Hayek’s road of wisdom


The Road to Serfdom is real. Americans travel its course with eyes shut. Some of us have opened our eyes, but at this point, we feel powerless to change the direction of the masses, who march confidently in the dark, behind their eyelids. If you do not yet know what is wrong with this country, you will have a hard time understanding what those who have awakened are feeling, but I will try to describe it:

Imagine you are in a crowd marching toward the edge of a cliff, perhaps one hundred yards ahead. All the people around you–your fellow citizens, acquaintances, neighbors, friends, and family–are in a hypnotic trance. The most regarded intellectuals are there, alongside the blue-collared laborers. Your children are at the front of the line, looking not entranced but bewildered; and being good children, they obey the adults who pressure them forward. The crowd approaches the cliff’s edge without even acknowledging its existence. You try to point out the folly ahead. You plead with them, yell at them, shake their shoulders, pound their chests, and slap them in the face, until you grow weary and mad. They do not heed your warnings, but tighten their ranks, and move forward, trapping you inside their throng. You cannot remove yourself from their movement. The coming fall is as much your fate as it is theirs, but they refuse to see it coming. They appear completely senseless. You notice that they are looking up at something–some irrelevant nonsense from which you cannot steal their focus for even a moment. It is the song of the sirens that will bring about their fall–your fall. They are about to push their children–as well as your own–off the edge of a very high promontory, and there is nothing you can do to stop them.

If you can imagine a situation like the one I have just described, you can imagine how those of us who have awakened to the injustices of our government must feel. Now, imagine that it’s real. The warnings were summarized extremely well by F.A. Hayek in 1944, in his famous reflection of warning, about the socialistic economic causes of German fascism, The Road to Serfdom, from which I quote to drive home truth and rationality:

“If in the long run we are the makers of our own fate, in the short run we are the captives of the ideas we have created. Only if we recognize the danger in time can we hope to avert it.”

“There are few signs yet that we have the intellectual courage to admit to ourselves that we may have been wrong. Few are ready to recognize that the rise of fascism and naziism was not a reaction against the socialist trends of the preceding period but a necessary outcome of those tendencies.”

“Many who think themselves infinitely superior to the aberrations of naziism, and sincerely hate all its manifestations, work at the same time for ideals whose realization would lead straight to the abhorred tyranny.”

“Is there a greater tragedy imaginable than that, in our endeavor consciously to shape our future in accordance with high ideals, we should in fact unwittingly produce the very opposite of what we have been striving for?”

“How many features of Hitler’s system have not been recommended to us for imitation from the most unexpected quarters, unaware that they are an integral part of that system and incompatible with the free society we hope to preserve? The number of dangerous mistakes we have made before and since the outbreak of war because we do not understand the opponent with whom we are faced is appalling. It seems almost as if we did not want to understand the development which has produced totalitarianism because such an understanding might destroy some of the dearest illusions to which we are determined to cling.”

“The contention that only the peculiar wickedness of the Germans has produced the Nazi system is likely to become the excuse for forcing on us the very institutions which have produced that wickedness.”

“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.”

“That democratic socialism, the great utopia of the last few generations, is not only unachievable, but that to strive for it produces something utterly different that few of those who now wish it would be prepared to accept the consequences, many will not believe until the connection has been laid bare in all its aspects.”

“It must always be remembered that socialism is a species of collectivism and that therefore everything which is true of collectivism as such must also apply to socialism.”

“Anyone who has observed how aspiring monopolists regularly seek and frequently obtain the assistance of the power of the state to make their control effective can have little doubt that there is nothing inevitable about this development.”

“It is the very complexity of the division of labor under modern conditions which makes competition the only method by which such coordination can be adequately brought about.”

“The argument for freedom is precisely that we ought to leave room for the unforeseeable free growth.”

“While it is true, of course, that inventions have given us tremendous power, it is absurd to suggest that we must use this power to destroy our most precious inheritance: liberty. It does mean, however, that if we want to preserve it, we must guard it more jealously than ever and that we must be prepared to make sacrifices for it.”

“Although the state controls directly only the use of a large part of the available resources, the effects of its decisions on the remaining part of the economic system become so great that indirectly it controls almost everything.”

“The effect of the people’s agreeing that there must be central planning, without agreeing on the ends, will be rather as if a group of people were to commit themselves to take a journey together without agreeing where they want to go: with the result that they may all have to make a journey which most of them do not want at all.”

“Agreement that planning is necessary, together with the inability of democratic assemblies to produce a plan, will evoke stronger and stronger demands that the government or some single individual should be given powers to act on their own responsibility. The belief is becoming more and more widespread that, if things are to get done, the responsible authorities must be freed from the fetters of democratic procedure.”

