TCS Daily

To 'The Socialists in All Parties'

By Carlos Ball - March 10, 2004 12:00 AM

On March 10, 1944, when Friedrich Hayek published The Road to Serfdom, the 20th century seemed very advanced on its way to becoming the apogee of collectivism. Hayek was born in Vienna in 1899, and when he was a teenager people could travel almost everywhere without passports, visas or work permits. Empires and kingdoms were still the rule, but free trade under British leadership and the gold standard meant relatively small governments and real personal freedom for a large proportion of the population of the Western World. The concentration of political and economic power in the hands of politicians promoted by the two world wars and guided by the Fabian socialists in the U.K. and the New Deal in the U.S. was soon to change that.

Hayek was invited to the London School of Economics in 1931 and became a British citizen in 1938. The London School of Economics moved to Cambridge during the Second World War and it was there that he wrote this book, dedicated to "the socialists of all parties," and which many consider to have started the turning of the tide against socialism.

The modern welfare state had evolved from Bismarck's Germany, with the regulation of private enterprise, government intervention in people's lives, and the development of state health coverage and pension plans. Hayek argued, to the dismay of the intelligentsia, that Nazism, far from being an extremist movement, really was the "culmination of a long evolution of thought... simply collectivism freed from all traces of individualist tradition."

In Hayek's words:

"The 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 now    wish it would be prepared to accept the consequences... the ideals of    social justice, greater equality, and security... are the ultimate aims of    socialism... [But] socialism means the abolition of private enterprise, of private ownership of the means of production, and the creation of a system of 'planned economy'..."

In Latin America today, the apparent success of socialism and loud denunciation of capitalism and globalization is the culmination of the movement towards collectivism accomplished by both Social Democrats and Christian Democrats over the past few decades. Hayek correctly believed that even under a relatively mild form of socialism the love of liberty is extinguished. Today, the Latin Social Democrats and Christian Democrats are being displaced by extremists such as Chávez, Kirchner, and Lula, who hope that a good part of the population has by now forgotten what individual freedom really means.

Only 2,000 copies of the first edition were published in England, and then Hayek asked his friend and fellow Austrian economist Fritz Machlup, then working in Washington, for help in getting it published in this country. But there was little interest and one publisher said it was "unfit for publication." It was finally published by the University of Chicago and then Henry Hazlitt wrote a glorious review for the New York Times Book Review, declaring that "Friedrich Hayek has written one of the most important books of our generation... It is a strange stroke of irony that the great British liberal tradition, the tradition of Locke and Milton, of Adam Smith and Hume, of Macaulay and Mill and Morley, of Acton and Dicey, should find in England its ablest contemporary defender -- not in a native Englishman but in an Austrian exile."

Soon afterwards, a condensation of the book was published in the first 20 pages of the April 1945 issue of the Reader's Digest, which had a circulation of 8 million, of which 1.5 million went to American soldiers. But the Allied Occupation authorities in Germany did not allow the publication of The Road to Serfdom in that country, in order not to offend the Soviets.

Hayek later said:

"After the publication of The Road to Serfdom, I was invited to give many lectures. During my travels in Europe as well as in the United States, nearly everywhere I went I met someone who told me that he fully agreed with me, but that at the same time he felt totally isolated in his views and had nobody with whom he could even talk about them. This gave me the idea of bringing these people, each of whom was living in great solitude, together in one place. And by a stroke of luck I was able to raise the money to accomplish this."

In April 1947, 39 economists, political scientists, historians, and journalists met in the Swiss Alps, at the village of Mont Pèlerin to discuss the threats to freedom. Among them: John Davenport, S. R. Denninson, Aaron Director, Walter Eucken, Milton Friedman, F. A. Harper, Henry Hazlitt, Albert Hunold, B. de Jouvenel, Frank H. Knight, Fritz Machlup, Ludwig von Mises, Michael Polanyi, Karl Popper, Leonard Read, Lionel C. Robbins, Wilhelm Roepke, and George Stigler.

The Mont Pèlerin Society was then born under the leadership of Professor Hayek, who was to receive the Nobel Prize in economics in 1974. He lived to see the collapse of the Soviet Union, and died in 1992.

The last time I saw Professor Hayek was at the Mont Pèlerin Society meeting in Queens' College, Cambridge in 1984, when we were celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Road to Serfdom as well as George Orwell's 1984. To write this column, I have been going over the volume he autographed for me on that occasion.

Mr. Ball is editor of AIPE, a Spanish-language news organization based in Florida, an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute, and frequent TCS contributor.


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