Friedrich Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom”: Why democratic socialism can’t last long

I have been meaning to pick up the works of Friedrich Hayek for a while now. I initially stumbled upon him in the “School of Life” series on Political Thinkers. His name kept coming up, first in “Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought” and again in another book still on my to-read list “10 Books Every Conservative Must Read.”

“The Road to Serfdom” seemed like a good start. To put the book into context, Hayek was an Austrian economist born in 1899. He wrote “The Road to Serfdom” between 1940-43 as World War II was raging, worried about the road Britain would take following the war. During war time, inevitably some freedoms must be sacrificed to mobilize the economy, but he was afraid Britain wouldn’t be able to fully transition back to a liberal economy, and make compromises with the socialist methods that they had been fighting against during the war. This is what he calls the road to serfdom, a road paved with the best of intentions.



This book was an amazing treatise on the methods, the aims, and the unintended consequences of socialism. There were some things I was surprised to learn as I read. The book doesn’t fit neatly into the dichotomy of American political parties. He chastises big government and big business, showing that both lead inevitably to the same conclusion of concentrated power. Many of the warnings he wrote about nearly 80 years ago sound eerily familiar to some of the goings-on on the political scene now. It left you feeling that we too could be on the road to serfdom.

Hayek is an advocate of old-school liberalism. This is different than what the word liberal actually means today in common parlance. Hayek defines the central tenet of liberalism so:

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.

This means in practice respecting the rights of individuals, which requires limiting the centralization of power in government. This results in a economy that is based on competition. But he makes clear this doesn’t necessarily mean a laissez-faire economy. In fact, he recommends minimum wage laws and a limited security net.

But what he takes to task is the rise of a “new freedom” or “economic freedom” or “freedom from want.” This new freedom isn’t freedom in the old sense, but is desire for security. But security and freedom can’t be completely reconciled. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

I don’t want to re-write the book here for you, but I wanted to highlight a few themes I found particularly striking:

Unrealistic expectations. You have to realize that there are certain limits on what society can accomplish, both economic constraints and the constraints of democratic society. In the first case, we can’t implement all our good ideas without recognizing the cost, and that they may be unrealizable– either with our current technology, or perhaps totally impossible. In the second case, in a democratic society, you should ideally only implement ideas that everyone can agree on. If not, it becomes the tyranny of the majority– of of the largest minority if that can’t be achieved.

Power and organization mean the same thing. “When authority presents itself in the guise of organization, it develops charms fascinating enough to convert communities of free people into totalitarian states.” It does sound great to give the government the power to give everyone medical care, to provide everyone a pension when they get old, etc. But the more you give to the government, the more power they exercise over your lives.

Monopolies are just as bad concentrations of power as big government. Big corporations wield enormous power, and in the end give way to totalitarian governments just like socialist states do. Monopolies aren’t inevitable, and usually arise not from competitive forces, but from government sponsorship of existing businesses.

Just delegating power to scientific experts sounds like a good idea, but it isn’t. Scientists have their pet research that they value above all else. They are another special interest group. They push for unity of thought– you have to agree with what we say, because it’s not an opinion; it’s science.

The ends do not justify the means. Socialism’s end is economic security, the welfare of the whole. But the end is uses is coercion by the state. The idea that you can implement socialist policies and retain individual freedom is a fairy tale.

Nazi Germany and Communist USSR weren’t exceptions to the rule, but the logical conclusion of socialist policies. We often think that Hitler was an accidental aberration. Do we think that Nazism was just anti-Semitism? No, it was national socialism.

I cannot recommend this book enough. In our current intellectual climate, you would think conservatism doesn’t have an legitimate arguments that hold water. But this is it. I actually don’t think that many political opinions in our day are held based on arguments, but rather on their emotional investment. We like to think our political opinions make us good people: “[There is] an increasing tendency among modern men to imagine themselves ethical because they have delegated their vices to larger and larger groups.” We should put more investment into why we advocate the things we do, and we should start at their philosophical roots.



The abandoned road

Mere hatred of everything German instead of the particular ideas which now dominate the Germans is, moreover, very dangerous, because it blinds those who indulge in it against a real threat. It is to be feared that this attitude is frequently merely a kind of escapism, caused by an unwillingness to recognize tendencies which are not confined to Germany and by a reluctance to re-examine, and if necessary to discard, beliefs which we have taken over from the Germans and by which we are still as much deluded as the Germans were.

