The Publication History
The Road to Serfdom is F. A. Hayek's most well-known book, but its origins were decidedly inauspicious. It began as a memo to the director of the London School of Economics, Sir William Beveridge, written by Hayek in the early 1930s and disputing the then-popular claim that fascism represented the dying gasp of a failed capitalist system. The memo grew into a magazine article, and parts of it were supposed to be incorporated into a much larger book, but during World War II he decided to bring it out separately. Though Hayek had no problem getting Routledge to publish the book in England, three American publishing houses rejected the manuscript before the University of Chicago Press finally accepted it.
The book was written for a British audience, so the director of the Press, Joseph Brandt, did not expect it to be a big seller in the States. Brandt hoped to get the well-known New York Herald Tribune journalist and author Walter Lippmann to write the foreword, noting in an internal memo that if he did, it might sell between two and three thousand copies. Otherwise, he estimated, it might sell nine hundred. Unfortunately, Lippmann was busy with his own work and so turned him down, as did the 1940 Republican presidential candidate Wendell Wilkie, whose 1943 book One World had been a best-seller. John Chamberlain, the book review editor for the New York Times, was ultimately recruited for the job.
One hopes for his sake that Brandt was not the sort who bet money on his hunches. Since its first publication in 1944, the University of Chicago Press estimates that more than 350,000 copies of The Road to Serfdom have been sold. Routledge added many thousands more, but we do not know how many exactly: that press was unable to come up with any reliable numbers. There is also no good count on the number of copies that appeared in translation, not least because a portion were samizdat copies produced and distributed behind the Iron Curtain during the cold war.
Not everyone, of course, liked (or likes) the book. The intelligentsia, particularly in the United States, greeted its publication with condescension and, occasionally, vitriol. Then a diplomat in the British Embassy in Washington, Isaiah Berlin wrote to a friend in April 1945 that he was "still reading the awful Dr. Hayek." The economist Gardiner Means did not have Berlin's fortitude; after reading 50 pages he reported to William Benton of the Encyclopaedia Britannica that he "couldn't stomach any more." The philosopher Rudolf Carnap, writing to Hayek's friend Karl Popper, apparently could not muster even the stamina of Means: "I was somewhat surprised to see your acknowledgement of von Hayek. I have not read his book myself; it is much read and discussed in this country, but praised mostly by the protagonists of free enterprise and unrestricted capitalism, while all leftists regard him as a reactionary."
Those who, like Carnap, have not read Hayek but think that they already know what he is all about should be prepared for some surprises. Those on the left might preview their reading with a peek at chapter 3, where Hayek expounds on some of the government intervention that he was prepared to accept, at least in 1944. Those on the right might want to have a look at his distinction between a liberal and a conservative in his 1956 foreword to the American paperback edition. Both will be surprised by what they find.
In this introduction I trace the origins of Hayek's little book, summoning up the context in which it was produced and showing how it gradually came to its final form. The reactions, both positive and negative, that ultimately turned it into a cultural icon will then be documented. Because it is a controversial work, I will comment upon some of the most persistent criticisms that have been levied against it. Not all of these, I argue, are warranted: Hayek's book may have been widely, but it was not always carefully, read. In my conclusion I will reflect briefly on its lasting messages.
Friedrich A. Hayek, a young economist from Vienna, came to the London School of Economics (LSE) in early 1931 to deliver four lectures on monetary theory, later published as the book Prices and Production. The topic was timely—Britain's economy, stagnant through the 1920s, had only gotten worse with the onset of the depression—and the presentation was erudite, if at times hard to follow, owing to Hayek's accent. On the basis of the lectures Hayek was offered a visiting professorship that began in the Michaelmas (fall) 1931 term, and a year later he was appointed to the Tooke Chair of Economic Science and Statistics. He would remain at the LSE until after the war.
The summer before Hayek arrived to teach was a traumatic one in Britain and across Europe. In addition to the deepening economic depression, financial crises on the continent led to a gold drain in Britain, and ultimately to the collapse of the Labour government, the abandoning of the gold standard, and, in autumn, the imposition of protectionist tariffs. Hayek's entrance onto the London stage was itself accompanied by no little controversy. In August 1931 he caused a stir with the publication of the first half of a review of John Maynard Keynes's new book, A Treatise on Money, which drew a heated reply from Keynes a few months later. His battle with Keynes and, later, with Keynes's compatriot Piero Sraffa, would occupy no small amount of Hayek's attention during the 1931–32 academic year.
