Hayek on the Totalitarian Surprise

by Don Boudreaux on May 8, 2009

in Books

I mark this 110th anniversary of the birth of F.A. Hayek with this quotation from his 1944 book The Road to Serfdom; it's from the opening paragraph of Chapter XIII, entitled "The Totalitarians In Our Midst":

Probably it is true that the very magnitude of the outrages committed by the 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….  But let us not forget that fifteen years ago the possibility of such a thing happening in Germany would have appeared just as fantastic, not only to nine-tenths of the Germans themselves, but also to the most hostile foreign observers (however wise they may now pretend to have been).
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{ 50 comments }

John May 8, 2009 at 7:19 am

I think the people want a totalitarian state.

We've become a nation of children in adult bodies looking to government to be our parent.

Bret May 8, 2009 at 8:31 am

Here's another excerpt from The Road to Serfdom (page xxi):

“It has frequently been alleged that I have contended that any movement in the direction of socialism is bound to lead to totalitarianism. Even though this danger exists, this is not what the book says.”

So, sure, anything can happen, but even Hayek doesn't think it's inevitable.

Superheater May 8, 2009 at 8:40 am

I think its been happening at least since the 1930's and perhaps earlier.

I think it was Drucker who said the sole purpose of a business is to create a customer. Extend that to government and its sole purpose is to create a "constituent".

The tax code has been used to create whole classes of dependent constitents. Its probably to late to stop it.

Rafi May 8, 2009 at 8:49 am

That's an interesting thought, that society could drift towards socialism but avoid totalitarianism. I am not sure I see how… if it is indeed a slippery slope, the transition will be insidious and only conscientious dissenters will recognize what has happened.

muirgeo May 8, 2009 at 9:14 am

"The tax code has been used to create whole classes of dependent constitents."

Posted by: Superheater

Really? Where? I mean even now there is 8-9% unemployment which means 92% of people are working. As far as I know the number of poor has gone down since we've had a social safety net.

Where are these dependent people that live off the government? I think they are a smaller lot then you assume. And I really think the corporate welfare class hurts the honest hard working middle class more then do the poor do.

Also since Hayek wrote that in 1944 how many of the social demmocracies have fallen into totalitarianism? Sure we were heading there with Bush but the system worked and kept him in relative check. Now Obama is in and the right has it's concerns but I don't see any reason to think the system won't work to keep him in check even under these trying times.

It's interesting because I don't think I saw any articles here suggesting concern for totalitarianism during the Bush adimistration. And rather then just the threat of raising taxes Bush really did violate the constitution and spy on people among other pretty scary things.

Sadly the Obama administration has not recinded all the Bush era polcies like warrentless wire taps. I'm guessing its related to the number of death threats they must be picking up on and truly for the presidnets protection… but it's still illegal.

vidyohs May 8, 2009 at 9:22 am

Man, being man, always man, never changing from early man and man's natural instincts, will not allow socialism to be other than totalitarianism.

The only way for socialism to not be totalitarianism is for man to not be man.

Socialism depends upon the makers providing for the takers, and a central government making that happen by collecting from the one and giving to the other.

Man, being man, resists having the fruits of his labor taken from him and will make every effort to avoid that happening. This mandates forceful action by the central government, totalitarianism.

It can not happen any other way.

Socialism is theft, raw naked lusty greed on the part of the power seekers to enslave the producers by stealing their wealth, and ensuring support by giving some of the stolen lucre to the thumbsucking masses who will stand as a bulwark twixt the victims and the theives. Socialist make that happen all under the deceitful guise of concern, care, and nobility.

It happens exactly like that.

Socialists are the destructive egg sucking, chicken killing, dogs on the great farm of life, and as such should be eliminated as such by wise farmers.

You will either fight them as in a war, or you will serve under them in defeat.

Gil May 8, 2009 at 9:45 am

Bwahahaha! What do you care vidyohs? You live in Vidyohsonia (somewhere in Texas apparently) anyway. The American Revolution was as bodgy as the French Revolution – it wasn't made up of misty-eyed Libertarians rather a group of people who didn't want to take orders from higher-ranking officers while still expecting the allegience of lower-ranking soldiers. But what think of the Americans who had their ties with Britian and didn't want to revolt?

natural lawyer May 8, 2009 at 9:52 am

Superheater,

We live in a national socialist state where dependents, constituents, etc., are in fact created through the law though not exclusively through the tax code. Call it "the dynamic use of public securities." The national govt incurs, say, several trillion in debt one year, showers it on "shovel ready" union-labor-only projects, on farmers, on Federal Reserve member banks, on failing national corporations, on a mammoth federal military, a ballooning domestic federal police state (DHS), entitlement programs irrespective of need, etc., etc. And you're saying that the law is not used to create dependents? What about the immense tax-consuming bureaucracy needed to administer all of these wonderful boondoggles? The subsidies make people dependent on the government by the strings attached to the funds, much in the way federal grants-in-aid have bastardized the states. With all of these constituencies bought and paid by claims on future production, it is not difficult to see how this dependency perpetuates in power those politicians whose policies tend towards such paternalism.

