David Mytton

Book Review (5/5) – The Road to Serfdom (Friedrich A. Hayek)

Published (updated: ) in Book Reviews.

Originally published on Goodreads.

In a very concise and logical manner and by using real examples from the time it was written (1940-43), Hayek convincingly and systematically dismantles the idea of socialism as a realistic form of government. Walking through the key concepts of individual freedom, planning, the rule of law, security, democracy and truth, Hayek demonstrates that socialism inevitably leads to totalitarianism at the hands of the few.

Hayek provides an important understanding of his beliefs about the role of government and what the idea of traditional 19th Century liberalism means (liberty and freedom), which is quite distinct from liberalism as the views of a progressive political party. In writing before the establishment of the welfare state in the Britain, his definition of socialism is in relation to the control of the economy. Most of his examples are from Nazi Germany and the 20-30 years before, whereas for many readers today, examples of socialism which come to mind are more likely to be post-WW2 East Germany and Soviet Russia. He assumes the historical context is known which means it might be difficult for the modern reader to relate, and to apply his theory to how the state should provide social security, healthcare and market regulation today.

Although I started the book already believing that socialism doesn’t work, Hayek’s style and straightforward logic has helped me significantly develop my thinking of the topic. It offers a level of clarity that is so often missing from contemporary debates. There are so many parallels with current events that you can easily replace the historical examples with more modern instances.

The final chapter discusses how an international federal system might help to prevent further war and how it could be structured to avoid socialist control. I found the parallels with the early to mid stages of the EU project fascinating. I feel the historical context of why the EU was created was missing from Brexit the referendum debate, and Hayek only serves to highlight concern about might happen following any breakup of the EU. Parallels with the WTO are also interesting.

I will now be looking for both essays which can help to add detail to the arguments Hayek makes, but also look to discover dissenting opinions and counters to his arguments.