By the following year, however, Hayek had secured his chair, and for his inaugural lecture, delivered on March 1, 1933, he turned to a new subject. He began with the following question: Why were economists, whose advice was often so useful, increasingly regarded by the general public as out of step with the times during the perilous years that had followed the last war? To answer it Hayek drew upon intellectual history. He claimed that public opinion was unduly influenced by an earlier generation of economists who, by criticizing a theoretical approach to the social sciences, had undermined the credibility of economic reasoning in general. Once that had been accomplished, people felt free to propose all manner of utopian solutions to the problem of the depression, solutions that any serious study of economics would show were infeasible. Toward the end of his talk Hayek cited the new enthusiasm for socialist planning in Britain as an example of such misguided ideas. The economists who had paved the way for these errors were members of the German Historical School, advisors to Bismarck in the last decades of the nineteenth century.
Hayek's choice of the German Historical School economists was significant on a number of levels. First, the German Historical School had before the war been the chief rival of the Austrian School of Economics, of which Hayek was a member. Next, though the German Historical School economists were conservative imperialists, cheerleaders for a strong German Reich and opponents of German social democracy, they also were the architects of numerous social welfare reforms. Bismarck embraced these reforms while at the same time repressing the socialists; indeed, the reforms were designed at least in part to undermine the socialist position and thereby strengthen the Empire. Hayek probably hoped that his audience would see certain parallels to the present day. Only a month before Adolf Hitler, who detested democracy and favored instead the reconstitution of another (third) Reich, had become Chancellor of the Weimar Republic. Within days he had convinced President Hindenburg to sign a decree prohibiting meetings and publications that could endanger public security, a measure aimed squarely at the communists and socialists. The morning before Hayek's address the world had learned that the Reichstag building had been set on fire and burned; the Nazis were quick to blame the act on the communists and used it to justify further acts of repression. A half century before, Bismarck had used an attempt on the Emperor's life to put his own antisocialist laws in place.
After Hayek's speech the situation in Germany continued to deteriorate. In March there were wholesale arrests of communists and harassment of the social democratic leadership. Opposition newspapers were closed, constitutional protections swept away, and a notorious "enabling law" passed that gave Hitler virtually dictatorial powers. On April 1 a nationwide boycott against German Jews was called, and later in the month action against the trade unions began. In May students on university campuses across Germany held book-burning celebrations, cleansing their libraries of suspect volumes. One such event was staged in the Berlin Opernplatz on May 10, 1933, and the martial songs and speeches of the participants were broadcast live across Germany. It was a horrific spring.
Hayek's criticisms of socialism in his address were not well received. He would later recall that, following the talk, "one of the more intelligent students had the cheek to come to see me for the sole purpose of telling me that, though hitherto admired by the students, I had wholly destroyed my reputation by taking, in this lecture, a clearly anti-socialist position." But even more disquieting for Hayek was the interpretation of events in Germany that was emerging among the British intelligentsia. Certain prominent members of the German industrial class had initially supported Hitler's rise, and others had acquiesced in it. This, together with the Nazi party's evident persecution of the left, led many in Britain to see Naziism as either a capitalist-inspired movement or, alternatively (if one were a Marxist, and believed that capitalism was doomed to collapse), as a last-ditch attempt by the bourgeoisie to deny the inexorable triumph of socialism. As Hayek recalled, his director at the LSE was one of the ones propagating such an interpretation:
A very special situation arose in England, already in 1939, that people were seriously believing that National Socialism was a capitalist reaction against socialism. It's difficult to believe now, but the main exponent whom I came across was Lord Beveridge. He was actually convinced that these National Socialists and capitalists were reacting against socialism. So I wrote a memorandum for Beveridge on this subject, then turned it into a journal article. . . .
In his reminiscence Hayek got the date wrong: given his reference in his memorandum to the Berlin student demonstration, and given that it carries the date "Spring 1933," he probably wrote it in May or early June of that year. The memo, titled "Nazi-Socialism," is reproduced for the first time in the appendix of this volume. In it, Hayek rebuts the standard account with the claim that National Socialism is a "genuine socialist movement." In support of this interpretation he notes its antagonism to liberalism, its restrictive economic policy, the socialist background of some of its leaders, and its antirationalism. The success of the Nazis was not, he asserted, due to a reactionary desire on the part of the Germans to return to the prewar order, but rather represented a culmination of antiliberal tendencies that had grown since Bismarck's time. In short, socialism and Naziism both grew out of the antiliberal soil that the German Historical School economists had tended. He added the chilling warning that many other countries were following, though at a distance, the same process of development. Finally, Hayek contended that "the inherent logic of collectivism makes it impossible to confine it to a limited sphere" and hinted at how collective action must lead to coercion, but he did not develop this key idea in any detail.
