The Road to Serfdom

book by Friedrich von Hayek

The Road to Serfdom is a book written by the Austrian-born economist and philosopher Friedrich von Hayek (1899–1992) between 1940–1943.


Is there a greater tragedy imaginable than that, in our endeavour consciously to shape our future in accordance with high ideals, we should in fact unwittingly produce the very opposite of what we have been striving for?
The conception that government should be guided by majority opinion makes sense only if that opinion is independent of government.
The power which a multiple millionaire, who may be my neighbour and perhaps my employer, has over me is very much less than that which the smallest functionaire possesses who wields the coercive power of the state, and on whose discretion it depends whether and how I am to be allowed to live or to work.
The need is for an international political authority which, without power to direct the different people what they must do, must be able to restrain them from action which will damage others.
We shall all be the gainers if we can create a world fit for small states to live in.
We are neither entitled to be unselfish at someone else's expense nor is there any merit in being unselfish if we have no choice.

Preface to the Original Editions

  • When a professional student of social affairs writes a political book, his first duty is plainly to say so. This is a political book.

Foreword to the 1956 American Paperbook Edition

  • Conservatism, though a necessary element in any stable society, is not a social program; in its paternalistic, nationalistic and power adoring tendencies it is often closer to socialism than true liberalism; and with its traditionalistic, anti-intellectual, and often mystical propensities it will never, except in short periods of disillusionment, appeal to the young and all those others who believe that some changes are desirable if this world is to become a better place.

Preface to the 1976 Edition

  • The reader will probably ask whether this means that I am still prepared to defend all the main conclusions of this book, and the answer to this is on the whole affirmative. The most important qualification I must add is that during the interval of time terminology has changed and for this reason what I say in the book may be misunderstood.
  • I have long resented being more widely known by what I regarded as a pamphlet for the time than by my strictly scientific work. After reexamining what I wrote then in the light of some thirty years’ further study of the problems then raised, I no longer do so. Though the book may contain much that I could not, when I wrote it, have convincingly demonstrated, it was a genuine effort to find the truth which I believe has produced insights that will help even those who disagree with me to avoid grave dangers.


  • While history runs its course, it is not history to us. It leads us into an unknown land, and but rarely can we get a glimpse of what lies ahead.
  • If in the long run we are the makers of our own fate, in the short run we are the captives of the ideas we have created. Only if we recognize the danger in time can we hope to avert it.
  • Is there a greater tragedy imaginable than that, in our endeavour consciously to shape our future in accordance with high ideals, we should in fact unwittingly produce the very opposite of what we have been striving for?
  • We have been misled as much because we have refused to believe that the enemy was sincere in the profession of some beliefs which we shared as because we believed in the sincerity of some of his other claims.

Ch. 1 : The Abandoned Road

  • For at least twenty-five years before the specter of totalitarianism became a real threat, we had progressively been moving away from the basic ideas on which Western civilization has been built. That this movement on which we have entered with such high hopes and ambitions should have brought us face to face with the totalitarian horror has come as a profound shock to this generation, which still refuses to connect the two facts. Yet this development merely confirms the warnings of the fathers of the liberal philosophy which we still profess. We have progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which personal and political freedom has never existed in the past.
  • The gradual transformation of a rigidly organized hierarchic system into one where men could at least attempt to shape their own life, where man gained the opportunity of knowing and choosing between different forms of life, is closely associated with the growth of commerce.
  • The subsequent elaboration of a consistent argument in favor of economic freedom was the outcome of a free growth of economic activity which had been the undesigned and unforeseen by-product of political freedom.
  • There is nothing in the basic principles of liberalism to make it a stationary creed; there are no hard-and-fast rules fixed once and for all. The fundamental principle that in the ordering of our affairs we should make as much use as possible of the spontaneous forces of society, and resort as little as possible to coercion, is capable of an infinite variety of applications. There is, in particular, all the difference between deliberately creating a system within which competition will work as beneficially as possible and passively accepting institutions as they are. Probably nothing has done so much harm to the liberal cause as the wooden insistence of some liberals on certain rough rules of thumb, above all the principle of laissez faire.
  • Because of the growing impatience with the slow advance of liberal policy, the just irritation with those who used liberal phraseology in defense of antisocial privileges, and the boundless ambition seemingly justified by the material improvements already achieved, it came to pass that toward the turn of the century the belief in the basic tenets of liberalism was more and more relinquished. What had been achieved came to be regarded as a secure and imperishable possession, acquired once and for all. The eyes of the people became fixed on the new demands, the rapid satisfaction of which seemed to be barred by the adherence to the old principles. It became more and more widely accepted that further advance could be expected not along the old lines within the general framework which had made past progress possible but only by a complete remodeling of society. It was no longer a question of adding to or improving the existing machinery but of completely scrapping and replacing it. And, as the hope of the new generation came to be centered on something completely new, interest in and understanding of the functioning of the existing society rapidly declined; and, with the decline of the understanding of the way in which the free system worked, our awareness of what depended on its existence also decreased.

