A summary by chapter of "The Road To Serfdom" by FA Hayek, as well as a brief review.
|Book Structure and Arrangement
The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek is organized into sixteen chapters, beginning with Chapter One, “The Abandoned Road”, and ending with his conclusion in Chapter Sixteen. From cover to cover the book is 269 pages long.
Hayek includes a “Bibliographical Note” following the main body of writing. This is a list of suggested reading for further understanding of the concepts contained in this book.
An editorial foreword traces the effort to get this book published, from its beginning up to successful publication. This is significant in that Hayek later states that it was admitted to have been rejected by various publishers for political reasons as opposed to concerns of revenue.
The general introduction is written by the American historian Bruce Caldwell. He discusses the implications of the book’s publication as well as the reaction of various audiences to it. A brief summary of this reaction: mostly cordial acceptance from both his supporters and opponents in England; in America, people either loved and defended or hated and attacked The Road to Serfdom. This is significant because the book was not (at least in its first iteration) even written for Americans. In fact, it was directly intended for a British audience in the context of the rise of statism. Bruce Caldwell notes that the modern reader may require some additional research in order to understand it in the context it was written, as well as the numerous historical references which Hayek uses.
Included are three of Hayek’s prefaces/forewords to various editions of the work; in these he was able to address criticisms and concerns in the context of whatever period he was writing in. The latest introduction included was written in 1972 (Hayek died in 1992).
Appendix: Related Documents consists of multiple reader’s reports, as well as forewords for previous editions. These are connected to the original publication of the book in that the publication process involved a publisher’s reaction to these reports.
Hayek’s index consists of nine pages of the sources he quotes and references throughout the work. These are used extensively used in compound with the additional notes added later by Bruce Caldwell.
Bruce Caldwell’s includes Acknowledgements, and in this section dedicates the book to the memory of Hayek’s son Laurence, who died of a heart attack in 2004.
Hayek himself dedicates the book to “the socialists of all parties”.
Chapter One - The Abandoned Road
- Hayek argues here that explosions in technological advancement were directly related to increases in individual freedom.
- The spirit of socialism can be described as the “anti-Renaissance” in that it is not a continuation of society, but a demolition and reconstruction of it.
- Naturally, this spirit often includes contempt for traditional values; ironically this is always present regardless of how much progress is perceived.
The essential, integral method of socialism is “planning”: replacing natural competition with what is essentially an artificial environment.
Chapter Two - The Great Utopia
- Compared to the more modern and more subtle advertisement of it, the origin of socialism was openly authoritarian, as contemporary proponents reasoned that such a system could only be practiced by a powerful government (admittedly dictatorial).
- Freedom of thought was considered the main obstacle to socialist goals, and as early planner Claude Saint-Simon put it, those who do not obey “this commandment [his planning boards] will be regarded and treated by others as an animal”.
- Hayek notes the similar background and spirit of statism present in both Fascism and Socialism. These similarities, such as both systems’ remarkable ability to destroy classical liberalism in practice, is made more clear by the irony that their greatest enemy is not each other, who they can easily convert with enough effort, but the classical liberal.
- Due to the nature of “organization” and “planning” among other factors, “individualist socialism” is an oxymoron, and this used to be openly acknowledged by the first socialists.
- Hayek prefaces with a quote from the poet Friedrich Holderlin: “What has always made the state a hell on earth has been precisely that man has tried to make it his heaven”.
Chapter Three - Individualism and Collectivism
- Hayek points out the assumption that planning would only be used for good; this in fact can be used to do anything.
- The natural and dynamic system of competition is superior to the artificial nature of planning.
- Despite this, while central planning is harmful, a sturdy and explicit legal framework is absolutely required, and can be built upon when needed.
The socialism debate is primarily about means, not ends.
Chapter Four - The “Inevitability” of Planning
- The conclusion that the advantage of large-scale production diminishes competition is not completely valid in that monopoly is created by more factors than the lower costs of mass production. In other words, this claim is an overly simplistic one if it is supposed to be proper grounds for a movement towards central planning.
- Monopoly is promoted by public policies; monopoly and state assistance go hand in hand.
- This is an example of the attempt of “conscious organization of industry”, the monopolies resulting from this attempt were considered an “inevitability” when it was in fact a direct result of bad policy.
- The idea that central planning is inevitable is based on the implication that modern industrial civilization introduces new complexities that can only be addressed effectively with central planning. This is true to a very limited extent; what is not true is that coordination by a central agency is indispensable in order to keep social life from dissolving.
