There’s a Bad Guy Coming Through


Chapter 10 of The Road to Serfdom (1944) is titled Why the Worst Get on Top.  It dispels the belief that the only reason collectivist societies fail is because a bad guy historically became the ruler (Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini).  If a good guy is put in charge, socialism will work.  Hayek explains why evil men are always the result of collectivism, even if the hoped-for results are good.


A ruthless group of bad guys is a prerequisite for collectivism for three reasons: 1) the powerfully strong “get things done” group that’s in charge must be aligned in their worldview.  Higher intelligence and moral views in a person means their views will differ more and the less likely it will be to agree on a hierarchy of values.  Therefore, uniformity among leaders requires descent into lower intellectual and moral standards – the lowest common denominator.  2) These bad guys will only appeal to the docile, gullible masses with no strong moral conviction or intelligence who can accept a ready-made value system. 3) It is much easier to get people to unite in a negative pursuit (hatred of an enemy or envy of those better off) than a positive one.


Collectivism in practice always serves a limited group even though it theoretically is supposed to serve all. It’s a form of immoral particularism (violent nationalism, racism, and classism).  The desire to be in the group is usually the result of feelings of inferiority.  Once in the group, people and their leaders become free of the moral restraints they had as individuals.


Economic power is inherently coercive because it is held against others. Power itself (man’s forcible control of other men) is a necessary evil.  Concentrating coercive power so that it can be used in service of a planned economy is not merely transferring power.  It is infinitely heightening power by allowing it to be exercised centrally instead of spreading it out, so no one person or group has what would be the newly created power to direct economic activity.


A collectivist system needs commonly accepted goals and the power to achieve those goals. From this, grows a system of “morals”.  But these morals are not like ours.  Our morals prohibit bad actions regardless of how good the goals are.  The ends justifies the means is the morality of collectivism because that’s how it works.  People may begin pursuing collectivism with strong emotional commitment to a noble cause.  But then individuals become merely means to serve a higher end.  Intolerance, brutal suppression of dissent and disregard for the life and happiness of individuals are unavoidable consequences.


It is clear that a collectivist leader would have to do bad coercive things to people even if he didn’t want to. The odds that a good person gets put in charge is, as Hayek puts it, “on the level with that of an extremely tender-hearted person getting the job of whipping master in a slave plantation”.  The substitution of political power from which there is no escape for economic power which is always limited creates a dependence that is indistinguishable from slavery.


Morally struggling bad guy Tony Montana in the movie Scarface said “I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.”  Next week, the War Chest concludes its journey down the road to serfdom with a look at collectivism’s greatest moral deficiency – its destruction of the virtue of truth.


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