Gil May 8, 2009 at 9:54 am

Muirgeo – please don't tell you going for similar conspiracy theories except you view G.W. Bush as the Anti-Christ where they're choosing B.W. Obama?

D. Watson May 8, 2009 at 10:07 am

Happy Birthday, Mr. Hayek. May we have many happy returns to your best ideas.

S Andrews May 8, 2009 at 10:18 am

Muirgeo asks another stupid quesiton…Also since Hayek wrote that in 1944 how many of the social demmocracies have fallen into totalitarianism?

Dime a dozen in Latin America.

How many times have the "Democratically" elected government been thrown out in a coup, in places like Thailand or Pakistan?

vidyohs May 8, 2009 at 10:26 am

Stupidity of the Duck
#32
Really? Where? I mean even now there is 8-9% unemployment which means 92% of people are working. As far as I know the number of poor has gone down since we've had a social safety net.
Posted by: muirgeo | May 8, 2009 9:14:23 AM

muirduck,

Just about the time we think you can't possibly say something more stooopid than the last thing you said, damned if you don't top it.

Thanks for the new muirpidity.

BTW, that squishy smelly thing between my toes, was your brain; you must have tilted your little Chihuahua head and your tiny brain tumbled out of the ear channel. And, piddling on people's legs is what is expected of Chihuahuas, it's the intellectual level of the beast.

vidyohs May 8, 2009 at 10:29 am

"Bwahahaha! What do you care vidyohs? You live in Vidyohsonia (somewhere in Texas apparently) anyway. The American Revolution was as bodgy as the French Revolution – it wasn't made up of misty-eyed Libertarians rather a group of people who didn't want to take orders from higher-ranking officers while still expecting the allegience of lower-ranking soldiers. But what think of the Americans who had their ties with Britian and didn't want to revolt?

Posted by: Gil | May 8, 2009 9:45:46 AM"

Gilduck,
Will you get one of your fellow psycho-babblers like muirduck or STrUmPiT to interpret that jumbled mess? Or, put the funny cig down, go out and breath some clean air, clear your head, and try to write it again, only this time intelligently and in a readable fashion.

Thanks you, son.

S Andrews May 8, 2009 at 10:31 am

Did Hitler rise to power through a military coup or through a democratic process? Wasn't germany the original social republic? Didn't otto von Bismark start the concept to retirement contributions to fund his wars?

S Andrews May 8, 2009 at 10:35 am
Seth May 8, 2009 at 10:40 am

"So, sure, anything can happen, but even Hayek doesn't think it's inevitable." -Bret

Yes. Anything. Like Declarations of Independence.

muirgeo May 8, 2009 at 10:43 am

You will either fight them as in a war, or you will serve under them in defeat.

Posted by: vidyohs

And if you defeat them those of you left will still form a social order with rules and leaders because we are social creatures. Socialism (loosely defined) is the natural state of man. It the reason you have a govvernment opension and use the roads and the water. You're a socialist just like the rest of us. Social democracies appear stable as none since 1940 have gone to totalitarianism. Totalistarianism is what you get when individuals pursue their personal needs unchecked by the rest of society. Social democracy is what you get when the needs of the group are adressed and balanced with the needs of individuals.

If you want freedom and liberty undettered lose your government paycheck and go take a hike in the woods all alone and don't come back. Otherwise stay here and shut up already calling others socialist when you're just another one of us.

I_am_a_lead_pencil May 8, 2009 at 10:45 am

I believe Hayek's best stuff always came from his insights regarding the dichotomy between the altruistic family ethic and the impersonal propertarian ethics of the extended order.

I often see this extreme tension being played out in the comments section of this blog. Most of the errors written by Cafe Hayek detractors involve the mistaken insertion of the family ethic into the extended order.

Hayek promoted the idea that mans self interested quest for 'profit' is the linchpin of the extended order. It supports even the possibility that we can have and maintain a growing population of human life on the planet.