“Hitler did not have to destroy democracy; he merely took advantage of the decay of democracy and at the critical moment obtained the support of many to whom, though they detested Hitler, he yet seemed the only man strong enough to get things done.”

“It is the price of democracy that the possibilities of conscious control are restricted to the fields where true agreement exists and that in some fields things must be left to chance.”

“When it becomes dominated by a collectivist creed, democracy will inevitably destroy itself.”

“The fashionable concentration on democracy as the main value threatened is not without danger. It is largely responsible for the misleading and unfounded belief that, so long as the ultimate source of power is the will of the majority, the power cannot be arbitrary. The false assurance which many people derive from this belief is an important cause of the general unawareness of the dangers which we face.”

“The more the state ‘plans,’ the more difficult planning becomes for the individual.”

“If the law says that such a board or authority may do what it pleases, anything that board or authority does is legal–but its actions are certainly not subject to the rule of law. By giving the government unlimited powers, the most arbitrary rule can be made legal; and in this way a democracy may set up the most complete despotism imaginable.”

“Most planners who have seriously considered the practical aspects of their task have little doubt that a directed economy must be run on more or less dictatorial lines.”

“It is we who have to solve the economic problems of our lives.”

“Nothing makes conditions more unbearable than the knowledge that no effort of ours can change them; and even if we should never have the strength of mind to make the necessary sacrifice, the knowledge that we could escape if we only strove hard enough makes many otherwise intolerable positions bearable.”

“It is only because we have forgotten what unfreedom means that we often overlook the patent fact that in every real sense a badly paid unskilled worker in this country has more freedom to shape his life than many a small entrepreneur in Germany or a much better paid engineer in Russia.”

“Who will deny that a world in which the wealthy are powerful is still a better world than one in which only the already powerful can acquire wealth?”

“While absolute equality would clearly determine the planner’s task, the desire for greater equality is merely negative, no more than an expression of dislike of the present state of affairs; and so long as we are not prepared to say that every move in the direction toward complete equality is desirable, it answers scarcely any of the questions the planner will have to decide.”

“When security is understood in too absolute a sense, the general striving for it, far from increasing the chances of freedom, becomes the gravest threat to it.”

“Either both the choice and the risk rest with the individual or he is relieved of both.”

“Every restriction on the freedom of entry into a trade reduces the security of all those outside it.”

“There has never been a worse and more cruel exploitation of one class by another than that of the weaker or less fortunate members of a group of producers by the well-established which has been made possible by the ‘regulation’ of competition.”

“The younger generation of today has grown up in a world in which in school and press the spirit of commercial enterprise has been represented as disreputable and the making of profit as immoral, where to employ a hundred people is represented as exploitation but to command the same number as honorable.”

“The totalitarian dictator would soon have to choose between disregard for ordinary morals and failure. It is for this reason that the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful in a society tending toward totalitarianism.”

“Socialism can be put into practice only by methods which most socialists disapprove.”

“The belief in the community of aims and interests with fellow-men seems to presuppose a greater degree of similarity of outlook and thought than exists between men merely as human beings.”

“To act on behalf of a group seems to free people of many of the moral restraints which control their behavior as individuals within the group.”

“The separation of economic and political aims is an essential guaranty of individual freedom and it is consequently attacked by all collectivists.”

“What is called economic power, while it can be used as an instrument of coercion, is, in the hands of private individuals, never exclusive or complete power, never power over the whole life of a person. But centralized as an instrument of political power it creates a degree of dependence scarcely distinguishable from slavery.”

“The principle that the end justifies the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals. In collectivist ethics it becomes necessarily the supreme rule; there is literally nothing which the consistent collectivists must not be prepared to do if it serves ‘the good of the whole,’ because the ‘good of the whole’ is to him the only criterion of what ought to be done.”

“From the collectivist standpoint intolerance and brutal suppression of dissent, the complete disregard of the life and happiness of the individual, are essential and unavoidable consequences of this basic premise, and the collectivist can admit this and at the same time claim that his system is superior to one in which the ‘selfish’ interests of the individual are allowed to obstruct the full realization of the ends the community pursues.”

“Few traits of totalitarian regimes are at the same time so confusing to the superficial observer and yet so characteristic of the whole intellectual climate as the complete perversion of language, the change of meaning of the words by which the ideals of the new regimes are expressed. The worst sufferer in this respect is, of course, the word ‘liberty.'”

“It is not difficult to deprive the great majority of independent thought. But the minority who will retain an inclination to criticize must also be silenced.”

“Probably it is true enough that the great majority are rarely capable of thinking independently, that on most questions they accept views which they find ready-made, and that they will be equally content if born or coaxed into one set of beliefs or another. In any society freedom of thought will probably be of direct significance only for a small minority.”

