Hayekian Insights from The Road to Serfdom
Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom reached its 75th anniversary this year. This classic, published near the end of the World War II, was incredibly influential. In fact, Milton Friedman wrote that he had made it a practice to ask believers in individualism how they got there in the face of the “collectivist orthodoxy,” and reported that the most frequent answer involved The Road.
As it is one of my favorite books and I have long been an avid collector of some of the finest words in defense of liberty (See my Lines of Liberty), I thought I would use the occasion to collect some of The Road ’s most insightful passages, hoping to stimulate reflection. However, I quickly discovered that despite being a short book, The Road had too much material for one short article. As a consequence, I decided to organize the material by breaking it into three parts. Below is Part 1—Freedom or Coercion.
- We are fighting for freedom to shape our life according to our own ideas.
- We have progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which personal and political freedom has never existed in the past.
- Wherever the barriers to the free exercise of human ingenuity were removed, man became rapidly able to satisfy ever widening ranges of desire.
- The fundamental principle is that in the ordering of our affairs we should make as much use as possible of the spontaneous forces of society, and resort as little as possible to coercion.
- To the great apostles of political freedom the word had meant freedom from coercion, freedom from the arbitrary power of other men.
- People still believe that socialism and freedom can be combined…the realization of their program would mean the destruction of freedom.
- The argument for freedom is precisely that we ought to leave room for the unforeseeable free growth.
- While there is nothing in modern technological developments which forces us toward comprehensive economic planning, there is a great deal in them which makes infinitely more dangerous the power a planning authority would possess.
- The very men who are most anxious to plan society [are] the most intolerant of the planning of others.
- Under the Rule of Law, the government is prevented from stultifying individual efforts by ad hoc action. Within the known rules of the game the individual is free to pursue his personal ends and desires, certain that the powers of government will not be used deliberately to frustrate his efforts.
- That people should wish to be relieved of the bitter choice which hard facts often impose upon them is not surprising. But few want to be relieved through having the choice made for them by others.
- The economic freedom which is the prerequisite of any other freedom…must be the freedom of our economic activity which, with the right of choice, inevitably also carries the risk and responsibility of that right.
- The system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not. It is only because the control of the means of production is divided…that nobody has complete power over us…If all the means of production were vested in a single hand…whoever exercises this control has complete power over us.
- Those who are willing to surrender their freedom for security have always demanded that if they give up their full freedom it should also be taken from those not prepared to do so.
- The more we try to provide full security by interfering with the market system, the greater the insecurity becomes; and …the greater becomes the contrast between the security of those to whom it is granted as a privilege and the ever increasing insecurity of the under-privileged.
- In order to achieve their end, collectivists must create…power over men wielded by other men—of a magnitude never before known…There is, in a competitive society, nobody who can exercise even a fraction of the power which a socialist planning board would possess.
- The competitive system is the only system designed to minimize by decentralization the power exercised by man over man…an essential guaranty of individual freedom.
- The “substitution of political for economic power” now so often demanded means necessarily a substitution of power from which there is no escape for a power which is always limited…centralized as an instrument of political power it creates a degree of dependence scarcely distinguishable from slavery.
- It could almost be said…that wherever liberty as we understand it has been destroyed, this has almost always been done in the name of some new freedom promised to the people.
- Collective freedom…is not the freedom of the members of society but the unlimited freedom of the planner to do with society what he pleases.
- Contempt for intellectual liberty…can be found everywhere among intellectuals who have embraced a collectivist faith.
- 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.
- Individual freedom cannot be reconciled with the supremacy of one single purpose to which he whole society must be entirely and permanently subordinated.
- The conflict between planning and freedom cannot but become more serious…as the scale increases.
- A community of free men must be our goal.
- 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.
Friedrich Hayek ability to lay out the striking contrast between freedom and coercion is a central reason for the impact The Road to Serfdom makes on thoughtful readers. And that is just as true 75 years after its publication as when he wrote it. And as we have chosen to move along the wrong road in many ways since, Hayek’s insights into freedom remain central to our ability to defend it from the many centralizing efforts that would eviscerate it.