“The Road to Serfdom (1944) – F.A. Hayek, Chapter 10 – Why the Worst Get on Top

  • Some people believe that the worst parts of totalitarian regimes are due to the fact that it was only by accident that they were established by groups of criminals & thugs. Why shouldn’t it be possible that such a system be run by decent people for the public good?
    • We shouldn’t believe that all good people are democrats or will wish to have a share in government. Many will want to entrust it to someone more competent & think there’s nothing wrong in approving a dictatorship for good.
    • Totalitarianism is a powerful tool for good & evil but it all depends on the dictators. Those who think it’s not the system we should fear but that it’d be run by men will think it’d be a good system under good men.
    • Fascist systems would different if in America, England, Italy, etc. If the transition were peaceful, they might get a better leader.
    • There are good reasons that the worst features of totalitarian systems aren’t accidental by-products but inevitable phenomena they’ll produce.
      • A dictatorial leader will have to choose between following morals & succeeding. For this, the unscrupulous are more likely to be successful in a totalitarian society. If you don’t see this then you don’t quite get the difference between a liberal society & a totalitarian one, between the moral atmosphere under collectivism & individualist Western civilization.
    • The moral basis of collectivism is not the basis of being moral by the results being moral. The question is whether collectivism is demanded by existing moral convictions or what moral convictions would be required if collectivism is to produce the hoped for results.
      • What moral views would a collectivist organization produce? What views are likely to rule it?
      • The interaction between morals & institutions may have the effect that ethics produced by collectivism may be different from the moral ideals that lead to the demand for it. We might think the demand for collectivism came from high moral motives but the system must be a breeding ground for the highest virtues. The ruling moral views will depend on the qualities that will lead individuals to success in a collectivist & totalitarian system, as well as the requirements of the system’s machinery.
  • Let’s go back to just before the suppression of democracy & the creation of collectivist institutions.
    • Here there’s a demand for quick & determined government action & a dissatisfaction with slow & cumbersome democratic processes. It’ll be a man or party who seems strong & capable to get things done who is most appealing.
    • This person with such support will inspire confidence that he can carry out whatever he wants, usually organized along military lines.
      • In Central Europe, socialist parties familiarized the masses with political organizations of a semi-military character designed to absorb private life.
      • They just wanted to carry the same principle further. The chance of imposing a totalitarian regime depends on a leader’s first establishment of a group prepared voluntarily to submit to the discipline that they want to impose on others.
    • Although socialist parties were strong enough to get anything, they were reluctant because they still had democratic ideals & weren’t ruthless enough. They still hope that the majority would agree with their plan.
      • Other had learned the lesson that a planned society can’t do what the majority wants but what the largest single group whose members agree enough to make unified direction possible.
    • 3 main reasons why a numerous & strong group with homogeneous views not likely to be formed by the best but by the worst elements of the society.
      • 1 – The higher the education & intelligence of individuals, the more their views & tastes are differentiated & are less likely to agree on a particular hierarchy. It doesn’t mean the rest have low moral standards. It means the largest group with similar views are the ones with low standards.
      • 2 – He’ll be able to obtain support from all  the docile & gullible with no strong convictions of their own but are willing to accept a ready-made system of values if drummed loudly enough & repeatedly. Those with vague ideas can easily swayed & those with readily roused passions & emotions.
      • 3 – There is a connection with the deliberate effort of a skillful demagogue to weld a closely coherent & homogeneous body of supporters. It’s easier for people to agree on a negative program – the hatred of an enemy, envy of those better off – than anything possible. The contrast between “us” & “them” & common fight against those outside the group is employed by those who want unreserved allegiance of the masses. The enemy is an indispensable requisite for the totalitarian leader.
        • In Germany – the Jew & Plutocracies; in Russia – the Kulak. As a result of anti-capitalist resentment, these groups were representative of capitalism because of a traditional dislike for large classes for commercial pursuits. German antisemitism & anti-capitalism have the same roots.
  • Thinking collectivist policy has to lead to nationalist policy due to the necessity to secure unhesitating support ignores another factor.
    • Is it even possible to create a collectivist program other than to serve a limited group? Can collectivism exist outside particularlism, be is nationalism, racialism or classism?
    • The belief in community with aims & interests of fellow men presupposes a similarity of outlook. If other members can’t be personally known, they must be at least the same kind as us, think & talk like us so we can identify with them.
    • Collectivism on a world scale seems impossible except to serve a ruling elite. It would create technical & moral problems socialists aren’t willing to face. In Britain, the English proletariat’s gain would entitle all Indians to the same share of British capital.
    • But do socialists really want to divide existing capital resources evenly? They say capital belong to the nation not all humanity. But few in the richer countries actually advocate taking capital from richer nations to give to poorer ones.
      • So, they base their claims on superior capacity to organize & not on egalitarian principles.
      • One contradiction of the collectivist philosophy is that while it bases itself on humanistic morals, it’s only practicable within a small group. Socialism proclaims to be internationalist in theory but it’s violently nationalist in practice. Liberal socialism is only ever theoretical while practically, it’s only ever been totalitarian.
