Monday, January 11, 2010

The Road To Serfdom - Summary

I did finish the book a few weeks ago, but it took me a while to type up all these worthy passages. I have no commentary at the moment but plan on referring back to many of these bang-bang quotes in future posts. The book is certainly a must read for both the intellectually curious AND the closed-minded Moron set.
...the most important change which extensive government control produces is a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people. This is necessarily a slow affair, a process which extends not over a few years but perhaps over one or two generations. The important point is that the political ideals of a people and its attitude toward authority are as much an effect as a cause of the political institutions under which it lives. (p48)

"...after having thus successfully taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered but softened, bent and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrial animals, of which the government is the shepherd. - I have always thought of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom and it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people." (p49, Tocqueville speaking)

"The complete collapse of the belief in the attainability of freedom and equality through Marxism," writes Peter Drucker, "has forced Russia to travel the same road toward a totalitarian, purely negative, non-economic society of unfreedom and inequality which Germany has been following. Not that communism and fascism are essentially the same. Fascism is the stage reached after communism has proved an illusion, and it has proved as much an illusion in Stalinist Russia as in pre-Hitler Germany."

No less significant is the intellectual history of many of the Nazi and Fascist leaders. Everyone who has watched the growth of these movements in Italy or in Germany has been struck by the number of leading men, from Mussolini downward (and not excluding Laval and Quisling), who began as socialists and ended as Fascists or Nazis. And what is true of the leaders is even more true of the rank and file of the movement. The relative ease with which a young communist could be converted into a Nazi or vice versa was generally known in Germany, best of all to the propagandists of the two parties. Many a university teacher during the 1930s has seen English and American students return from the Continent uncertain whether they were communists or Nazis and certain only that they hated Western liberal civilization.

It is true, of course, that in Germany before 1933, and in Italy before 1922, communists and Nazis or Fascists clashed more frequently with each other than with other parties. They competed for the support of the same type of mind and reserved for each other the hatred of the heretic. But their practice showed how closely they were related. To both, the real enemy, the man whom they had nothing in common and whom they could not hope to convince, is the liberal of the old type. (p80-81)

While there can thus with be little doubt that the movement toward planning is the result of deliberate action and that there are no external necessities which force us to it, it is worth inquiring why so large a proportion of the technical experts should be found at the front rank of the planners....It is the frustration of his ambitions in his own field which make the specialist revolt against the existing order....Every one of the many things which, considered in isolation, it would be possible to achieve in a planned society creates enthusiasts for planning who feel confident that they will be able to instill into the directors of such a society their sense of value of the particular objective...

The movement for planning owes its present strength largely to the fact that, while planning is in the main still an ambition, it unites almost all of the single-minded idealists, all of the men and women who have devoted their lives to a single task. The hopes they place in planning, however, are the result not of a comprehensive view of society but rather of a very limited view and often the result of a great exaggeration of the importance of the ends they place foremost. This is not to underrate the great pragmatic value of this type of men in a free society such as ours, which makes them the subject of just admiration. But it would the very men who are most anxious to plan society the most dangerous if they were allowed to do so - and the most intolerant of the planning of others. From the saintly and single-minded idealist to the fanatic is often but a step. Though it is the resentment of the frustrated specialist which gives the demand for planning its strongest impetus, there could hardly be a more unbearable - and more irrational - world than one in which the most eminent specialists in each field were allowed to proceed unchecked with the realization of their ideals. (p98-99)

The above describes 99% of the people living in Cambridge, Massachusetts!
The common feature off all collectivist systems may be described, in a phrase ever dear to socialists of all schools, as the deliberate organization of the labors of society for a definite social goal. That our present lacks such a "conscious" direction toward a single aim, that its activities are guided by the whims and fancies of irresponsible individuals, has always been one of the main complaints of its socialist critics.