When ‘society’ and ‘the good of the whole’ and ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’ are made the overmastering touchstones of state action, no individual can plan his own existence… If the rights of the individual get in the way, the rights of the individual must go.

What in the future will probably appear the most significant and far-reaching effect of this success is the new sense of power over their own fate, the belief in the unbounded possibilities of improving their own lot, which the success already achieved created among men. With the success grew ambition– and man had every right to be ambitious. What had been an inspiring promise seemed no longer enough, the rate of progress far too slow; and the principles which had made this progress possible in the past came to be regarded more as obstacles to speedier progress, impatiently to be brushed away, than as the conditions for the preservation and development of what had already been achieved.

The old definition of liberalism
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.

Democracy as an essentially individualist institution stood in an irreconcilable conflict with socialism.

De Tocqueville: “Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom; socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”

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.

To the great apostles of political freedom the word had meant freedom for coercion, freedom from the arbitrary power of other men, release from the ties which left the individual no choice but obedience to the orders of a superior to whom he was attached. The new freedom promised, however, was to be freedom from necessity, release from the compulsion of the circumstances which inevitably limit the range of choice of all of us, although for some very much more than for others. Before man could be truly free, the “despotism of physical want” had to be broken, the “restraints of the economic system” relaxed.

The demand for the new freedom was thus only another name for the old demand for an equal distribution of wealth.

And although the word [freedom] was used in a different sense by the two groups [liberals and socialists], few people noticed this and still fewer asked themselves whether the two kinds of freedom promised could really be combined.

Individualism and Collectivism

Though all the changes we are observing tend in the direction of a comprehensive central direction of economic activity, the universal struggle against competition promises to produce in the first instance something in many respects even worse, a state of affairs which can satisy neither planners nor liberals: a sort of syndicalist or “corporative” organization of industry, in which competition is more or less suppressed but planning is left in the hands of the independent monopolies of the separate industries.

The “Inevitability” of Planning

Three arguments: (1) technological changes have made competition impossible; cheaper when its done in bulk, (2) Complexity of our modern industrial civilization creates new problems which we cannot hope to deal with effectively except by central planning; (3) it will be impossible to make use of many of the new technological possibilities unless protection against competition is granted.

It should be noted, moreover, that monopoly is frequently the product of factors other than the lower costs of greater size. It is attained through collusive agreement and promoted by public policies When these agreements are invalidated and when these policies are reversed, competitive conditions can be restored.

Anyone who has observed how aspiring monopolists regularly seek and frequently obtain the assistance of the power of the state to make their control effective can have little doubt that there is nothing inevitable about this development.

There is little question that almost every one of the technical ideals of our experts could be realized within a comparatively short time if to achieve them were made the sole aim of humanity. There is an infinite number of good things, which we all agree are highly desirable as well as possible, but of which we cannot hope to achieve more than a few within our lifetime, or which we can hope to achieve only very imperfectly. It is the frustration of his ambitions in his own field which makes the specialist revolt against the existing order. We all find it difficult to bear to see thing left undone which everybody must admit are both desirable and possible. [Think global warming, population control, etc]

In our predilections and interests we are all in some measure specialists. And we think that our personal order of values is not merely personal but that in a free discussion among rational people we would convince the others that ours is the right one. The lover of the countryside who wants above all that its traditional appearance should be preserved and that the blots already made by industry on its fair face should be removed, no less than the health enthusiast who wants all the picturesque but insanitary old cottages cleared away, or the motorist who wishes the country cut up by big motor roads, the efficiency fanatic who desires the maximum of specialization and mechanization no less than the idealist who for the development of personality wants to preserve as many independent craftsmen as possible, all know that their aim can be fully achieved only by planning. [How advocates for socialism can be present on either side of the aisle, and you have to be content with not imposing your views on everyone else]

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.

Planning and Democracy

Socialism ignores the rights of individuals for the good of the whole
Socialists define socialism as “the deliberate organization of the labors of society for a definite social goal.” But they all differ from liberalism “in wanting to organize the whole society and all its resources for this unitary end and in refusing to recognize autonomous spheres in which the ends of the individuals are supreme. In short, they are totalitarian in the true sense of this new word which we have adopted to describe the unexpected but nevertheless inseparable manifestations of what in theory we call collectivism.”

“To direct all our activities according to a single plan presupposes that every one of our needs is given its rank in an order of values which must be complete enough to make it possible to decide among all the different courses which the planner has to choose. It presupposes, in short, the existence of a complete ethical code in which all the different human values are allotted their due place.”

