Monday, February 17, 2014

In Praise of F. A. Hayek and "The Road to Serfdom"

Reading the "Introduction" of the condensed version of "The Road to Serfdom," I stumbled with a conversation between an aspiring politician and an economist:

Politician (Fisher): I share all your worries and concerns as expressed in "The Road to Serfdom" and I’m going to go into politics and put it all right.

Economist (Hayek): No you’re not! Society’s course will be changed only by a change in ideas. First you must reach the intellectuals, the teachers and writers, with reasoned argument. It will be their influence on society which will prevail, and the politicians will follow. . . . Keep out of politics and make an intellectual case . . . if you can stick to these rules you keep out of a lot of trouble and apparently do a lot of good.

I find Hayek's advice to Fisher repeatedly in reading Mises' "Economic Policy" and "Planned Chaos." "The Road to Serfdom" is the first book of Hayek that I read. Ron Paul reminds me of the book while re-reading his "Mises and Austrian Economics: A Personal View." 


"This book is a warning cry in a time of hesitation. It says to us: Stop, look and listen. Its logic is incontestable, and it should have the widest possible audience." -John Chamberlain

"In The Road to Serfdom, Friedrich A. Hayek has written one of the most important books of our generation. It restates for our time the issue between liberty and authority. 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, The New York Times

"Professor Hayek, with great power and rigour of reasoning, sounds a grim warning to Americans and Britons who look to the government to provide the way out of all our economic difficulties. He demonstrates that fascism and what the Germans correctly call National Socialism are the inevitable results of the increasing growth of state control and state power, of national ‘planning’ and of socialism." - Preface

"Hayek employed economics to investigate the mind of man, using the knowledge he had gained to unveil the totalitarian nature of socialism and to explain how it inevitably leads to ‘serfdom’. His greatest contribution lay in the discovery of a simple yet profound truth: man does not and cannot know everything, and when he acts as if he does, disaster follows. He recognised that socialism, the collectivist state, and planned economies represent the ultimate form of hubris, for those who plan them attempt – with insufficient knowledge – to redesign the nature of man. In so doing, would-be planners arrogantly ignore traditions that embody the wisdom of generations; impetuously disregard customs whose purpose they do not understand; and blithely confuse the law written on the hearts of men – which they cannot change – with administrative rules that they can alter at whim. For Hayek, such presumption was not only a ‘fatal conceit’, but also ‘the road to serfdom’. . . . It is no exaggeration to say that 'The Road to Serfdom' simultaneously prevented the emergence of full-blown socialism in Western Europe and the United States and planted seeds of freedom in the Soviet Union that would finally bear fruit nearly 45 years later. Socialist catchphrases such as ‘collectivism’ were stricken from the mainstream political debate and even academic socialists were forced to retreat from their defence of overt social planning." - Edwin J. Feulner Jr. 1999