"To achieve the situation where we are all working for people we do not know; and are being supported by the work of people we do not know; is made possible because we produce for profit. Profit is the signal which tells us what we must do in order to serve people whom we do not know."
– F.A. Hayek

Happy Birthday you gentle giant.

muirgeo May 8, 2009 at 10:46 am

Socialists are the destructive egg sucking, chicken killing, dogs on the great farm of life, and as such should be eliminated as such by wise farmers.

You will either fight them as in a war, or you will serve under them in defeat.

Posted by: vidyohs

And here for no less then the third time we see vidyohs calling for mass murder of over 90% of the population which he deems socialist… good job Min-arc man…(with a ggoevernment pension). You represent the libertarian position well.

muirgeo May 8, 2009 at 10:47 am

Bwahahaha! What do you care vidyohs? You live in Vidyohsonia (somewhere in Texas apparently) anyway.

Posted by: Gil

Yeah and how I wish they would procede with their threat/promise to withdraw from the union.

S Andrews May 8, 2009 at 10:48 am

Two tributes to Hayek:

1) Mario Rizzo @ Think Markets

2)

muirgeo May 8, 2009 at 10:50 am

And you're saying that the law is not used to create dependents? What about the immense tax-consuming bureaucracy needed to administer all of these wonderful boondoggles? The subsidies make people dependent on the government by the strings attached to the funds, much in the way federal grants-in-aid have bastardized the states. With all of these constituencies bought and paid by claims on future production, it is not difficult to see how this dependency perpetuates in power those politicians whose policies tend towards such paternalism.

Posted by: natural lawyer

Good post. But I'd distinguish government providing services most people want from those that create dependence… such as corporate welfare.

muirgeo May 8, 2009 at 10:52 am

Muirgeo – please don't tell you going for similar conspiracy theories except you view G.W. Bush as the Anti-Christ where they're choosing B.W. Obama?

Posted by: Gil

I linked a post to the steps the Bush administration was taking towards totalitarianism. Many good constitutional lawyers have shown that what his admionistration did was rlativly unprecedented.

I'd be glad to do a one to one comparison of his administrations actions with ANY other.

muirgeo May 8, 2009 at 10:56 am

Dime a dozen in Latin America.

How many times have the "Democratically" elected government been thrown out in a coup, in places like Thailand or Pakistan?

Posted by: S Andrews

No in South America most went FROM authoritarian governments towards communism or dictatorships. None have had well functioning established democraacies as in North America and Europe. And our interference with their transitions towarrds social democracy was not and still is not negligible.

S Andrews May 8, 2009 at 11:02 am

Muirgeo,

Leave this thread alone. It is Hayek's Birthday. We are allowed 1 post on this blog without you hijacking and diverting the topic. So move on to the next thread, at least for once. You are a waste of everyone's time here.

S Andrews May 8, 2009 at 11:03 am
Methinks May 8, 2009 at 11:21 am

Bret, you're being intentionally obtuse. It may not be an inevitability but it raises the probability.

At this very moment, the United States can and does refuse citizenship renunciations – a practice modeled directly on the USSR. The U.S. imposes a confiscatory tax and Draconian limitations on visitation on those whom it releases from citizenship. Obama just proposed the scrapping of presumption of innocence in tax cases involving international accounts (I see your one Habeas Corpus and raise you a presumption of innocence, Bushie!). The SEC has removed intent as a prerequisite for fraud. Claiming that a lack of Gulags and a ban on international travel means that we're not moving toward totalitarianism is just, at best, naive.

vidyohs May 8, 2009 at 11:24 am

"And if you defeat them those of you left will still form a social order with rules and leaders because we are social creatures. Socialism (loosely defined) is the natural state of man.
Posted by: muirgeo | May 8, 2009 10:43:53 AM"

You are still stoopid beyond belief.
There is some evidence that man is a social animal, but anything beyond his sight and hearing is a forced thing.

There is no loosely definging socialism, it is what it is, theft. And, it is not a natural state of man, it is artificially created by greedy power hungry people who use false concern, care, and maternalism to enslave the wealth creators.

Man is a natural capitalist, it is in his heart and soul, it is a reflex reaction to survival, just like breathing.

You, Gil, and STrUmPiT, are prime examples of why there is a war, socialists will kill to get their hands into our pockets.

I prefer to do onto socialists what I know they will do to me, only do it first.

Gil May 8, 2009 at 11:26 am

"Will you get one of your fellow psycho-babblers like muirduck or STrUmPiT to interpret that jumbled mess? Or, put the funny cig down, go out and breath some clean air, clear your head, and try to write it again, only this time intelligently and in a readable fashion."