Ch. 2 : The Great Utopia

  • That socialism has displaced liberalism as the doctrine held by the great majority of progressives does not simply mean that people had forgotten the warnings of the great liberal thinkers of the past about the consequences of collectivism. It has happened because they were persuaded of the very opposite of what these men had predicted. The extraordinary thing is that the same socialism that was not only early recognized as the gravest threat to freedom, but quite openly began as a reaction against the liberalism of the French Revolution, gained general acceptance under the flag of liberty.
  • To allay these suspicions and to harness to its cart the strongest of all political motives—the craving for freedom—socialism began increasingly to make use of the promise of a “new freedom.” The coming of socialism was to be the leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom. It was to bring “economic freedom,” without which the political freedom already gained was “not worth having.” Only socialism was capable of effecting the consummation of the age-long struggle for freedom, in which the attainment of political freedom was but a first step.
  • That democratic socialism, the great utopia of the last few generations, is not only unachievable, but that to strive for it produces something so utterly different that few of those who wish it would be prepared to accept the consequences, many will not believe until the connection has been laid bare in all its aspects.

Ch. 3 : Individualism and Collectivism

  • “Planning” owes its popularity largely to the fact that everybody desires, of course, that we should handle our common problems as rationally as possible and that, in so doing, we should use as much foresight as we can command. In this sense everybody who is not a complete fatalist is a planner, every political act is (or ought to be) an act of planning, and there can be differences only between good and bad, between wise and foresighted and foolish and shortsighted planning. An economist, whose whole task is the study of how men actually do and how they might plan their affairs, is the last person who could object to planning in this general sense. But it is not in this sense that our enthusiasts for a planned society now employ this term, nor merely in this sense that we must plan if we want the distribution of income or wealth to conform to some particular standard. According to the modern planners, and for their purposes, it is not sufficient to design the most rational permanent framework within which the various activities would be conducted by different persons according to their individual plans. This liberal plan, according to them, is no plan—and it is, indeed, not a plan designed to satisfy particular views about who should have what. What our planners demand is a central direction of all economic activity according to a single plan, laying down how the resources of society should be “consciously directed” to serve particular ends in a definite way.
  • The successful use of competition as the principle of social organization precludes certain types of coercive interference with economic life, but it admits of others which sometimes may very considerably assist its work and even requires certain kinds of government action. But there is good reason why the negative requirements, the points where coercion must not be used, have been particularly stressed.
  • It is of the utmost importance to the argument of this book for the reader to keep in mind that the planning against which all our criticism is directed is solely the planning against competition—the planning which is to be substituted for competition. This is the more important, as we cannot, within the scope of this book, enter into a discussion of the very necessary planning which is required to make competition as effective and beneficial as possible. But as in current usage “planning” has become almost synonymous with the former kind of planning, it will sometimes be inevitable for the sake of brevity to refer to it simply as planning, even though this means leaving to our opponents a very good word meriting a better fate.

Ch. 4 : The “Inevitability” of Planning

  • Of the various arguments employed to demonstrate the inevitability of planning, the one most frequently heard is that technological changes have made competition impossible in a constantly increasing number of fields and that the only choice left to us is between control of production by private monopolies and direction by the government. This belief derives mainly from the Marxist doctrine of "the concentration of industry," although, like so many Marxist ideas, it is now found in many circles which have received it at third or fourth hand and do not know whence it derives.
  • As decentralization has become necessary because nobody can consciously balance all the considerations bearing on the decisions of so many individuals, the coordination can clearly be effected not by “conscious control” but only by arrangements which convey to each agent the information he must possess in order effectively to adjust his decisions to those of others. And because all the details of the changes constantly affecting the conditions of demand and supply of the different commodities can never be fully known, or quickly enough be collected and disseminated, by any one center, what is required is some apparatus of registration which automatically records all the relevant effects of individual actions and whose indications are at the same time the resultant of, and the guide for, all the individual decisions.
  • It is no exaggeration to say that if we had had to rely on conscious central planning for the growth of our industrial system, it would never have reached the degree of differentiation, complexity, and flexibility it has attained. Compared with this method of solving the economic problem by means of decentralization plus automatic coordination, the more obvious method of central direction is incredibly clumsy, primitive, and limited in scope. That the division of labor has reached the extent which makes modern civilization possible we owe to the fact that it did not have to be consciously created but that man tumbled on a method by which the division of labor could be extended far beyond the limits within which it could have been planned. Any further growth of its complexity, therefore, far from making central direction more necessary, makes it more important than ever that we should use a technique which does not depend on conscious control.
  • From the saintly and single-minded idealist to the fanatic is often but a step. Though it is the resentment of the frustrated specialist which gives the demand for planning its strongest impetus, there could hardly be a more unbearable— and more irrational—world than one in which the most eminent specialists in each field were allowed to proceed unchecked with the realization of their ideals. Nor can “coordination,” as some planners seem to imagine, become a new specialism. The economist is the last to claim that he has the knowledge which the coordinator would need. His plea is for a method which effects such coordination without the need for an omniscient dictator. But that means precisely the retention of some such impersonal, and often unintelligible, checks on individual efforts as those against which all specialists chafe.

