Von Hayek was right

The Road to Serfdom is paved with good intentions

I’m a big fan of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. In it Hayek argued that there was a tendency for growth of government to feed on itself to the extent that individual freedom was snuffed out and we all become lackeys of the state. It’s a controversial argument. Folks on the left dislike it, indeed, they find it personally insulting, as they take it that you are insinuating that in each of them is a totalitarian Soviet Commissar dying to get out.

That, indeed, is an argument I (and, I believe, Hayek himself) would refrain from making. But every now and then you will be talking to someone who considers themselves a sincere, well meaning, left wing, liberal, social democrat, and you will end up having a conversation like this…

Him – I wonder if looking back it would have been better for the West if Afghanistan had managed to get some stability as a Soviet satellite

Me – Impossible to say. Would a government imposed by the USSR have outlasted the USSR even without a war?

Him – I dunno, but I think there’s a very strong argument that Turkmenistan, Tadzhikistan etc are much better off for their years of Soviet rule than the ethnically and economically similar Afghanistan.

Me – I’d always secretly suspected it but now the truth is out; you’re a Tankie.

Him – Not really, I just prefer living under a Marxist-Leninist regime of the post Stalinist variety to living under Islamic fundamentalists. As I suspect would you (though that admission might have to be dragged out of your with red hot pincers…)

Me – I look at Cambodia and Ethiopia and I really am not so sure. To paraphrase Montesquie, there has never been a kingdom given to so much bloodshed as that of Marx.

Him – I did say of the post-Stalinist variety – i.e. the USSR and its European satellities c 1956-1991. (note that the i.e. does not follow)

There’s actually a point that the more the post war Soviet Union influenced a 3rd world country the more relatively civilized it was (see Mongolia and Vietnam). It was where in places like Cambodia and Ethopia where the Societ writ didn’t really run that you got blood baths

Me – You mean like Czechoslovakia in 1968?

Him – Reprehensible but compared to say, Chile 1973, hardly a blood bath. (Who knew ‘bloodbath’ was a relative term?)

Me – Not the point though surely?

Him – We were talking about blood baths.

Me – But I dont see why your judgment on the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia should be tempered by what happened in Chile five years later. You know, I was joking when I called you a Tankie, but now…

Him – Ok. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 , whilst wrong, did not lead to a significant number of deaths and hence cannot be characterised as a blood bath.

Me – Yes, but it does rather knock your characterisation of the Soviet dictatorship post 1956 (ie stripping out all the millions of inconvenient dead) as a misunderstood philanthropic organisation into a cocked hat.

72 Czechs and Slovaks were killed by the way, thats insignificant for you.

Him – Where do I say that exactly?

Me – “There’s actually a point that the more the post war Soviet Union influenced a 3rd world country the more relatively civilized it was (see Mongolia and Vietnam)” quoth the raven

Him – I still can’t see the words “misunderstood philanthropic organisation”.

Me – But you can see the words “There’s actually a point that the more the post war Soviet Union influenced a 3rd world country the more relatively civilized it was (see Mongolia and Vietnam)”

I also notice no comment on your dismissal of the deaths of 72 Czech’s and Slovak’s in 1968 as insignificant.

Him – I don’t know whether you really can’t see my point or are being deliberately obtuse.

Post WWII the USSR was a status quo power. The last thing it wanted was chaos and destruction in its satellites. It wanted stability. Hence the countries more directly under its influence tended to be more stable (perhaps a better word that civilized). How you get from that a moral approval for the Soviet system per se I can’t see.

On your last point, I am really not getting into this. You seem to be in one of your belligerent moods this morning. But if you recall were talking about Cambodia and Ethiopia. Whilst the death of anyone is a tragedy and hugely significant for them and their families, I am sure you will agree with me that Czechoslovakia 68 did not involve a blood bath on the Cambodian and Ethiopian scale.

This started out as a interesting discussion on the benefits or otherwise of the USSR in promoting modernisation in Central Asia, but you seem to want to turn it into a fight. Sorry I am not up for that.

Me -I’m in a belligerent mood? Says a man defending the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia (not something my Trotskyite former comrades would do) and dismissing 72 deaths as not “a significant number of deaths”

Indeed it was an “interesting discussion on the benefits or otherwise of the USSR in promoting modernisation in Central Asia” but if you are going to make such barmpot assertions expect to get called on it.

Him – Don’t you think a casualty total of 72 for the invasion of a foreign country on the low side? And where exactly have I defended the invasion of Czechoslovakia? My first post on the subject said it was reprehensible.

Me – Yes, those wonderful Soviets, killing so few in the course of their invasion.

Him – Ok, we have descended to the level of the playground. That’s me finished.

“For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” – Matthew, 12:37


One thought on “Von Hayek was right

  1. It’s worth noting that Afghanistan was a westward looking monarchy complete with a comparative modernisation of its society until the decades of war, which have left the country a devastated home for fundamentalists. It was the Communist coup and the subsequent Soviet intervention which began this cycle of misery. Though the US government had set up the Mujahideen in Afghanistan preemptively before the invasion. So it’s really the way Afghanistan was drawn into the Cold War, which was really a game between competing power systems to justify interventions within their own domains. Incidentally, the behaviour of the US has remained the same even after the Soviet Union collapsed.

    It may be appropriate to bring up Mengitsu in Ethiopia, but to suggest Cambodia was a Russian satellite is just ignorant of history. The Khmer Rouge were supported primarily by the Chinese in a bid to undermine the Soviet Union, as Vietnam had sided with Russia over China. In the end this went as far as a full blown war between Cambodia and Vietnam, which in turn led to a war between Vietnam and China. The US government effectively couldn’t care less about this as the main objective was to open up China at the time. There was plenty of American criticism of the Khmer Rouge, yet there wasn’t a word of criticism for the genocide in East Timor which was going on at the same time. That was a genocide carried out by a right-wing government enabled by the US and supported even by radical Islamists.

    The Soviet aggression that put down Czechoslovakia (1968) and Hungary (1956) were serious crimes, but it’s not outrageous to bring Chile (1973) as it fits into a similar pattern. It’s a fact that more people died in the coup in Chile than in the invasion of Czechoslovakia – that’s not to pick one over the other as both were awful. The destruction of a deviationist current in Eastern Europe was matched by the overthrow of a government that was taking an independent line from American hegemony. There’s a difference in severity here as well, it’s not a matter of ‘moral equivalence’ at all. So you’re wrong to dismiss Chile as an irrelevant instance, especially considering that the right-wing dictatorship to emerge from that was praised and supported by Friedrich von Hayek et al.

    It’s just silly to say that you’re a Stalinist if you acknowledge that there was anything good in the really existing socialist states of the 20th Century. One can acknowledge the benefits achieved in otherwise self-glorified dungeons. No one misses the Stasi, but they might miss the East German childcare system – which was the best in the world. This even applies to countries like China. The famous conclusion that the Great Leap Forward functioned to create a political famine came from a study by Amartya Sen. The same study also found that the Chinese health-care system saved 100 million more lives between 1949 and 1980 than the Indian health system. It’s not that the lives of 100 million people justify the deaths of some 30 to 40 million people. If we’re discussing development in China then this is worthy of note.

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