As Hayek noted in his reminiscence, he ultimately turned his 1933 memo into a magazine article, published in April 1938, titled "Freedom and the Economic System." The following year he came out with an expanded version in the form of a public policy pamphlet. If one compares the two articles one can trace an accretion of ideas that would later appear in The Road to Serfdom. In the 1938 version, though he continued to stress the links between fascism and socialism, Hayek began to expand on what he saw as the fatal flaw of socialist planning—namely, that it "presupposes a much more complete agreement on the relative importance of the different ends than actually exists, and that, in consequence, in order to be able to plan, the planning authority must impose upon the people that detailed code of values which is lacking." He followed with a much fuller exposition of why even democratic planning, if it were to be successfully carried out, eventually requires the authorities to use a variety of means, from propaganda to coercion, to implement the plan.
In the 1939 version still more ideas were added. Hayek there drew a contrast between central planning and the planning of a general system of rules that occurs under liberalism; he noted how the price system is a mechanism for coordinating knowledge; and he made several observations concerning economic policy under a liberal regime. All of these ideas would be incorporated into The Road to Serfdom.
On the one hand, Hayek had developed some of his new arguments in the course of fighting a battle against socialism during the middle years of the decade. On the other hand, some of the arguments were not actually new at all. Another debate on the feasibility of socialism had taken place immediately following the First World War, and Hayek's mentor, Ludwig von Mises, had contributed a key argument. This earlier controversy had taken place in mostly German-language publications. When Hayek came to England and encountered similar arguments in favor of planning being made by his academic colleagues and in the press, he decided to educate them about the earlier discussion. In 1935 he published the edited volume, Collectivist Economic Planning: Critical Studies on the Possibilities of Socialism. The book contained translations of articles by others, including von Mises's seminal piece "Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth," as well as introductory and concluding essays by Hayek. In the former Hayek reviewed the earlier Continental debates on socialism; in his concluding essay, titled "The Present State of the Debate," he identified and assessed a number of more recent proposals, among them the idea of reintroducing competition within a socialist state, dubbed "pseudo-competition" by Hayek, which later came to be called "market socialism." This drew a response from the socialist camp, the most prominent being that of the Polish émigré economist Oskar Lange, whose defense of market socialism in a journal article was later reprinted in a book, On the Economic Theory of Socialism. Hayek would respond in turn to Lange and to another proponent of socialism, H. D. Dickinson, in a book review a few years later.
Hayek's three essays noted previously constitute the written record of his early arguments against socialism. But the battle was also taking place in the classrooms (and doubtless spilling over into the senior commons room, as well) at the LSE. Beginning in the 1933–34 summer term (which ran from late April through June) Hayek began offering a class entitled "Problems of a Collectivist Economy." The socialist response was immediate: the next year students could also enroll in a class titled "Economic Planning in Theory and Practice," taught first by Hugh Dalton and in later years by Evan Durbin. According to the LSE calendar, during the 1936–37 summer term students could hear Hayek from 5 to 6 PM and Durbin from 6 to 7 PM each Thursday night! This may have proved to be too much: the next year their classes were placed in the same time slot on successive days, Durbin on Wednesdays and Hayek on Thursdays.
By the time that World War II was beginning, then, Hayek had criticized, in books, learned journals, and in the classroom, a variety of socialist proposals put forth by his fellow economists. The Road to Serfdom is in many respects a continuation of this work, but it is important to recognize that it also goes beyond the academic debates. By the end of the decade there were many other voices calling for the transformation, sometimes radical, of society. A few held a corporativist view of the good society that bordered on fascism; others sought a middle way; still others were avowedly socialist—but one thing all agreed on, that scientific planning was necessary if Britain was to survive.
Thus in their two volume work Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? Fabian socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb praised the "Cult of Science" that they had discovered on their visits to the Soviet Union, and held out the hope that scientific planning on a massive scale was the appropriate medicine to aid Britain in its recovery from the depression. The sociologist Karl Mannheim, who fled Frankfurt in 1933 and ultimately gained a position on the LSE faculty, warned that only by adopting a comprehensive system of economic planning could Britain avoid the fate of central Europe. For Mannhein, planning was inevitable; the only question was whether it was going to be totalitarian or democratic. These economists were joined by other highly respected public intellectuals, from natural scientists to politicians.
