Hayek’s Road to Serfdom and Nozick’s On the Randian Arguement

Hayek Road to Serfdom (1944)

Hayek’s work returns us to our earlier discussion of Nozick, particular the idea of distributive justice or how to go about properly allocating the resources of a particular society. In many ways we can see Nozick’s indebtedness to Hayek as both of them are clearly focused on the individual and invested in the idea of a minimally involved state. The reading we did of Nozick focused on distributive justice more abstractly than Hayek goes about it in this text. Generally, distributive justice says that a proper allocation of resources where no incidental inequalities arise is considered just. Nozick tries to work towards this through his entitlement theory, which focuses on creating principles of justice based on the initial acquisition of goods, the transfer of these goods and the rectification of improper acquisition or transfer. Hayek on the other hand, is focused on the very nature of this state. He writes this text in England, privileged in the sense, as he says himself, that he has lived and worked in Austria, and now sees what he saw develop in Nazi Germany, 20 years prior, now happening in England. This in a nutshell is his “Road to Serfdom”, a road he sees it his duty to point out and understand how it was laid out before us in the first place. Having published this book in the final year of WWII and being clearly traumatized by the dangers of both Fascism and Socialism, Hayek brings our attention to the inevitable social justice that will arise should we truly march down one of these roads. Returning us to the notion of distributive justice, the pattern he sees here with both Fascism and Socialism is the particular way in which a given state that maintains these ideologies, distributes goods. The pattern here, his fear is a consistent reliance and intensification of “central planning”. In this sense his book reads as an all out critique of social justice, particularly a centrally engineered social justice, which he believes will inevitably lead to injustice.

For Hayek anyone who means anything in society today (i.e. England at the time), anyone whose views can have an immediate and direct influence on the developments of society are becoming increasingly invested in socialist ideas (p.5). Indeed, this is likely a direct critique of the powerhouse at the time, Keynes, who wrote the book on what governments should do following a depression (heavy government spending, intense central planning, etc). The problem here correlates with Hayek’s strong conviction that Socialism leads to tyrannical rule a la Hitler. Indeed Nazism, for Hayek was the outcome of socialist trends (p.4). Therefore we must come to a realization that we too, may head down this road. In order to divert us from such a road and to better know our enemy, he feels we must urgently come to a better understanding of how the National Socialists came to power in Germany (p. 5). As is common of Hayek’s thought, he writes that we must identify the institutions that have caused the wickedness of the Germans, as opposed to merely describing the Germans as wicked (8).

Hayek’s central argument is that we have come to this road because we have lost track of what “liberalism” truly refers to. Hayek notes a general shift in the activities of government, particularly since the market crash of 1929 and the great depression Europe faced in the ensuing years. During this time governments were scrambling to figure out what was up or down. This led to the government (Parliament specifically, in the quote he uses) to “find itself increasingly engaged in legalization which has for its conscious aim the regulation of the day-to-day of the community”, in fact, intervening in matters which were otherwise previously far outside its scope of influence (p.12, from footnote). We might quickly note how similar such an analysis is to a Foucauldian analysis. Undoubtedly Hayek has is eyes and ears turned to understanding the development of institutional systems and their increasingly intensive forms of rationalization and the use of that rationalization on the very people of society. That said, Hayek’s point is not simply that we have turned against a laissez-faire style society, but that in doing so, we have completely changed the direction of the evolution of our ideas and social order (p.13). Hayek then is therefore not only scared for the direction we are heading (Socialism-Fascism), he is also yearning for the old style and quite possibly the form in which this old-style liberalism may have taken if it were to have gone on as it was.