Chapter Five - Planning and Democracy
- Forms of collectivism such as communism and fascism differ primarily in the direction they want to take society.
- What connects them inseparably is that they all aim to organize society and its resources into a device that can reach their arbitrated goal. Also similar is their rejection of the supremacy of the individual.
- The “greater good”, “general interest”, “social goal”, etc. which all statist systems propose is vaguely defined; this mythicality is often part of the appeal.
- “The cry for an economic dictator is a characteristic stage in the movement toward planning.” For example, there were many who hated Hitler but believed he was the only one who could solve their economic problems.
Chapter Six - Planning and the Rule of Law
- Planning involves arbitrary discrimination between groups of people based on the whim of governing bodies.
- Formal recognition of individual rights loses significance where complete control of economic life is undertaken.
- This chapter is often incorrectly interpreted as saying that law is inherently a violation of liberty.
Chapter Seven - Economic Control and Totalitarianism
- Economic dictatorship is often justified by the idea that “only” economic matters are impacted by it.
- This is deceptive because all matters revolve around economic matters.
Control of the economic system is the most powerful monopoly possible. The most powerful monopolies are run from positions in government.
Chapter Eight - Who, Whom?
- Competition is based on price, not fairness.
- Social mobility is inert in true socialist (or statist) nations because the government arbitrates all incomes.
- Lenin: “Who will overtake whom?”
Chapter Nine - Security and Freedom
- Freedom is often mistaken for power.
- While a simplistic interpretation of what Hayek says here, and perhaps inadequate, here is the basic idea: power is the ability to do something, while freedom is the ability to not be coerced to do something.
- Because socialism embraces coercion, it replaces freedom with power. Thus dictatorship is an inevitability in truly socialist nations.
Chapter Ten - Why the Worst Get On Top
- All truly socialist countries will end up as dictatorships; “Just as the choice architect who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian dictator would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure”.
- The same rights and privileges and rights lost during wartime are lost indefinitely under socialism.
- In other words, socialists wish to run the country as if always at war; this means an enemy is always required, and that “enemy” becomes alternative forms of government in compound with any physical enemy that might happen to exist.
Chapter Eleven - The End of Truth
- Regardless of whether every person properly exercises the right to free thought, if not, this still does not mean that anyone is somehow competent enough to decide who “deserves” this freedom.
- The right to determine what people should believe is not enabled or justified by this.
Chapter Twelve - The Socialist Roots of Naziism
- Fascism was not a random reaction. If it was it would not be as dangerous.
- Marxian scholars such as Plenge and Sombart made the easy switch to Communism from Fascism.
Regardless of the change, they were still able to assert the insignificance of the individual in the face of the state.
Chapter Thirteen - The Totalitarians in Our Midst
- Both the traditionally left-wing socialists and right-wing fascists opposed laissez-faire capitalism.
- These systems propelled people toward totalitarianism.
Chapter Fourteen - Material Conditions and Ideal Ends
- Suppression of the free market does not somehow erase the power present. It only transfers it to governing authorities. Regardless, statism is always marketed as actually destroying power where it is unevenly distributed.
- This suppression happens during wartime; in other words, truly socialist countries are run as if always in wartime.
Instead of the aim being to win a war, the aim is only to attempt to avoid unemployment.
Chapter Fifteen - The Prospects of International Order
- People are generally more willing to sacrifice for their own country than for others. Because of this, attempting to plan on an international level (let alone national) is unrealistic.
- International planning is ironically the result of a small group planning for the rest, reflecting the elitism that statism supposedly subverts.
Chapter Sixteen - Conclusion
- How the world would react after the end of World War II would depend on how it used the opportunities it had to leave the mistakes of the past behind.
- Creating conditions favorable to progress is more effective than “planning” for it.
- “New Order” philosophies such as fascism, communism, socialism, and statism in general are not unique or brave.
- The policy of freedom for the individual is the most progressive in a world with the domination of statism having potential, and in some cases actively in progress.
Hitler and National Socialism had risen by the time this book was published in 1944. Hayek aimed not only to dissuade his audience from the erroneous assumption that Naziism was a capitalist reaction, but discuss decisions that would be made after the war.
Specifically mentioned are the efforts of both the socialists and fascists to chase after the youth for converts (as well as their very dedicated efforts to convert youth from the other side, which is unsurprisingly not incredibly hard when those youth only know that they dislike the system).