Individualism “limits such common action to the instances where individual views coincide; 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.”

We can unfortunately not indefinitely extend the sphere of common action and still leave the individual free in his own sphere. Once the communal sector, in which the state controls all the means, exceeds a certain proportion of the whole, the effects of its actions dominate the whole system.

Large political parties make us agree on more topics than we normally would using our own choice!
It is not difficult to see what must be the consequences when democracy embarks upon a course of planning which in its execution requires more and more agreement than in fact exists… 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.

The inability of democratic assemblies to carry out what seems to be a clear mandate of the people will inevitably cause dissatisfaction with democratic institutions… The conviction grows that if efficient planning is to be done, the direction must be “taken out of politics” and placed in the hands of experts– permanent officials or independent autonomous bodies.

The argument for rationality is typically morphs into an argument against diversity of thought: “if you were a sane person subject to reason, then you would not make such a choice.”

“The fault is neither with the individual representatives nor with parliamentary institutions as such but with the contradictions inherent in the task with which they are charged. They are not asked to act where they can agree, but to produce agreement on everything– the whole direction of the resources of the nation.”

“This does not mean that… the inability of parliaments to understand the technical detail is the root of the difficulty… The fact is that in these fields legislation does not go beyond general rules on which true majority agreement can be achieved, while in the direction of economic activity the interests to be reconciled are so divergent that no true agreement is likely to be reached in a democratic assembly.”

“Yet agreement that planning is necessary, together with the inability of democratic assemblies to produce a plan, will evoke stronger and stronger demands that the government or some single individual should be given power to act on their own responsibility.”

Democracy isn’t the main value threatened but individual liberty
“The fashionable concentration on democracy as the main value threatened is not without danger. It is largely responsible for the misleading and unfounded belief that, so long as the ultimate source of power is the will of the majority, the power cannot be arbitrary… If democracy resolved on a task which necessarily involves the use of power which cannot be guided by fixed rules, it must become arbitrary power.”

Planning and the Rule of Law

Rule of law: “Government in all its actions is bound by rules fixed and announced beforehand– rules which make it possible to foresee with fair certainty how the authority will use its coercive powers in given circumstances and to plan one’s individual affairs on the basis of this knowledge.”

Setting rules and letting ends come as they arise, versus determining ends and changing rules as needed
“Under [the Rule of Law] the government confines itself to fixing rules determining the conditions under which the available resources may be used, leaving to the individuals the decision for what ends they are to be used. Under [arbitrary government] the government directs the use of the means of production to particular ends.”

“The widespread confusion about the concept of “privilege” and its consequent abuse. To mention only the most important instance of this abuse– the application of the term “privilege” to property as such. It would indeed be privilege if, for example, as has sometimes been the case in the past, landed property were reserved to members of the nobility. And it is privilege if, as is true in our time, the right to produce or sell particular things is reserved to particular people designated by the authority. But to call private property as such, which all can acquire under the same rules, a privilege, because only some succeed in acquiring it, is depriving the word “privilege” of its meaning.”

“‘Man is free if he needs to obey no person, but solely the laws.’… The idea that there is no limit to the powers of the legislator is in part a result of popular sovereignty and democratic government. It has been strengthened by the belief that, so long as all actions of the state are duly authorized by legislation, the Rule of Law will be preserved. But this is to completely to misconceive the meaning of the Rule of Law… The fact that someone has full legal authority to act in the way he does gives no answer to the question whether the law gives him power to act arbitrarily or whether the law prescribes unequivocally how he has to act.”

This sounds like the FCC, among many others… damn bureaucracy.
“Constantly the broadest powers are conferred on new authorities which, without being bound by fixed rules, have almost unlimited discretion in regulating this or that activity of the people.”

Economic control and totalitarianism

Solution to the problem of Masterpiece Cake Shop
“Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to another. But if we face a monopolist we are at his mercy. And an authority directing the whole economic system would be the most powerful monopolist conceivable.”

Choosing where to spend our money isn’t enough. The government can’t control all of production either.
“The power conferred by the control of production and prices is almost unlimited. In a competitive society the prices we have to pay for a thing, the rate at which we can get one thing for another, depend on the quantities of other things of which by taking one, we deprive the other members of society. This price is not determined by the conscious will of anybody… In a directed economy, where the authority watches over the ends pursued, it is certain that it would use its powers to assist some ends and to prevent the realization of others. Not our own view, but somebody else’s, of what we ought to like or dislike would determine what we should get. And since the authority would have the power to thwart any efforts to elude its guidance, it would control what we consume almost as effectively as if it directly told us how to spend our income.”