In many ways this puts the basic issue very clearly. And it directs us at once to the point where the conflict arises between individual freedom and collectivism. The various kinds of collectivism, communism, fascism, etc., differ among themselves in the nature of the goal toward which they want to direct the efforts of society. But they all differ from liberalism and individualism in wanting to organize the whole of society and all its resources for this unitary end and in refusing to recognize autonomous spheres in which the ends of individuals are supreme. In short, they are totalitarian in the true sense of the new word which 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 "general 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 welfare and happiness of millions cannot be measured on a single scale of less and more....To direct all our activities according to a single plan presupposes that every one of our needs is given its rank in an order of values....It presupposes, in short, the existence of a complete ethical code in which all human values are allotted their due place. (p100-101)

The effect of the people's agreeing that there must be central planning, without agreeing to 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 that they may all have to make a journey which most of them do not want at all. That planning creates a situation in which it is necessary for us to agree on a much larger number of topics than we have been used to, and that in a planned system we cannot confine collective action to the tasks on which we can agree but are forced to produce agreement on everything in order that any action can be taken at all, is one of the features which contributes more than most to determining the character of a planned system. (p104)

Yet 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. (p108)

The cry for an economic dictator is a characteristic stage in the movement toward planning. (p108)

Would that be a *pay-czar*? Or a *super-regulator*?
It is now often said that democracy will not tolerate "capitalism". If "capitalism" means here a competitive system based on free disposal over private property, it is far more important to realize that only within this system is democracy possible. When it becomes dominated by a collectivist creed, democracy will inevitably destroy itself. (p110)

If, however, the law is to enable authorities to direct economic life, it must give them powers to make and enforce decisions in circumstances which cannot be foreseen and on principles which cannot be stated in generic form. The consequence is that, as planning extends, the delegation of legislative powers to diverse boards and authorities becomes increasingly common. (p120)

Once government has embarked upon planning for the sake of justice, it cannot refuse responsibility for anybody's fate or position. In a planned society we shall all know that we are better or worse off than others, not because of circumstances which nobody controls, and which is impossible to foresee with certainty, but because some authority wills it. And all our efforts directed toward improving our position will have to aim, not a foreseeing and preparing as well as we can for the circumstances over which we have no control, but at influencing in our favor the authority which has all the power. (p138)

It was not the Fascists but the socialists who began to collect children from the tenderest age into political organizations to make sure that they grew up as good proletarians. It was not the Fascists but the socialists who first thought of organizing sports and games, football and hiking, in party clubs where the members would not be infected by other views. It was the socialists who first insisted that the party member should distinguish himself from others by the modes of greeting and the forms of address. It was they who by their organization of "cells" and devices for the permanent supervision of private life created the prototype of the totalitarian party. (p143)

"The whole of society will have become a single office and a single factory with equality of work and equality of pay." - Nikolai Lenin (1917)

"In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat." - Leon Trotsky (1937) (p147)

In a society used to freedom it is unlikely that many people would be ready deliberately to purchase security at this price. But the policies which are now followed everywhere, which hand out the privilege of security, now to this group and now to that, are nevertheless rapidly creating conditions in which the striving for security becomes stronger than the love of freedom. The reason for this is that with every grant of complete security to one group the insecurity of the rest necessarily increases. If you guarantee to some a fixed part of a variable cake, the share left to the rest is bound to fluctuate proportionally more than the size of the whole. And the essential element of security which the competitive system offers, the great variety of opportunities, is more and more reduced. (p153)

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety" - Benjamin Franklin (1755)

It may, indeed, be questioned whether anyone can realistically conceive of a collectivist program other than in the service of a limited group, whether collectivism can exist in any form other than that of some kind of particularism, be it nationalism, racialism, or classism. 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. If the other members of one's group cannot all personally be known, they must at least be of the same kind as those around us, think and talk in the same way and about the same kind of things, in order that we may identify ourselves with them. Collectivism on a world scale seems to be unthinkable - except in the service of a small ruling elite. (P161)

Of these, one of the most important is that the desire of the individual to identify himself with a group is very frequently the result of a feeling of inferiority and that therefore his want will be satisfied only if membership of the group confers some superiority over outsiders. Sometimes, it seems, the very fact that these violent instincts which the individual knows he must curb within the group can be given a free range in the collective action toward the outsider, becomes a further inducement for merging personality in that of the group. There is a profound truth expressed in the title of Reinhold Niebuhr's Moral Man ad Immoral Society - however little we can follow him in the conclusions he draws from his thesis. There is, indeed, as he says elsewhere, "an increasing tendency among modern men to imagine themselves ethical because they have delegated their vices to larger and larger groups." 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. (p163)

