T Nation

Why the Worst Get on Top

This is an abridged version of a chapter from F. A. Hayek’s book, The Road to Serfdom. Read the whole passage. Focus specifically on the bolded passages, and see if it sounds familiar. Then realize that this book was written by an Austrian immediately after WWII.

Why the Worst Get on Top

NO DOUBT an American or English ‘fascist’ system would greatly differ from the Italian or German models; no doubt, if the transition were effected without violence, we might expect to get a better type of leader. Yet this does not mean that our fascist system would in the end prove very different or much less intolerable than its prototypes. There are strong reasons for believing that the worst features of the totalitarian systems are phenomena which totalitarianism is certain sooner or later to produce.

Just as the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian leader would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure. It is for this reason that the unscrupulous are likely to be more successful in a society tending toward totalitarianism. Who does not see this has not yet grasped the full width of the gulf which separates totalitarianism from the essentially individualist Western civilization.

[b]The totalitarian leader must collect around him a group which is prepared voluntarily to submit to that discipline which they are to impose by force upon the rest of the people. That socialism can be put info practice only by methods which most socialists disapprove is, of course, a lesson learned by many social reformers in the past. The old socialist parties were inhibited by their democratic ideals; they did not possess the ruthlessness required for the performance of their chosen task. It is characteristic that both in Germany and in Italy the success of fascism was preceded by the refusal of the socialist parties to take over the responsibilities of government. They were unwilling wholeheartedly to employ the methods to which they had pointed the way. They still hoped for the miracle of a majority’s agreeing on a particular plan for the organization of the whole of society. Others had already learned the lesson that in a planned society the question can no longer be on what do a majority of the people agree but what the largest single group is whose members agree sufficiently to make unified direction of all affairs possible.

There are three main reasons why such a numerous group, with fairly similar views, is not likely to be formed by the best but rather by the worst elements of any society. First, the higher the education and intelligence of individuals become, the more their tastes and views are differentiated. If we wish to find a high degree of uniformity in outlook, we have to descend to the regions of your moral and intellectual standards where the more primitive instincts prevail. This does not mean that the majority of people have low moral standards; it merely means that the largest group of people whose values are very similar are the people with low standards.

Second, since this group is not large enough to give sufficient weight to the leader’s endeavors, he will have to increase their numbers by converting more to the same simple creed. He must gain the support of the docile and gullible, who have no strong convictions of their own but are ready to accept a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently. It will be those whose vague and imperfectly formed ideas are easily swayed and whose passions and emotions are readily aroused who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party.

Third, to weld together a closely coherent body of supporters, the leader must appeal to a common human weakness. It seems to be easier for people to agree on a negative program ? on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off - than on any positive task. The contrast between the ‘we’ and the ‘they’ is consequently always employed by those who seek the allegiance of huge masses. The enemy may be internal, like the ‘Jew’ in Germany or the ‘kulak’ in Russia, or he may be external. In any case, this technique has the great advantage of leaving the leader greater freedom of action than would almost any positive program.[/b]

Advancement within a totalitarian group or party depends largely on a willingness to do immoral things. The principle that the end justifies the means, which in individualist ethics is regarded as the denial of all morals, in collectivist ethics becomes necessarily the supreme rule. There is literally nothing which the consistent collectivist must not be prepared to do if it serves ‘the good of the whole,’ because that is to him the only criterion of what ought to be done. Once you admit that the individual is merely a means to serve the ends of the higher entity called society or the nation, most of those features of totalitarianism which horrify us follow of necessity. From the collectivist standpoint intolerance and brutal suppression of dissent, deception and spying, the complete disregard of the life and happiness of the individual are essential and unavoidable Acts which revolt all our feelings, such as the shooting of hostages or the killing of the old or sick, are treated as mere matters of expediency; the compulsory uprooting and transportation of hundreds of thousands becomes an instrument of policy approved by almost everybody except the victims. To be a useful assistant in the running of a totalitarian state, therefore, a man must be prepared to break every moral rule he has ever known if this seems necessary to achieve the end set for him. In the totalitarian machine there will be special opportunities for the ruthless and unscrupulous. Neither the Gestapo nor the administration of a concentration camp, neither the Ministry of Propaganda nor the SA or SS (or their Russian counterparts) are suitable places for the exercise of humanitarian feelings. Yet it is through such positions that the road to the highest positions in the totalitarian state leads. A distinguished American economist, Professor Frank H. Knight, correctly notes that the authorities of a collectivist state ‘would have to do these things whether they wanted to or not: and the probability of the people in power being individuals who would dislike the possession and exercise of power is on a level with the probability that an extremely tenderhearted person would get the job of whipping master in a slave plantation.’