If planning was the word on everyone's lips, very few were clear about exactly what it was to entail. The situation was well captured by Hayek's friend and LSE colleague Lionel Robbins, who in 1937 wrote:
"Planning" is the grand panacea of our age. But unfortunately its meaning is highly ambiguous. In popular discussion it stands for almost any policy which it is wished to present as desirable. . . . When the average citizen, be he Nazi or Communist or Summer School Liberal, warms to the statement that "What the world needs is planning," what he really feels is that the world needs that which is satisfactory.
As Robbins's passage suggests, planners were to be found all along the political spectrum. Sorting out exactly what planning implied for a complex society was to be yet another major theme in Hayek's coming work.
By 1939, in short, most of the elements for Hayek's book were present. But its form was not yet in place. When he was not fighting against socialist planners, Hayek had spent much of the rest of his time in the 1930s exhausting himself writing and rewriting a major theoretical work in economics, ultimately published in 1941 as The Pure Theory of Capital. That project was finally winding down in August 1939. In a letter to his old university friend Fritz Machlup, Hayek spoke of a new project, one that, through a study of the relationship between scientific method and social problems, would provide a systematic investigation of intellectual history and reveal the fundamental principles of social development of the last one hundred years (from Saint-Simon to Hitler). This was to become Hayek's Abuse of Reason project, and from it would emerge The Road to Serfdom.
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and two days later England and France declared war. Within a week, Hayek had sent a letter to the director general of the British Ministry of Information offering his services to aid with any propaganda campaign that might be directed at the German-speaking countries. He enclosed a memo with various suggestions about how to proceed. Hayek proposed a campaign with a historical dimension, one that demonstrated that the principles of liberty that England and France stood for were the same as those that had been enunciated by the great German poets and thinkers of the past, but showing that these had been eclipsed by "the distorted view of history, on which they have been brought up during the last sixty years," that is, since Bismarck's time. Hayek's efforts had little effect; in a letter from a staff member dated December 30th his offer to help was politely but firmly turned down.
Once the war began in earnest the next May most of his colleagues from the LSE had been called to duty in various government departments. Though he was naturalized as a British subject in 1938, as an émigré Hayek was not offered a post, so he spent the war teaching his classes and writing. Hayek was clearly frustrated that the British government had no place for him, complaining in a letter to Machlup that he was "getting really annoyed by the refusal to use a person like myself on any useful work. . . ." By this time, however, Hayek's intellectual history was well under way. In his letter to Machlup, Hayek provided an outline of the book, noting that "[t]he second part would of course be an elaboration of the central argument of my pamphlet on Freedom and the Economic System." The first part of the book would be called "Hubris," the second, "Nemesis."
Hayek worked on the Abuse of Reason project for the rest of 1940, completing a number of historical chapters and beginning some others on methodology. Toward the end of the year, though, he began transforming the last part of the book into what would become The Road to Serfdom, a book that he initially envisioned as coming out "as a sixpence Penguin volume." Why did Hayek decide to abandon his larger historical endeavor—he never completed the Abuse of Reason project—to focus on a shorter, more popular, and admittedly "political" tract? We will probably never have a definitive answer, but certain plausible reasons stand out. Were the Allies to lose the war, western civilization in Europe itself would be the cost. But Hayek was also worried about what would transpire if the Allies won.
Mobilization for war requires a massive reallocation of resources away from the production of peacetime consumer goods and capital toward the production of war materials. Factories are commandeered, their machines retooled for wartime production, and decisions about what to produce are made at the center. With fewer consumer goods being produced, the prospect of inflation looms (particularly harmful during wartime, because it hurts debtors, just when the government is trying to convince its citizens to become debtors by buying war bonds). To avoid inflation further intervention is necessary, and the standard policy response is to fix prices and institute a system of rationing. This essentially does away with a freely adjusting price system for basic consumer goods. Bluntly put, during war the market system is more or less abandoned, as many parts of the economy are placed under central control. Hayek's fear was that socialists would want to continue such controls in peacetime.
