Too many people today for some reason associate Naziism and Italian Fascism with capitalism. They don’t understand that fascism is an inherently socialist ideology. Unfortunately, that problematic misunderstanding is not a new one. It came about early in the Nazis’ rise to power and has persisted since. That misunderstanding is what led Hayek to write The Road to Serfdom.
Although The Road to Serfdom is about far more than just the socialist ideology of the Nazis, that basis is an important lens to understand it. Hayek, an Austrian, capitalist economist living in England during World War II, wrote The Raod to Serfdom to combat misconceptions about capitalism, totalitarianism, and socialism. His thesis is that any socialist state eventually becomes totalitarian. Perhaps not immediately, but eventually. And after reading The Road to Serfdom, I definitely agreed. Socialism will always lead to authoritarianism and gulags, whether the socialist in charge is Mao, Pol Pot, or Bernie Sanders. That inherent evil is why we must fight socialism.
Summary of The Road to Serfdom:
In The Road to Serfdom, Hayek proves three main points. The first is that Naziism and other forms of fascism were the natural product of socialism rather than capitalism. Another point he makes is that socialism will inevitably lead to tyranny. Finally, his third major point is that political freedom and economic freedom are inextricably intertwined.
Naziism as a Product of Socialism:
Despite the fact that the “S” in NSDAP stands for “socialismus”, meaning socialist, few people remember that the Nazis were socialists. In fact, some people have the ridiculous belief that Naziism was the product of capitalism. That is because during and after the war, the left controlled the narrative, and they wanted as few roadblocks as possible on their path to socialism. Luckily for us, Hayek was there to completely dismantle that argument.
In The Road to Serfdom, he does so through first attacking the idea that Naziism had capitalist roots. While there were some corporatist, monopolistic roots in Germany, there were few capitalist impulses present in German society. I think that the distinction between capitalism and corporatism is an important one to make.
Next, Hayek shows how the Nazis were obviously socialist in both their words and actions. Capitalists don’t burn books they disagree with and they don’t ban thoughts they disagree with. That’s an impulse of the socialist left. Socialist burn books; capitalists sell them. Furthermore, Hayek points out that Nazi and Soviet speech was very similar; rather than focusing on the utility of a good, service, or scientific advancement, both regimes would focus on how it helped the regime.
I think that Hayek was definitively able to show in The Road to Serfdom that Naziism was a leftist, socialist ideology.
Socialism Will Lead to Tyranny:
The central thesis of The Road to Serfdom is that socialism inevitably leads to tyranny. Perhaps not immediately, but inevitably.
I found his reasoning behind that brilliant in how simple yet effective it is. No one would voluntarily take risks or work backbreaking hours for nothing. So, there are two alternatives. The first is to reward people monetarily for the risks taken and the general disagreeableness of the job. The other is to have a tyrannical, totalitarian society that forces people to work in camps or collectivized farms for no pay. I find that argument incredibly compelling because it makes so much sense.
Additionally, I liked and understood it because it is very similar to the one Francisco D’Anconia discusses in his money speech from Atlas Shrugged. You can have money or whips and chains. Since socialists get rid of money, the only alternative is whips and chains. Hence why socialism kills and socialists starve.
Political Freedom and Economic Freedom are Intertwined:
One thing that I think many socialists forget is that political freedom and economic freedom go hand in hand. Free markets and free people often go together. Hayek mentions many times the idiocy behind the idea of “democratic socialism.” Sure, that might work in some small commune of 20 people. But there’s no way it would ever work in a country; human nature would take over and totalitarianism would be needed to keep people in line.
The virtue of capitalism is that it is based on consent, rather than compulsion. That is the “trader principle” that Ayn Rand identified in Atlas Shrugged. Under a capitalist system, people aren’t compelled to do anything. They are politically, morally, and economically free to do whatever they might please.
Under a socialist system that isn’t the case. Just look at Venezuela, where the government drove armored cars through crowds of its own citizens whose only “crime” was daring to protest. Any socialist that says otherwise is ignorant.
There are cases of economic freedom existing without political freedom. Pinochet’s Chile is one example of that. Economically Chile had been reorganized by American economists that had been taught by Milton Friedman and were in firm agreement with Capitalism and Freedom. But Pinochet’s regime was politically oppressive, especially towards leftists.
But, generally, I agree with Hayek; political freedom and economic freedom are intertwined and we need to defend both to prevent the rise of tyranny in America; to remain truly free, as our forefathers intended, especially the Protestant capitalists that landed here, we need to defend both our political freedom and economic freedom.
Analysis of The Road to Serfdom:
I thought that Hayek’s arguments were both compelling and well-researched. Every page seemed to have at least a few references at the bottom, proving that the information contained was factually accurate. In an era of Fake News and Deepfakes, not to mention people just outright lying about supposed facts, I thought that that aspect of The Road to Serfdom was terrific and just what the book needed to be a viable defense of capitalism and attack on authoritarianism. It gave Hayek’s arguments credence.
Additionally, I loved The Road to Serfdom because in it Hayek brought up many points that I had never really considered. For example, I had never really thought much about the Nazis being “corporatist” or socialist. I had more thought of them as a right-wing group. But, after reading The Road to Serfdom, I am far more inclined to view them as a socialist movement.
Finally, I think every American should read The Road to Serfdom because it shows just where the socialist policies favored by both the right and left will take us. Tariffs and farm subsidies are just as harmful to freedom as limitations on free speech and redistribution of wealth.
Sure, in the short term, the latter two are worse. But, at the end of the day, both limit our freedom as consumers and citizens to choose to buy what we want, do what we want, and say what we want. Limitations on those actions are the tools of socialists.
The only books I’ve read that are similar to The Road to Serfdom are Capitalism and Freedom, The Wealth of Nations, and Atlas Shrugged. And I probably liked all of those books a bit more. Atlas Shrugged is great because it’s philosophy mixed with fiction, so it’s a bit more fun to read.
The Wealth of Nations I thought was better because in it Adam Smith was able to develop his ideas a bit more than Hayek did. Finally, I expected Capitalism and Freedom and The Road to Serfdom to be birds of a feather. I had always seen the two placed in the same category. However, I thought the former was far more general and broadly applicable than the latter.
Don’t get me wrong, The Road to Serfdom is absolutely a book you should read. It’s hard to call yourself a capitalist without having read it. But, I would caution you that it is a bit harder of a read than the ones listed above. All are wonderful defenses of capitalism. Some are just easier to read than the others.
In any case, the arguments Hayek makes are ones that definitely needed to be made at the time and need to be reiterated today. Socialism is truly the road to serfdom, it’s unfortunate that American socialists like Bernie Sanders the dangerous communist want to lead us down it.
By: Gen Z Conservative