The Road to Serfdom

Introduced by Chicago don Milty Friedman, who assures us that “the free market is the only mechanism that has ever been discovered for achieving participatory democracy” (xi). Preach it, Brother Milt!

So-called 'collectivism' had been burying purported 'individualism,' apparently, in Padre Fred’s 1944 analysis, but was unexpectedly checked by the time of Frere Milt’s semicentennial celebratory gala binge. Fra Milt is pleased to report that Father Fred was dead wrong in his predictions that colle

Introduced by Chicago don Milty Friedman, who assures us that “the free market is the only mechanism that has ever been discovered for achieving participatory democracy” (xi). Preach it, Brother Milt!

So-called 'collectivism' had been burying purported 'individualism,' apparently, in Padre Fred’s 1944 analysis, but was unexpectedly checked by the time of Frere Milt’s semicentennial celebratory gala binge. Fra Milt is pleased to report that Father Fred was dead wrong in his predictions that collectivist statism was taking over the UK, mostly because “central planning was sacrificed rather than individual liberty” (xiii) (i.e., parliamentary procedure kept the sky from falling), but also because collectivism is “mired in bureaucratic confusion and inefficiency” (id.). That latter cliché is not rigorously evidenced, but is taken as a postulate of market fundy-triumphalism. ‘Confusion’ is of course cipher for public due process and ‘inefficiency’ the normal code for unions plus intentionally non-profit.

Gubmint nevertheless grew and tried to regulate bidness, usually at the behest of “special interest groups” (xiii), the cryptograph for ‘not rich people.” Despite Hayek being 100% wrong about statist takeover, Brother Milty confirms that “Hayek’s central insight” is correct: “coordination of men’s activities through central direction and through voluntary cooperation are roads going in very different directions: the first to serfdom, the second to freedom” (xiii-xiv), because medieval economics is characterized precisely by state planning and public ownership of the means of production. (Also NB: coordination of activity centrally through a large corporation is presumably perfectly acceptable!) Fra Milt concludes with charm: “The bulk of the intellectual community almost automatically favors any expansion of governmental power so long as it is advertised as way to protect individuals from big bad corporations, relieve poverty, protect the environment, or promote ‘equality’” (xv-xvi). NB: the same topos found in objectivism, which traffics in similar rhetorics of mendacity; Milt objects to the expansion of state power when the object is to protect 'individuals,' when they are to be protected from corporations--manifestly not an 'individualist' position.

This text is ripe for a derridean reading from the “Outwork,” the preface to end all prefaces ( Dissemination ), considering the guest intro here, the 1976, 1956, 1944 prefaces, and author’s introduction proper, all preceding the text itself. It’s a parade of horribles. 1976 preface concedes, in a moment of rare candor, “I was myself uncomfortable about the possibility that in going beyond technical economics, I might have exceeded my competence” (xxi). Well, quite. Notes an equivocation: “At the time I wrote [1944], socialism meant unambiguously the nationalization of the means of production and the central economic planning which this made possible and necessary” (xxiii); however, “socialism has come to mean chiefly the extensive redistribution of incomes through taxation and the institutions of the welfare state” (id.). 1976 backs away from the thesis that “any movement in the direction of socialism is bound to lead to totalitarianism” (xxiv). A concession that there is no necessary connection between ‘socialism’ and ‘totalitarianism,’ no matter what Papa Freds thinks they mean on a given day.

