Skip to comments.The Expressway to Serfdom
Posted on 01/28/2010 12:50:51 PM PST by Titus Quinctius Cincinnatus
In 1944, Friedrich von Hayek wrote what was to become a seminal work in the history of modern Western liberty philosophy, The Road to Serfdom. In it, he argued that it is the inherent and inevitable nature of collectivism, as it takes to pieces the system of free-market enterprise that has brought so much good to so many people, to enslave individuals, destroy their personal freedoms, and subject them to tyranny. Socialism, by its very nature, would lead to the rise of a bureaucratic class that would receive greater "discretionary" powers, the authority to act outside of strictly constitutional or other "rule-of-law" frameworks, often for the purpose of coercing truculent individuals into obedience to the state and its programs. The terror of such systems is compounded, he observed, by the fact that those bureaucrats who were most ruthless are the ones who end up rising the highest within the collectivist system, thereby ensuring that the destruction wrought upon individual liberties and individual dignity would be maximized.
In his day, Hayek observed this very thing taking place in Germany and the Soviet Union, two nations where tyranny had, in fact, resulted from the imposition of collectivist governments. His observations, however, apply equally well to nations with democratic systems, but which take a collectivist route. As the state obtains greater power over greater areas of social and individual life, it reduces the liberties of the citizenry, especially in those areas which pertain most directly to the ability of citizens to operate independently of government "assistance" or control. This is most obvious in the nations of Western Europe, which while having ostensibly democratic governments in place, nevertheless cannot be said to be free societies anymore. From Britain to Greece, Spain to Sweden, the average citizen in these nations cannot freely own a gun or can only do so under very stringent regulation (with Switzerland being the obvious exception here). In these nations, freedom of speech is curtailed and allowed only in those areas which the government deems "acceptable" (if you don't believe me, try going to Western Europe and openly criticizing homosexuality or Islam). In these nations, the average citizen has very little control over the education of his own children observe the laws in Germany which completely outlaw homeschooling, and under which several Russo-German fathers have recently been jailed for preventing their own children from being exposed to perverted "sex ed" classes in the German public schools.
Many examples could be given, but in each of these cases, the freedoms lost are those that pertain, in some form or fashion, to the ability of the individual to be independent from the government program. Whether it's self-defense, the ability to dissent openly from the state's version of political correctness, or to regulate what the state puts into your child's head, all of these are liberties that lessen the power of the state over the individual. Sure, in Western European countries, the individual can still freely access all kinds of movies and other entertainment. He can still take a holiday in the Riviera and run the beaches naked. Yes, he can choose which leftist propaganda sheet to buy each day. But his essential freedom to live apart from government regulation, coercion, and obstruction has been severely compromised. While having a few tidbits of what he thinks are freedom (but which are often, in fact, moral enslavement), the European today has lost his essential ability to live as a free man. All because of the overweening power of the socialistic governments, with their ever-increasing appetite for tax money and the power that derives from social spending, which were put into place starting in the early part of the 20th century.
The same attempt is being made in America today. President Obama, the Democrats in Congress, and a constellation of leftist nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and their financial backers like George Soros, are seeking to destroy the capacity of American citizens to operate as free individuals, independent of the coercive power and regulation of the state. These entities desire to return the free citizen to the status of a serf, one who is held under the power of a self-appointed aristocracy who "cares" for them, and in return, takes the fruit of the serfs' labors for themselves.
The means by which this is to be accomplished are primarily economic, since there is a link between economic and personal liberty, as Milton Friedman so aptly noted. When an individual is free to profit from his labor and abilities, he is also more likely to be free to enjoy those benefits unhindered in the personal sphere, and vice versa. Such has generally been the case throughout history. The leftists and collectivists understand this as well, which is why they wish to destroy that economic liberty. And to do this, they have to attack the middle classes, their values, and their ability to prosper through industry and enterprise, since the middle classes are what made possible the broad expansion of capitalism, free enterprise, and the subsequent personal liberty that we have enjoyed for so long.
