is warning against. He wants the people of America to be involved in what is going on in the economic and political world. By detailing what has happened in other countries such as Germany and showing that this trend is becoming prevalent in countries like Great Britain and America, his book is in essence a wake-up call to find out the truth about economics (i.e. that capitalism works and communism doesn't) and to stop going down the road that leads to totalitarianism. His book is a very persuasive work and should make anyone think deeply about our culture and the values we hold.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Prof. Hayek's masterpeice, the Road to Serfdom earned him little but ridicule and condemnation from his contemporaries. At the time the book was published, the very same intellectuals who roundly (and rightly) condemned the Nazis at the same time roundly lauded the Communists. Hayek's thesis, that Nazism and Communism are both off shoots of socialism and both immoral and inhumanly destructive systems, has been proven true with the passage of time. (He could have written a follow up called, "I Told You So, Morons!") Yet since human beings have short memory spans, the battle to free the individual from the tribal collective must be fought again and again. This book, even in 2002, is just as important a read (and a warning) as it was when it was first published. A must read for people of all political beliefs, this book is a timeless masterpiece on the moral superiority of freedom- both economic and political.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hayek explains the economic conditions where socialism merges to fasism. The roads that lead to serfdom are perpetuated by Marxist doctrine, twisted by modern socialist perspective of emerging economy. Fascism will rise again, this time, according to Hayeks blue print of past historical economic conditions, the US is ripe and ready. With the ever growing grasp of government in business, that grasp reaches to the individual. Hayek ignores the particulars of economy, but rather uses his deep understanding of economy to translate into modern political culture, based on economy, as the world is. Any person considering 'redistribution' must read this book, and understand it, for the ignorance of not is far worse then blind submission. The reader must keep in mind that Hayek wrote this work of art during World War Two. The definition of 'liberal' must be recalled to the proper historical definition, meaning liberated from government and other men. The modern day definition of liberal is socialist. Meaning a person the stamps the title 'progressive', 'liberal', or whatever else a socialist names themselves today ought to fit the definition of Hayeks interpretation of what a socialist was in 1942. Also, one must recall that during the 1940's a particular route most people took were between two doctrines. One hand people thought they were communist. The other believed in fascism. Hayek is here to tell you that the two are not too differant at all, and each are devistating to the individual, and to economy. Please keep history in mind while reading this book, or else one may loose sight of the true intent of the book.