There was precedence for such a fear. Even before the First World War had begun, the philosopher Otto Neurath had been touting the doctrine of "war economy" in Eugen von B÷hm-Bawerk's economics seminar in Vienna, much to the chagrin of seminar participant Ludwig von Mises. Neurath claimed that central planning under wartime conditions provided an exemplar for how to run an economy in peacetime. His and others' proposals for the socialization of the postwar economy provoked Mises to formulate his initial critique of socialist planning. Interestingly, Neurath was still on the scene when Hayek was writing: when hostilities started in earnest Neurath had fled Holland and would spend the war in Oxford.
The British were not Continental socialists, but still, the danger signs were there. Clearly, the nearly universal sentiment among the intelligentsia in the 1930s that a planned system represented "the middle way" between a failed capitalism and totalitarianisms of the left and right was worrisome. The writings of what Hayek called the "men (and women!) of science" could not be ignored. Look at this message from the weekly magazine Nature, taken from an editorial that carried the title "Science and the National War Effort":
The contribution of science to the war effort should be a major one, for which the Scientific Advisory Committee may well be largely responsible. Moreover, the work must not cease with the end of the war. It does not follow that an organization which is satisfactory under the stress of modern warfare will serve equally well in time of peace; but the principle of the immediate concern of science in formulating policy and in other ways exerting a direct and sufficient influence on the course of government is one to which we must hold fast. Science must seize the opportunity to show that it can lead mankind onward to a better form of society.
The very next week readers of Nature would find similar sentiments echoed in Barbara Wootton's review of a book on Marxism: "The whole approach to social and political questions is still pre-scientific. Until we have renounced tribal magic in favour of the detached and relentless accuracy characteristic of science the unconquered social environment will continue to make useless and dangerous our astonishing conquest of the material environment." Progressive opinion was united behind the idea that science was to be enlisted to reconstruct society along more rational lines.
There were also more overtly political forces to be reckoned with, forces whose hopes for the postwar world became increasingly clear as the conflict began to turn in favor of the allies. In early 1942 the Labour Party issued a pamphlet, The Old World and the New Society, that laid out the principles for reconstruction after the war. Here are some of its key claims:
There must be no return to the unplanned competitive world of the inter-War years, in which a privileged few were maintained at the expense of the common good . . .
A planned society must replace the old competitive system . . .
The basis for our democracy must be planned production for community use . . .
As a necessary prerequisite to the reorganization of society, the main War-time controls in industry and agriculture should be maintained to avoid the scramble for profits which followed the last war.
These ideas were incorporated into a resolution proposed by Harold Laski and passed at the Party Conference on May 26, 1942. In his speech defending the resolution, Laski noted that "Nationalization of the essential instruments of production before the war ends, the maintenance of control over production and distribution after the war—this is the spearhead of this resolution."
Party boilerplate is one thing, concrete plans as how to carry it out are quite another. A start at the latter was made in the famous Beveridge Report.
The story of how Hayek's former director at the LSE came to chair the Inter-departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services is not without interest. The committee was originally set up in early 1941 to respond to trade union complaints about the mishmash of government programs then in existence to provide for unemployment benefits, sick pay, pensions, and the like. The Treasury, busy trying to finance the war, did not want a comprehensive review, fearing it would only lead to recommendations for further expenditures. They pushed for the appointment of a "safe" chairman who would do a patch-up job, and made sure that the committee was staffed principally with equally safe middle-level civil servants. But then the Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin intervened, and ultimately prevailed in having Beveridge appointed to chair the committee, his motivation being, according to one account, to get "the pushy Beveridge at last out of his Ministry"!
By December 1941 Beveridge had received only one of the 127 pieces of evidence that his committee would ultimately collect, but this did not deter him from circulating a paper that contained most of the main points that would be contained in the final report. Beveridge turned out to be anything but safe. His proposals provided the foundations for the postwar British welfare state, including the provision of family allowances, comprehensive social insurance, universal health care coverage, and a government obligation to maintain full employment.
Though the Treasury was horrified at the projected cost of the plan, over the course of 1942 Beveridge, through public appearances, radio talks, and the like, managed to leak to the press the broad outlines of the report, thereby building up popular support and undermining the ability of the government to either ignore or dismiss it. He was successful as impresario: when the 299-page government document was finally released on December 2, 1942, the line for it at the government bookshop was said to have been over a mile long. It ultimately sold about a half a million copies, influencing policy not just in Britain, but worldwide. (In America, an edition that was "reproduced photographically from the English edition" to ensure a speedy delivery was quickly made available and sold about fifty thousand copies.)
