The road to serfdom by Hayek (Summary)

friedrich hayek

Friedrich Hayek is almost always seen as a economist, and too much rarely as a political thinker. Too bad, because the  Road to Serfdom is a great essay of political philosophy, which main themes are freedom and modernity.

Background and objective The Road to Serfdom (Hayek)

The context of the publication of The Road to Serfdom is quite particular: this book is written in 1944 in Britain. Nothing is trivial in the context of the publication: in 1944, if the war is not yet won, since the defeat of Mussolini’s Italy, the victory seems likely. The English people, as the American people are marked by a great sympathy for the Soviets and Stalin. This sympathy is very strong in intellectual circles. The communist solution seems to be better than the liberal solution because the first is seen as a shield against the 1929 crisis.

The objective of Hayek is to provide a good argument to counter the communist trend. He seeks to convince everyone of the merits of liberal ideas:  “I do not pretend that these developments are inevitable. If they were, this book would be useless. ”

Summary of Road to Serfdom


The merits of the arguments of Hayek, the conclusion he reaches is booming in 1944: “I now have an unpleasant truth to say: that we are in danger of the fate of Germany. “(P.10). The link with socialism is established soon after: “Few people are willing to recognize that the rise of fascism and Nazism was not a reaction against the socialist trends of the previous period, but an inevitable result of these trends. “(P.11).

In this introduction, it refutes two arguments: first, that which is to blame Nazism on Germany, claiming that this can not happen to us. We note in passing, the significance of racism in some of those about Hayek attack.

But above all against a double thesis that stands, “the left parties as well as those on the right are mistaken in believing that National Socialism was in the service of capitalism and that he was opposed to any form of socialism. “(P.12).

It was at this demonstration Hayek tackle: how a political system that puts the center state (Nazism, communism etc.) Can be done against the individual.

The abandoned road

In this first chapter, Hayek explains his view on the foundations of individualism: for him, his origin is clearly located in Western Europe and is linked to humanism itself linked to classical antiquity and Christianity (in this point, it is ironic that given the Jewish origins of Hayek, himself being an atheist, it is placed in a perspective somewhat surprisingly critical of the Church – almost Maurras).

From this point, Hayek distinguished three kinds of freedom resulting from this humanism: a personal freedom, political freedom and economic freedom. And it is the latter that attacks first for Hayek, Nazism in particular, but not limited to: the Parliament does he tends not to interfere more in people’s lives?

One might ask why we come back liberalism. Hayek gives two reasons: “the slow progress of the liberal policy, the fair irritation against those who used the phraseology liberal defense of anti-social privileges” (p.21).

Since the late nineteenth century, the perspective has changed and Hayek, liberalism gives way to a desire to plan because we believe that planning, we control the consequences of our actions. This trend has coincided with the loss of intellectual leadership of England in favor of the continent and especially in Germany. To those who wonder how the Holocaust could happen in the most advanced country intellectually, Hayek replied that this is not surprising: it is in countries where we want to control everything, master, “that Whether it Hegel or Marx, or List Schmoller, Sombart or Mannheim, a radical socialist or simple “organization” or “planning” less radical, everywhere we eagerly imported German ideas ” (p.23).

The Great Utopia

In this chapter, Hayek seeks to show that socialism can only be done with respect for freedom. It first recalls that originally, socialism did not coincide at all with freedom: “Saint-Simon predicted that even those who would not obey his plans would be” treated like cattle ‘”(p. 24). Only after having allied with the Liberals against the Conservatives and the Socialists that the idea of ​​freedom would make his way among the Socialists.

Appears the idea of ​​a new freedom, “economic freedom without political freedom which already won it would not be worth living” (p.25). The result is a reconciliation between liberalism and socialism unfair, the latter appearing to be the heir to the first.

Hayek cites the case of Eastman or Voigt testified that the Soviet experience as a “superfascisme.” That should make us think more to Hayek: The same operation is totalitarian at work in the two regimes.

Finally, another great sign that shows the similarity of the plans is the ease with which men like Laval and Mussolini were able to pass from one side to another.

