|Average Customer Review: ( 525 customer reviews )
Write an online review and share your thoughts with other customers.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1083 of 1144 found the following review helpful:
Definitive Indeed! May 04, 2007
By D. W. MacKenzie
This new edition of the RTS is worth buying even if you already own an earlier edition. The editor has included important material on how this book was developed and interpreted.
As for the book itself, the Road to Serfdom explains the rise of totalitarianism in twentieth century Europe. Yet it also made a more general argument concerning the incompatibility of democracy and comprehensive central planning. Hayek argues that the pursuit of socialist ideals leads to totalitarianism. While socialist ideals seem noble to many, those who persist in realizing these ideals will find it necessary to adopt coercive methods that are incompatible with freedom. Thus socialists must choose between their egalitarian goals and the preservation of individual liberty.
Hayek describes how Europeans came to expect progress, and became impatient for faster progress. The liberal reforms of the 19th century delivered unprecedented economic progress. Much of this was directly due to scientific discovery. The role of free competition in promoting scientific discovery was less obvious. Europeans increasingly came to believe that scientific planning of society itself could accelerate greater progress.
Europeans also changed how they thought about equality and freedom. Insistence upon freedom from want displaced the yearning for freedom from coercion. Democracy came to be seen as a means of realizing an increasing number of social goals, rather than as a means of preserving freedom. To Hayek, these were dangerous errors. Democracy could only work effectively in areas where agreement upon ultimate ends could be attained with little difficulty. A democratic government could enforce general rules of conduct that applied to all equally (i.e. free speech and free association). Democracy can never produce agreement over policies that affect specific economic results. One always gains at the expense of others in such matters. Such Economic planning places impossible demands upon democracy. This is because pursuit of specific ends requires timely and decisive action. Democracies move too slowly to attain specific ends, so arbitrary powers of government will grow. A planned economy will ultimately require acceptance of dictatorship. This is a dire consequence, as it is the worst sort of tyrants who are most adept at wielding dictatorial powers.
Some might say that these arguments are unduly pessimistic. Hayek points to the examples of Hitler and Stalin to support his case. Of course, these are worst case scenarios. Have not England, Sweden, and the US adopted large welfare-regulatory states without such tyranny? This is a fair point, yet we should remember two things. First, Hayek claimed that centralized control of the economy would destroy freedom ultimately, but gradually. Second, Western nations have not yet gone as far in planning their economies as did Russia and Germany in the 1930's. The fact that we have yet realized the horrible results of Stalinism implies neither that were are safe from despotism in the future, nor that our present situation is entirely satisfactory. One can easily argue that we have already started on the wrong path. For instance, Hayek's chapter on `The End of Truth' applies to modern political correctness.
Hayek wrote this book not only to warn people about the limits of democracy and the incompatibility of planning and freedom. This was the start of his project concerning the abuse of reason. His warning is also about the tendency to overestimate the abilities of even the best and brightest individuals. Not even the best and brightest can comprehend modern societies. Socialists who favor comprehensive planning, and even modern liberals and conservatives who want to plan part of society, proceed on a false assumption concerning human reason. Ultimately, Hayek makes a strong case for limited constitutional government. To expect more of democracy than what Madison and Jefferson intended invites disaster.
The Road to Serfdom is a profound defense of commercial society and limited government. The RTS also is where Hayek started his 'abuse of reason' project. To fully appreciate Hayek's genius in the RTS, one should read his subsequent books in this project- The Constitution of Liberty and Law Liberty and Legislation V1-3.
The RTS has its critics, mainly on the left. Due to its insightful nature the Road to Serfdom has produced hysterical responses from the left. Leftists despise the RTS simply because it strikes at the core of both democratic-socialist or Marxist beliefs. Some serious scholars have attacked the RTS (i.e. Farrant and Levy) but their objections are misguided. The Road to Serfdom stands out as a true classic, as timeless as it is insightful. It offers insights that are relevant to our current problems with growing Federal spending and regulation. Read it completely and repeatedly.
368 of 407 found the following review helpful:
Amazing Little Book May 04, 2000
By Redmund K. Sum
I was introduced to Friedrich von Hayek through reading Thomas Sowell. And I decided to read this book because it was a highly recommended read in the Freedom's Nest Website Reading List.
As soon as I started reading this book, I developed a warm feeling toward the author. In his original introduction, Hayek started with: "When a professional student of social affairs writes a political book, his first duty is plainly to say so. This is a political book...." His candor and his confidence were so befitting with his great intellect.