    • If the “community” is above the individual, only individuals who work for the same ends can be regarded as members. As a result, a person is only respected as a member of the group if he works for the same goals. There can be no room for any individualist view of man in collectivism.
      • Several contributing factors strengthen the tendency of collectivism to be particularist & exclusive:
        • Desire of the individual to identify with a group out of feelings of inferiority & satisfaction with membership that confers superiority over others. Violent instincts can be given free range within collectivism toward the outsider.
        • Antagonistic attitudes planners have toward internationalism. The outside world is an obstacle to effective planning, making planners militant nationalists.
          • Socialists glorify power taking them from socialist to nationalism & affecting their ethical views, looking down on small nations.
  • To the great individualist social thinkers who inherited the liberal tradition, power itself has always been seen as the arch-evil & to the strict collectivist, the goal itself. It’s not just desire to organize social life along a single plan from a desire for power but necessary to achieve their ends. They have to create power over other men & success will depend on the ability to see.
    • It’s true even though liberal socialists delude themselves that by depriving private individuals power, they have an individualist system, transferring it to society will destroy that power. They forget that by concentrating power in service of a single plan, it heightens that power to beyond where it had existed before. In a competitive system no one would hold even a fraction of power a socialist planner would hold. To split or decentralize power is necessary to reduce absolute minimum power & the competitive system is the only one designed to minimize by decentralization.
      • Separation of economics & politics is an essential guarantee of individual freedom & is consequently attacked by collectivists.
  • 2 Central features of every collectivist system
      • A – Need for a commonly accepted system of ends for the group.
      • B – All-overriding desire to give the group maximum power to achieve these ends.
    • A system of morals grows that contrasts violently on some points & agrees on some points with our system.
      • The difference is that individuals aren’t free to apply their own rules, making their system so different that it’s hardly possible to see any principles.
      • This difference is connected to the principle of Rule of Law. Rules of individualist ethics are general & absolute. They describe or prohibit behavior as good or bad irrespective of what particular harms come from it.
      • The idea of the ends justifying the means to an individualist is the denial of all morals. For a collectivist, it is the supreme rule. There is nothing a collectivist must not be prepared to do to serve the “good of the people”. Collectivist limits are only set up by expediency.
        • There must be no limit to what a citizen must be prepared to do & no act his conscience must prevent him from doing.
  • Absence of formal rules in collectivist ethics doesn’t mean there aren’t useful habits the collective community encourages in individuals or “bad” habits it discourages.
    • The community takes an interest in individuals’ habits much more than an individualist community does. To be useful requires qualities to be honed by constant practice. For that, they are “useful habits” & not virtues because the individual can’t put them above definite orders or let them be an obstacle to the aims of the community or justify a conflict with the will of authority.
    • German collectivists used the German quality of being industrious, disciplined & having a sense of order, duty & strict obedience. The “typical German” is often though to lack individualist virtues of tolerance & respect for other individuals. These lacks are seen as antithetical to free society.
    • Individualist virtues are major social virtues that smooth social contracts & flourish wherever an individualist or commercial type of society prevails. They are missing in a military or collectivist system.
    • It’s not right to say the masses of totalitarian people as devoid of moral fervor. The intense elements behind the movements are similar to religious movements.
      • But once you understand these movements & societies only see an individual as a means to an end, it’s easy to see how the horrors follow. Intolerance & suppression of dissent & complete disregard of the life & happiness of individuals are essential. The collectivist can admit it & still claim his system is better because one where the selfish interests of individuals are served is evil.
    • With one common overriding end, there’s no room for general morals or rules. Even democracies in times of war take this approach. Where a few specific ends dominate the whole of society, cruelty may become a duty, as a matter of expediency. To them, uprooting & transporting hundreds of thousands should be a policy approved by all except the victims. There’s always a greater goal these acts serve & justifies them because the common end of society can’t be limited by individual rights or values.
    • For the mass of citizens in a totalitarian society, the ideal is unselfish devotion that makes them approve & perform such deeds. That can’t be true for those guiding policy. To be useful, it’s not enough that a man be prepared to accept specious justification of evil deeds. He must be prepared to break every moral rule ever known.
      • Since it’s the supreme leader who determined the ends alone, his instruments must have no moral convictions of their own. They must be reserved to the leader, with no ideals, no ideas of right & wrong that might interfere with the leader’s intentions.
        • There’s little to attract those who hold moral beliefs in the positions of power.
        • The only tastes satisfied are the taste for power & the pleasure of being obeyed.
    • There’s little likely to induce good men to seek positions of power in a totalitarian system. There’ll be evil jobs to be done without hesitation in the name of a higher goal. Readiness to do them is a path to promotion & power. There are many jobs where you have to be cruel, intimidating, deceptive & a spy.
      • No room for humanitarian feelings.
    • The problem of selecting leaders is tied to the problem of selection according to opinions held. The most characteristic moral feature of totalitarianism is related to the truthfulness.

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