Originally published in 1944, F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom is an eminently readable tome that, in my humble opinion, cogently identified the root causes of 20th-Century totalitarianism and provided a stark warning to the author’s still-nominally-liberal contemporaries that their respective societies were headed in the exact same direction as their totalitarian precursors.
The modern reader will marvel at the prescience of Hayek’s work and find that its passages still resonate in our own time, effectively elucidating the nebulous parameters of the current cultural malaise.
Today’s quote comes from chapter 14, “Material Conditions and Ideal Ends.” Broadly, Hayek is speaking about cultural values of his day, i.e, those embraced vs. those discarded by his contemporaries, a war of ideas between those who championed the inevitability of English socialism, whose partisans declared that responsibility for one’s well-being rested exclusively with the State, and that each individual therein must, by necessity, voluntarily submit his body and mind to the authority of his enlightened betters, and those who clung to the 19th-century liberal view that esteemed personal determination, freedom of thought and speech, and that moral responsibility was only attainable if one were free to choose to be immoral.
Rather than a utopia for all, in Hayek’s own day, “socialism” was (and is still) a closed-door, top-down process of deciding, unscientifically, what are the in-groups and what are the out-groups in a society. It is the educated technocrat’s attempt at being feudal absolutist, albeit in union with a cadre of his like-minded (and equally privileged) fellows. Socialism is a (more or less) modern name for the default setting of human governance: domination, selective exclusion, and eventual liquidation of undesirables. It is the enemy of freedom.
“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 the 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. Discrimination between members and nonmembers of closed groups, not to speak of nationals of different countries, is accepted more and more as a matter of course; injustices inflicted on individuals by government action in the interest of a group are disregarded with an indifference hardly distinguishable from callousness; and the grosses violations of the most elementary rights of the individual, such as are involved in the compulsory transfer of populations, are more and more often countenanced even by supposed liberals.” (pg. 218)