Hayek and conclude the chapter: what brought Hitler to power? The Socialists … It is they who have indeed suppressed liberalism in Germany.

Individualism and collectivism

For Hayek, there are two aspects in socialism: first, the purpose of social justice and then the way is the creation of a planned economy. He emphasized that we can share the purpose and not the means that we find dangerous. This is implicitly the position of Hayek. Hayek identifies two main dangers:

1. First, assimilation means the refusal (planning) than for the refusal (planning).

2. Then and most importantly, planning can be used for many things as social justice.

Hayek concluded that what the Liberals opposed the socialists are more ways for that: we find the seeds that will develop the argument Milton Friedman in Essays on Positive Economics (1953). The divergence between economists do not so much on what we should do (normative) on the fact that (positive). It is also facing a problem of terminology: socialism he characterizes a means or an end?

Another problem remains (although this debate seems outdated now): it generally has in the 1940 planning as superior to the competition for the first consciously directs the behavior of agents toward a goal. It comes to criticizing the competition to be blind. For Hayek, the debate is elsewhere: it is whether the government knows best what people want or not. Indeed, the planning involves having an organization that manages the economy or a centrally autonomy for individuals.

Indeed, we should not object to planning a “laissez-faire dogma” (p.33): in fact, “liberalism is based on the belief that competition is the best way of guiding individual efforts. He does not deny, but points to the contrary, that competition can play a beneficial role, a carefully constructed legal framework is needed “(p.33). If before, we could reconcile the positions of those Hayekian Walrasian and Marshallian marginal, it goes well here: Hayek emphasizes the importance of the frame surrounding the market. In short, competition is a force to coordinate individuals more effective than public intervention. The consequences are a rejection of all forms of “coercive interventions in economic life” (p. 33) as price controls, access to trades and so on. But the planning that Hayek does not reject all government intervention is the planning that wants to be a substitute for competition.

Hayek made an interesting remark at the conclusion of this chapter for him, those who support socialism do and hope a reversal of the privileges that liberalism has removed: there are so bad in socialist supporters. What Hayek is careful to say is that this is the same with the Liberals. The creation of think tanks in Britain, the Mont Pelerin Society in the immediate post-war (supported by creation of rich capitalists) shows that although the ambiguity of support was widespread.

Economic Planification

Hayek planning attacks from another angle in this chapter: the idea that “we are forced by circumstances beyond our control to override the planning competition. “(P.38). Several facts are advanced to support this argument. First, the rise of private monopolies. This increase is usually explained (one is in 1943) by lower unit costs of production. This is presented as a beginning and as leading to private monopolies. This issue is related to technical progress. Hayek cites the findings of the report of “Temporary National Economic Committee” on the American concentration of economic power: for them, “the superior performance of large companies has not been demonstrated. […] The monopoly is obtained by collusion, and encouraged by the government. ”

Hayek bases his analysis on the history of the emergence of large monopolies and cartels: they appear first in Germany (country in protectionism and interventionist public policy) and not the United States. Hayek criticizes authors like Sombart hastily generalized to have the world’s evolution monopoly in Germany.

Hayek also rejects the argument Planist complexity: the maximum is not exceeded given the complexity, rather it is the means of coordination of the least expensive: it goes through the price system by inducing agents change their behavior because of variations of the price system.

Now Hayek has shown that planning is by no means an irreversible trend, it examines the rise of this ideology: it is due to him individuals frustrated that some changes could be beneficial to all established as part of a planned economy. Hayek cites the common example in the era of freeways (motorways built in Germany and Italy) that were the wonder of English (compared to their old road). But, says Hayek, they were used by any car and used primarily military. It is behind this argument, the return of the utility (as defined utility function of each agent) that the planning and neglect still fails: it is a kind of sense to engineer a deal with logic of general interest. Hayek and to warn against dictators omniscient.