Medieval European history is, in many ways, the story of a continent that clawed its way to freedom. Briefly, after the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, the centralized state was replaced by a plethora of petty kinglets and local chieftains from among the various Germanic groups, each attempting to carve out a stake for themselves from the ruins of Rome, some more successfully than others. Because the social system was in such disarray, strongmen stepped in to establish order across their local regions. Some of these strongmen eventually grew powerful and influential enough to claim title to kingship such were, for instance, the Frankish kings (in what is now France and western Germany) whose lines eventually led to Charlemagne, the first great post-Roman ruler to attempt the project of restoring the Empire. From such a system as this, with some strongmen yielding themselves to the authority of others, eventually what we know of as feudalism arose. The noble families who formed the aristocratic core of European civilization for centuries were descended from these early strongmen who were able to stabilize and commandeer their local geography.
This was all well and good if you were one of the magnates. In one sense, it was also good for you if you were a commoner, a peasant, one of the masses of people who were not involved in the developing power structure. At least you were protected from the ravages of neighboring strongmen by your own. However, this came at a price. In return for that protection, the bulk of the commoners, apart from some wealthier freemen and artisans, were gradually reduced to the status of serfs, tied to the aristocrat's lands, and dutybound to yield their fealty, their labor, and their produce to the local nobility. In essence, these serfs formed the lowest class in society, and were purposefully tied to the system in such a way as to remove their ability to free themselves from its power. Indeed, both nobility and serfdom were heredity. Across the centuries, the descendants of the original serfs were often working the same lands owned by the descendants of the original duke or earl. They had obtained security, but at the price of their liberty.
As you can well imagine, serfs were typically debarred from the possession or use of arms. Serfs were not free to choose when or where they worked. They did not have the liberty to speak against the feudal system or its leaders to do so was subversive and could get your tongue cut out (if you were lucky). They did not have the option of obtaining any more of an education than their lord thought they ought (which was usually none at all). They were unfree in all the ways that pertained to their ability to operate apart from dependence on the system in place.
In the later Middle Ages, leading into the Renaissance, this feudalistic system was challenged in two ways. One way was by the trend in some countries (like France and Spain) toward absolute monarchy. The other way, seen in England, Holland, Northern Italy, and many of the petty German states within the Holy Roman Empire, was by the increasing wealth and influence of the middle and merchant classes, men in the cities who grew prosperous through trade, artisanship, and industrial enterprise.
It has been rightly said that the enemy of aristocracy is a strong central government. This is true. When a centralized governmental system is in place, it does not leave room for strong subsidiary powers to operate. The problem, however, is that from the perspective of the mass of commoners, none of this really matters. Serfdom is serfdom, whether it's to a local noble or to a distant king. For this reason, both political liberty and capitalistic economic expansion were slower in coming to Spain and France than they were to northern Europe.
The other challenge to aristocracy is from the middle classes. In the late Middle Ages, a class of men began to arise in the cities of Italy and Northern Europe who grew to be quite wealthy, often because they engaged in trade that took place outside of the local jurisdictions in which they lived. Indeed, out of this class came some truly wealthy and powerful families, such as the Fuggers, Höchstetters, and Welsers in Germany, and the Medici in Florence. These families came to wield a great amount of political power, and acted as bankers to kingdoms, as well as early venture capitalists who helped to finance public works and artistic endeavors. Even those merchants and enterprisers who did not attain to quite this level of success still began to form a recognizable class of independently wealthy individuals who, frankly, didn't fit into the feudalistic medieval system very well. They were not hereditary nobility they had no claim to aristocracy or rights under the feudal system that accrued to them because of their bloodlines. Yet, they were not commoners and serfs, they did not have to rely upon local magnates and estates for their sustenance and protection. They just didn't fit in.
That is because they represented something foreign to the feudal system selfsufficient individuals who could provide for themselves, who were free without having the "right" to be. They had the appearance of the aristocracy without the family pedigrees, and this was offensive to the aristocrats. These men and families were rich enough that, despite not being titled nobility, they could still live in the same type of houses, wear the same silk and gold rings, and drive the same gilded coaches as the aristocrats. It is not surprising, then, that during this period, sumptuary laws began to appear all across Europe, specifically enjoining individuals who were not members of noble families from wearing certain articles of clothing or jewelry, riding in certain styles of carriages, and engaging in other activities that were typically associated with the rank and privilege of the aristocracy. These laws were intended to teach the middle classes and merchants to "know their place." The attitude driving these laws was that of, "How dare these upstarts think they can be like us!"