If anyone thought that Freds meant that any step toward socialism leads to totalitarianism, however, we might excuse their apparently erroneous belief on the basis of the 1956 preface, wherein Big Poppa admits that his audience is already against fascism and communism (which he identifies as substantially identical, in a standard reckless construction), and that “democratic socialism is a very precarious and unstable affair” (xxxii), revealing the true polemical target, and associating by the bye New Deal policies with totalitarianism by implication even though “hot socialism is probably a thing of the past” (id.). Notorious lets us know his ideological roots pretty plainly in 1956: “But in Britain, as elsewhere in the world, the defeat of the onslaught of systematic socialism has merely given those who are anxious to preserve freedom a breathing space” (xliv). 1944 preface affirms that his argument is “derived from certain ultimate values” (xlv). Preface does not disclose them, but his lebensraum reference in 1956 clears it up for me.Author’s own original introduction opens with epigraph from Lord Acton, rightwing fan favorite, that “Few discoveries are more irritating than those which expose the pedigree of ideas” (3). With that kind of arrogance, the reasonable reader can assume that the text will lay out the intellectual pedigree of socialist doctrine. As it happens, the text examines almost no socialist doctrine of any flavor whatsoever. It does eventually get around to laying out a thesis regarding the “socialist roots of Nazism” (183-198), which links Marxism to Hitler through figures such as Sombart, Plenge, and others; it’s the strongest part of the text, as it is at least specific--but my five-year old daughter could do better. The entire section relies upon equivocations; Pops is not content with his original definition of ‘socialism,’ as we have seen.

The book’s purpose: “Few are ready to recognize that the rise of fascism and Nazism was not a reaction against the socialist trends of the preceding period but a necessary outcome of those tendencies” (6). So, the causal relation is allegedly socialism --> fascism. If the Acton epigraph is aimed at democratic socialists/social democrats, as per the 1956 preface, then this causal relation is not much concern, even if it is assumed arguendo to be true. That is, it’s not at all irritating anyone with the pedigree of socialism to point out that fascism is its alleged evil offspring. It doesn’t make any sense, unless Bigg Poppa is expecting us to accept a non distributio medii or affirmed consequent fallacy. Later, pedigree for coercion and lack of freedom of thought is located in “the French writers who laid the foundations of modern socialism” (28), without reference to any particular writer or text, except Saint Simon, who is quoted slightly as wanting to treat disobedient persons as cattle, which is not exactly an idea that arises exclusively (or even) in socialism (cf. Ottoman governance theory).

Entire volume relies on an equivocation fallacy, broadly maligning ‘socialism,’ no matter how that term is defined (as hinted by the 1976 preface). The conflict between Nazis and commies is “the kind of conflict that will always arise between rival socialist factions” (11). Doggfather is not interested, yet, in substantiating this puerile equivalence, but rather prefers to point out that “German socialists have found much support in their country from certain features of the Prussian tradition; and this kinship between Prussianism and socialism, in which in Germany both sides gloried, gives additional support to our main contention” (11). Noted: socialism shares a continuity with ‘prussianism,’ which must be a reference to Bismarck or whatever else in the deep history of Germania that the Doggfather wishes us to infer with neoliberal psychic powerz.

Begins the argument proper with the contention that ‘we’ are unwilling to consider the ‘crisis’ as the result of a “genuine error on our part and that the pursuit of some of our most cherished ideals has apparently produced results utterly different from those which we expected” (14). We should therefore “not forget that this conflict has grown out of a struggle of ideas within what, not so long ago, was a common European civilization and that the tendencies which have culminated in the creation of the totalitarian systems were not confined to the countries which have succumbed to them” (id.). This is a curious admission for Atomic Dogg to make. The current crisis (WW2, surely, but more, perhaps) is the result of “most cherished ideals” and grew out of the common civilization, of which prussianism seems to have been a part. No problem. It’s not like extraterrestrials started the war or zombies took over (objectivism’s position on zombies & socialism notwithstanding). If all that is true, then why dogmatically state that everyone is unaware of “not merely the magnitude of the changes which have taken place during the last generation but the fact that they mean a complete change in the direction of the evolution of our ideas and social order” (15-16)? I suppose “our ideas” are not the same as “our most cherished ideals,” then? Apparently all of the evil altruists (sorry, hard not conflate this with Ayn Rand) “have progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which personal and political freedom has never existed” (16). This last point is dogmatically stated throughout the text, and never evidenced with any rigor. Never mind the fact that it all grew out of civilization or progressively developed; we are solemnly informed of “How sharp a break not only with the recent past but with the whole evolution of Western civilization the modern trend toward socialism” (16), which is something that must be measured by reference to the “longer historical perspective” back to the Bible and the bloody Romans, which are held up as exemplars of ‘individualism’ along side Montaigne, Erasmus, Pericles, and Thukydides. Heh, yeah. So, never mind that you just said right before this that the crisis grew

