“The Road to Serfdom” is More Relevant Now Than Any Time in the Past 20 Years

“Read more Hayek” is not only a phrase for a sticker. It is valuable life advice for the liberty-oriented American. That advice has never, in my lifetime, been more true than in the past few years.

With the emergence of both the populist nationalist movement behind President Trump’s rise to power and the democratic socialist movement that carried Bernie Sanders to within a hair’s breadth of the Democratic presidential nomination (twice) and the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her squad to Congress, being fluent in the warnings of The Road to Serfdom are more important than ever.

In just one chapter of this seminal piece of classical liberal political philosophy there are more salient predictions for what we’ve been through since 2016 than in all the political punditry you can digest on the cable news channels.

In chapter ten of the book, Hayek basically laid out the roadmap for Trump’s 2016 campaign. He starts with demonstrating how the populist’s hunger for upending the “deep state” will lead to the emergence of an outsider who can be a man of action:

“It is then the man or party who seems strong and resolute enough to ‘get things done,’ who exercises the greatest appeal… what they will seek is somebody with such solid support as to inspire confidence that he can carry out whatever he wants. It is here that the new type of party… comes in.”

Hayek goes on to predict “the forgotten man” rhetoric that Trump used to unite his coalition of center-right republicans and blue-collar democrats.

“It is, as it were, the lowest common denominator which unites the largest group of people. If a numerous group is needed, strong enough to impose their view on the values of life on all the rest, it will never be those with highly differentiated and developed tastes—it will be those who form the ‘mass’ in the derogatory sense of the term, the least original and independent, who will be able to put the weight of their numbers behind their particular ideals.”

The same idea, if not the same rhetoric can be seen in Bernie’s building a coalition of young idealistic, but politically un-savvy college students and young professionals. This quote from Hayek is better served to describe the rising socialist movement of today.

“He will be able to obtain the support of all the docile and gullible, who have no strong conviction of their own but are prepared to accept a ready made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently. It will be those whose vague and imperfectly formed ideas are easily swayed and whose passions and emotions are readily aroused who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party.”

This last quote couldn’t be more true in our negative partisan polarization world today. Both parties survive almost solely on “us versus them” rhetoric and demonization of the other.

“It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program—on hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off—than on any positive task. The contrast between the ‘we’ and the ‘they,’ the common fight against those outside the group, seems to be an essential ingredient in any creed which will solidly knit together a group for common action. It is consequentially always employed by those who seek not merely support of a policy, but the unreserved allegiance of huge masses.”

I can’t read that passage without hearing Bernie in my head saying “millionaires and billionaires!” Reading that I can also hear Trump say in his peculiar way “China!” Or also hear him rail about undocumented Mexican immigrants.

Once you understand Hayek’s message you can’t help but see in nearly all the coverage of this election the tell-tale signs of these campaigns moving us ever closer to a centrally planned economy and sliding ever further downward toward totalitarian rule.

I won’t go on quoting Hayek at length, those quotes are only from the first part of one particularly salient chapter in the book. But the message that central planning, whether coming from the Left under socialism or the Right under populism, spells disaster for our liberty is present in every chapter.

The lessons Hayek shares from his experiences living through and studying the national socialist movements in Italy and Germany and the rise of communism in Russia are important lessons that we seem to have forgotten in the 21st century.

As the old saying goes, “those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it.” So while you are quarantined in your homes for at least a few more weeks, download The Road to Serfdom if you don’t already own a copy and get reading. The lessons it contains are a valuable roadmap for us to fight for and maintain our liberty in these trying times. The election of 2020 may well be looked back on as the tipping point for the United States.

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Matt Genovese

Matt Genovese is a 911 dispatcher and writer from New Jersey. He has written on topics ranging from first responders and emergency management to local politics, civil liberties and the liberty movement. Follow Matt on Twitter @mattgenovese.

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