7-Day Course Challenge: “The Roads to Serfdom: Readings” (Course #2)

My friend Daniel Bastiat tagged me on Facebook for a new 7-day challenge: Pick between 2 to 5 books that you would assign for any course of your choosing (each day) and name the course.

Day #2 Course: The Roads to Serfdom: Readings
(For undergraduate- and graduate-level students)

After two weeks of political conventions, whatever your political persuasion, I think a course offering different perspectives on “The Roads to Serfdom” is in order. Your readings:

  1. The Origins of Totalitarianism – Hannah Arendt
  2. The Mass Psychology of Fascism – Wilhelm Reich
  3. Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World – Barrington Moore, Jr.
  4. Nationalism and Culture – Rudolf Rocker
  5. The Road to Serfdom – F. A. Hayek
Perspectives on the Roads to Serfdom

Postscript (29 August 2020): This Facebook post led to quite a few comments and I’ll just take a few excerpts of some of the additional comments I made.

The case of Hayek is … complex; I think he certainly raised important issues about the dynamics of market processes, and the nature of both the dispersion knowledge and the importance of its tacit component (not captured by articulated “data”). Without opening up a Pandora’s box of discussion on this thread, I think it can’t be denied that at the very least Hayek’s work continues to challenge the left, and in its wake, there has been some fine scholarly work from folks as diverse as Hilary Wainwright (Arguments for a New Left) and Ted Burczak (Socialism After Hayek). Heck, even my mentor, Bertell Ollman, was a Volker fellow under Hayek at the University of Chicago–and learned much from him. It was Bertell’s encouragement that led me to author a dissertation on Marx, Hayek, and Murray Rothbard, the first two parts of which resulted in my own Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (SUNY Press, 1995) and the Rothbard portion of which appeared in expanded form as the second part of my Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (Penn State Press, 2000). And while we’re at it, check out the recently published Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom.

I think that Road to Serfdom was Hayek’s most “popular” and therefore most polemical work. The more dialectical themes in that work are his insistence on an organic relationship between political and economic freedom. But his chief dialectical sensibility shows up in his critique of utopianism, which shares much with Marx’s own critique of utopian socialism, and of course, his understanding not only of the role of knowledge (which … is as applicable to large corporations as it is to the state; even Rothbard said something similar with regard to the “One Big Firm” and its calculational problems)… but also his fine take-down of conservatism (“Why I Am Not a Conservative”).

I also think the Hayekian impact on contemporary left-libertarian anarchists can’t be emphasized enough.

Nevertheless, I’ve come to veer away from the -isms… I long ago rejected using the term “capitalism” (given its “known reality“): … and I’m pretty sure that at this stage too many folks are talking past each other because the -isms are so historically loaded. The “communism” of the USSR, in my view, had little or nothing to do with Marx’s vision of communism, and the “capitalism” of the US had almost nothing in common with Ayn Rand’s “unknown ideal.” I have thought more in terms of how relations of power manifest themselves across several dimensions (as I’ve argued in my “Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy”: the personal, the cultural, and the structural), and though, as a social theorist I focus much on the statist aspects of those relations of power, I have long argued that those extra-political aspects of oppression are both preconditions and effects of the broader statist system that I oppose.

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