I’m glad he’s willing to admit that the rich have the upper hand in our current competitive system, which isn’t perfect:
“The choice is open to us is not between a system in which everybody will get what he deserves according to some absolute and universal standard of right, and one where the individual shares are determined party by accident or good or ill chance, but between a system where it is the will of a few persons that decides who gets what, and one where it depends at least partly on the ability and enterprise of the people concerned and partly on unforeseeable circumstances. This is no less relevant because in a system of free enterprise chances are not equal, since such a system is necessarily based on private property and (though perhaps not with the same necessity) on inheritance, with the differences in opportunity which these create. There is, indeed, a strong case for reducing this inequality of opportunity as far as congenital differences permit and as it is possible to do so without destroying the impersonal character of the process by which everybody has to take his chance and no person’s view about what is right and desirable overrules that of others.”

Who, Whom?
In a socialist society, how do you decide who gets what? It pretty much comes down to just taking from the rich.

While absolute equality would clearly determine the planner’s task, the desire for greater equality is merely negative, no more than an expression of dislike for the present state of affairs; and so long as we are not prepared to say that every move in the direction toward complete equality is desirable, it answers scarcely any of the questions the planner will have to decide.

John Stuart Mill: “A fixed rule like that of equality, might be acquiesced in, and so might chance, or an external necessity; but that a handful of human beings should weigh everybody in the balance, and give more to one and less to another at their sole pleasure and judgement, would not be borne unless from persons believed to be more than men, and backed by supernatural terrors.”

The danger of not allowing different political views!
It was not the Fascists but the socialists who began to collect children from the tenderest age into political organization to make sure that they grew up as good proletarians. It was not the Fascists but the socialists who first thought of organizing sports and games, football and hiking, in party clubs where members would not be infected by other views.”

Labor socialism has grown in a democratic and liberal world, adapting its tactics to it and taking over many of the ideals o liberalism. Its protagonists still believed that the creation of socialism as such would solve all problems. Fascism and National Socialism, on the other hand, grew out of the experience of an increasingly regulated society’s awakening to the fact that democratic and international socialism was aiming at incompatible ideals… They had no illusions about the possibility of a democratic solution of problems which require more agreement among people than can be reasonably expected… They knew that the strongest group which rallied enough supporters in favor of a new hierarchical order of society, and which frankly promised privileges to the classes to which it appealed, was likely to obtain the support of all those who were disappointed because they had been promised equality but found that they had merely furthered the interest of a particular class.

Security and freedom
Benjamin Franklin: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Economic security is often represented as an indispensable condition of real liberty. In a sense this is both true and important. Independence of mind or strength of character is rarely found among those who cannot be confident that they will make their way by their own effort. Yet the idea of economic security is no less vague and ambiguous than most other terms in the field; and because of this the general approval given to this demand for security may well become a danger to liberty.

Two kinds of security:
Limited: security against severe physical privation, the certainty of a given minimum of sustenance for all
Absolute: the security of a given standard of life, or of the relative position which one person or group enjoys compared to others, or the security of a minimum income and the security of the particular income a person is thought to deserve.

D. C. Coyle: “In order to do an engineering job, there ought to be surrounding the work a comparatively large area of unplanned economic action. There should be a place from which workers can be drawn, and when a worker is fired he should vanish from the job and from the pay-roll. In the absence of such a free reservoir discipline cannot be maintained without corporal punishment, as with slave labor.”

Either both the choice and the risk rest with the individual or he is relieved of both.

Those who are willing to surrender their freedom for security have always demanded that if they give up their full freedom it should also be taken from those not prepared to do so.

It is no longer independence but security which gives rank and status, the certain right to a pension more than confidence in his making good which makes a young man eligible for marriage, while insecurity becomes the dreaded state of the pariah in which those who in their youth have been refused admission to the haven of a salaried position remain for life.