The Beveridge Report was an immediate success. The British economy had been stagnant throughout the interwar period, and no one wanted a return to such deprivation. The common sacrifices that the war necessitated bred a feeling that all should similarly share more equally in the reconstruction to come. Universal medical provision was itself virtually a fact of life during the first few years of the war, certainly for anyone injured by aerial bombing or whose work was tied to the war effort—and whose work was not, in one way or another? The war, then, was transforming the climate, and Beveridge's hope—and he was not alone—was to build on this transformation in the future. Indeed, the first of the "Three Guiding Principles of Recommendations" with which he began his report made the link explicit: "Now, when the war is abolishing landmarks of every kind, is the opportunity for using experience in a clear field. A revolutionary moment in the world's history is a time for revolutions, not for patching."
Having come to his majority in interwar Vienna, Hayek doubtless experienced an intense and disquieting sense of déjà vu on reading such words. In his book he sought to reverse the trends that were everywhere evident in Britain. Making the economic case against socialist planning was not enough. He needed to remind the British of their liberal democratic heritage, to contrast it with the collectivist or corporativist authoritarian modes of social organization promoted by its enemies, and finally, to make clear (notwithstanding the rhetoric of "planning for freedom") that the actual implementation of a centrally planned society would be inimical to liberty.
In a letter dated August 8, 1942, Hayek asked Fritz Machlup, who was by then in Washington at the Office of Alien Property Custodian, for his help in securing an American publisher. Machlup's wartime letters to Hayek may have helped him to realize that his message might be needed as an antidote in the States as well as in Britain: "If you talk here with people over 40 years of age—except Hansen—they sound sane and relatively conservative. It is the generation brought up by Keynes and Hansen, which is blind to the political implications of their economic views." By summer's end Hayek sent Machlup a typescript that included all but the final three substantive chapters, two of which would deal with his recommendations for the postwar period. He would mail these to his friend over the course of the next year.
Machlup's first stop was Macmillan, but they turned him down. Machlup later reported to Hayek what they said in their letter: "Frankly, we are doubtful of the sale which we could secure for it, and I personally cannot but feel that Professor Hayek is a little outside the stream of much present-day thought, both here and in England." Machlup's next move was, at Hayek's request, to send the (by now completed) typescript to Walter Lippmann, who would promote it to Little Brown. This was done, but they also declined, on the grounds that "the exposition was too difficult for the general reader." Machlup then turned to Henry Gideonse, by now the President of Brooklyn College, but who previously had served as the editor of the series of public policy pamphlets in which "Freedom and the Economic System" had appeared. Gideonse took the manuscript with his strong endorsement to Ordway Tead, the economics editor at Harper and Brothers. This initiative also failed. In a sentence that in some ways exemplifies his own complaint, Tead explained why Harper would not publish it: "I do feel that the volume is labored, is over-written and that he can say all that he has to say in about half the space."
Nearly a year had gone by and Machlup's search for an American publisher had yielded nothing. It was at this point that Aaron Director came to the rescue. Director worked alongside Machlup in Washington, and had read the typescript in the summer of 1943. In October, Director wrote to fellow Chicago economists Frank Knight and Henry Simons to see if the University of Chicago Press might want to consider publishing it. Though he never received an answer, apparently Knight did recommend that the Press have a look. Toward the end of the next month Director sent the galley proofs from the English edition (which had arrived in the interim) to Chicago, asking for an immediate decision.
The Press complied, asking Knight to evaluate the manuscript. In his reader's report, dated December 10, 1943, the irascible Chicago professor provided a decidedly lukewarm endorsement. He began the report by calling the book "a masterly performance of the job it undertakes" and admitted that he was sympathetic to its main conclusions. But he followed this with a two-page discussion of the book's weaknesses, concluding that, "'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."
Knight's distinctly ambivalent report could easily have resulted in the Press rejecting the manuscript. Instead, Acting Editor John T. McNeill took it to mean that it was worthy of further consideration. On December 14 he asked another Chicago economist, Jacob Marschak, to provide a second reader's report. Marschak, a socialist, was far more complimentary, writing six days later that "Hayek's book may start in this country a more scholarly kind of debate. . . . It is written with the passion and the burning clarity of a great doctrinaire. . . . This book cannot be bypassed." Based on the two reports, the publication committee at the Press decided to undertake an American edition. The acceptance letter to Hayek was dated December 28, 1943.