Noting that Hayek was an Austrian, I was impressed by his mastery of the English language and I enjoyed his writing style. With mild language and in simple terms, Hayek made very sweeping predictions and patiently explained his reasoning with convincing arguments based on economic and human behavioral theories.
Hayek's thesis was that central economic planning will inevitably lead to governmental control of every facet of its citizen's life, and hence toward a totalitarian state. Hayek's other insightful observations: Nazism, Fascism and communism all have the same roots. In a totalitarian state, it is always the ruthless and the unsophisticated who ascend to the top. Extensive governmental control harms the society not just in delivering dismal economic results, but, more seriously, it produces a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people.
One must not forget that when Hayek wrote this book, his was very much a voice in the wilderness; he was ridiculed and denounced by his contemporaries. But his ideas stood the test of time! And blessedly, he lived to see that - to see first the building and eventually the fall of the Berlin Wall.
This little book was said to have had definitive influence on such giants as Churchill, Thatcher, Reagan and many others. Perhaps the book's influence was best attested to by its being banned in the USSR, China and many other totalitarian countries.
This book belongs on your book shelf.
407 of 460 found the following review helpful:
Too bad we aren't taking this advice Aug 09, 2008
By B. C. Richards
Friedrich Hayek, the Nobel prize winning economist, wrote this brilliant classic as a critique of government intervention and manipulation in markets. I am neither an economist nor a political scientist, but I was led to this book after watching with horror the recent outrages that are consciously being inflicted on us by our elected officials, most recently the bailout and socialization of the two giant mortgage lenders, Freddie and Fannie. I couldn't remember that I ever received any share of the loot when those companies were making huge profits and their CEOs were earning tens of millions per year, but now I find that our elected officials have written a blank check in my name, the taxpayer, to bail out these companies' losses and stupidity, and then handed the check to a group of unelected officials (and, surprise, surprise, those two companies spend hundreds of millions on congressional lobbying). Privatize the gains, socialize the losses: sounds like a win-win situation for somebody.
This kind of disastrous socialism is exactly what Hayek critiques in devastating form in this book, specifically government control of the economy. Apparently, they say, this book has been very influential, but a layman could certainly never tell by looking around. Hayek was writing from the perspective of a central European who had recently witnessed first-hand the unfolding development of National Socialism (Nazism) in Germany, and he is warning that the exact same attitudes and policies that had been followed in Germany were uncritically being followed by the Allies, merely at a few years distance.
He begins by recollecting the ideals of old, classic liberalism, "the forgotten road". Of course, in Hayek's context, "liberal" means the true, historic liberalism of limited government, free markets, and private property, not "liberal" in the bastardized sense somehow hijacked by Leftists to mean unlimited government, socialized markets and massive forced wealth redistribution. He looks at the rise of collectivist thinking versus individual (it's all for the greater good); the problems of central planning in a democracy (someone in power makes the economic decisions for everybody else); the downfall of the Rule of Law (government is no longer bound by fixed rules announced beforehand but instead possesses arbitrary power limited only by its own discretion); the inextricable link between centralized economic planning and totalitarian regimes (if we're going to follow a plan, someone's got to force everyone to follow it); the problem of deciding how the society's production will be distributed; a chapter showing that "nothing is more fatal than the present fashion among intellectual leaders of extolling security at the expense of freedom" (Republicans apparently didn't get the memo); how in a socialized economy the worst individuals inevitably rise to the top (Really? Can it be? Obama and McCain?); the necessity of manipulating truth in a socialized society; and the fact that Nazism was a direct outgrowth of socialism and socialist ideology.
The relevance of the points enumerated above does not require comment. We are running madly down the road to serfdom, which is the road of socialism. Unfortunately for those of us who are being dragged along against our will, history is not neutral, and we will suffer the consequences of other peoples' decisions, just as the Jews in Germany did and the Russians in the Soviet Union did. Socialism has always led to poverty and oppression, and freedom, on the rare occasions it has been tried, has produced unparalleled prosperity. Hayek shows in detail why. We've decided to give socialism another try. God help us.
161 of 179 found the following review helpful:
It will convert you into a libertarian Jun 09, 2010
I read it at the University, here in Guatemala, where my University has a library that is called Ludwig Von Mises and the Auditorium's name is Friedrich Von Hayek.