Double bwahahahahaaa :V ! Maybe you should put down your own 'funny cig' down. I guess I don't really have to care if America goes down the gurlger as I'm not American. And, by the same token, you have previously said you aren't American either as you don't take notice of the government nor pay any taxes yet reside somewhere in your principality inside the boundaries of the U.S.A. and constantly migrate to and fro with Texas, U.S.A. do your international business dealings.

vidyohs May 8, 2009 at 11:27 am

LOL, muirduck,

"And here for no less then the third time we see vidyohs calling for mass murder of over 90% of the population which he deems socialist… good job Min-arc man…(with a ggoevernment pension). You represent the libertarian position well.
Posted by: muirgeo | May 8, 2009 10:46:18 AM"

90% of the population is socialist, what population would that be? The same one where 92% are working? What a fool.

BTW, I also call for the extermination of fire ants, cockroaches, mosquitoes, and the other vermin of life, all of which have more useful functions to serve than socialists.

Gil May 8, 2009 at 11:29 am

I especially refer to that with which you must have been smoking with your rant which began:

"Man, being man, always man, never changing from early man and man's natural instincts, will not allow socialism to be other than totalitarianism . . ."

"Arrrrgggghhhh!!! Socialists are crawling under my skin and eating my brain!!! I better get a knife and start cutting them out before they kill me!!!! . . ." >:)

MnM May 8, 2009 at 11:34 am

Really? Where? I mean even now there is 8-9% unemployment which means 92% of people are working.

It means that 92% of the labor force is working.

Gil May 8, 2009 at 11:37 am

"Did Hitler rise to power through a military coup or through a democratic process?"

S. Andrew you gotta be kidding if you think what Hitler accomplished was due to plain ol' democratic processes.

Methinks May 8, 2009 at 11:48 am

"Arrrrgggghhhh!!! Socialists are crawling under my skin and eating my brain!!! I better get a knife and start cutting them out before they kill me!!!! . . ." >:)

Gil, that's your best idea yet. Let us know how it works out.

Sam Grove May 8, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Socialism is inherently totalitarian, for participation is required and indoctrination is nearly universal via socialized education.

Socialism is a totalitarian ideology and must end up being so in practice.

Gil May 8, 2009 at 12:09 pm

T'is interesting the way some have poked fun of muirgeo suggesting "he's not really a doctor, maybe a janitor or an orderly" but the way vidyohs carries on I find it hard to believe he's been in a serious military position (hasn't he hinted he has done covert operations behind enemy lines akin to a British Commando?) I could almost see him as a grumpy private forever peeling potatos and getting reviews to the tune of "someone who hates taking orders but does so whilst engaging in petty passive-aggressive behaviour and is unlikely to ever get promoted."

P.S. No muirgeo, vidyohs said he wanted to eliminate 90% of the world population in self-defence. Murder is unjustified killing.

Methinks May 8, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Another nail in liberty's coffin.

Government has successfully abrogated senior creditors' rights by terrorizing them. Your contracts are meaningless if they stand in the way of Obama's need to lavish gifts on his favourite special interest group. It could never happen here.

http://zerohedge.blogspot.com/2009/05/rattner-doctrine-has-won.html

In another story, government is using eminent domain to confiscate land where one of the 9/11 flights crashed in Pennsylvania so that a giant memorial can be built on that site. Property rights? What property rights? But, it could never happen here….

Gil May 8, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Whilst muirgeo made an ambiguous comment before, I don't see a dichotomy between Libertarianism and Socialism, S. Grove. It's akin to someone telling me I have to be either a hardcore materialistic amoral atheist or a hardcore six-day creationist. I don't advocate real Socialism. When Libertarians use the 'S' word to encircle everyone who isn't a Libertarian a 'Socialist' it become a vacuous term for the sake of creating strawman arguments.

P.S. Oh haha Methinks. Do show me the part of the U.S. Constitution where habeas corpus is an 'inalienable' right.

Sam Grove May 8, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Man is both capitalist, endeavoring to profit from his labors and socialistic, hoping to maximize consumption while minimizing effort.

To be more than mere consuming animals, sapient beings can choose to embrace the reality that production precedes consumption and exercise their intellect in creative endeavor to be more productive than are domesticated beasts of burden (the ideal socialist subject).

Those who desire that government plan their lives wish to relieve themselves of the risk and effort entailed in being active planers of their own lives and it often seems to be the case that participating as a socialized member of the collective is a fairly effective survival strategy.