Yet, as we all know, the middle classes and the capitalists won, at least for a while. In Northern Europe especially, political liberalization followed on the heels of the social changes wrought by the wealth and power of the middle classes. A republic was established in Holland, Parliament came to wield the lion's share of real power in England, and even the German states had to loosen the hold of their governments upon their people. Liberal English political theory, developed during this era, eventually would result in the establishment of the American Republic, with its safeguarded liberties affirmed by a Constitution that embodied the best virtues of commonwealthian theory. With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, more and broader opportunity was provided for men of talent and ability, regardless of station, to prosper by harnessing their entrepreneurial spirit. Self-made men became the model in America, England, and even in continental Europe during the Victorian Era, and this continued to be the case until we began to throw away the hard-won economic and political freedoms we had gained, in the name of socialism and security.
Hence it is that the Western man has increasingly chosen to submit himself back to the power of a presumptuous new aristocracy that has been working feverishly to reduce the body of free citizens back into wards of the state, a new feudal system with its various levels of bureaucratic power and government entities.
As many may have noticed, the divide in American politics has become as much a divide between "the elite vs. the little guy" as it is a "leftist vs. conservative." Nearly twenty years ago, Murray and Herrnstein, in their book The Bell Curve, warned that eventually, there would appear an alliance of cultural and financial "elites" who would use their influence and positions to form themselves into an aristocratic class, and that much of the rest of the population would be reduced to underclass status. While Murray and Herrnstein did not envision this reduction to underclass status as being purposeful, I think we can make a case that it would be.
For so long as the cultural and financial elite were divided across the political spectrum, some being on the Right and others being on the Left, they worked at cross purposes. When they all get onto the same page and started using their power in government and as opinion-shapers, then look out. This uniting of the "elites" is well underway, and explains a number of things that trouble conservatives. For instance, why does it seem that so many supposedly conservative politicians have turned RINO, and now support all kinds of things that the conservative base hates, such as amnesty for illegal immigrants and bailouts for Wall Street? It's because these politicians have been co-opted, they've thrown in their lot with the growing elite alliance. If you looked at the voting records of John McCain or Lindsey Graham from years ago, when they were just lowly representatives in the House, you would not recognize them as being the same men we see today. Back then, they really were conservatives. Now they are not. It's because they're bought and paid for by a left-leaning, Soros-funded political elite that is using them to institute a new feudalism in America. This is why so many of our politicians in Washington supposedly the representatives of the people act like their constituency is made up on international organizations, illegal immigrants, and Wall Street lobbyists.
The problem for this up-and-coming aristocracy is, as always, the presence of a strong and broadly-based middle class in America. While not necessarily rich, they are not poor, either, and do not rely upon government subsidy and intervention. There are millions of American citizens who simply do not feel the need for the government to do anything for them, beyond its constitutionally-prescribed duties. They don't need government welfare, they don't want government health care; all they want is for the government to keep the roads and other public works in good repair, and to defend us from marauding bands of Canadian raiders. Apart from that, the productive classes in the U.S. just don't really see why they should go along with giving up their liberties and economic independence to a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington. They'd rather the government just minded its own business and stayed out of their lives.
Therefore, the middle class must be broken.
To do this, first of all, the elites have worked to develop an ever-growing body of dependents and welfare-addicts who "need" the government to give them a living, to feed them, clothe them, give them their shots, and generally act as their nanny. This is the "underclass" that Murray and Herrnstein wrote about. Since the inception of the welfare state in the United States in the 1960s, this group has grown steadily, so that now it constitutes a sizeable portion of the body politic that is beholden to the Left for its bread, and votes accordingly. Eventually, the new aristocracy would like to bring pretty much all of us into this class, and this is the purpose behind much of the "middle class welfare" that has been coming out of Washington for the past few years prescription drug benefits, housing credits, and now, socialized medicine these are designed to subvert the middle class by offering to shoulder the more serious costs of modern life that pertain to this group, like paying for medical care and home ownership.
At the same time, to bring the middle class into a state of subservience, its ability to exist independently of government subsidy must be taken away.