Planification and Democracy

Hayek draws the previous chapters the following conclusion: the fascists and communists differ only on the goal and not the means. The problem is that the goal is defined in vague and it appears to Hayek unrealistic to think that we can quantify all the needs of individuals, or we can collect practically. Indeed, no leader (even with the best will in the world) can not know the aspirations of all citizens. Forget this is to forget the foundation of individualism, “that philosophy does not start, as is often claimed, that man is selfish or should be. It starts simply undeniable fact that the limits of our power of imagination do not include in our scale of values ​​more than one sector of the needs of society as a whole “(p.49).

Hayek off again problems of democracies and the fact that they are not able to put in place the policies for which they are elected. Hayek explains the diversity of expectations and the multiplicity of objectives delays resulting from democratic functioning. For Hayek, it is an opportunity for parliamentarians to deal with more technical issues and do not let the experts. And say, “the delegation of technical tasks to separate bodies is only the first step by which a democracy that is moving towards the planning is moving away from its powers. “(P.54). Hayek concluded so that we can delegate tasks to a standards body other than Parliament.

Hayek cites scathing in his illustration about the words of a socialist professor of law: the latter explains the slowness of democracy and that in the case of socialism, the problem would not arise because the government would be replaced by experts would put in place appropriate solutions. But he concluded by asking whether a defeat of the government should challenge the changes started. That’s the real proof Hayek: the Socialists are not Democrats.

Hayek believes that even more moderate socialists, democracy goes with the planning: indeed, if Parliament continues, it will have the power to accept or reject the plan. And if his opposition is an essential point of the plan, what to do?

Politics and economics

In this chapter, Hayek interested in the relationship that exists between on the one hand the power to regulate and also economic power. In a planned system, the two powers are concentrated in the same hands which leads to the risk of ad hoc legislation.

In a democratic system, the two are separate, “the rules are designed a priori form of fixed rules without taking into account the concerns and needs of any class of people. “(P.59).

The other big problem here is for the design of the law in the planning of who will be able to build the plan to be objective? He noted that even with a planner disinterested, there is no escaping the risk that the interests of a category over-represented (one in which the planner works). And Hayek concludes, any redistributive policy will necessarily be wanting in respect for individual liberty: that is, formal equality before the law and material equality are incompatible.

This rule of law is the guarantor of individual freedoms because it applies to all: and Hayek, the planning and reporting of human rights include inconsistent as he demonstrated. Speaking of an intellectual who wrote a bill of rights: he wanted the one hand that “everyone should have the right to buy or sell without limitation, all the law to buy or sell “but on the other hand that” “you can buy or sell only in quantities or under conditions compatible with the well-being. “But all restrictions on commercial transactions are considered necessary in terms of general well-being. “(P.66). Also “How to ensure the freedom of the press? “(P.66). Hayek gives us a masterly demonstration of the incompatibility of planning and individual freedom. But (this is already a limit on which we will return), Hayek does not show at any time that democracy and economic liberalism is a guarantor of this freedom …

Economic Control and Totalitarianism.

Hayek resumes from the means-ends distinction to show the risk level of abandonment means: for example, an American academic Planist (Chase) talks about the relationship between democracy and economic freedom of choice “political democracy can exist provided that ‘She takes care of everything except economic conditions. “(P.68). Hayek strongly criticizes the argument that economic control is something secondary that would facilitate our lives. And it poses to individual freedom. Thus, if instead of paying people with money (as is the case in capitalism), it compensates by providing the housing, vouchers for food, it restricts freedom of choice of individuals . It is once again restricting the freedom of economic choice that comes to achieving the freedom of each individual.

Behind the contempt for the economic considerations (that is referred to as secondary), so there is a threat to the freedoms of everyone. And so he who controls the economy also controls its goals, determine the values ​​that preside over economic choices. The non-economic distinction is harmful to economic Hayek as it tends to make people believe that economic problems are just technical problems.

The same goes for consumption: free competition is a guarantee of a choice but offers absolutely no planning (in this case, we can only give reason for Hayek: How else to explain the extraordinary diversity of Western automobile production over the uniformity of the countries of eastern …).

And if the consumer is required by the state, it will be the same for the work: it is already low in the system of free competition, but what will happen in a regime Planist? Wages will be fixed in advance, the number of jobs as well. This will be the only rule of a large organization, requiring each individual to return there because it can not survive otherwise.