But putting all of our eggs into one basket will eventually rupture the basket.

Sam Grove May 8, 2009 at 12:22 pm

And those that choose to live that way are relieving themselves of the challenge of being more the mere social animals.

Gil May 8, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Um Methinks *cough!* 5th Amendment *cough!* *cough!*.

Bret May 8, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Methinks wrote: "Claiming that a lack of Gulags and a ban on international travel means that we're not moving toward totalitarianism is just, at best, naive."

Let's see if we have the same definitions. When Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom, Socialism specifically meant the government owned the means of production (as opposed redistributionism via taxes). Totalitarian meant that no (meaningful) political opposition would be tolerated (as opposed to a simple tyranny of the majority).

None of the things you describe are totalitarian in the meaning of The Road to Serfdom. The majority probably supports those sorts of things and if they don't they can relatively easily rectify those things via the polls. And though Obama is putting his toe in the water regarding nationalizing some business endeavors (real Socialism), I suspect he won't get much support in doing so over a longer term. We'll see though.

K Ackermann May 8, 2009 at 1:05 pm

The sloganism gets tiring after a while. Huge damage is done when carefully cultivated key words are used provoke knee-jerk responses from binary thinkers.

It leads to things like the Washington Consensus, which has been marked by failure after failure. Strick adhearence to ideology always leads to failure because ideology lives in books, and blogs, and think-tanks, and not the real world.

The ultimate goal for all people is happiness. The Iraq war would have unfolded in a much different and positive way if the ideologs kept that basic rule in mind.

It turns out the Iraqis just wanted jobs and dignity. If the war profiteers simply hired local Iraqis instead of importing cheaper labor into a country with 68% unemployment, then things would have been much different.

It took a famine for the IMF to finally admit that maybe stopping fertilizer subsidies to farmers in Africa wasn't such a smart idea.

It took social unrest for the IMF to realize that maybe an economic crisis is not the best time to certain free-market policies down the throats of countries, where the policies were certain to inflict a lot of social pain.

The free market lost one of its favorite dictators when Suharto was finally undone by an IMF-induced social crisis.

It's narrow thinking that leads to disaster. Something might look great on paper, but when it doesn't work under certain conditions, it's not ideology that adapts, it's everyone else who better fall in line, or by God, you will be made to.

By just starting with the premise that people, in general, want to be productive, or at least are willing to be productive in the persuit of happiness, then the equations suddenly have some elasticity.

People scream at the idea of universal health care, and invoke horror scenes in response. They fail to realize the principle behind it: we don't all need it at once. We collectively pay into a system that pays for those who need treatment, and in turn, when our turn comes, we are not hit with a devistating economic dislocation.

There is nothing evil about that. It's in your conditioned head to think that is evil.

K Ackermann May 8, 2009 at 1:12 pm

vidyohs, if you were in the military, then you are now a socialist.

I pay for your medical care, and your pension.

Sam Grove May 8, 2009 at 1:17 pm

And those that choose to live that way are relieving themselves of the challenge of being more the mere social animals.

the challenge of being more than mere social animals.

Otto Maddox May 8, 2009 at 1:35 pm

"Socialism (loosely defined) is the natural state of man."

One of the most idiotic, self-serving statements I've read in a long time.

I_am_a_lead_pencil May 8, 2009 at 1:40 pm

"S. Andrew you gotta be kidding if you think what Hitler accomplished was due to plain ol' democratic processes."

Hindenburg was democratically elected in the runoff with 53% of the vote. It was democratically elected Hindenburg who issued the decree after the Reichstag fire that suspended civil liberties. It was the democratically elected Reichstag who voted to suspend the constitution and give Hitler dictatorial power.

All power granting and emergency power usurpation was done through leaders (Hindenburg and those in the Reichstag) that were elected through the democratic process.

Methinks May 8, 2009 at 2:01 pm

"Socialism (loosely defined) is the natural state of man."

One of the most idiotic, self-serving statements I've read in a long time.

Yep. Basically the same idiotic assertions on the nature of man as Karl Marx made, yet this Moron doesn't understand Marx when Marx is quoted to him. The pathological leading the stupid.

Methinks May 8, 2009 at 2:03 pm

Gil, find someone else to feed you. We obviously don't need Rule of Law when we have such an elegant and eloquent president. We only need it when we have an inarticulate Texas oaf in office.

Sam Grove May 8, 2009 at 2:12 pm

Production is borne from a desire to profit from one's effort.

Socialism is borne from a desire to profit from someone else's effort.

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