Obama, Socialism and Hayek’s Road

by Bruce Webb

It is a very common trope among the Right to claim that Obama is a Socialist. For Progressives with any awareness of modern history and politics this seems ludicrous, it is hard to see that Obama is even committed to the principles of the New Deal, still less the second coming of Henry Wallace or even Hubert Humphrey. But from a wordview common to the Right it is not odd at all, what Progressives if anything think of as an end state: a future Social Democracy is for Conservatives a process, one they intend to resist. You can see this worldview on display in this review of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom

What F.A. Hayek saw, and what most all his contemporaries missed, was that every step away from the free market and toward government planning represented a compromise of human freedom generally and a step toward a form of dictatorship–and this is true in all times and places. He demonstrated this against every claim that government control was really only a means of increasing social well-being. Hayek said that government planning would make society less liveable, more brutal, more despotic. Socialism in all its forms is contrary to freedom.

Nazism, he wrote, is not different in kind from Communism. Further, he showed that the very forms of government that England and America were supposedly fighting abroad were being enacted at home, if under a different guise. Further steps down this road, he said, can only end in the abolition of effective liberty for everyone.

Capitalism, he wrote, is the only system of economics compatible with human dignity, prosperity, and liberty. To the extent we move away from that system, we empower the worst people in society to manage what they do not understand.

Once you understand that many Conservatives have internalized this and like Buckley define the goal of Conservatism as “”to stand athwart history, yelling, ‘Stop!” much that seems baffling and incoherent about the Conservative mindset becomes clear.

When Palin came out the other day and asked the crowd “How’s that hopey, changey thing working out for you?” she was just tapping into this existing mindset. For Conservatives aspirations for “Hope and Change” simply evoke the ever present risk of taking that first step down the Road to Serfdom. From this perspective being the “Party of No” to a President running on a platform of “Change” is a principled stand in resisting tyranny. For Conservatives Socialism is a process, a dangerous process that once it starts may not be easily checked.

To probably most people the battle against Social Security seemd quixotic, a battle that was fought and lost several times in the past and likely to be lost again. For Conservatives it is just lost ground on the Road to Serfdom, maybe it is too late to push it back, but that being no reason to just let Progressives use its success to drag you further down the Road.

I find it instructive to examine the authorized, literally cartoon version of The Road to Serfdom. This was not meant as any kind of joke at the time, it comes from the same mindset that would present Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” as a serious work of political and historical analysis. In the first seven panels of the cartoon you see a process started by well intentioned planners, but which is coopted a the future orator with “fierce oratory” (“the fierce urgency of now”) in panel eight. Panel nine shows a state of gridlock whereupon power it passed to the new dictator in panel ten. By panel thirteen one party power is established. And by final panel 18 “If you are fired from your job, it is likely to be by firing squad”.

You can call this raging paranoia, and certainly it taps into fear and pre-existing ideas of apocalism, but it is not on its own terms irrational. These people really do believe that Fascism had its origins in Do-Good Liberalism and that they hear echoes of Hitler in Obama. That which Progressives find inspiring, Obama’s eloquence and at least rhetorical commitment to change, are to Conservatives dire threats. Giving way even a little is just to be shoved one more step, then another down the Road to Serfdom.