A further point should be made here: Collectivism means the end of truth. To make a totalitarian system function efficiently, it is not enough that everybody should be forced to work for the ends selected by those in control; it is essential that the people should come to regard these ends as their own. This is brought about by propaganda and by complete control of all sources of information.

The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those they have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognized before. And the most efficient technique to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning. Few traits of totalitarian regimes are at the same time so confusing to the superficial observer and yet so characteristic of the whole intellectual climate as this complete perversion of language.

The worst sufferer in this respect is the word ‘liberty.’ It is a word used as freely in totalitarian states as elsewhere. Indeed, it could almost be said that wherever liberty as we know it has been destroyed, this has been done in the name of some new freedom promised to the people. Even among us we have planners who promise us a ‘collective freedom,’ which is as misleading as anything said by totalitarian politicians. ‘Collective freedom’ is not the freedom of the members of society but the unlimited freedom of the planner to do with society that which he pleases. This is the confusion of freedom with power carried to the extreme. It is not difficult to deprive the seat majority of independent thought. But the minority who will retain an inclination to criticize must also be silenced. Public criticism or even expressions of doubt must be suppressed because they tend to weaken support of the regime. As Sidney and Beatrice Webb report of the position in every Russian enterprise: ‘Whilst the work is in progress, any public expression of doubt that the plan will be successful is an act of disloyalty and even of treachery because of its possible effect on the will and efforts of the rest of the staff.’

Control extends even to subjects which seem to have no political significance. The theory of relativity, for instance, has been opposed as a ‘Semitic attack on the foundation of Christian and Nordic physics’ and because it is ‘in conflict with dialectical materialism and Marxist dogma.’ Every activity must derive its justification from conscious social purpose. There must be no spontaneous, unguided activity, because it might produce results which cannot be foreseen and for which the plan does not provide.

The principle extends even to games and amusements. I leave it to the reader to guess where it was that chess players were officially exhorted that ‘we must finish once and for all with the neutrality of chess. We must condemn once and for all the formula ‘chess for the sake of chess.’’

Perhaps the most alarming fact is that contempt for intellectual liberty is not a thing which arises only once the totalitarian system is established but can be found everywhere among those who have embraced a collectivist faith. The worst oppression is condoned if it is committed in the name of socialism. Intolerance of opposing ideas is openly extolled; The tragedy of collectivist thought is that, while it starts out to make reason supreme, it ends by destroying reason. There is one aspect of the change in moral values brought about by the advance of collectivism which provides special food for thought. It is that the virtues which are held less and less in esteem in Britain and America are precisely those on which Anglo-Saxons justly prided themselves and in which they were generally recognized to excel. These virtues were independence and self-reliance, individual initiative and local responsibility, the successful reliance on voluntary activity, noninterference with one’s neighbor and tolerance of the different, and a healthy suspicion of power and authority. Almost all the traditions and institutions which have molded the national character and the whole moral climate of England and America are those which the progress of collectivism and its centralistic tendencies are progressively destroying.

Welcome aboard to T-Nation! An excellent read, that.

Obama based his campaign on a general hatred, and “we” vs. “they.” “We” being the brutally oppressed average citizen, as shown in his infomercial, “they” being anyone with any connection to President George W. Bush

Obama based his campaign on bringing together the masses of uneducated, or if educated, at least inexperienced voters together in his camp, and rallying them around this hatred. These are the voters who really don’t know what Obama’s policies are, but voted for him because he said he was different from “them.”

Just some interesting food for thought, how history never lies, and virtually everything that happens in today’s world has been done before.

And for those of you who voted for Obama because you do like his policies, I’m not calling you uneducated. I’m merely saying that his campaign focused on “getting out the vote” of the uneducated masses by rallying them around a negative cause (the hate of G.W.). You would have voted for Obama anyway. If you’re insulted by this, get thicker skin.

You post this NOW?? After the last eight years?? LMAO!

Thank you

Hayak is a must read for any scholar of liberty.