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out of European civilization, progressively developed, is rooted in prussianism--now it’s some sort of epistemic ‘break’ from the entire tradition of the West. (As an aside, is anyone actually persuaded by argumentum ad antiquitatem?) Confirmed thereafter in his concern to “show how completely, though gradually and by almost imperceptible steps, our attitude toward society has changed” (24) (NB: the ‘steps‘ aren‘t shown). Mmkay. Revise and resubmit when you get your story straight, P-Funk.

Not only is Stalinism worse than fascism (31), but marxism led to fascism (32), fascism is the stage reached after communism fails (id.), and all the fascist leaders began as socialists (id.). Fascists and communists are the same, compete with each other for the same personnel, and hate each other as heretics (34). Socialism transitioned to fascism so easily because they are so closely related (35). And so on. It’s a mess, and it’s thoroughly mendacious. That last point, for instance, is simply, manifestly erroneous; at which point did a state with socialism (as Big Poppa defined it in 1944--state ownership of the means of production with central planning (37 (a mere 3 pages later))) exist, and then transition to fascism? The answer was never in 1944, and remains never now. The errors are so coarse, the confusions so gross, that it can only be intentional misrepresentation, as no one is this stupid.

Cites de Tocqueville for the proposition that democracy and socialism have only equality in common, “while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude” (29), which is offered as self-evident fact, without any substantiation whatsoever. Eventually throws this proposition under the bus, however, as ‘democracy’ is not very interesting to Thug Life except as a truncheon to beat leftists. We see this, not only in the prefatory remarks regarding social democrats, but also in the inane expansion of the target from ‘socialism’ to ‘collectivism,’ which includes ‘liberals’ (as understood in the US) (39). Collectivism is defined childishly as marked by central planning (39), which planning is to be opposed because ‘inefficiency’ (41), but also because “it is impossible to assume control over all the productive resources without also deciding for whom and by whom they are to be used” (46). (Gang Starr heads all the way down this slippery slope with “And whoever has sole control of the means must also determine which ends are to be served” (101)). Both of these objections are unevidenced by Doggfather, principally because they are completely false, but even were they true, Pops is too indolent to think through the details of the argument, preferring to sweep grandly and generally all manner of facts and whatnot under the newly whitewashed rug.

Individualism is “this recognition of the individual as the ultimate judge of his ends, the belief that as far as possible his own views ought to govern his actions” (66). Individuals should “be allowed, within defined limits, to follow their own values and preferences rather than someone else’s; that within these spheres the individual’s system of ends should be supreme and not subject to any dictation by others” (id.). This is a quaint kindergarten notion, a solipsism that is thoroughly depoliticized, ahistorical, a fantasia. Any market participant should know that an individual is unable to dictate terms to the market, for, as you just fucking said, the market “enables entrepreneurs […] to adjust their activities to their fellows”: “the price system will fulfill this function only if competition prevails, that is, if the individual producer has to adapt himself to price changes and cannot control them“ (56 emphasis added). The economic participant is always already governed by the external; Big Poppa is not interested in this implosion, of course, but it dicks up the primary basis for his preference for private property. He shrugs away the obvious objection in canards such as how in the market system “no person’s view about what is right and desirable overrules that of others” (113). ORLY?!

Total obfuscation in comments such as “German anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism spring from the same root” (154), which is as apodictically false as can be. We also see that no cliché is left undefecated in “a movement like that of National Socialism or communism can probably be compared only to those of the great religious movements” (164).