Hayek warns that the adoption of planning does not only mean a return to the front of laissez-faire, it is a step backwards even more dramatic as all our individual freedoms will be achieved.


We do not offer us a choice between a system where everyone would be treated as an absolute and universal system of law and another in which the shares of the individual would be determined to some extent, by accident or by chance, the alternative comes rather from a system where the will of some to determine which units assigned to each person and another in which at least partially, capabilities and actions of each would determine, as far as unforeseen circumstances, the position he held . “(P.77). Hayek summarizes the presentation of the choices made by the planning friends. In the second, Hayek offers his vision by emphasizing that this is not the rule of law that characterizes the planning but the will of a few. And conversely, if there is a regime where the individual is not entirely predetermined, it is that of competition.

The attraction experienced by the planning is linked to its non-application: if it were, people diverge on priorities (and one might be tempted to enter the army would guarantee the political survival of the regime). Also, these movements require extensive propaganda to adhere to the aims of each nation. And Hayek’s reasoning to conclude: “there is a lot of truth in the formula by which fascism and National Socialism would be a kind of socialism the middle class. “(P.87).

Security and freedom

Hayek in this chapter discusses the relationship between economic freedom and economic security. He begins by noting the multiplicity of realities that lie behind the notion of security. Behind this notion, what interests Hayek, is not so much for policing as we hear them today. It must be remembered that the rise of public intervention is not unrelated to the mass unemployment inherited from the 1929 crisis and that the explanations the Liberals have seemed very unconvincing … should therefore be read to me this chapter through the eyes of the citizen of 1943 that reads suspiciously explanations of the rise in unemployment in the 1930s.

Hayek is therefore concerned with two security levels: first level is that of mere subsistence and a second of seeing its revenues stabilized in time. The first form of security can be achieved easily for him. He concluded that if the first security requires public intervention, “in any case, the necessary protection against economic fluctuations do not lead to the kind of planning that is a threat to our freedom. “(P.91).

Hayek first warned against the illusion that is the stability of wages over time. For him, it is fundamentally incompatible with the choice of a job. Indeed, like all liberals, Hayek ready to price a guiding role in behavior. If the wages down, the individual or business change or modify his work to re-see his salary increase. If we do not do so, it will go through the orders. In addition, the fear of wage increases productivity, “the problem is even more important that men are not normally the best for themselves without their interest is directly at stake” (p. 93).

Hayek draws two ideal types of companies’ commercial society and military society “(p.94). Hayek can be concluded in a society where “the desire for security becomes stronger than the love of freedom. “(P.95). For him, it is stabilizing jobs that makes the other more volatile and that it creates unemployment, “the more one tries to ensure complete security by intervening in the market system, the more insecurity increases . “(P.96). Hayek can be concluded its reasoning on the fundamental incompatibility between security and freedom in economic with a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Those who are willing to give up essential liberties against a false sense of security and ephemeral deserve neither liberty nor safety. “(P.98).

The selection from below

Hayek’s argument focuses on leadership: often explained (he speaks in 1943) that if there was failure of totalitarianism, because the leaders were unscrupulous in the collective interest. Hayek begins by recalling that the leader will not have the institutions he has created as political constructs in front of him. It off, we approach the question of “for whom? “Posed in Chapter 8.

Hayek points to the fundamental dilemma of socialism or he chooses to come to power (whether by democratic means or not) and implement its program. But how if there is resistance? Resistance can be defeated in an election typically. Should we continue with undemocratic means (using the military for example)? Hayek draws the following idea: “many socialist theorists have come to understand that socialism can not put into practice only by methods that socialism rejects. “(P.101).

To gain power, a leader must convince a number of individuals that is able to govern. It must first convince the minority of his party, but especially a greater majority he needs to convince, and for that he must resort to more demagogic arguments based on hatred of the other ( the kulaks, the bourgeois, the Jew, etc.).. The third aspect is usually very strong nationalism of these plans. You can find a priori surprising that the Communists are nationalist when Marx concluded the Communist Manifesto on the phrase “Socialists of all countries, unite! “. However, this appears to Hayek inconceivable that a single individual can manage the world. And so, if a head, there is a faster assimilation of support to the head and support the socialism inevitably leads to the cult of personality. Again, there is a problem between the ends (socialism) and means.