Especially important is his work expounding on Mises’ theory of credit and the business cycle for which he won the Nobel Prize in Economics (the only Austrian to do so thus far) before it was hijacked by the central planners of Sweden.

[quote]oneforship wrote:
Obama based his campaign on a general hatred, and “we” vs. “they.” “We” being the brutally oppressed average citizen, as shown in his infomercial, “they” being anyone with any connection to President George W. Bush

Obama based his campaign on bringing together the masses of uneducated, or if educated, at least inexperienced voters together in his camp, and rallying them around this hatred. These are the voters who really don’t know what Obama’s policies are, but voted for him because he said he was different from “them.”

Just some interesting food for thought, how history never lies, and virtually everything that happens in today’s world has been done before.

And for those of you who voted for Obama because you do like his policies, I’m not calling you uneducated. I’m merely saying that his campaign focused on “getting out the vote” of the uneducated masses by rallying them around a negative cause (the hate of G.W.). You would have voted for Obama anyway. If you’re insulted by this, get thicker skin.[/quote]

History bears out everything you’ve said. And Hayek is so damnned brilliant that I learn something new everytime I’ve read him.

The uneducated masses blamed Bush (he’s the equivalent of the Jews in 1920s and 30s Germany) for the economy, took him for a scapegoat. Obama played that like a master. All he had to do was split the educated people and then bring out the masses — and its done.

Now, why does all that sound so familiar? :wink:

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
History bears out everything you’ve said. And Hayek is so damnned brilliant that I learn something new everytime I’ve read him.

The uneducated masses blamed Bush (he’s the equivalent of the Jews in 1920s and 30s Germany) for the economy, took him for a scapegoat. Obama played that like a master. All he had to do was split the educated people and then bring out the masses — and its done.

Now, why does all that sound so familiar? :wink:
[/quote]

It is truly amazing how something written in the 1940s could have such a profound understanding of politics in the year 2008.

And credit Obama’s campaign manager for looking at history and recognizing the best strategy to generate the greatest amount of support. Love or hate Obama, it is an impossibility to discredit the genius of his campaign.

You forgot to factor in the facts that the Republican party is imploding…and brought nothing worthy of countering the past 8 years of dissapointment. They need to get their house in order if they ever want the trust of American people again.

Any suprise why Obama also garnered a good percentage of CONSERVATIVE voters? But what do I know…I’m not a conservative.

Better luck next time around…you’ll get the chance again.

Oh…and its very hypocritical to make the argument that Obama was “guilty” of a “we vs. them” hatred campaign. So what was McCain/Palin’s campaign based on???

[quote]Big_Boss wrote:
You forgot to factor in the facts that the Republican party is imploding…and brought nothing worthy of countering the past 8 years of dissapointment. They need to get their house in order if they ever want the trust of American people again.

Any suprise why Obama also garnered a good percentage of CONSERVATIVE voters? But what do I know…I’m not a conservative.

Better luck next time around…you’ll get the chance again.

Oh…and its very hypocritical to make the argument that Obama was “guilty” of a “we vs. them” hatred campaign. So what was McCain/Palin’s campaign based on???

[/quote]

Not to mince words or play semantics, but it’s impossible to be hypocritical without being personally involved. And since I’m not making any arguments on behalf of the McCain/Palin camp, I’m not involved.

But where would you argue that hatred was played to by the McCain campaign? I’m curious to see that. The closest thing I can think of is the distancing of McCain from Bush, which was only attempted late in the game to try and make a final surge.

[quote]oneforship wrote:
Big_Boss wrote:
You forgot to factor in the facts that the Republican party is imploding…and brought nothing worthy of countering the past 8 years of dissapointment. They need to get their house in order if they ever want the trust of American people again.

Any suprise why Obama also garnered a good percentage of CONSERVATIVE voters? But what do I know…I’m not a conservative.

Better luck next time around…you’ll get the chance again.

Oh…and its very hypocritical to make the argument that Obama was “guilty” of a “we vs. them” hatred campaign. So what was McCain/Palin’s campaign based on???

Not to mince words or play semantics, but it’s impossible to be hypocritical without being personally involved. And since I’m not making any arguments on behalf of the McCain/Palin camp, I’m not involved.

But where would you argue that hatred was played to by the McCain campaign? I’m curious to see that. The closest thing I can think of is the distancing of McCain from Bush, which was only attempted late in the game to try and make a final surge.

