Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Road to Serfdom and the War on Terror

Aug 8, 2005 1:03 pm

The Road to Serfdom and the War on Terror

I'm in the midst of re-reading Hayek's The Road to Serfdom for a roundtable discussion at the History of Economics Society meetings next weekend. What a wonderful, prescient book. It's also very interesting to see, as Hayek notes in his introduction to the 1976 edition, how much that was in there foreshadowed later work he engaged in. The chapter "Why the Worst Get on Top" has always been one of my favorites, and it remains so after re-reading it. Given the recent events in Iraqi prisons by both Saddammites and the US military, I couldn't help but note this passage (pp. 150-1), which I reprint here:

But where a few specific ends dominate the whole of society [e.g., the War on Terror or a cult of personality - SH], it is inevitable that occasionally cruelty may become a duty; that acts which revolt all our feeling, such as the shooting of hostages or the killing of the old or sick, should be treated as mere matters of expediency; that the compulsory uprooting and transportation of hundreds of thousand should be come an instrument of policy approved by almost everybody except the victims.... There is always in the eyes of the collectivist a greater goal which these acts serve and which to him justifies them because the pursuit of the common end of society can know no limits in any rights or values of any individual. ....

There will be jobs to be done about the badness of which taken by themselves nobody has any doubt, but which have to be done in the service of some higher end, and which have to be executed with the same expertness and efficiency as any others. And as there will be need for actions which are bad in themselves, and which all those still influenced by traditional morals will be reluctant to perform, the readiness to do bad things becomes a path to promotion and power.

The chapter on "The End of Truth" also is well worth reading in light of the War on Terror.

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