Monday, October 13, 2008

What's new is old

For years I have heard readers and writers that I respect reference F.A. Hayek's Road to Serfdom as a critical book in their own development. I recently picked up a copy. Written originally in 1944 in the context of the various totalitarian regimes of the Second World War (Communism, National Socialism, and Fascism), this was Hayek's reflection on the nature of and contest between individual liberty and government authority. I have only started the book but there are a number of items that seem awfully pertinent in this time of financial market turmoil with almost universal pleading for interventions to mitigate that which has been well anticipated for nearly a decade (a deflation of the asset bubble).

Hayek serves a prefatory and cautionary quote from David Hume "It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once."

His opening paragraph is worth quoting at length - we have travelled these paths before and it warrants keeping things in perspective while all the Chicken Little's are squawking so loudly.

The Abandoned Road

A program whose basic thesis is, not that the system of free enterprise for profit has failed in this generation, but that it has not yet been tried.
- F.D. Roosevelt

When the course of civilization takes an unexpected turn - when, instead of the continuous progress which we have come to expect, we find ourselves threatened by evils associated by us with past ages of barbarism - we naturally blame anything but ourselves. Have we not all striven according to our best lights, and have not many of our finest minds incessantly worked to make this a better world? Have not all our efforts and hopes been directed toward greater freedom, justice, and prosperity? If the outcome is so different from our aims - if, instead of freedom and prosperity, bondage and misery stare us in the face - is it not clear that sinister forces must have foiled our intentions, that we are the victims of some evil power which must be conquered before we can resume the road to better things? However much we may differ when we name the culprit - whether it is the wicked capitalist or the vicious spirit of a particular nation, the stupidity of our elders, or a social system not yet, although we have struggled against it for half a century, fully overthrown - we all are, or at least were until recently, certain of one thing: that the leading ideas which during the last generation have become common to most people of good will and have determined the major changes in our social life cannot have been wrong. We are ready to accept almost any explanation of the present crisis of our civilization except one: that the present state of the world may be the result of genuine error on our own part and that the pursuit of some of our most cherished ideals has apparently produced results utterly different from those which we expected.

No comments:

Post a Comment