Understanding the Road to Serfdom
Friedrich A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom essentially explains itself (or at least the cartoon that comes with it does). We explain it anyway.
The Road to Serfdom
The Road to Serfdom, written by Mises’s student and influential somewhat-centered libertarian Friedrich Hayek and published in March 1944, explains how state planning (either the left-wing or right-wing kind) leads to tyranny.
The book is a comment on the despotism of the WWII era, not just Hilter’s despotism, but to Hayek and Mises and their ilk, the despotism of all the statists of all the countries (so Stalin, FDR, Hitler, and more).
Their opinions on each leader aside, their insights are valuable.
With that in mind, the Road to Serfdom works like this (see the Road to Serfdom cartoon that illustrates this from Hayek’s book; the following is our take on Hayek’s work with a dash of Plato’s warning of tyranny added for flavor):
- War leads to national planning (everyone surrenders freedoms in a time of war and organizes as a nation.)
- Many want planning to stay after war (many say, “that worked well, let’s keep it going;” politicians agree!)
- The [mostly] well intentioned planners promise Utopia (they say, “Trust me, this is going to be great.”)
- However, politicians don’t agree on what utopia looks like (one says, “more military” one says “more social welfare.”)
- Citizens don’t agree on what the utopia should look like either (one faction says, “my utopia is social hierarchy,” another says, “mine is total social equality.”)
- Planners, with their good intentions, panic because no one can agree on a direction!
- Thus, they start to use propaganda to sell a patchwork agenda. Here democracy is corrupted and public opinion is manipulated… for the greater good of course!
- It turns out that only a substantial minority can be swayed fully by a single directed message (they are called “the gullible”). This group becomes ideologically committed and thrilled by the rhetoric (“lock her up,” “get those others out,” or “down with the 1%” they chant; in all instances, they want government to fix the problems, as per the propaganda message).
- Confidence in the planners fade when the plan doesn’t magically work.
- The planners (or for Plato the people when they become angry at the corrupt senate) seek a “strong man” to sell their plan (they will get rid of the strong man when the are done they think). The “strong man” says, “only I can make X country great again; just give me power!”). The tyrant, for the moment appearing the champion of the people, is born.
- The “strong man” and his party now take over the country. All must obey the dear leader.
- Minorities are scapegoated to build unity and take the heat off the “strong man” (the plan still isn’t working, but now the idea that it has is being sold, and no one can question it.)
- No one can resist, the secret police and new policies ensure that. Funnily enough the tyrant doesn’t seem to want to give up their power! (Plato says this phase includes exile and return, like with Neapoleon; but the end result is the same).
- Your profession is now planned.
- Your wages are now planned.
- Your thinking is now planned.
- Your recreation is now planned.
- And if you do resist, your discipline is now planned too (your punishment for stepping out of line is, of course, death)… Thus ends your journey on the road to serfdom.
Hayek’s ‘The Road to Serfdom’ in Five Minutes.