To do this, ever-higher taxes, fees, and other means of milking the middle class cash cow have been put into place. These are justified on the ostensible social "need" to provide for "the less fortunate," who are, of course, the underclass that has already been suckered into tying itself to the new aristocracy's estate. By this means, the middle classes are drained of their resources, which are then redistributed among the mass of unproductive welfare addicts. The underclass doesn't ever become richer because by this time it has basically become so inured to the dependency cycle that income is considered wholly disposable, and therefore it is used for things like basketball shoes and flashy rims, rather than for savings, investment, money for college, etc. The middle class becomes poorer, since it is having double digit percentages of its wages forcible confiscated by the government. Eventually, a tipping point will be reached where a critical mass of the middle class is converted to underclass, and the system can be fully implemented without relying upon the present incrementalist approach.
This taxation also helps to instill a certain amount of docility into the middle class. As income is taken away, the middle class gets used to this process, and begins to accept the "social necessity" of welfare, which it is paying for. Hence, even while not yet reduced to outright serfdom, the middle class is "trained" to accept the psychology of a serf.
There are other methods which the elite use to break the independence of the middle class. So-called "free" trade between the United States and the Third World plays a role. Generally speaking, I am supportive of free trade and the principle of denying the government a role in the economic decisions of private individuals, even across national boundaries. However, I apply this to trade between nations with generally similar standards of living to our own. Yet, free trade between our nation and populous-yet-poor nations like China and Indonesia is a guaranteed job drain. These nations typically do not have the generalized wealth needed to provide a stable and valuable market for our manufactured goods. What they DO have, however, are millions (or, in China's case, billions) of workers with much lower standards of living, and hence much lower expectations, than American workers; people who will be more than happy to take a factory job for two dollars an hour with no benefits, since it's better than what they had before. Hence, American electronics manufacturing jobs go to Malaysia or China, American pharmaceutical jobs go to India, and American auto manufacturing goes to Mexico.
And therein lies the key to how free trade with the Third World is used to break the American middle class. The reason why the American middle class has the wealth to resist reliance upon the government is because of the availability of good-paying blue- and white-collar jobs, had because of our nation's productivity and technological advancement. This allows Americans to have a high standard of living, and independence from the government dole. Take that away by sending an American's $25 an hour job to China, and you have an American who either has to find a job in the fast-food industry, or else start depending on an unemployment check, which conditions him to be willing to take, and eventually to want to take, government money. Likewise, you have an American who has to learn to live on a reduced salary, to have a reduced standard of living, in short, to be exposed to the hardships which would encourage him to want government programs to reduce his own personal risk.
Concurrent with this is the encouragement, via amnesty and lack of border protection, of illegal immigration from the Third World. Once again, we see the importation of millions of people who are more than willing to work for a fraction of what an employer would have to pay American workers to be competitive in the labor market. The mantra has often been that illegal immigrants are doing "jobs that Americans won't do." This is not true. They are doing jobs that Americans won't do for three bucks an hour and no benefits. This phenomenon helps to take good paying jobs away from Americans, especially in industries like construction and agriculture, pushing more of the middle class into the dependency cycle.
Another key ingredient for enserfing the middle class is to disarm them. After all, if you're a power-hungry cadre with pretentions to aristocracy, you can pretty much do whatever you want with an unarmed population. Not so with one that is armed and ready to resist you. Can't have any Wat Tyler's this time around! Disarming the people not only makes them easier to control, it also forces them to rely upon the police powers of the state for their safety, hence making them trust in the aristocrats for protection against other malefactors. As it stands, the middle class which is the single largest gun-owning segment of the population doesn't need the police to protect it from criminals. All the middle class needs is for tyrannical laws that limit the ability of the individual to protect himself, and which treat those acting in self-defense as the bad guys, to be repealed. If the new aristocracy has its way, the serfs will have to rely upon the police, who probably won't get there in time and who may not be inclined to come anywise, for the defense of what rights they have left.
To put this program into effect, the collectivists have sought to make gun ownership psychological repulsive to the future serfs. Because of repetition of the "guns are scary!" mantra, many suburbanites and urban middle class types already suffer from a severe case of hoplophobia. This is what the new aristocrats want don't depend on yourself, depend on us. We see how well that worked for the serfs in the Middle Ages.
Finally, one key part of the program to break the middle class to the new aristocrat's mold is to further impoverish them through programs and policies that will drastically increase their cost of living, mainly through energy rationing, under the guise of concern for the environment. This is what drives the decision not to drill for more American oil. This is what drives the global warming scaremongering. This is what drives the push for the cap-and-trade fiasco. This is what drives the rejection of clean coal as a potentially limitless source of energy, easily gotten right from our own foothills. In fact, most everything that our government does with respect to energy policy that seems stupid and counterproductive can be traced back to this.