The problem is that linking the political and economic power in the hands of one individual. Behind this is a problem morale. “The rules of individual ethics […] are general and absolute. […] In collectivist ethics it [NDLA: the principle that the end justifies the means] is the supreme rule. “(P.107). In other words, give all power to the arbitrariness of a goal on which we lose control.

Hayek concluded with the outline of a micro-economy leaders: “post totalitarian leader of the unit will have little attraction for a conscientious man, in our view, it will offer tremendous opportunities for men without scruples and little delicate. “(P.110). In other words, we must do so to gain power we can hardly see the emergence of someone with integrity. It was bound to this approach a sociological analysis.


The end of truth.

Once the goals, they must be admitted to the people ex post, it’s valid and somehow have the impression that these expectations are taken into account. And it is propaganda that is attacking it so by destroying the truth. For Hayek, “the propaganda destroys morality by attacking the very basis of all morality, the meaning and respect for the truth. “(P.113). And build the contrast between totalitarianism and liberal society: in the first, we control the people through propaganda, while in the second, the need to justify to the people reverse the relation of control. Therefore, “a pseudo-scientific theory [can become] […] part of the official doctrine. “(P.114).

Hayek supports his analysis with a reflection on the speeches of his opponents. Citing Mannheim: “the advent of freedom by the planning does not of course the abolition of all (sic) the previous forms of freedom. “(P.115). Hayek shows that repeating the same word “freedom”, it changes the reality referred to mask the loss of freedom: freedom requires collective control of the group so that individual freedom in the control group. Hayek concludes scathing: “It confuse freedom with absolute power. “(P.115).

Acceptance of this check is not neutral in terms of science. As noted by Hayek treacherously, “present the theory of relativity as” Semitic attack against the foundations of physics and northern Christian “or the challenge because it is” in conflict with historical materialism and Marxist dogma “returns the same. “(P.117). The result is then simple: “the word” truth “itself loses its former meaning. […] It means something imposed by the authority. “(P.118).

Hayek is a sign of these chapters the most compelling because he happens to show us that in retrospect to guarantee freedom of thought, liberal democracy has a certain force. It has already been hollowed Fukuyama’s argument in The End of History and the end of man.

The socialist roots of Nazism.

Hayek repeats pun the title of a book by the time The roots of National Socialism. Hayek’s thesis is very classic and seen today is to bring the ideas of socialist National Socialist theories. His argument is based on the recovery of the ambiguities of many socialist writers. This he does in this chapter by highlighting the ambiguities of the historian Sombart from Plenge, etc. for Lensch.

Hayek is interested only in the German case, but from an international perspective, the trajectories of Mussolini in Italy, of Laval in France are sufficiently compelling to bring relatives to think about systems. It is deliberately does not include citations (rather long) that seem somewhat dated. Revel in the parade seems more convincing when it points to the many economic similarities between the Nazi program and the program identified by the Soviet economist Von Mises (on 10 key measures, 7 are common).

Hayek concludes with Britain in 1944 when the “socially conservative” has been increasingly successful and where the socialist left and right end up. The same movement occurred in France 10 years ago when Drieu la Rochelle, who hesitated between fascism and communism, wrote an essay whose title can only confirm the thesis of Hayek: Fascist Socialism.

The totalitarians among us.

Hayek sought to show here that one should not think of totalitarianism preserved because the English and German cases are different. He returned again on the dissemination of ideas that bring us closer and totalitarianism of Nazi Germany, “a growing reverence for the state, a cult of power, the” size for size, enthusiasm for “the organization “of anything (we now call it planning)” (p.133).

And Hayek, the influence of German ideas is disturbing. It pin of the authors, however, he considers in good faith by pointing to the similarities of their analysis with those of the Nazis (but forgotten in France) and “Professor Carr is he aware, for example, stating that we no longer find a lot of sense to the common distinction in the eighteenth century between “society” and “state” it states precisely the doctrine of Professor Carl Schmitt, the Nazi theorist of totalitarianism? “(P.136).