It is not only, as Russell has so well described, that the desire to organize social life according to a unitary plan itself springs largely from a desire for power. It is even more the outcome of the fact that, in order to achieve their end, collectivists must create power - power over men wielded by other men - of a magnitude never before known, and that their success will depend on the extent to which they achieve such power. (p165)

"It is significant that the nationalization of thought has proceeded everywhere pari passu with the nationalization of industry." - E.H. Carr (p171)

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. To make a totalitarian system function efficiently, it is not enough that everybody should be forced to work for the same ends. It is essential that the people should come to regard them as their own ends. Although the beliefs must be chosen for the people and imposed upon them, they must become their beliefs, a generally accepted creed which makes the individuals as far as possible act spontaneously in the way the planner wants. If the feeling of oppression in totalitarian countries is in general much less acute than most people in liberal countries imagine, this is because totalitarian governments succeed to a high degree in making people think as they want them to. (p171)

If all the sources of current information are effectively under one single control, it is no longer a question of merely persuading the people of this or that. The skillful propagandist then has the power to mold minds in any direction he chooses, and even the most intelligent and independent people cannot entirely escape that influence if they are long isolated from all other sources of information. (p171-172)

The moral consequences of totalitarian propaganda which we must now consider are, however, of an even more profound kind. They are destructive of all morals because they undermine one of the foundations of all morals: the sense of and respect for truth. (p172)

The need for such official doctrines as an instrument of directing and rallying the efforts of the people has been clearly foreseen by the various theoreticians of the totalitarian system. Plato's "noble lies" and Sorel's "myths" serve the same purpose as the racial doctrine of the Nazis or the theory of the corporative state of Mussolini. They are all necessarily based on particular views about facts which are then elaborated into scientific theories in order to justify a preconceived opinion.

The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they, or at least the best among them, have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognized before. The people are made to transfer their allegiance from the old gods to the new under the pretense that the new gods are really what their sound instinct had always told them but what before they had only dimly seen. And the most effective technique to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning. 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 a word used as freely in totalitarian regimes as elsewhere....use of the word "freedom" is as misleading as it is in the mouth of totalitarian politicians. Like their freedom, the "collective freedom" he offers us is not the freedom of the members of society, but the unlimited freedom of the planner to do with society what he pleases. It is the confusion of freedom with power carried to the extreme. (p174-175)

Facts and theories must thus become no less the object of an official doctrine than views about values. And the whole apparatus for spreading knowledge - the schools and the press, radio and motion picture - will be used exclusively to spread those views which, whether true or false, will strengthen the belief in the rightness of the decisions taken by the authority; and all information that might cause doubt or hesitation will be withheld. The probable effect on the people's loyalty to the system becomes the only criterion for deciding whether a particular piece of information is to be published or suppressed. The situation in a totalitarian state is permanently and in all fields the same that it is elsewhere in some fields in wartime. Everything which might cause doubt about the wisdom of the government or create discontent will be kept from the people. The basis of unfavorable comparisons with conditions elsewhere, the knowledge of possible alternatives to the course already taken, information which might suggest failure on the part of the government to live up to its promises or to take advantage of opportunities to improve conditions - all will be suppressed. There is consequently no field where the systematic control of information will not be practiced and uniformity of views no enforced.

This applies even to fields apparently most remote from any political interests and particularly to all the sciences, even the most abstract. That in the disciplines dealing directly with human affairs and therefore more immediately affecting political views, such as history, law, or economics, the disinterested search for truth cannot be allowed in a totalitarian system, and the vindication of the official views becomes the sole object, is easily seen and has been amply confirmed by experience. These disciplines have, indeed, in all totalitarian countries become the most fertile factories of the official myths which the rulers use to guide the minds and wills of their subjects. It is not surprising that in these spheres even the pretense that they search for truth is abandoned and that the authorities decide what doctrines ought to be taught and published. (p176)