As governments continue to install various rules, regulations and limits to our economic affairs and the kinds of economic affairs we can have, it to places constraints on our personal freedoms. For Hayek there is a direct correlation between the two, long professed by the fathers of Liberal philosophy (Smith, Locke, Mill, etc). He writes, “[w]e have progressively abandoned the freedom in economic affairs without which personal and political freedom has never existed in the past” (p.13). Indeed, quoting de Tocqueville and Lord Acton, socialism means slavery. Thus not just “liberalism” is lost, but “individualism”, a concept which Hayek feels has become increasingly twisted and debased to egotism and mere selfishness (p.14). What is lost here is the recognition of an individual’s views and the notion that this individual should be able to develop his or her own “gifts and bents (p.14). Hayek believes the development of commerce, the end of true serfdoms, of kingdoms, gave rise to people being able to shape their own life as they saw fit, unhindered and this in turn dramatically influenced the speed at which science and technology developed (p.16). Political freedom went hand in hand with economic freedom, which came from the outcome of the free growth of economic activity (now that no despotic political powers controlled people) (p.15). The only thing that stifled this incredible advancement (Holland and England, being the hotbeds) was the idea that a great majority was right and proper, this in effect barring the individual innovator to innovate. In sum, the overall principle of liberalism is to make as much use as possible the “spontaneous forces of society” and “resort as little as possible to coercion”. Through minimum political coercion, people can attend to their desires and so benefit the greater advancement of society in doing so (p.18).

But unfortunately such a liberal project was never able to fully realize itself, at least in the way Hayek would have hoped. Hayek, to some extent, sees that part of this disintegration, was inevitable and somehow inherent to liberalism. As he writes, because of his success man, unhindered and now both economically and politically free became increasingly unwilling to tolerate evils that came up (p.19). With this, the basic ideas of liberalism slowly slipped away and people started to become focused on creating new demands, a new world order, abandoning the individualist tradition.

In the second chapter, we come to a better understanding of what Hayek means by this new order, which is forming. Here he analyzes socialism as the displacer of liberalism. For the French in the beginning, according to Hayek, socialism was meant as way to “terminate the revolution” and deliberately reorganize society along hierarchical lines. Only later did socialism ally itself with the notion of freedom, which he deems “democratic socialism”. But indeed this is something of an impossible concept as de Tocqueville writes: “Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialiasm makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraints and servitude” (de Tocqueville (1848), as quoted on p. 25). In any event, with the rise in socialism came a subtle change in the meaning of the word “freedom”. Originally, freedom meant freedom from coercision, from the arbitrary power of other people, a release from the necessity of obedience (26). In a word, with this kind of freedom came the introduction of independent and individual choice. Come socialism and the new freedom that was promised was a “freedom of necessity, release from the compulsion of the circumstances which inevitably limit the range of choice of all of us” (p.26). To be truly free was to be released from the restraints of the economic system. In other words, as Hayek writes, this freedom, was just another name for power or wealth (ibid). Of course as we all know the original intent of such a socialistic outlook was to decrease the range of disparities of different people, an equal distribution of wealth. Having this word, “freedom”, in common with the liberals was a great boost for the socialist endeavor, even though the meaning was in fact different. Taking us to the next step, Fascism, Hayek claims that people are deluding themselves when they say they are not correlated. In the final pages of this chapter he gives his proofs to this correlation, noting a combination of democracy and socialism as it is realized and proclaimed in Hitlerism (p.30). For Hayek, democratic socialism is a great utopia, and, it is entirely unachievable (p.32).

In chapter fifteen, Hayek fears the dangers to a peaceful nation, should it artificially create a sense of economic solidarity, an economic planning on a national scale (p.226). But more interestingly here he considers international relations and ponders whether or not a supra-national government is possible. As he imagines it, if economic realtions between individuals shift into economic relations between nations, friction is inevitable.

