Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reflections: The Road to Serfdom

 Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom:

"I could use a few different adjectives to describe F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom: heady, cerebral, highbrow, erudite, etc.  Put simply, it's not a book that can be leisurely and negligently perused or skimmedThe Road to Serfdom has to be consumed through study and intellectual concentration.  You can't cheat your way through the book through inattention and still appreciate its true value or perhaps much value at all.
To get a very clear idea as to the main thrust of The Road to Serfdom you have to take a quick glance at who Hayek dedicated the book to: "To the socialists of all parties" (Emphasis added).  His initial argument and impetus for writing the book was to show how the rise of Nazism and other forms of totalitarianism is directly related to socialist principles, such as centralized economic planning, advocated by many well-meaning people.  One big take-away for me, although there were many, was the following statement: "There can be no doubt that most socialists here still believe profoundly in the liberal ideal of freedom and that they would recoil if they became convinced that the realization of their program would mean the destruction of freedom."  

His discussion of ideology and placing it within an appropriate context is excellent.  I haven't read such a vigorous criticism of the intelligentsia since reading Eric Hoffer's The True Believer.  (All of the principles discussed in Hayek's book can be applied today, but I think his criticism of many of the academics in his generation are especially applicable today).  The Road to Serfdom is about principles, ideology, liberty, security, human nature, economics, and other critical matters.  It's an important book, and not just because I find myself in agreement with much of what Hayek explicates.  Rather, it's an important book for the same reason The Communist Manifesto is an important tract.  It highlights and elaborates on some of the great and consequential questions humanity must wrestle with.  I believe Hayek has more value to provide society and civilization than Marx, but I never could have come to that conviction without first examining both authors' works.

The book's biggest flaw is its readability.  But even to say that is somewhat misleading.  The book is readable, but it does take work.  Hayek's prose is not the most fluid and graceful.  Some sentences can feel a bit clunky since they can be congested with too many subjects or topics.  The inevitable consequence is that some of his points and conclusions can easily get lost in the intellectual clutter he creates.  Although, I do have to mention some of this might be due to the fact that English is not his native language.  With that fact in mind, his writing far exceeds the average American writing skill and rivals most academics as well.

The Road to Serfdom is a great book.  There is plenty of intellectual "meat" to chew on, and I will use the book as a reference for years to come.  I look forward to reading some of Hayek's other works - The Constitution of Liberty has been on my Wish List for some time.  Put in the time and effort and F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom is an intellectual treat."

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