Ch. 5 : Planning and Democracy

  • The rules of which our common moral code consists have progressively become fewer and more general in character. From the primitive man, who was bound by an elaborate ritual in almost every one of his daily activities, who was limited by innumerable taboos, and who could scarcely conceive of doing things in a way different from his fellows, morals have more and more tended to become merely limits circumscribing the sphere within which the individual could behave as he liked. The adoption of a common ethical code comprehensive enough to determine a unitary economic plan would mean a complete reversal of this tendency.
    The essential point for us is that no such complete ethical code exists. The attempt to direct all economic activity according to a single plan would raise innumerable questions to which the answer could be provided only by a moral rule, but to which existing morals have no answer and where there exists no agreed view on what ought to be done.
  • Not only do we not possess such an all-inclusive scale of values: it would be impossible for any mind to comprehend the infinite variety of different needs of different people which compete for the available resources and to attach a definite weight to each.
  • It is this recognition of the individual as the ultimate judge of his ends, the belief that as far as possible his own views ought to govern his actions, that forms the essence of the individualist position.
  • What are called “social ends” are for it merely identical ends of many individuals—or ends to the achievement of which individuals are willing to contribute in return for the assistance they receive in the satisfaction of their own desires. Common action is thus limited to the fields where people agree on common ends.
  • The effect of the people's agreeing that there must be central planning, without agreeing on the ends, will be rather as if a group of people were to commit themselves to take a journey together without agreeing where they want to go; with the result that they may all have to make a journey which most of them do not want at all.
  • If “capitalism” means here a competitive system based on free disposal over private property, it is far more important to realize that only within this system is democracy possible. When it becomes dominated by a collectivist creed, democracy will inevitably destroy itself.

Ch. 6 : Planning and the Rule of Law

  • The more the state "plans" the more difficult planning becomes for the individual.

Ch. 7 : Economic Control and Totalitarianism

  • What our generation has forgotten is that the system of private property is the most important guarantee of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not. It is only because the control of the means of production is divided among many people acting independently that nobody has complete power over us, that we as individuals can decide what to do with ourselves.
  • To be controlled in our economic pursuits means to be always controlled unless we declare our specific purpose. Or, since when we declare our specific purpose we shall also have to get it approved, we should really controlled in everything.
  • Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest; it is the control of the means for all our ends. And whoever has sole control of the means must also determine which ends are to be served, which values are to be rated higher and which lower, in short, what men should believe and strive for.

Ch. 8 : Who, Whom?

  • The power which a multiple millionaire, who may be my neighbour and perhaps my employer, has over me is very much less than that which the smallest functionaire possesses who wields the coercive power of the state, and on whose discretion it depends whether and how I am to be allowed to live or to work.

Ch. 9 : Security and Freedom

  • There can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody.

Ch. 10 : Why The Worst Get On Top

  • There is, in a competitive society, nobody who can exercise even a fraction of the power which a socialist planning board would possess.
  • The principle that the end justifies the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals. In collectivist ethics it becomes necessarily the supreme rule.