There were still details to be settled, and Machlup acted in Hayek's behalf concerning most of these, even to the point of accepting Chicago's offer for Hayek in early January—it was nearly a month later when Hayek finally got the news. One major decision was to completely reset the type, this because in the British edition Hayek frequently referred to England as "this country." Two other changes were suggested by the Press, but both were rejected. The first was to change the name to Socialism: The Road to Serfdom. Both Machlup and Hayek thought that the proposed title was misleading, because socialism was only one of a subset of doctrines the book criticized. Central planning could be undertaken by parties on the right as well as the left; this was Hayek's point when he dedicated the book to socialists of all parties. The other proposal was to eliminate the aphorisms with which Hayek began each chapter. Hayek was sufficiently appalled by the latter suggestion that he followed up his letter of protest with a cable reading "Cannot consent to omission of quotations from Road to Serfdom." The quotations were retained, including one from David Hume on the title page. Inexplicably, a quotation from Tocqueville that appeared on the title page of the British edition was dropped from the original American one, and in some of the later reprints the Hume quotation was moved off of the title page to the following one. Both have been restored to their rightful place on the title page in the current edition.
The Road to Serfdom appeared on March 10, 1944, in England. The initial print run was 2,000 copies, and due to the strong demand (it sold out in about a month's time) a second printing of 2,500 was immediately ordered. That one quickly sold out as well, but nothing further could be done until a new paper quota was announced in July. Paper shortages would plague British production of the book for the duration and beyond. July also saw the publication of an Australian edition.
The American edition, with a run of 2,000 copies, came out on September 18, 1944, a Monday, though advance copies had been sent to reviewers earlier. Henry Hazlitt's laudatory front page review appeared in the next Sunday's New York Times Book Review section, and another graced the pages of the Herald Tribune. By September 28 a second and third printing had been ordered, bringing the total to 17,000 copies. The Press had a minor hit on its hands.
At the end of October a letter arrived at the Press that would help turn it into a major hit and a cultural icon. On the recommendation of Henry Gideonse, the Press had sent a copy of the book to Max Eastman, then a "roving editor" for The Reader's Digest. Eastman liked it so much that he asked the owner and editor-in-chief, DeWitt Wallace, for permission to do a condensation. This appeared in April 1945, and it carried with it an offer of reprints, available through the Book-of-the-Month Club, for a nickel apiece. (Bulk orders were also possible: if one wanted 1,000 copies, it cost $18.) The Reader's Digest had at the time a circulation of about 8,750,000, and over a million of the reprints were eventually printed and distributed.
Hayek arrived in the States in the beginning of April 1945 for a five-week lecture tour to promote his book. He crossed the Atlantic by boat, and while he was in transit the Reader's Digest issue appeared. Though the tour was initially envisioned to consist of academic lectures before various university departments of economics, by the time he arrived the tour had been turned over to a professional organization (the National Concerts and Artists Corporation) that had added a number of public appearances. The first event, a lecture sponsored by the Town Hall Club in New York, drew an overflow crowd of more than 3,000 listeners and was broadcast over the radio. Hayek was initially overwhelmed by the idea of speaking to such large, popular audiences, but, as he later recounted, he eventually warmed to the task.
But it is also clear (and quite understandable, given his personality) that Hayek was a bit embarrassed by all the adulation, especially from those who might have gotten their only knowledge of his views from a 20-page condensation (or worse, from the cartoon edition that had appeared in the February 1945 issue of Look magazine). He seemed particularly worried about being misinterpreted. Thus in a Chicago newspaper under a banner that read in part "Friedrich Hayek Comments on Uses to Which His Book Has Been Put" he stated, "I was at first a bit puzzled and even alarmed when I found that a book written in no party spirit and not meant to support any popular philosophy should have been so exclusively welcomed by one party and so thoroughly excoriated by the other." He repeatedly emphasized in his talks before business groups that he was not against government intervention per se: "I think what is needed is a clear set of principles which enables us to distinguish between the legitimate fields of government activities and the illegitimate fields of government activity. You must cease to argue for and against government activity as such."
He also feared that certain parts of his message would be ignored. For example, businessmen who might be quite eager to get "government off of our backs" might be equally eager to demand that the government protect their industries from foreign competition. Responding to a question about tariffs in a discussion following his speech in Washington, DC, Hayek bluntly asserted: "If you have any comprehension of my philosophy at all, you must know that one thing I stand for above all else is free trade throughout the world." The man offering the anecdote added that, with that, "the temperature of the room went down at least 10 degrees."