Conservative arguments regarding what to do about energy policy in this country would work, they would bring down the costs, they would help the economy, they would bring us prosperity. But that's not what the elites want to see happen. They want energy prices to go up. They want us to be able to drive less (after all, serfs don't need to go anywhere unless we let them, right?), they want us to turn down the thermostat, they want us to pay more for everything that is still manufactured here. Why? Because the more we have to spend on basic necessities to modern industrial life, the less we have to use disposably or to save, meaning the less ability we have to operate on an independent financial basis.
Further, we should understand that this drive to "save the environment" on the part of the new elite is purely cynical. It's not about the polar bears, it's about power over you and me. When these global elites fly all over the world in gas guzzling jumbo jets, or when Obama turns up the thermostat to "sweltering" in the White House, they're not being hypocritical. They're merely exercising the privileges of their aristocratic station privileges that you and I shouldn't have. Things like the ability to drive freely and as much as you want to, or to fly the nation's skyways when you want to, or even setting the thermostat in your home to whatever you feel like paying for think of the hindrances to these things as sumptuary laws for the 21st century. You can't do them because it's not your place to do them.
Also, some of us may have heard of the United Nations' "sustainable development" plan, Agenda 21. This is a plan in which large sections of our own country would be placed "off limits" for things like travel, development, and living in. If you happen to live in one of the "forbidden" preserves, be prepared to find some other place to live, if this plan is ever put into practice. The elites who manage these lands, of course, will have access, but you and I won't. You can think of these areas as "the King's Preserve," the places where the serfs couldn't hunt, no matter how badly they were starving. Likewise, huge swathes of mineral wealth, oil, and agriculturally rich land will be placed off limits for development, so that they can be returned to a state of natural ecology, regardless of the detrimental effect on the economy and our standard of living.
I realize that a lot, perhaps most, of this sounds like so much conspiracy mongering. Nevertheless, we can see these things already taking place, and the effect that they are already having on the middle class the bedrock of economic liberty and productivity in this country. Remember, the people running our government and our institutions are not really as dumb as their policies would seem to suggest. They do what they do for a reason, and that reason doesn't have your or my best interests at heart. Karl Marx hated the middle classes, which he called the bourgeoisie, viewing them as the greatest single obstacle to the success of the Marxist program for worldwide collectivist revolution. A hundred and fifty years later, his disciples are still trying to remove this obstacle, and will succeed if we let them. So let's not let them.
ping for later
Glenn Beck mentioned something called “Fear the Bust and the Boom” on his radio show today. I had never heard of it before so I looked it up...
I think this video does a good job of highlighting the differences between the two contending economic theories of the day.
Weird Al had his Nature Trail To Hell and ACDC had their Highway To Hell. Now Americans are on the Expressway To Serfdom!
“Starving the Monkeys” is are only path out of this wilderness. Washington won’t lead; let the curruptocrats perish in their own hell.
Google it. Read it. Live it.
We don’t need the Monkeys; they need us.
Beautiful title. Been thinking of ways to play on it for a while. Like a highway sign that says, "Serfdom 1 Mile Exit Only" or "Welcome to Serfdom".
Also appropos is von Mises “Planned Chaos” in which he argues that “economic interventionism” leads to socialism of the Nazi type.
F. Hayek is my man!
Selma Hayek is my kind of woman!
It sure is hard to exercise those 'discretionary powers' if you're dead.
Ping for later reading...
Brilliant article. It’s definitely a “must share” with anyone and everyone you care about.
Information and education confer power on individuals, and the data and reasoning in this article is particularly powerful.
Arm your friends. Send this article to them.
Thanks for posting. Nicely ties together many of the assaults on the American middle class.
“Look to Milton-Open borders and the welfare state.”
A decade ago, Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman admonished the Wall Street Journal for its idée fixe on open-border immigration policy. Its just obvious you cant have free immigration and a welfare state, he warned.
They are killing the middleclass slowly to where they will have no choice but to fall into the government dependecy web. This is deliberate and this is treason. We can see it happening right in front of us how could it not be! He and his clowns are hell bent on destroying this country!