Ch. 11 : The End of Truth

  • The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they, or at least the best among them, have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognized before. The people are made to transfer their allegiance from the old gods to the new under the pretense that the new gods really are what their sound instinct had always told them but what before they had only dimly seen. And the most efficient technique to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning. Few traits of totalitarian regimes are at the same time so confusing to the superficial observer and yet so characteristic of the whole intellectual climate as the complete perversion of language, the change of meaning of the words by which the ideals of the new regimes are expressed.… If one has not oneself experienced this process, it is difficult to appreciate the magnitude of this change of the meaning of words, the confusion it causes, and the barriers to any rational discussion which it creates. It has to be seen to be understood how, if one of two brothers embraces the new faith, after a short while he appears to speak a different language which makes any real communication between them impossible. And the confusion becomes worse because this change of meaning of words describing political ideals is not a single event but a continuous process, a technique employed consciously or unconsciously to direct the people. Gradually, as this process continues, the whole language becomes despoiled, and words become empty shells deprived of any definite meaning, as capable of denoting one thing as its opposite and used solely for the emotional associations which still adhere to them.
  • Even the striving for equality by means of a directed economy can result only in an officially enforced inequality — an authoritarian determination of the status of each individual in the new hierarchical order.

Ch. 14 : Material Conditions and Ideal Ends.

  • Only where we ourselves are responsible for our own interests and are free to sacrifice them has our decision moral value. We are neither entitled to be unselfish at someone else's expense nor is there any merit in being unselfish if we have no choice. The members of a society who in all respects are made to do the good thing have no title to praise.

Ch. 15 : The Prospects of International Order

  • In no other field has the world yet paid so dearly for the abandonment of nineteenth-century liberalism as in the field where the retreat began: in international relations. Yet only a small part of the lesson which experience ought to have taught us has been learned.
    Perhaps even more than elsewhere current notions of what is desirable and practicable are here still of a kind which may well produce the opposite of what they promise.
  • That there is little hope of international order or lasting peace so long as every country is free to employ whatever measures it thinks desirable in its own immediate interest, however damaging they may be to others, needs little emphasis now.
  • It is neither necessary nor desirable that national boundaries should mark sharp differences in standards of living, that membership of a national group should entitle to a share in a cake altogether different from that in which members of other groups share.
  • If the resources of different nations are treated as exclusive properties of these nations as wholes, if international economic relations, instead of being relations between individuals, become increasingly relations between whole nations organized as trading bodies, they inevitably become the source of friction and envy between whole nations.
    It is one of the most fatal illusions that, by substituting negotiations between states or organized groups for competition for markets or for raw materials, international friction would be reduced. This would merely put a contest of force in the place of what can only metaphorically be called the "struggle" of competition and would transfer to powerful and armed states, subject to no superior law, the rivalries which between individuals had to be decided without recourse to force.
    Economic transactions between national bodies who are at the same time the supreme judges of their own behavior, who bow to no superior law, and whose representatives cannot be bound by any considerations but the immediate interest of their respective nations, must end in clashes of power.
  • If we were to make no better use of victory than to countenance existing trends in this direction, only too visible before 1939, we might indeed find that we have defeated National Socialism merely to create a world of many national socialisms, differing in detail, but all equally totalitarian, nationalistic, and in recurrent conflict with each other.
    The Germans would appear as the disturbers of peace, as they already do to some people, merely because they were the first to take the path along which all the others were ultimately to follow.
  • The problems raised by a conscious direction of economic affairs on a national scale inevitably assume even greater dimensions when the same is attempted internationally. The conflict between planning and freedom cannot but become more serious as the similarity of standards and values among those submitted to a unitary plan diminishes.
  • Who imagines that there exist any common ideals of distributive justice such as will make the Norwegian fisherman consent to forego the prospect of economic improvement in order to help his Portuguese fellow, or the Dutch worker to pay more for his bicycle to help the Coventry mechanic, or the French peasant to pay more taxes to assist the industrialization of Italy? If most people are not willing to see the difficulty, this is mainly because, consciously or unconsciously, they assume that it will be they who will settle these questions for the others, and because they are convinced of their own capacity to do this justly and equitably.
  • To undertake the direction of the economic life of people with widely divergent ideals and values is to assume responsibilities which commit one to the use of force; it is to assume a position where the best intentions cannot prevent one from being forced to act in a way which to some of those affected must appear highly immoral. This is true even if we assume the dominant power to be as idealistic and unselfish as we can possibly conceive. But how small is the likelihood that it will be unselfish, and how great are the temptations!
  • What we need and can hope to achieve is not more power in the hands of irresponsible international economic authorities but, on the contrary, a superior political power which can hold the economic interests in check, and in the conflict between them can truly hold the scales, because it is itself not mixed up in the economic game. The need is for an international political authority which, without power to direct the different people what they must do, must be able to restrain them from action which will damage others. The powers which must devolve on an international authority are not the new powers assumed by the states in recent times but that minimum of powers without which it is impossible to preserve peaceful relationships, i.e., essentially the powers of the ultra-liberal "laissez faire" state.
  • It is no accident that on the whole there was more beauty and decency to be found in the life of the small peoples, and that among the large ones there was more happiness and content in proportion as they had avoided the deadly blight of centralization.
    Least of all shall we preserve democracy or foster its growth if all the power and most of the important decisions rest with an organization far too big for the common man to survey or comprehend.
    Nowhere has democracy ever worked well without a great measure of local self-government, providing a school of political training for the people at large as much as for their future leaders.
  • As is true with respect to other great evils, the measures by which war might be made altogether impossible for the future may well be worse than even war itself.
    If we can reduce the risk of friction likely to lead to war, this is probably all we can reasonably hope to achieve.
  • We shall never prevent the abuse of power if we are not prepared to limit power in a way which occasionally may prevent its use for desirable purposes.
  • We shall all be the gainers if we can create a world fit for small states to live in.

