One of the most valuable learning tools we can all take advantage of, is the accumulated knowledge of the intelligent and
intuitive thinkers who have gone before us, and have left us with some basic writings to mull over, and apply to our current
We at BRW have tried to assemble some of the reading lists of some of the conservative thinkers of both yesterday and today,
and are presenting them to you here. We will start by grouping some of these books and articles by category, and we'll add to
them as time goes by.
Let's start with The Road To Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek. Following is a review of the book, which is on every conservative's
'Must Read" list to understand the dangerous direction our nation is following, a creeping movement toward socialism.
This review is from: The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents--The Definitive Edition
(The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume 2) (Paperback)
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
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
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
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.