His primary warning is against central planning, not only because it is less efficient and attempts to micromanage everything within its capabilities (which are in practice limited), but more importantly that it is ultimately dependent on threat of force or force itself. Coercion, in other words.
Hayek specifically mentions his originally intended British English audience; it was written in the context of the rise of National Socialism in the context of what would happen after the war ended (assuming the Western world won).
American audiences loved it (and some hated it), a stronger reaction on both sides as in Europe it only confirmed what people already believed, or simply went against it, while in America it was a revitalization of ideas that had faded into obscurity.
Also surprising was its popularity with the general public at all; The Road to Serfdom was an academic work intended for other academics to read and respond to (Hayek was especially enthusiastic for criticism, even more than praise, and released his responses with every new edition.)
A detailed yet concise argument against central planning.
Aims to correct misconceptions about socialism and statism in general in its strategic mythicality; to clearly and cleanly define the fundamental issues of argument that all others fall under.
To explain why the world failed in the 20th century, said failure culminating in the rise of Naziism in Germany, fascism in Italy, and Communism in Russia.
Use of historical context to explain thoughts are a consistent fixture in Hayek’s writing. He explains the rise of socialism in part, for example, through the spread and adoption of German political thought throughout Europe.
Connections are made wherever possible, especially between ideas that appear to be polar opposites but are more similar than proponents of either side would be comfortable to acknowledge. Namely, socialism and fascism.
Anecdote is a less common yet still present method; Hayek records his interactions with college professors in the 1930’s who had students who didn’t know whether they were socialists or fascists; all they knew undisputably was that they harbored a hate for the system they inhabited.
Hayek was an academic respected even by his polar opposites in the academic world, of which there were very many.
Many of his influences can be seen clearly in who he lists as good thinkers to study: the French writer Tocqueville, Lord Acton, The Federalist Papers, etc. Note that Hayek was not an American author.
Extensive support is included with his logical reasoning in the form of references to and quotes from historical figures and respected thinkers. Contemporary sources are likewise used, and these are used almost as often, though perhaps more obscure to the modern reader than the classics in general.
Pathos does not have an overt or consistent effect on the writing in this book.
If there is anything intended to evoke pity or sadness, it is only for the socialists themselves, presented subtly and in the spirit of irony.
Otherwise, Hayek relies primarily on historical context, evidence from other sources, and logical reasoning to support his claims.
Professional style and frank tone are consistently accompanied by irony.
Hayek is still respectful of his opponents’ arguments; this is in fact why he takes so much time to address each of them.
As well as the eponymous metaphor of The Road to Serfdom, metaphor is often used to clarify almost any scenario he presents. One example is the description of entrepreneurs who adjust their prices in the context of others in the same way that engineers adjust their instruments in accordance with others’ adjustments.
Use of Outside Sources
Hayek uses several respected and authoritative sources consistently. Each chapter is prefaced with a quote which supports his argument. For example, his claim that socialism without pretense is openly statist is supported by this quote which prefaces Chapter Nine - Security and Freedom:
“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.”
- Nikolai Lenin
This among other examples demonstrates the ultimately coercive nature of a control economy, which places obedience as essential to success. Hayek also includes an extensive bibliography and index referencing classical as well as contemporary thought.
I greatly enjoyed reading The Road to Serfdom. It seems that modern day discussion seems to believe that many of the ideas presented are its own, when in fact all of these issues have been heavily discussed by many brilliant people long before them, on both sides of any debate.
Hayek’s genius is evident here (and I think I’m justified in saying so, since even Keynes respected it, regardless of what he thought of its applications), and constructs a solid foundation for argument. Reading the introduction it becomes apparent that Hayek was not only accepting of but eager for negative criticism, if only so he could address the most pressing complaints as soon as they arrived.
This book affirmed my views, often replacing shallow pools and light shadows of understanding with far more substance.
In other words, someone already biased towards his thoughts will be pleasantly surprised, and those who are biased against it will possibly be absolutely infuriated (as Hayek was surprised to find with some elements of his surprisingly extensive American audience). I do have criticisms however, in that in some places it was too much of a book “written for its time”, in that some of the references and contexts were obscure to me (and Bruce Caldwell states that the modern reader is likely to find some frustration in this), as well as some of the very contemporary debates which have disappeared today (but perhaps they should never have).
Regardless, universal and timeless messages concerning the relationship between the individual and government are still present, and these overtake any weaknesses that exist in its presentation towards a very specific audience at a very specific time.