To prove this, Hayek gives into slightly to a socialist attitude. This is to say, certain socialist claims are readily acceptable at the national level (i.e. we are willing to help those whose habits and views are fundamentally similar to us, even if this means making sacrifices). But the application of such an attitude at the supra-national level, specifically economic enforcement of such democratic ideals, lacks a moral bases (p. 228). Bringing up the ideals of distributive justice, he finds it highly unlikely that the Norwegian fisherman consent to slowing down his fishing haul, so that his Portuguese counterpart have a better chance at success. Nor the entire Spanish iron industry have precedence over its competitor in South Wales. Indeed he even points to what might happen in the future to the English, where “the main lines of the future economic development of Great Britain might be determined by a non-British majority” (p.228-9)

A pattern should well be seen, Hayek considers these dangers because he believes we are witnessing a loss of liberalism in Europe. A democratic procedure applied at the multi-national scale that centrally directs economic acitivity could only work by brute force, “an imposition by a small group on all the rest” (p.229). Hayek goes as far to say in a footnote that the plans for such a “World Parlimaent” are absurd (p.230). Any kind of attempt at distributive justice on by an international authority would be no more than a struggle between the working classes of different countries (p.241). Harkening back on our discussion of Nozick and Rawls, any kind of planning at this level would require us to “fix and order of priorities of the different claims” (p.232). The application of this would be immoral. Economic planning should not be reduced to merely a technical task.

To be clear Hayek is not totally throwing aside some of the ideals he seems so against. He believes we should assist the poor, for example, but our assistance should be in a way that we help these individuals “in their own efforts to build up their lives and to raise their standard of living” (p. 234). This will contribute to economic prosperity, which goes hand in hand with political prosperity. If we are set on an international authority, and indeed it is not entirely a bad idea, it can tremendously contribute to these two forms of prosperity if it keeps order and peace (acting as a night watchman); and, creates the conditions where people can develop their own life (ibid). The powers of authority must therefore be of the negative kind (p. 238). Hayek finds the realization of this ideal in the “federation”

Nozick’s On the Randian Argument

Nozick’s piece is a critique of Ayn Rand’s starting points for philosophy. Part of the reasons Nozick engages in such a critique in the first place, is because he is invested in the overarching themes of her philosophy. He opens up this work with the question: “What are the moral foundations of capitalism” (p.249)? Right to the point, it would seem that Ayn Rand’s outright philosophy and, mostly, literature, is a long nuanced demonstration of such a philosophy, though Nozick sees no convincing philosophical proof by Rand that convinces him that capitalism is morally justifiable. Nozick believes such a proof is a necessity, because it would push us further towards understanding the fundamental issues about morality, and, such a philosophy “is an attempt to provide a non-utilitarian non-social-contract natural rights ethics” (ibid). It is especially the latter of these two issues that Nozick that catches his eye, as we have discussed in our previous meeting with Nozick. Like Rand he shares the conviction that a moral foundation stemming from laissez-faire capitalism is both appropriate and possible (ibid), yet Rand simply doesn’t pull it off in any satisfactory way.

If the argument has never been made, Nozick intent in this work, very analytical in a sense, is to attempt to fill in the blanks of how such an argument can begin. To get here, Nozick pulls off an exegesis of Rand’s philosophical argument, though it is rather technical. Instead of diving into to the details of Nozick’s Rand, we might simply introduce the four stages he believes are central to Rand’s argument and consider a few preliminary remarks of each.    To lay them out in order to get us started (as introduced on p.250):


I. To the conclusion that only living beings have values with a point

II. From I, to the conclusion that life itself is a value to a living being which has it

III. From II, to the conclusion that life, as a rational person, is a value to the person whose life it is. (that man qua man is a value for him)

IV. From III, to some principle about interpersonal behavior and rights and purposes.


Nozick finds himself first and foremost curious about how the person above comes to make decisions and come to alternatives. Rand relies heavily on the concept of “value”. Nozick writes that “only a living being can have values, with some point to them. Values have a purpose only for living things” (p. 250). We might imagine a being-robot, an entity that is immortal and indestructible. It moves and acts, but it cannot be affected by anything (a key component for Rand). This entity would not be able to value anything, because it has nothing to gain or lose, nothing is for or against it. Nothing about its welfare is under threat. Our values therefore come from how things affect us (p.251). What if something does not affect us, but we are aware of it? Another thought experiment: we send off food and supplies to an island people. We do not know them in any capacity, nor can we have any communication with them, they cannot affect us in anyway. How can we value our actions or the activities of the others if they do not affect us in anyway? Nozick leaves this question open put questions if we can center an ethics on particular self-centered goals and values.

