Have you ever wondered what it looks like for a free nation to become tyrannical? Fredrich Hayek wrote The Road to Serfdom in 1944 detailing the process, and so I have offered my summary of his work here. Let us never say we were not warned…
The journey down the road to serfdom begins when a war forces the nation into so-called national planning. In order to permit the total mobilization of a country’s economy, citizens gladly surrender many of their freedoms, after all, they reason, the regimentation was forced by their country’s enemies. Before the war ends, there will be talk of a “peace production board,” and the wartime leaders who want to remain in power will promote and encourage the idea alongside their promises of coming utopia. The plan includes things going well for the farmers in rural areas, a rosy life for industrial workers in major cities, and so on. After the war ends, and especially if the nation is successful, many will reason that the planning went well and will ward off future attacks, so the planning should remain.
Eventually, new planners will be elected to office, but there will be conflict because they have competing visions of utopia. The “win the war” mentality eventually wanes without war existing as a unifying factor, and so when the new legislature meets, they are in constant conflict. The legislators all have their own plans from which they will not budge; the citizens are at constant odds with one another, choosing one legislative agenda over another. Eventually, the planners will put together a temporary plan, but the citizens remain in conflict because what the farmers like, the industrial workers do not, and vice versa. The planners, especially at the national level, hate to force agreement among the people and hope for a miraculous end where there is public agreement around their patchwork plan, and so they get to work trying to sell it to the people.
The legislative efforts to sell their plan are ultimately unsuccessful, much to the surprise of the idealists in office, and so a giant propaganda machine is established which the eventual dictator of the nation will eventually find very handy for his or her ends. In time, gullible citizens will find agreement with the plan, while at the same time there will be growing national confusion that will lead to protest meetings. Among the people, the least educated will be swayed by fiery oratory and grandiose promises, so they will form a political party. Over time, confidence in the planners will continually fade and the more the planners seek to improvise, the greater the disturbance to normal, everyday business. Everyone will suffer.
The citizens will have a growing sense that the planners are incapable of getting anything done that is productive and useful, and so they will turn to a “strong man” who can take power and move an agenda forward. In desperation to quiet the voice of the people, the planners will authorize the new party leader to work out a plan of forced obedience. Eventually, they think they will be able to oust the strong man and their party will take over the country, at which point the confusion is so great that any obedience to a new leader must be obtained at all costs. Individual citizens will join the party to aid in national unity, and the aim will be negatively focused to build party unity; as with all dictators, one of the earliest steps to build loyalty is to inflame the majority in a common cause against the minority.
The party leader’s plan will be so persuasive and the people so inflamed, there will eventually be no outspoken opposition. Indeed, to oppose the leader would be suicide because the new secret police are ruthless. Like all planned states, the ability to force obedience is the number one virtue, at which point all personal liberties have disappeared completely. Every citizen’s career is planned, the promised job choices never materialized and never will, and the state will set the wages which will be arbitrary and rigid because of the inefficiency, clumsiness, and unfairness that comes as a result of attempting to run a planned state from a central headquarters.
Eventually, even the thinking of the people is worked out in a plan. The planners who developed the power party unintentionally created a dictatorship, and so there is no room remaining for a difference of opinion. The posters, radio shows, and all other forms of press communicate the same message. Even the recreational activities of the people are planned because once the planners begin down the road of planning, they cannot stop. Eventually, even the discipline of the people is planned, so if someone is fired from their job, it’s apt to be by firing squad. What used to be an error has now become a crime against the state, thus the end of the road to serfdom.