The Road to Serfdom (Hayek)

The Road to Serfdom, one of the most noteworthy books of the twentieth century, has been published in several dozen languages and has seen printing after printing since its first appearance in 1944. In a new Foreword to the book’s twentieth impression, Hayek provides some background to it.

The book was written in England during the war years and was designed almost exclusively for English readers…It was in no spirit of mockery that I dedicated it ‘To the Socialists of All Parties.’ It had its origins in many discussions which, during the preceding ten years, I had with friends and colleagues whose sympathies had been inclined toward the left.

Three American publishers rejected his manuscript on the dangers of socialism and central planning before the University of Chicago Press issued it. The reason, Haye tells us, was “political prejudice.” Unexpectedly, he continues, the book “soon began to sell at a rate almost unprecedented for a book of this kind, not intended for popular consumption.” In March 1945, it was the Reader’s Digest featured condensed selection (prepared by writer and editor Max Eastman). It was also widely circulated by the Book of the Month Club. For more than half a century, The Road to Serfdom has influenced statement and thinkers, some of whom credit the recovery of freedom in Eastern Europe in part to this book.

Professor Hayek reminded readers who wondered why The Road to Serfdom focused so little on the U.S.S.R. that the book was written when Russia was England’s wartime ally. He saw his primary audience as the intelligentsia of England, who were, he believed, dangerously sympathetic towards socialism. John Chamberlain, in his Foreword to the first edition, sees the book as “a warning, a cry at a time of hesitation. It says to the British and by implication to Americans: Stop, look, and listen.” Chamberlain sums up Hayek’s concern:

The shibboleths of our times are expressed in a variety of terms: ‘full employment,’ ‘planning,’ ‘social security,’ ‘freedom from want.’ The facts of our time suggest that none of these things can be had when they are made conscious objects of government policy… To date, only a handful of writers has dared to trace a connection between our shibboleths and the terror that haunts our world. Among these writers is F. A. Hayek, an Austrian economist now living in England.

Hayek served as an artillery officer in World War I and received degrees in law and economics from the University of Vienna. He began teaching at the London School of Economics in 1932 and later taught at Stanford University and the University of Chicago, among other institutions. Along the way, he helped organize the young scholars who became known as the Vienna Circle, was president of the London Economics Club (1936), and founded (1947) and was president of the Mont Pelerin Society. In 1974, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics, and the year before he died the United States gave him the Medal of Freedom. This last honor was deeply fitting, freedom having been central to Hayek’s thinking throughout his long career.

Our edition is part of our Classics of Liberty Library, which you can subscribe to today for just $39.95! What could be better than a new leather-bound edition classic delivered on your doorstep every month?



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