Friday, January 29, 2010

The Abandoned Road

As I've been thinking over Part III of my series on the national debt and it implications, I've been re-reading F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, written toward the end of World War II. The man's genius is amazing; and his trenchant insights hold as much wisdom for our contemporary scene as they did in 1944-45.

In the chapter entitled "The Abandoned Road," he warns Europeans of slowly accepting the precepts of socialism which many European intellectuals embraced despite the horrible outcome of socialist precepts. Some still optimistically embraced socialist principles despite the fact that socialism requres force, force which led to horrors of Nazism and Stalinism. The intellectuals to whom Hayek was writing still clung to the belief that in their own countries, matters would turn out differently.

He wrote:

"The crucial point of which our people are still so little aware is...not merely the magnitude of the changes which have taken place during the last generation, but the fact that they mean a complete change in the direction of the evolution of our ideas and social order. For at least twenty-five years before the specter of totalitarianism became a real threat, we had progressively been moving away fromt he basic ideas on which Western Civilization has been built...We have progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which personal and political freedom has never existed in the past. Although we had been warned by some the the greatest political thinkers of the nineteenth century, by Tocqueville and Lord Acton, that socialism means slavery, we have steadily moved in the direction of socialism. And now that we have seen a new form of slavery arise before our eyes, we have so completely forgotten the warning that it scarcely occurs to us that the two things might be connected.

How sharp a break not only with the recent past but wth the whole evolution of Western civilization the modern trend toward socialism means becomes clear if we consider it not merely against the backgroun of the nineteentth century but in a long historical perspective. We are rapidly abandoning not the views merely of Cobden and Bright, of Adam Smith and Hume, or even of Locke and Milton, but one of the salient characteristics of Western civilization as it has grown from the foundations laid by Christianity and the Greeks and Romans. Not merely nineteenth and eighteenth-century liberalism, but basic individualism inherited by us from Erasmus and Montaigne, from Cicero and Tacitus, Pericles and Thucydides, is progressively relinquished.

Hayek's lament could well be our own as "progressive" thinking has ignored or attacked the foundations of Christianity and conservative political thought in our own country, with the deleterious effects so clearly observable over the last century.

One of the most damaging concepts of progressivism is the idea of societal (communal) rather than individual guilt. I hope to elaborate on the effects of such an idea as regards the Rule of Law, and national indebtedness. (Hayek elaborates on this concept, and I will be borrowing from him.)

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