This development has been hastened by another effect of socialist teaching, the deliberate disparagement of all activities involving economic risk and the moral opprobrium cast on the gains which make risks worth taking but which only few can win. We cannot blame our young men when they prefer the safe, salaried position to the risk of enterprise after they have heard from their earliest youth the former described as superior, more unselfish and disinterested occupation. The younger generation of today has grown up in a world in which in school and press the spirit of commercial enterprise has been represented as disreputable and the making of profit as immoral, where to employ a hundred people is represented as exploitation but to command the same number as honorable.

Where distinction and rank are almost exclusively by becoming a salaried servant of the state, where to do one’s assigned duty is regarded as more laudable than to choose one’s own field of usefulness, where all pursuits that do not give a recognized place in the official hierarchy or a claim to a fixed income are regarded as inferior and even somewhat disreputable, it is too much to expect that many will long prefer freedom to security… Once things have gone so far, liberty indeed becomes almost a mockery, since it can be purchased only by the sacrifice of most of the good things of this earth.

Some security is essential if freedom is to be preserved, because most men are willing to bear the risk which freedom inevitably involves only so long as that risk is not too great. But while this is a truth of which we must never lose sight, nothing is more fatal than the present fashion among intellectual leaders of extolling security at the expense of freedom.

Why the worst get on top

Just as the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with teh alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian dictator would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure.

The position which precedes the suppression of democratic institutions and the creation of a totalitarian regime: In this stage it is the general demand for quick and determined government action that is the dominating element of the situation, dissatisfaction with the slow and cumbersome course of democratic procedure which makes action for action’s sake the goal… It is then the man or the party who seems strong and resolute enough “to get things done” who exercises the greatest appeal.

The chance of imposing a totalitarian regime on a whole people depends on the leader’s first collecting round him a group which is prepared voluntarily to submit to that totalitarian discipline which they are to impose by force upon the rest.

Three reasons why such a numerous and strong group with fairly homogeneous views is not likely to be formed by the best but rather by the worst elements of any society:

(1) If we wish to find a high degree of uniformity and similarity of outlook, we have to descend to the regions of lower moral and intellectual standards where the more primitive and “common” instincts and tastes prevail… the lowest common denominator which unites the largest number of people.

(2) He will be able to obtain the support of all the docile and gullible, who have no strong convictions of their own but are prepared to accept a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently.

(3) It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program– on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off– than on any positive task. The contrast between the “we” and the “they”, the common fight against those outside the group, seems to be an essential ingredient in any creed which will solidly knit together a group for common action.

Why the Jews were the scapegoats in Germany:
In Germany and Austria the Jew had come to be regarded as the representative of capitalism because a traditional dislike of large classes of the population for commercial pursuits had left these more readily accessible to a group that was practically excluded from the more highly esteemed occupations. It is the old story of the alien race’s being admitted only to the less respected trades and then being hated still more for practicing them.

The desire of the individual to identify himself with a group is very frequently the result of a feeling of inferiority and that therefore his want will be satisfied only if membership of the group confers some superiority over outsiders. Sometimes, it seems, the very fact that these violent instincts which the individual knows he must curb within the group can be given a free range in the collective action toward the outsider, becomes a further inducement for merging personality in that of the group.

Reinold Niebuhr: There is “an increasing tendency among modern men to imagine themselves ethical because they have delegated their vices to larger and larger groups.” To act on behalf of a group seems to free people of many of the moral restraints which control their behavior as individuals within the group.

In order to achieve their end, collectivists must create power– power over men wielded by other men– of a magnitude never before known, and that their success will depend on the extent to which they achieve such power.

To split or decentralize power is necessarily to reduce the absolute amount of power, and the competitive system is the only system designed to minimize by decentralization the power exercised by man over man.

[The collectivist system] does not leave the individual conscience free to apply its own rules and does not even know any general rules which the individual is required or allowed to observe in all circumstances.

Me: In socialism, the ends always justify the means, and that is what is so scary about it! Nearly anything can be justified.

The end of truth

The danger of modern echo chambers:
If all the sources of current information are effectively under one single control, it is no longer a question of merely persuading the people of this or that. The skillful propogandist then has power to mold their minds in any direction he chooses, and even the most intelligent and independent people cannot entirely escape that influence if they are long isolated from all other sources of information.

“There is no real freedom of thought in our society, so it is said, because the opinions and tastes of the masses are shaped by propoganda, by advertising, by the example of the upper classes, and by other environmental factors which inevitably force the thinking of the people into well-worn grooves. From this it is concluded that if the ideals and tastes of the great majority are always fashioned by circumstances which we can control, we ought to use this power deliberately to turn the thoughts of the people in what we think is a desirable direction.”

