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Freedom, Planning, and Totalitarianism: The Reception of F.A. Hayek's Road to Serfdom THEODORE ROSENOF One of the classic issues of politics has been that of the relationship of the state to the economy. A long tradition in the western world has held that the relationship should be kept as minimal as possible, that a free economy is the very basis of economic progress and prosperity, that economic freedom is essential to all other freedoms - including political liberty and democracy. This tradition, and these assumptions, were partially challenged and modified by the movements for progressive reform and democratic socialism which developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But the greatest challenge came during the severe depression years of the 1930s: the belief was widespread among radicals during the first half of the decade that the end of an era was at hand, that capitalism and its ethos had run their course, and that the socialist cooperative commonwealth was now within reach. In a depression era socio-economic concerns were foremost in most radicals' minds; civil liberties and constitutionalism were less emphasized. These beliefs, of course, were not widely accepted on the progressive liberal left, which rallied in 1933-34 to support the New Deal even as radicals and socialists rejected the New Deal as a last futile effort to save the dying capitalist system. The New Dealers, while advancing programs for increased state economic intervention, and retaining a firm faith in America's democratic political tradition, nonetheless asserted that programs calling for greater intervention than they themselves supported would lead to totalitarianism - even as their conservative critics insisted that the New Deal's own programs would lead to totalitarianism. The New Dealers, offering programs of limited, partial planning, and dogmatically rejecting programs for central planning and public ownership of key industries , thus accepted, albeit in a modified way, the traditional conservative assumption that utoo much" government economic intervention led to political autocracy. 1 This New Deal position grew increasingly popular in the later 1930s. As it became clearer to radicals and socialists that the New Deal was not the last gasp of a dying capitalism, that, whatever its limitations, the THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. V, NO. 2, FALL 1974 Roosevelt Administration had brought needed socio-economic reforms within the tradition of political democracy and liberty, that the Soviet Union was less a socialist commonwealth than a police state, and that totalitarianism of the right as well as left was rampant in Europe, the epochal mood of the early 1930s receded. Some radicals and socialists became New Deal liberals (or even conservatives); others, while still professing socialism, placed increased emphasis on the relationship between economic planning and political liberty. 2 Norman Thomas, for example, conceded in 1938 that "the weightiest argument of the most recent critics of socialism is that, whatever socialists may intend, the economic planning which their system requires ... will of necessity bring us the totalitarian state." 3 The World War II years further evidenced this intellectual trend - as did the post-war era. It was, for the left, a period of disillusionment, of the vogue of Koestler and Orwell, of pessimism, fear, and uncertainty. And it was in this setting that Friedrich A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom was published in 1944. Hayek himself was a man of the right (classical liberal version). An Austrian economist who had emigrated to England in 1931, he was a devotee of the school best represented by Ludwig van Mises. His book, which he described as frankly 11 political/' 4 was a surprising success in America, commercially as well as intellectually. It was purchased and distributed by business organizations, appeared in a condensed version in the widely read Reader's Digest, and launched the professorial Hayek on a national lecture tour. To American conservatives it provided proof that the New Deal's was the road to totalitarianism - a view long held and zealously preached. More subtly, and more importantly , its reception highlighted ideological shifts on the democratic left, shifts which evidenced the transition from the mood of the depression years to the mood of the cold war era.5 The book raised some very basic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 149-165
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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