The trip to the United States gave Hayek his "15 minutes of fame," but it was also important for more substantive reasons. On the trip he first encountered Mr. Harold Luhnow, a Kansas City businessman who was interested in funding a study of how to foster an effective competitive order in the United States. After subsequent negotiations it was agreed that the study would be undertaken at the University of Chicago, and though it was never completed, the project helped to bring together in one place the various principals who would help create the "Chicago School of Economics"—Aaron Director, Milton Friedman, and, later, George Stigler. These men would all attend, in 1947, the first meeting of the Mont Plerin Society, an international society of scholars founded by Hayek whose goal was "to contribute to the preservation and improvement of the free society." A few years later Hayek would himself emigrate from London to the University of Chicago, though there he would join the Committee on Social Thought rather than the Economics Department.
If Hayek was surprised by the enthusiastic reception of the book in some quarters, he was likely equally surprised at how it was savaged in others. Hayek had expected criticism, of course, and as an academic was looking forward to it, for it would mean that people were engaging his arguments. He doubtless had in mind the sort of response he received from the English socialist Barbara Wootton, whose "courteous and frank" work Hayek mentioned in his 1956 foreword to the American paperback edition. And indeed, with the exception of some Labour Party politicians, Hayek's challengers in Britain by and large took his views seriously, and responded to them accordingly.
The situation was different in the United States. The worst of the lot, Herman Finer's scabrous Road to Reaction, was also picked out for mentioning by Hayek in the 1956 foreword. The overarching message of the book was evident in its very first sentence: "Friedrich A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom constitutes the most sinister offensive against democracy to emerge from a democratic country for many decades." According to Finer, Hayek's call for constitutionalism and advocacy of the rule of law was indicative of his antidemocratic biases, the "very essence" of Hayek's argument being "the idea that democracy is dangerous and ought to be limited." Toward the end of the book (published, we remember, in 1945) we find Finer remarking on "the thoroughly Hitlerian contempt for the democratic man so perfectly expressed by Hayek." Other pundits of the day took different tacks: George Soule, for example, was quick to label him "the darling of the Chamber of Commerce." The left-leaning PM newspaper launched an exposé showing how business interests promoted the "selling" of Hayek's message. The author's concluding sentences capture well many people's perception of the reception of the book in America: "Hayek's book—and the Look and Reader's Digest treatments of it—gave big business a wonderful opportunity to spread distrust and fear of the New Deal. Big business seized the opportunity."
Perhaps recognizing that nothing sells like controversy, the Press sent Hayek a copy of Finer's book when it appeared in December 1945, and asked whether he might want to add a new chapter to the end of the next edition of The Road to Serfdom, in which he would reply to his critics. Hayek worked on such a postscript on and off over the next few years. A partially completed draft, dated 1948, exists in his archives, and elements of this would ultimately be incorporated into the 1956 foreword. It is notable, and characteristic, that Hayek's response there was not to lash out at his critics, but rather to try to explain the differences in the receptions he received in England and the United States, again by emphasizing the different experiences that people in the two countries had had with socialism.
It is hard to imagine that Hayek's book would have become so widely known, remembered decades after its original publication, had it not been for the Reader's Digest condensation. This allowed Hayek's message to reach many more people, and in at least one instance with dramatic effect: Antony Fisher, the founder of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and after it a prime mover in the foundation of many other conservative think tanks, was inspired to wage the war of ideas after having read the condensation and then speaking with Hayek in his LSE office in the summer of 1945. But the condensation also turned the book into a symbol for both his admirers and his critics. The sad result is that, as John Scoon put it, "People still tend to go off half-cocked about it; why don't they read it and find out what Hayek actually says!"
Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 1-22 of The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents—The Definitive Edition by F. A. Hayek, edited by Bruce Caldwell, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2007 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)
F. A. Hayek
The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents—The Definitive Edition
Edited and with a Foreword and an Introduction by Bruce Caldwell
With new appendices
©2007, 304 pages
Series: The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek
Cloth $35.00 ISBN: 978-0-226-32054-0 (ISBN-10: 0-226-32054-5)
Paper $15.00 ISBN: 978-0-226-32055-7 (ISBN-10: 0-226-32055-3)
For information on purchasing the book—from bookstores or here online—please go to the webpage for The Road to Serfdom.
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