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Friday, August 7, 2015

The Essence of the Road to Serfdom (in Cartoons!)

In 1944, F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom rocked the English-speaking world. The book argued that there can be no political or civil liberty without economic liberty as a first principle. Every step away from economic liberty takes us closer to authoritarian control over the whole of society. With central control comes corruption, servitude, and relative impoverishment. The difference between the Reds and Browns, Hayek argued, matters in theory but not in practice: both paths lead to serfdom. 

This argument shocked a generation of intellectuals who — very much like now — refuse to consider the integral relationship between liberty generally and freedom in the economic realm.

The timing of the book is significant. The world had been at war. Even countries with relatively free economies turned to economic planning and political centralization for the duration. Hayek regarded this path as deeply dangerous, one that threatened to convert free nations into the very thing they were supposedly fighting.

Popular wisdom regards this book as a warning against socialism, which is true enough, but a closer look reveals something striking: its primary warning concerns not Soviet-style socialism but rather the fascist form that was then sweeping Europe. Hayek sought to show that fascist forms of economic organization were not peculiar to the “German mind” or limited to rarified times and places but rather represent a grave danger to the whole world. 

In 1945, the Readers Digest released a masterful reduction of the book for a popular audience. The Foundation for Economic Education has made this reduction available online in HTML and in PDF

In addition, a magazine called Look, distributed by General Motors, released a much-reduced version of Hayek’s argument in the form of cartoons. It tells the dramatic story of a society dealing with economic decline in wartime turning to unworkable political fixes, authoritarianism, and eventual control of the whole of economic life. It’s a chilling presentation.

The Foundation for Economic Education is happy to present this work to a new generation. The dangers about which Hayek warned are ever present.

  • Friedrich Hayek  (1899 – 1992) was an economist and philosopher, author of seminal works that changed intellectual history, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his pioneering work in the theory of money and economic fluctuations and penetrating analysis of the interdependence of economic, social and institutional phenomena. He taught in Vienna, London, and Chicago.