Book Review

Book cover image
The Road to Serfdom

F. A. Hayek
University of Chicago Press, 1994 edition 274 pages



I n this re-publication of Friedrich Hayek's classic 1944 work, the Nobel Prize-winning economist expounds his argument that socialism leads to totalitarianism. The term "socialism" in those days meant government ownership of the means of production, and in those terms Hayek's argument is nowadays almost universally accepted, and even considered tautological. For Hayek, both Soviet-style Communism and German Fascism were forms of socialism because of their collectivist and statist nature. But Hayek's argument also is a warning to self-styled "progressives" who, like the objectively pro-Nazi progressives of wartime Britain, naïvely adopted positions that worked against liberal democratic society and, Prof. Hayek believed, could ultimately undermine it. Sadly, the people who would most benefit from Hayek's warning are those least likely to consider arguments that deviate from the strict party line that they so zealously follow.

Today's welfare state socialism adds a layer of indirection to the control that government exerts over the means of production; but over the decades, governmental control still accumulates in layers of bureaucratic regulations, increasing taxation, social programs and, at least in Europe and Canada, the beginnings of speech control. Thus, Hayek's insights and arguments are as applicable to the welfare state socialism of today as to the direct socialism of the mid-twentieth century. Does welfare state socialism also lead to totalitarianism? The question is of vital importance today as Europe struggles with the "democratic deficit" inherent in a socialistic union dominated by unelected bureaucrats. The tendency of socialist governments to drift away from democracy, and the arguments for and against socialism and an international union described in Hayek's book will be startlingly familiar to today's readers.

And what about the "totalitarianism" that the corporation exerts over the worker--the ever-expanding control of the individual by a collective corporate culture that has recently intruded into areas once considered private and inviolate, with mandatory drug testing, rules against cigarette smoking, mandated choices of physician, and so forth? These are questions future Hayeks will need to answer.

May 24, 2003 Back