Reader’s Reports on The Road to Serfdom

28 March 2007 at 2:44 pm 1 comment

| Peter Klein |

A new edition of The Road to Serfdom is coming out this year, positioned as volume 2 of The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek. Like all the volumes in the Collected Works, it includes a new foreword (here by series editor Bruce Caldwell), standardized and corrected notes and references, and previously unpublished supplementary material. This week’s Chronicle of Higher Education features some excerpts from the new material. Here, for example, are the reader’s reports on the manuscript, solicited by the University of Chicago Press in 1943 from Frank Knight and Jacob Marschak:

Frank H. Knight, University of Chicago: From the standpoint of desirability of publishing the book in this country, I may note some grounds for doubt. The author is an Austrian refugee, a very able economist, who has been a professor at the London School of Economics since the middle 30s. He writes from a distinctly English point of view, and frequently uses the expression “this country” with that reference. While there is some treatment of American conditions, and citation of American writings, this is secondary in scope and emphasis. This fact in itself might limit the appeal in “this country” to a fairly cultivated, even academic, circle of readers. Moreover, the whole discussion is pitched at a quite high intellectual and scholarly level and the amount of knowledge of Central European conditions and history assumed is rather large for even the educated American audience. It is hardly a “popular” book from this point of view.

In addition, there are limitations in connection with the treatment itself, both as to the theoretical and the historical argument. In the latter connection, the work is essentially negative. It hardly considers the problem of alternatives, and inadequately recognizes the necessity, as well as political inevitability, of a wide range of governmental activity in relation to economic life in the future. It deals with only the simpler fallacies, unreasonable demands, and romantic prejudices which underlie the popular clamor for governmental control in place of free enterprise. …

In sum, the book is an able piece of work, but limited in scope and somewhat one-sided in treatment. I doubt whether it would have a very wide market in this country, or would change the position of many readers. (Reader’s Report, December 10, 1943)

Jacob Marschak, University of Chicago: The current discussion between advocates and adversaries of free enterprise has not been conducted so far on a very high level. Hayek’s book may start in this country a more scholarly kind of debate.

The book will appeal to friends of free enterprise and give them new material; Hayek’s interpretation of the modern English scene (labor and industrial monopolist driving jointly toward a collective economy) will be new to all American readers except those who have read or listened to William Benton’s impressions; while Hayek’s German background enables him to give new support to the contention that socialism is the father of Nazism.

Those who are not convinced in advance of Hayek’s thesis will probably learn from his argument even more than those who are. Hayek (Chapter IV) has a wholesome contempt for the quasi-scientific method of “trends,” “waves of tomorrow.” Those who love planning because they love the inevitable will, perhaps, after reading Hayek revise either their faith or their tastes. Perhaps they will start to think in terms of ends and means instead of in prophecies.

It is true that Hayek himself gives little food for such concrete thinking. …

His thinking is somewhat sharper, just because it is more abstract. Hayek’s style is readable and occasionally inspiring.

This book cannot be bypassed. (Reader’s Report, December 20, 1943)

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Classical Liberalism, Recommended Reading.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. econ101trial  |  9 August 2012 at 3:18 am

    I have written two posts on Hayek’s Road to Serfdom Chapter 13 (, about the easiness with which nature scientists were submitted to Nazism.

    Could you give me some feedback on what you think of this subject? Thank you very much.

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