The second stage of Nozick’s Rand, tells us that life itself and the prolongation and maintenance of it is a value, in and of itself. His critique here is rather direct, he writes, “[o]ne cannot reach the conclusion that life itself is a value merely by conjoining together many sentences containing the word ’value’ and ‘life’ or ‘alive’ and hoping that, by some process of association and mixture, this new connection will arise” (p.252). We cannot come to the conclusion that life itself is a value, if we suppose death could be a value too. Rand has to substantiate this loose connection between “life” and “value” in order for her philosophy to be taken seriously. He further argues if we are to suppose that being vulnerable, destructible, in other words a living being, is a necessary condition for achieving and having values, wouldn’t this human condition of fragility itself be a value (p. 253)? Nozick sees not developed argument that life itself is the greatest value and thus to build an ethics with this is rather tenuous.

If we have somehow been able to ignore the numerous issues above and have made our way to the third stage, that to each individual person, her life, as a person, is a value for her. Man qua man. The qualifier, being, rational man. We are looking for what makes one living being special. What makes man special? Is it that Man has this particular P; that Man has P and nothing else has P (p. 255)? Can we construct moral conclusions based on this? Would discoveries on other planets show us that our fundamental moral conclusions don’t, indeed, can’t follow. Point being, if P is not fixed, we cannot assign it as a part of man’s “essence”. If we decide on a moral theory from this starting point yet if we welcome the fact that future discoveries could plausibly lead us to discovering man is not the only one with this P, this rationality, this essence, then we have a dubious theory (p.256). Nozick is not denying that within ethics there are fundamental features of being human which distinguishes us from other forms of being, but “nothing morally fundamental depends on the fact that these properties are distinguishing ones” (p.256).

Given the above we have made our way to the fourth stage, which shifts our self-centered focus to the social. Rand’s basic social principle is that a living human being is an end in itself, not the means to an ends or the welfare of others (p.258). From this, it lives for its own sake, without sacrifice of itself or others and the achievement of happiness is its highest moral purpose (ibid). But indeed, self-sacrifice evident in human nature, even in Rand’s own Atlas Shrugged. Why might this happen? It is not because knowing one has fulfilled one’s values which makes them happy that we have done them or that we will feel guilty if we don’t (both examples which he gives further details of in the text), its because there must be other moral reasons for saving someone’s lives over your won (p.262). More generally can the above really be a starting point for understanding this kind of philosophy at the social level? This is to say, what if we legitimately have different goals? As Nozick writes, Rand falls into the “optimistic tradition”, a vision of a morally harmonious universe where there are no conflicts of interest, purpose, duties or goals (p.260). Rand’s general approach of how this is meant to be done is that “I, in following my interests, should limit myself so as not to interfere forcibly in your pursuit of your life as a rational being” (p.261). Nozick calls this constrained egoism; that which is subject to the constraint of not violating certain conditions, the rights of other people, none of which remain clear with Rand.

While he shares her proclivities to finding a moral theory in particular capitalist ideals, Nozick finds Rand’s moral philosophy as wholly inadequate. In no way does she objectively establish any of her conclusions effectively. We might summarize and say that Nozick is generally arguing against experiential ethics, ethics that focuses on only the facts that are relevant to the moral assessment of actions and how these actions are intended to affect the experiences of other persons (p.263). In a word, the only morally relevant information for Rand in applying her concepts to the social, is the distribution of experiences in society. His final few words almost point to the attractiveness of such a moral theory, he writes “[i]ndeed, it may seem, how could anything else matter other than the experiences people have, how things feel from the inside. What else could there be that’s of any importance?” (p.264).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s