Once you read this book, it is impossible not to believe in freedom and to know that freedom and big interventionist government are not compatible concepts.
The principles are so basic that you do not need to be an economist (I am not) to understand them. If people do not trust themselves to make decisions because "people are ignorant or greedy" then they will give someone else the power to decide for them (government) that is the road to serfdom. People will lose their freedom to decide which insurance, retirement plan or things to buy, which charity to help, these decisions will be made by powerful burocrats (that maybe who friends of someone in government) that will know what is best for you. Big taxes so government will decide better what do do with the money you earned.
I have seen my government follow all these steps that go to the road of serfdom and I have seen exactly the results Hayek points out, I have been seeing that happens for 20 years (since I read the book). The book is so logical that after reading, if you have common sense and do not have a burocratic position to defend, you will definitely become a libertarian.
103 of 113 found the following review helpful:
Outstanding Jun 01, 2000
Hayek's classic book is a dissertation on why political freedom is, and can only be, inextricably linked to economic freedom. Originally published in 1944, his specific examples of socialist planning gone wrong are (were) Italy, the USSR, and most prominently, Germany. He primarily uses the British for comparison and contrast purposes, and directs many of his remarks toward Western European nations who were flirting with their own versions of socialist economic planning. He felt that these nations were ultimately going down the same road that the Germans had already traveled two or three generations earlier.
Hayek's central thesis is that individual liberty (economic and political) and collectivism are mutually exclusive, and that even the most well-intentioned socialist society will ultimately evolve into a totalitarian state. Hayek elaborates upon the following key arguments (and others): (1) Collectivism represents the undoing of liberalism (in the classic sense). (2) Socialism necessitates that the efforts of the populace be directed towards a common goal, often called something like "the common good." The economic system must be centrally planned in order to achieve this goal. Such planning amounts to coercion, and individual liberty is sacrificed for the degree of security a socialist state provides. (3) A free society operates according to the Rule of Law, where the rules are known beforehand. The economy of a free society consists of the net sum of individual decisions made within the known legal framework. By contrast, a centrally planned society relies upon government decisions that must be made on the basis of current necessity, what Hayek calls "arbitrary government." (4) Money promotes economic liberty, acting as the medium to provide the individual with the freedom to use his compensation in whatever manner he chooses, rather than being dependent upon a compensation whose specific nature is determined by others. (5) Socialism is inherently nationalistic or ethnocentric, because the leading party often must rally the populace to focus against a threatening group in order to effectively promote its own agenda. A "one-world" socialism that unites across peoples, nations, and ethnic backgrounds is not workable. (6) True believers in a socialist society must hold the interests of the State as higher than their own. Those who will move up the ranks in a socialist society are often prepared to do anything on behalf of the state, no matter how much this opposes one's own moral principles. Those who are amoral are thus more likely to "succeed" in a socialist hierarchy. Hayek holds out little hope that a socialist utopia will work if only "good people" are put in charge.
Contrary to some of the negative reviews below, I must argue that Hayek's book is certainly not "vicious propaganda," (and, I might add, that I sincerely doubt that Hayek's own lips were "lice-ridden.") Nowhere in the book does Hayek celebrate wealth. There is not one sentence in the book extolling the virtues of material riches. He DOES celebrate individual liberty and the superiority of a free market economy. To intelligently oppose Hayek, one must provide a literate argument against the points Hayek actually argues. In addition, one would be compelled in this debate to explain how a rigid socialist system would NOT degenerate into Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, or Stalinist Russia (or, for that matter, Pol Pot's Cambodia, Castro's Cuba, Communist China, etc.)
That said, Hayek's book is not free from criticism. He takes a few swipes at the Germans -- Hayek all but proclaims that because of their general ethnic personality the Germans as a people were an ideal setup for Naziism and ruthless obedience to Hitler. Not surprisingly, some readers may take offense to this. Hayek also concedes that in a prosperous economy a basic minimum standard of living should be guaranteed everyone, although he makes no mention of how it could be guaranteed in a manner consistent with his overall free market vision. There is not a single statistic in the entire book (some may find this a GOOD thing), nor is there mention of any specific historical event, except the ongoing war at the time. Hayek's arguments are essentially based upon logical deductions, relying upon assumptions of human nature - as individuals, large groups, or those in authority. I suppose some will find Hayek's logic dubious, although arguably the history of the fifty-plus years since Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom would back him up quite well.
See all 525 customer reviews on Amazon.com