It is entirely keeping with the whole spirit of totalitarianism that it condemns any human activity done for its own sake and without ulterior purpose. Science for science's sake, art for art's sake, are equally abhorrent to the Nazi's, our socialist intellectuals, and the communists. EVERY activity must derive its justification from a conscious social purpose. There must be no spontaneous, unguided activity, because it might produce results which cannot be foreseen and for which the plan does not provide. It must produce something new, undreamed of in the philosophy of the planner. The principle extends even to games and amusements. I leave it to the reader to guess whether it was in Germany or Russia that chess-players were officially exhorted that "we must finish once and for all with the neutrality of chess. We must condemn once and for all the formula 'chess for the sake of chess' like the formula 'art for art's sake.'" (p177)

The word "truth" itself ceases to have its old meaning. It describes no longer something to be found, with the individual conscience the sole arbiter of whether in any particular instance the evidence (or the standing of those proclaiming it) warrants a belief; it becomes something to be laid down by authority, something which has to be believed in the interest of the unity of the organized effort and which may have to be altered as the exigencies of this organized effort require it.

The general intellectual climate which this produces, the spirit of complete cynicism as regards truth which it engenders, the loss of the sense of even the meaning of truth, the disappearance of the spirit of independent inquiry and of the belief in the power of rational conviction, the way in which differences of opinion in every branch of knowledge become political issues to be decided by authority, are all things which one must personally experience - no short description can convey their extent. Perhaps the most alarming fact is that contempt for intellectual liberty is not a thing which arises only once the totalitarian system is established but one which can be found everywhere among intellectuals who have embraced a collectivist faith and who are acclaimed as intellectual leaders even in countries still under a liberal regime. Not only is even the worst oppression condoned if it is committed in the name of socialism, and the creation of a totalitarian system openly advocated by people who pretend to speak for the scientists of liberal countries; intolerance, too, is openly extolled....This view is, of course, practically indistinguishable from the views which led the Nazis to the persecution of men of science, the burning of scientific books, and the systematic eradication of the intelligensia of the subjected people. (p178-179)

"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, 1937) (p193)

The way in which, in the end, with few exceptions, her scholars and scientists put themselves readily at the service of the new rulers is one of the most depressing and shameful spectacles in the whole history of the rise of National Socialism. It is well known that particularly the scientists and engineers, who had so loudly claimed to be the leaders on the march to a new and better world, submitted more readily than almost any other class to the new tyranny. (p200-201)

Apart from the intellectual influences which we have illustrated by two instances, the impetus of the movement toward totalitarianism comes mainly from the two great vested interests: organized capital and organized labor. Probably the greatest menace of all is the fact that the policies of these two most powerful groups point in the same direction. (p204)

This movement is, of course, deliberately planned mainly by the capitalist organizers of monopolies, and they are thus one of the main sources of this danger. Their responsibility is not altered by the fact that their aim is not a totalitarian system but rather a sort of corporative society in which the organized industries would appear as semi-independent and self-governing "estates." But they are as shortsighted as were their German colleagues in believing that they will be allowed not only to create but also for any length of time to run such a system. The decisions which the managers of such an organized industry would constantly have to make are not decisions which any society will long leave to private individuals. A state which allows such enormous aggregations of power to grow up cannot afford to let this power rest entirely in private control. (p205)

Very frequently even measures aimed against the monopolists in fact serve only 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 is much more powerful, than in one where the profits go to a limited few. (p206)

It should never be forgotten that the one decisive factor in the rise of totalitarianism on the Continent, which is yet absent in England and America, is the existence of a large recently dispossessed middle class. (p215)

As Milton said: "If every action which is good or evil in a man of ripe years were under pittance and prescription and compulsion, what were virtue but a name, what praise should then be due to well-doing, what gramercy to be sober, just, or continent?" (p216)

There is much to suggest that we have in fact become more tolerant toward particular abuses and much more indifferent to inequities in individual cases, since we have fixed our eyes on an entirely different system in which the state will set everything right. It may even be, as has been suggested, that the passion for collective action is a way in which we now without compunction collectively indulge in that selfishness which as individuals we had learned a little to restrain. (p217)

It is true that the virtues which are less esteemed and 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. Collectivism has nothing to put in their place, and in so far as it already has destroyed them it 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. (p217-218)

Nowhere has democracy ever worked well without a great measure of local self-government, providing a school of political training for the people at large as much as for their future leaders. It is only where responsibility can be learned and practiced in affairs with which most people are familiar, where it is the awareness of one's neighbor rather than some theoretical knowledge of the needs of other people which guides action, that the ordinary man can take a real part in public affairs because they concern the world he knows. (p234)

And I'm just about done another book - The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes - that dovetails nicely with this one.