“The very magnitude of the outrages committed by the totalitarian governments, instead of increasing the fear that such a system might one day arise in more enlightened countries, has rather strengthened the assurance that it cannot happen here.”

“We should never forget that the anti-Semitism of Hitler has driven from his country, or turned into his enemies, many people who in every respect are confirmed totalitarians of the German type.”

“Very frequently even measures against the monopolists in fact serve to strengthen the power of monopoly. Every raid on the gains of monopoly, be it in the interest of particular groups or of the state as a whole, tends to create new vested interests which will help to bolster up monopoly. A system in which large privileged groups profit from the gains of monopoly may be politically much more dangerous, and monopoly in such a system certainly much more powerful, than in one where the profits go to a limited few.”

“Private monopoly is scarcely ever complete and even more rarely of long duration or able to disregard potential competition. But state monopoly is always state-protected monopoly–protected against both potential competition and effective criticism. It means in most instances that a temporary monopoly is given the power to secure its position for all time–a power almost certain to be used.”

“There is no other possibility than either the order governed by the impersonal discipline of the market or that directed by the will of a few individuals; and those who are out to destroy the first are wittingly or unwittingly helping to create the second.”

“In their political beliefs and aspirations men are today more than ever before governed by economic doctrines, by the carefully fostered belief in the irrationality of our economic system, by the false assertions about “potential plenty,” pseudo-theories about the inevitable trend toward monopoly, and the impression created by certain much advertised occurrences such as the destruction of stocks of raw materials or the suppression of inventions, for which competition is blamed, though they are precisely the sort of thing which could not happen under competition and which are possible only by monopoly and usually by government-aided monopoly.”

“The mere preservation of what we have so far achieved depends on the coordination of individual efforts by impersonal forces.”

“It is sensible temporarily to sacrifice freedom in order to make it more secure in the future; but the same cannot be said for a system proposed as a permanent arrangement.”

“To aim always at the maximum of employment achievable by monetary means is a policy which is certain in the end to defeat its own purposes. It tends to lower the productivity of labor and thereby constantly increases the proportion of the working population which can be kept employed at present wages only by artificial means.”

“Only where we ourselves are responsible for our own interests and are free to sacrifice them has our decision moral value. We are neither entitled to be unselfish at someone else’s expense nor is there any merit in being unselfish if we have no choice. The members of a society who in all respects are made to do the good thing have no title to praise.”

“It is true that the virtues which are less practiced now–independence, self-reliance, and the willingness to bear risks, the readiness to back one’s own conviction against a majority, and the willingness to voluntary cooperation with one’s neighbors–are essentially those on which the working of an individualist society rests.”

“It is one of the most disheartening spectacles of our time to see to what extent some of the most precious things which England, for example, has given to the world are now held in contempt by England herself.”

“Neither good intentions nor efficiency of organization can preserve decency in a system in which personal freedom and individual responsibility are destroyed.”

“If we are to succeed in the war of ideologies and to win over the decent elements in the enemy countries, we must, first of all, regain the belief in the traditional values for which we have stood in the past and must have the moral courage to stoutly defend the ideals which our enemies attack.”

“To undertake the direction of the economic life of people with widely divergent ideals and values is to assume responsibilities which commit one to the use of force; it is to assume a position where the best intentions cannot prevent one from being forced to act in a way which to some of those affected must appear highly immoral.”

“It is fairly certain that in a planned international system the wealthier and therefore most powerful nations would to a very much greater degree than in a free economy become the object of hatred and envy of the poorer ones: and the latter, rightly or wrongly, would all be convinced that their position could be improved much more quickly if they were only free to do what they wished.”

“We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish.”

“The young are right if they have little confidence in the ideas which rule most of their elders. But they are mistaken or misled when they believe that these are still the liberal ideas of the nineteenth century, which, in fact, the younger generation hardly knows.”

“If in the first attempt to create a world of free men we have failed, we must try again. The guiding principle that a policy of freedom for the individual is the only truly progressive policy remains as true today as it was in the nineteenth century.”


One Response

  1. What a great post. If nothing stops, everyone will be shackled to the corporate foot. When people dont find objecting to a given, such as cell phones selling info, then you have an example of this entire post.

    I really like your post and I agree with these ideas. I work for a website and we are trying to get all different view points from people. I would really appreciate if you let us put you in or directory of sites (free, no spam, don’t worry about that) . Right now it is mostly comedy and conservative / African American Conservative ideas (We want ALL angles). I was going to do one such as yours, a Naderish/independant type of thing. I still will, but would likw to expand it.

    If you wanna join the network, just go to the site (frenchtv1.com) and on the right column under the “,com” part of the logo it says “Join”. Instead of emailing my editorial email, this will be faster and more efficient.

    thank you and keep spreading your word!

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