Ch. 16 : Conclusion

  • The first need is to free ourselves of that worst form of contemporary obscurantism which tries to persuade us that what we have done in the recent past was all either wise or unavoidable. We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish.
  • Though we neither can wish nor possess the power to go back to the reality of the nineteenth century, we have the opportunity to realize its ideals — and they were not mean. We have little right to feel in this respect superior to our grandfathers; and we should never forget that it is we, the twentieth century, and not they, who have made a mess of things. If they had not yet fully learned what was necessary to create the world they wanted, the experience we have since gained ought to have equipped us better for the task. If in the first attempt to create a world of free men we have failed, we must try again. The guiding principle that a policy of freedom for the individual is the only truly progressive policy remains as true today as it was in the nineteenth century.

Quotes about The Road to Serfdom

  • The empirical and historical data presented above provide a clear challenge to the slippery slope argument that forms the foundation of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. The evidence shows that laissez-faire is inherently unstable – small governments tend to grow larger; that totalitarianism is similarly unstable – totalitarian regimes have not survived in the long run; whereas the mixed economy is relatively stable – the mixed economies of Western Europe and North America whose futures most troubled Hayek have in fact endured since the end of the Second World War and there is no evidence of an imminent threat of regime change.
    • André Azevedo Alves and John Meadowcroft, "Hayek’s Slippery Slope, the Stability of the Mixed Economy and the Dynamics of Rent Seeking", Political Studies (2013).
  • What ultimately matters is not reading Hayek accurately, but instead providing a productive reading of Hayek that can improve our understanding of the principles of political economy that is relevant for us today. Hayek’s emphasis on how alternative institutional arrangements, through their properties to align incentives and utilize dispersed information, impact the choices people make, and the consequences of those choice that will be realized in social interaction provides the basis for a reinvigorated classical liberal political economy research program.
    • Peter J. Boettke, "On reading Hayek: Choice, consequences and The Road to Serfdom", European Journal of Political Economy Vol. 21 (2005).
  • The publication of two books … helped to galvanize the concerns that were beginning to emerge among intellectuals (and many others) about the implications of totalitarianism. One was James Burnham's The Managerial Revolution … [A second] Friedrich A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom … was far more controversial — and influential. Even more than Burnham, Hayek forced into public discourse the question of the compatibility of democracy and statism. And unlike Burnham, he made no pretense of neutrality about the phenomena he described. … In responding to Burnham and Hayek … liberals were in fact responding to a powerful strain of Jeffersonian anti-statism in American political culture … The result was a subtle but important shift in liberal thinking.
    • Alan Brinkley, The End of Reform : New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (1995).
  • George Nash rightly sees the publication of Friedrich A. von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom in 1944 as the first shot in the intellectual battle that was to turn the tide in favor of conservatism. Geoffrey Perret saw the book as "the intellectual success story of the war."
  • I think the Adam Smith role was played in this cycle by Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom.
    • Milton Friedman, on a shift toward emphasis on greater reliance on markets rather than government, in an interview in Forbes Vol. 142 (1988).
  • Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, a surprise bestseller in Britain and in the United States in 1944, was probably the first real inroad in the dominant intellectual view. Yet the impact of the free-market counter-current on the dominant tide of intellectual opinion, though perceptible to those directly involved, was at first minute. Even for those of us who were actively promoting free markets in the 1950s and 1960s it is difficult to recall how strong and pervasive was the intellectual climate of the times.
    • Milton Friedman and Rose Friedman, "The Tide in the Affairs of Men", The Freeman (April 01, 1989)
  • My interest in public policy and political philosophy was rather casual before I joined the faculty of the University of Chicago. Informal discussions with colleagues and friends stimulated a greater interest, which was reinforced by Friedrich Hayek's powerful book The Road to Serfdom, by my attendance at the first meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947, and by discussions with Hayek after he joined the university faculty in 1950. In addition, Hayek attracted an exceptionally able group of students who were dedicated to a libertarian ideology. They started a student publication, The New Individualist Review, which was the outstanding libertarian journal of opinion for some years. I served as an adviser to the journal and published a number of articles in it.