Our antenna should alert on unevidenced proclamations that those with authority for an economic plan will inevitably “impose their scale of preferences on the community for which they plan” (73). It is outrageous in its hubris, in its cynicism--but also in its hypocrisy: for which capitalist allows notice & comment on corporate policy? Delegation of economic authority to a public planning board will result in “arbitrary decisions” (74), leading to the completely candid confession that “Democracy is essentially a means, a utilitarian device for safeguarding internal peace and individual freedom,” and is “by no means infallible or certain”--for “there has often been much more cultural and spiritual freedom under an autocratic rule than under some democracies” (78). And out with it: “A true ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ even if democratic in form, if it undertook centrally to direct the economic system, would probably destroy personal freedom as completely as any autocracy” (78-79). This contempt for democratic polity is revealed in Bigg Poppa’s legal illiteracy (like Rand, he has no law, and accordingly errs in his discussions of it), such as when he suggests that the ‘rule of law,’ “stripped of all technicalities […] means that 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” (80 emphasis added). Any reference to ‘technicalities’ regarding the law should disqualify the utterance, and probably the utterer--because law is ‘technicality.’ His notion that ‘everything should be known beforehand’ is also manifestly erroneous; plenty in law applies retroactively.

Reader can thus only laugh when Biggy Freds suggests that central planners will not want to “be fettered by democratic procedure” (97). (Didn’t you just tell us that democratic procedure doesn’t matter, and what matters is private property?) Ultimately, the ‘individualist’ position here, as found in Rand’s ‘objectivism,’ is profoundly illiberal, retaining only a preference for markets and private property (both Rand and Pops will not be completely committed to markets, of course, and will allow differing degrees of monopolization). This makes the argument here structurally identical to fascism, and therein lies the principal stupidity of Pops’ argument; he had defined socialism as central planning over state ownership of the means of production. Fascism however never got to either prong of that definition. Fascism did have anti-liberal components, regarding liberalism as too much too soon; fascism attempts to arrest history, to turn back the clock. Whereas the fascists would undo liberalism’s egalitarianism while retaining property and markets, the socialist proper position is that liberalism is not enough too late. This set of basic distinctions is manifest in the most basic writings on the subject (cf. Paxton’s Anatomy of Fascism, Griffin’s Modernism and Fascism, Lemkin’s Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, Neumann’s Behemoth). Pops doesn’t care about any of that. Pops only cares about property.

It’s a sad commentary on the world that this, one of the worst books ever written, is also considered one of the most important. It’s actually embarrassingly bad, especially in its most famous bits, such as the dogmatic assertion that the price system under competition is “an apparatus of registration which automatically records all the relevant effects of individual actions and whose indications are at the same time the resultant of, and the guide for, all the individual decisions” (55)--this argument simply removes the mystery one step, and then is, without more, declared efficient and just. This “automatic coordination” is graceful, whereas central planning is “incredibly clumsy, primitive, and limited in scope” (id.)--nevermind that the alleged efficiency in the market mechanism is based precisely on pricing participants out of the market, which may not matter for irrational luxury goods, but when it results in market starvation (or market famines, as in Victorian India or Ireland, or during the general crisis of the ‘30s) , that’s a bit different. Automatic coordination is deprivation and death, but because it’s papered over with woad-warrior FREDUM!!1, it’s the fault of the deprived or the decedent, who obviously wasted their freedom.I have only commented on the lowest of the low points. The lowest point, probably, is the crude suggestion that “one of the surprising features of the political emigration from Germany is the comparatively small number of refugees from the Left who are not ‘Jews’ in the German sense” (203). This is deception beyond measure, as the German left had been destroyed just after WWI and then again by the NSDAP in the ‘30s; the suggestion here is accordingly outrageous, and the suggester scum of the earth, considering that the surviving leftists in germania during WWII were sweating it out in concentration camps or acting as part of the armed resistance. So fuck you, Pops, and fuck Brother Milt, and fuck Ayn Rand, just because.Recommended for readers who experience the horror inspired by the idea of everything being directed from a single center, persons who claim as a virtue that under one system we shall know less, and those who believe that it is not difficult to deprive the great majority of independent thought. ...more

Category: Review

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