Essentially, they both presciently predict the cluster-[bleep] going on today, both politically and economically. The latter takes a more empirical, more historical approach; while The Road to Serfdom was written more philosophically.

Both of these books were birthday gifts from my MIL. I've got to hand it to her - the 'old coot' picked out a couple of real winners!

Though I'm already dreading typing up my notes on The Forgotten Man. They'll probably be twice as long!


Taylor Conant said...


!!! Bravo!

On another note... I think many (most) of the quotes you pulled highlight the importance of psychology to the feeding and sustaining of these ideological movements, which I think is the biggest challenge in "converting" people to freedom. Even if you make a devastating logical argument, so many people will still be caught up in their specialized dream, their previous psychological trauma or their intense and over-riding egotism that they'll remain fascists anyway. What can be done with those types?

Louis Godena said...

Do you have a citation for the Lenin quote? I think this particular cite is bogus.

CaptiousNut said...

Louis Godena,

Page 147 of the book!

Hayek's footnote:

[The citation is taken from Lenin's most important contribution to Marxist political theory, "The State and Revolution: The Marxist Theory of the State and the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Revolution," a translation of which may be found in chapter 5, section 4 p.383 - Ed.]

I found a link as well.

Now, aside from this attempt at Captiousness what do you think of the rest of Hayek?

Louis Godena said...

Yes, you are right, but of course you miss the essence of what Lenin was trying to say (in the context of the abolition of what he termed the "parasite [capitalist] state." He saw the "unification" of society (the single office and factory) as a natural result of capitalism that would be utilized in the new society and which would result, following the "dictatorship" of the workers (as opposed to the then existing "dictatorship" of capital), in the withering away of the state. Lenin was even less fond of the state than your Mr Hayek. But, kudos to you. I had not noticed that quote before.

CaptiousNut said...

Louis Godena,

Well, I am definitely missing the essence of what you are saying.

Look, between Stalinists, Trotsky-ites, Lenin-ites, Nazis, fascists, etc....admittedly I'm not up on their nuanced, semantical differences.

All I know is that centralized power, whether on the premise of *planning*, *equality*, *morality*, etc. always results in human tragedy.

I read Hayek's entire book, closely, and with application.

I didn't get that he *hated the state*. He was just trying to illustrate the empirical folly of *planned societies*.

Louis Godena said...

Well, the nature and role of the state is a seminal question for both Lenin and Hayek. To the former, the state exists due to the irreconcilability of classes. Once classes are abolished (following the period of worker dictatorship), the state becomes superfluous and "withers away." Lenin endorsed this basic Marxist premise with the following in mind. First, that the ordinary worker could himself administer the state and its increasingly irrelevant functions, and, secondly, that the coming European revolution would put paid to the capitalist classes arrayed against the Soviets following 1917. Within a few years, it was apparent that this revolutionary denouement would at the very least be delayed. Whatever the European workers wanted, it was not revolution, but major reforms within the existing capitalist system. At the same time, Lenin himself concluded that, given the cultural state of the average Russian worker, his earlier assumptions had to be revised. In due course, both developments help lead to Stalin and "socialism in one country," with the attending growth in central state power. Stalin was the logical extension of Leninism in its post-revolutionary phase. Hayek sees the state as a referee to insure that the basic harmony of competing interests (itself something of a fairy tale) continues with a minimum of interference. Neither Lenin (in this sense) nor Hayek can hope to have their unalloyed views successfully applied in the modern world. Societies will succeed at different stages applying varying degrees of centralism and open market policies. No strategy utilizing a single, undiluted ideology can succeed in the long run, though the run can be long in some few instances (post war America, post-1978 China, etc.)