    • Milton Friedman, Two Lucky People : Memoirs (1998) by Milton and Rose Friedman, p. 333
  • With all due respect – Hayek's "Road to Serfdom" never took place. The interventionism he deplored in the 1940s did not lead to the spectre of a totalitarian system that he evoked. During the war, there was central planning – and afterwards there came, on the one hand, new regulations and, on the other hand, deregulations, a step forward and a step back. Hayek's idea that any intervention required new interventions, so that in the end there can only be the planned economy, was refuted by the empirical observation.
  • I have noted above that Hayek is incredibly skimpy about the nature and character of this "road to serfdom" which all modern democracies are on, … Thus we may infer that Alexander Hamilton, who introduced our protective tariff system, was our first socialist starting us down the road to serfdom. Hayek, I hasten to add, does not cite Hamilton, but he does cite Bismarck's adoption of protectionism in 1879 as an early milepost down the road to Nazism. …
    This kind of writing is not scholarship. It is seeing hobgoblins under every bed.
    • Alvin Hansen, "Hayek's "Road to Serfdom"", The New Republic, January 1, 1945.
  • You know, The Road to Serfdom had a great influence on George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm and 1984. In fact, he had reviewed The Road to Serfdom before he wrote these two books.
    On the whole, I still believe in what I said in that book, although it made me frightfully unpopular among my colleagues, particularly in this country. I was more disliked here in this country than in England!
    In England, and in Europe generally, people had started to reflect on the dangerous aspects of socialism. Here the New Deal had created a new enthusiasm for planning, and I seemed to be tearing down the finist ideas of the period. I was hated — intensely disliked — for writing The Road to Serfdom. But I gradually regained my reputation.
  • You see, the English had been aware of these problems, you could accuse me of having exaggerated an argument, but it was not a wholly new conception. Some of the more reflective people-well the fact that Orwell, of course, was arguing at the same time, and I no longer believe this, but I did believe at one time that he was directly inspired by my Road to Serfdom, he had written a review of that book, and I thought it had started him, but it's now clear that by that time he already had the draft of Animal Farm ready. So he must have arrived at this general view independently of anything he learned from it. He was not the only one. This was not a completely new idea. It was an idea to which the English public was somewhat prepared.
  • If planning was wrong for Hayek, this was because it was obliged to base itself on calculations and predictions which were essentially meaningless and thus irrational. Planning was not a moral misstep, much less undesirable on some general principle. It was simply unworkable—and, had he been consistent, Hayek would have acknowledged that much the same applied to ‘scientific’ theories of the market mechanism.
    The difference, of course, was that planning required enforcement if it was to work as intended, and thus led directly to dictatorship—Hayek’s real target. The efficient market might be a myth, but at least it did not entail coercion from above. All the same, Hayek’s dogmatic rejection of all central control invited the charge of ... dogmatism.
    • Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land (2010), Ch. 3 : The Unbearable Lightness of Politics
  • Hayek is quite explicit on this count: if you begin with welfare policies of any sort—directing individuals, taxing for social ends, engineering the outcomes of market relationships—you will end up with Hitler. […] Thus, rather than run such a risk, democracies should avoid all forms of intervention which distort the properly apolitical mechanisms of a market economy. […] This is the political autism of Hayek, manifest in that inability to distinguish the different politics that he didn’t like from one another.
    • Tony Judt, in Tony Judt and Timothy Snyder, Thinking the Twentieth Century (2012), Ch. 9 : The Banality of Good: Social Democrat
  • In my opinion it is a grand book … Morally and philosophically I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it: and not only in agreement with it, but in deeply moved agreement.
    • John Maynard Keynes to Hayek, June 28, 1944, reprinted in John Maynard Keynes, Activities 1940–1946. Shaping the Post-War World: Employment and Commodities, ed. Donald Moggridge, vol. 27 (1980) of The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes
  • I come finally to what is really my only serious criticism of the book. You admit here and there that it is a question of knowing where to draw the line. You agree that the line has to be drawn somewhere [between free-enterprise and planning], and that the logical extreme is not possible. But you give us no guidance whatever as to where to draw it. In a sense this is shirking the practical issue. It is true that you and I would probably draw it in different places. I should guess that according to my ideas you greatly underestimate the practicability of the middle course. But as soon as you admit that the extreme is not possible, and that a line has to be drawn, you are, on your own argument, done for since you are trying to persuade us that as soon as one moves an inch in the planned direction you are necessarily launched on the slippery path which will lead you in due course over the precipice.