Much more instructive to a French man is to see that Hayek speaks of “Julien Benda, which has scheduled an extraordinary lucidity with the role of intellectuals in the transformation of totalitarian society. “(P.139). In other words, Hayek is in the minority of European intellectuals who foresees the danger of commitment. But to denounce it, we must place the same level: uncomfortable position which reads hollow.

Hayek ends an argument by taking the first chapter: it must not be mistaken bne enemy on the question of monopolies. Monopolies are often accused of being more and more, which would require a new economic organization. But when this fact is proven, it is for Hayek the result of government interventions to eliminate competition. Needless to develop too much, such measures has not disappeared: the willingness of governments to impose a “national champion” or limiting the number of supermarkets to protect the small businesses are all elements that would be analyzed as a decrease in the overall well-being for Hayek.

And if the monopoly is economically justified (natural monopoly economists say), the state control is not the most appropriate: “a state monopoly is always protected by the state against both potential competition and against criticism. “(P.143). Critics of the inability of the state to properly manage a business developments will find this clear …

Materials conditions and ideal

The big problem for Hayek, distorts perception and creates problems is the refusal of a rugged individualism that brings to mind the constraints and to claim “the word” économophobie “to characterize. “(P.147). Hayek remains vague on this notion of constraints, extending the reasons why we must respect them. Hayek does not emphasize this and yet would have supported his argument much more compelling is that this challenge can be seen in a democracy because it allows the expression while in a totalitarian regime, IT not exist or so violently (events of 1953 in Berlin, Budapest 1956, Prague in 1968 etc.)..

Treatment following a reminder of the economic difficulties at the origin of these “constraints”, he noted that there are two treatments: either lower the price of labor (no need to mention the gear aspect of this analysis, even in 1943) either require the retention of wages and accept unemployment.

Much more informative is the moral critique that address to socialist morality is an individual matter and can not be a public matter. “A movement that promises above all to take away any responsibility can not be an anti-moral in its effects, regardless of the elevation of the ideal that gave birth. “(P.153). What’s interesting here is that his critique of planning based on the disempowerment of individuals who are not actors, but the agents.

He returned late last chapter on the problem of lack of force of the English political thought. Smith, Ricardo, Stuart Mill were all English and Hayek criticizes many of these contemporary feel ashamed and prefer the German authors. Hence the phrase premonition of the coming battle Hayek: “if we win the war of ideologies and attract the honest among our former enemies, we must first restore faith in traditional values ​​that we have defended in the past. “(P.157).

A new international order.

Hayek draws from the foregoing the conclusion that could make this work: “those who understand these dangers, at least partially draw the conclusion that economic planning should be put in place” internationally. “(P.159). Hayek clearly stands against this conclusion. It points to several problems in setting up a planning international (or global).

Hayek gives the first reason is the divergence of goals: individuals have different values, so different goals. How to reconcile this in the development of an international planning? In addition, “we can easily convince the people of a country to make a sacrifice for” his “industry” (p.160) but not for that of another country. It is interesting (and ultimately not surprising) to read Hayek’s justification for decentralization and the critical current of a Jacobin state …

He extends his criticism by pointing with some accuracy the risk: “If it is an international authority must apply the distributive justice, class struggle, according to socialist doctrine, will inevitably become a struggle between the working classes of different countries . “(P.162).

Finally, how can we determine at an international level “needs of the Romanian Peasant” (p.162)? Hayek’s reasoning can be concluded as follows: “it is characteristic that the most fervent supporters of a new order of the command economy in Europe show, as the Fabians and their German prototypes, the most complete disregard for individuality and the rights of small nations. “(P.165). It should therefore be wary of Hayek wishes to create a supra-national state with strong powers. And it calls for an organization with limited powers to preserve the independence of each. He recalled the age of this ambition together with his utopia.


Cite this article as: Tim, "The road to serfdom by Hayek (Summary), April 22, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, April 22, 2012,

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