Is science potentially being used as a weapon to try to limit thought? More areas that weren’t considered the realm of science are now being sought to be included in its umbrella. I think this is a dangerous direction.
The interaction of individuals, possessing different knowledge and different views, is what constitutes the life of thought… That the human mind ought “consciously” to control its own development confuses individual reason, which alone can “consciously control” anything, with the interpersonal process to which its growth is due. By attempting to control it, we are merely setting bounds to its development and must sooner or later produce a stagnation of thought and decline of reason.

The socialist roots of Naziism

It is a common mistake to regard National Socialism as a mere revolt against reason, an irrational movement without intellectual background. If that were so, the movement would be much less dangerous than it is. But nothing could be further from the truth… Whatever one may think of the premises from which they started, it cannot be denied that the men who produced the new doctrines were powerful writers who left the impress of their own ideas on the whole of European thought.

Organization is to all socialists who derive their socialism from a crude application of scientific ideals to the problems of society, the essence of socialism.

The totalitarians in our midst

The London Times: “When authority presents itself in the guise of organization, it develops charms fascinating enough to convert communities of free people into totalitarian states.”

Probably it is true that the very magnitude of the outrages committed by totalitarian governments, instead of increasing the fear that such a system might one day arise in more enlightened countries, has rather strengthened the assurance that it cannot happen here. When we look to Nazi Germany, the gulf which separates us seems so immense that nothing that happens there can possess relevance for any possible development here.

How science can be used as a power tool:
The influence of these scientist-politicians was of late years not often on the side of liberty: the “intolerance of reason” so frequently conspicuous in the scientific specialist, the impatience with the ways of the ordinary man so characteristic of the expert, and the contempt for anything which was not consciously organized by superior minds according to a scientific blueprint were phenomena familiar in German public life for generations before they became of significance in England. And perhaps no other country provides a better illustration of the effects of a nation of a general and thorough shift of the greater part of its educational system from the “humanities” to the “realities” than Germany between 1840 and 1940.

The fatal turning point in the modern development was when the great movement which can serve its original ends only by fighting all privilege, the labor movement, came under the influence of anti-competition doctrines and became itself entangled in the strife for privilege. The recent growth of monopoly is largely the result of a deliberate collaboration of organized capital and organized labor where the privileged groups of labor share in the monopoly profits at the expense of the poorest, those employed in the less-well-organized industries and the unemployed.

Material conditions and ideal ends

It is no doubt true that our generation is less willing to listen to economic considerations than was true of its predecessors. It is most decidedly unwilling to sacrifice any of its demands to what are called economic arguments; it is impatient and intolerant of all restraints on their immediate ambitions and unwilling to bow to economic necessities. It is not any contempt for material welfare, or even any diminished desire for it, but, on the contrary, a refusal to recognize obstacles, any conflict with other aims which might impede the fulfillment of their own desires, which distinguishes our generation.

It should never be forgotten that the one decisive factor in the rise of totalitarianism on the Continent, which is yet absent in England and America, is the existence of a large recently dispossessed middle class.

On the negative side, in its indignation about the inequities of the existing social order, our generation probably surpasses most of its predecessors. But the effect of that movement on our positive standards in the proper field of morals, individual conduct, and on the seriousness with which we uphold moral principles against the expediencies and exigencies of social machinery, is a very different matter.

Responsibility, not to a superior, but to one’s own conscience, the awareness of a duty not exacted by compulsion, the necessity to decide which of the things one values are to be sacrificed to others, and to bear the consequences of one’s own decision, are the very essence of any morals which deserve the name.

Can there be any much doubt that the feeling of personal obligation to remedy inequities, where our individual power permits, has been weakened rather than strengthened, that both the willingness to bear responsibility and the consciousness that it is our own individual duty to know how to choose have been perceptibly impaired? There is all the difference between demanding that a desirable state of affairs should be brought about by the authorities, or even being willing to submit provided everyone else is made to do the same, and the readiness to do what one thinks right at the sacrifice of one’s own desires and perhaps in the face of hostile public opinion.

What are the fixed poles now which are regarded as sacrosanct, which no reformer dare touch, since they are treated as the immutable boundaries which must be respected in any plan for the future? They are no longer liberty of the individual, his freedom of movement, and scarcely that of speech. They are the protected standards of this or that group, their “right” to exclude others from providing their fellowmen with what they need.


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