    • John Maynard Keynes to Hayek, June 28, 1944, reprinted in John Maynard Keynes, Activities 1940–1946. Shaping the Post-War World: Employment and Commodities, ed. Donald Moggridge, vol. 27 (1980) of The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes
  • I should therefore conclude your theme rather differently. I should say that what we want is not no planning, or even less planning, indeed I should say we almost certainly want more. But the planning should take place in a community in which as many people as possible, both leaders and followers wholly share your own moral position. Moderate planning will be safe enough if those carrying it out are rightly oriented in their own minds and hearts to the moral issue. This is in fact already true of some of them. But the curse is that there is also an important section who could almost be said to want planning not in order to enjoy its fruits but because morally they hold ideas exactly the opposite of yours, and wish to serve not God but the devil. … What we need therefore, in my opinion, is not a change in our economic programmes, which would only lead in practice to disillusion with the results of your philosophy; but perhaps even the contrary, namely, an enlargement of them. Your greatest danger ahead is the probable practical failure of the application of your philosophy in the US in a fairly extreme form. No, what we need is the restoration of right moral thinking - a return to proper moral values in our social philosophy. If only you could turn your crusade in that direction you would not look of feel quite so much like Don Quixote. I accuse you of perhaps confusing a little bit the moral and the material issues. Dangerous acts can be done safely in a community which thinks and feels rightly, which would be the way to hell if they were execute by those who think and feel wrongly.
    • John Maynard Keynes to Hayek, June 28, 1944, reprinted in John Maynard Keynes, Activities 1940–1946. Shaping the Post-War World: Employment and Commodities, ed. Donald Moggridge, vol. 27 (1980) of The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes
  • It also seems to follow from the preceding observations that there is some question about the notion, frequently encountered among conservative politicians and social scientists, (see, for example, Friedrich Hayek's famous The Road to Serfdom), that nationalization of capital will necessarily lead to dictatorship. Historically, the order in which nationalization and dictatorship have occurred seems rather to have been the reverse of that suggested by Hayek. In all communist dictatorships today, dictatorship came first and nationalization afterward, rather than the other way around (except for the Soviet Union, where nationalization and the present form of dictatorship came simultaneously).
    • Assar Lindbeck, The Political Economy of the New Left (1971), p.64
  • This is, perhaps, the main significance of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom—not the cogency of his doctrine, but the fact that it is a doctrine. A plan to resist all planning may be better than its opposite, but it belongs to the same style of politics. And only in a society already deeply infected with Rationalism will the conversion of the traditional resources of resistance to the tyranny of Rationalism into a self-conscious ideology be considered a strengthening of those resources. It seems that now, in order to participate in politics and expect a hearing, it is necessary to have, in the strict sense, a doctrine; not to have a doctrine appears frivolous, even disreputable. And the sanctity, which in some societies was the property of a politics piously attached to traditional ways, has now come to belong exclusively to rationalist politics.
    • Michael Oakeshott, "Rationalism and Politics" (1947), published in Rationalism in Politics and other essays (1962)
  • Professor Hayek is also probably right in saying that in this country the intellectuals are more totalitarian-minded than the common people. But he does not see, or will not admit, that a return to ‘free’ competition means for the great mass of people a tyranny probably worse, because more irresponsible, than that of the State. The trouble with competitions is that somebody wins them. Professor Hayek denies that free capitalism necessarily leads to monopoly, but in practice that is where it has led, and since the vast majority of people would far rather have State regimentation than slumps and unemployment, the drift towards collectivism is bound to continue if popular opinion has any say in the matter.
    • George Orwell, Review by Orwell: The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek / The Mirror of the Past by K. Zilliacus, Observer, 9 April 1944.
  • Von Hayek was wrong. In strong and vibrant democracies, a generous social-welfare state is not a road to serfdom but rather to fairness, economic equality and international competitiveness.
    • Jeffrey D. Sachs, "Welfare States, Beyond Ideology", Scientific American 295, 42 (2006)
  • Libertarians are not just bad emotional cripples. They are also bad advice givers. I refer of course to the views of both Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. The “serfdom” they warn against is not that of Genghis Khan or Lenin-Stalin-Mao or Hitler-Mussolini. Rather, they warn against the centrist states of the modern world. Think only of Switzerland, Britain, the US, the Scandinavian countries, and the Pacific Rim. Why do citizenries there report high indexes of “happiness” and enjoy broad freedoms of speech and belief?
    • Paul A. Samuelson, “The Dynamic Moving Center.” Spiegel Online International, November 12, 2008.
  • What exactly was the road to serfdom that Hayek and Friedman warned us against? They were arguing against social security, a minimum wage, national parks, progressive taxation, and government rules to clean up the environment or slow global warming. People who live in high-income societies support these programs with great majorities. Such mixed economies involve both the rule of law and the limited liberty to compete.
    • Paul A. Samuelson, "A Centrist Proclamation" (February 2009), in Paul A. Samuelson and William D. Nordhaus, Economics (19th ed., 2010)
  • In The Road to Serfdom, he gave powerful reason to indicate why explicit provision has to be made by the state and the society for the deprived and the dispossessed. While Hayek is often taken to be uncompromisingly hostile to any economic role of the state (other than what is needed to support the market mechanism), and certainly late in his life he gave grounds for thinking that this could indeed be his view, nevertheless in The Road to Serfdom Hayek's position is much broader and inclusive than that. Now that the welfare state is often under such attack, it is worth recollecting that the pioneering manifesto that championed the market mechanism on grounds of freedom did not reject the need for a welfare state and provided a reasoned defence of it as an institutional necessity.
    • Amartya Sen, "An insight into the purpose of prosperity", Financial Times (September 20, 2004)
  • Hayek’s warning was dead wrong. Most rich countries tried some form of Keynes’s policies in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, and while they didn’t always work as advertised, they most definitely did not lead to totalitarianism. Yet somehow Hayek’s meme entered our collective consciousness. On blogs and in the financial media, where politics and economics mix freely, self-described "Austrians" kept using the word "Keynesian" as a political epithet, the way National Review writers or Fox News anchors use the word "liberal."
  • The 20th Century looked for many decades as if it were going to be the century of collectivism … Anyone who would have predicted the reversal of this trend … would have been considered mad just a dozen years ago. Innumerable factors led to [the reversal of the rise of collectivism], not the least of which was the bitter experience of seeing 'rational planning' degenerate into economic chaos and Utopian dreams turn into police-state nightmares. Still, it takes a vision to beat a vision … An alternative vision had to become viable before the reversal of the collectivist tide could begin with Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the United States. That vision came from many sources, but if one point in time could mark the beginning of the intellectual turning of the tide which made later political changes possible, it was the publication of The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich A. Hayek.
  • It is a fair reading of The Road to Serfdom to say that forty years more of the march toward socialism would lead to major losses of the political and economic freedom of individuals. Yet in those forty years we have seen that continuous expansion of the state in Sweden and England, even in Canada and the United States, without consequences for personal freedom so dire as those he predicted.
  • I find the historical origins of Hayek terribly puzzling. He was in Austria, where a conservative, authoritarian Catholic state declared itself in favor of something called corporatism. This was a kind of pose which announced itself as political economy, but it had no political economy. Corporatism was the name of the state ideology, but corporatism in Austria was a partnership between the government and various parts of society. There was very little in the way of interventionist fiscal or monetary policy.
    • Timothy Snyder, in Tony Judt and Timothy Snyder, Thinking the Twentieth Century (2012), Ch. 9 : The Banality of Good: Social Democrat
  • The most powerful critique of socialist planning and the socialist state which I read at this time [the late 1940's], and to which I have returned so often since [is] F. A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom.

Alan Ebenstein, Hayek's Journey: The Mind of Friedrich Hayek (2003)


  Encyclopedic article on The Road to Serfdom on Wikipedia

Friedrich Hayek
Concepts and career Business cycle theory · Dispersed knowledge · Extended order · Spontaneous order
Books Prices and Production (1931) · The Road to Serfdom (1944) · Individualism and Economic Order (1948) · The Counter-Revolution of Science (1952) · The Sensory Order (1952) · The Constitution of Liberty (1960) · Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (1967) · Law, Legislation and Liberty (1973) · The Denationalization of Money (1975) · New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas (1978) · The Fatal Conceit (1988)
Notable essays "The Use of Knowledge in Society" (1945) · "Why I Am Not a Conservative" (1960) · "The Pretence of Knowledge" (1974)
Commentators Alan O. Ebenstein · Bruce Caldwell
Other topics On evolution · On dictatorship · On John Maynard Keynes