[/quote]

Oh…so you were involved in the Obama campaign??

Not to mince words or play semantics…as you put it,but the closest thing you can think of is McCain campaign distancing from Bush?? Are you serious?: “Un-American”…“not one of us”…“unpatriotic”…“real American”…“small town America is the “real” America.”

Is that not “we” vs. “them” coded talk?? You don’t think its possible for any of that to spark hints of us against them hatred??

Why did I even have to point that out to you? Anyways…I guess the first part of my post holds true…you didn’t refute any of it.

[quote]Big_Boss wrote:
Oh…so you were involved in the Obama campaign??

Not to mince words or play semantics…as you put it,but the closest thing you can think of is McCain campaign distancing from Bush?? Are you serious?: “Un-American”…“not one of us”…“unpatriotic”…“real American”…“small town America is the “real” America.”

Is that not “we” vs. “them” coded talk?? You don’t think its possible for any of that to spark hints of us against them hatred??

Why did I even have to point that out to you? Anyways…I guess the first part of my post holds true…you didn’t refute any of it.[/quote]

Yes. Involved in the Obama campaign. You nailed it. [/sarcasm] I honestly don’t know where you got that from.

And your point has nothing to do with mincing or semantics. And to a certain extent, I do agree, that that is some of the same politicking that was done, albeit not as effective, because they didn’t appeal to the gullible masses (as described by Hayek).

It also was not their entire campaign, however it was a response to the opposition. Obama’s entire campaign was centralized around the fact that lots of people hate Bush, let’s take advantage of that.

I didn’t refute any of the first part of your post, because I agree. The Republican party has no identity right now. They have become too moderate, and do not stand nearly as strongly or clearly for the conservative values that are at the core of what used to be a Republican.

There would have been much better conservative choices to run against Obama. At least the Democratic party picked someone who represents the party well: the most liberal senator in history.

[quote]oneforship wrote:
Big_Boss wrote:
Oh…so you were involved in the Obama campaign??

Not to mince words or play semantics…as you put it,but the closest thing you can think of is McCain campaign distancing from Bush?? Are you serious?: “Un-American”…“not one of us”…“unpatriotic”…“real American”…“small town America is the “real” America.”

Is that not “we” vs. “them” coded talk?? You don’t think its possible for any of that to spark hints of us against them hatred??

Why did I even have to point that out to you? Anyways…I guess the first part of my post holds true…you didn’t refute any of it.

Yes. Involved in the Obama campaign. You nailed it. [/sarcasm] I honestly don’t know where you got that from.

And your point has nothing to do with mincing or semantics. And to a certain extent, I do agree, that that is some of the same politicking that was done, albeit not as effective, because they didn’t appeal to the gullible masses (as described by Hayek).

It also was not their entire campaign, however it was a response to the opposition. Obama’s entire campaign was centralized around the fact that lots of people hate Bush, let’s take advantage of that.

I didn’t refute any of the first part of your post, because I agree. The Republican party has no identity right now. They have become too moderate, and do not stand nearly as strongly or clearly for the conservative values that are at the core of what used to be a Republican.

There would have been much better conservative choices to run against Obama. At least the Democratic party picked someone who represents the party well: the most liberal senator in history.[/quote]

And you thought the Republicans had a chance? Makes it hard to decide who to be more disappointed in,doesn’t it??

[quote]Big_Boss wrote:
And you thought the Republicans had a chance? Makes it hard to decide who to be more disappointed in,doesn’t it??[/quote]

If they had selected a candidate better suited to run against Barack Obama, then yes, they would have had a chance. Almost 47% of the population voted against Obama anyway.

Beyond that, I’m not sure that I know what you’re talking about, so I can’t address the second question.

[quote]oneforship wrote:
Big_Boss wrote:
And you thought the Republicans had a chance? Makes it hard to decide who to be more disappointed in,doesn’t it??

If they had selected a candidate better suited to run against Barack Obama, then yes, they would have had a chance. Almost 47% of the population voted against Obama anyway.

Beyond that, I’m not sure that I know what you’re talking about, so I can’t address the second question.[/quote]

He’s intimating that you are a secret racist and probably a Klan member!

BB, he’s not. I take role at the meetings and he’s never been on the list.

[quote]oneforship wrote:
Big_Boss wrote:
And you thought the Republicans had a chance? Makes it hard to decide who to be more disappointed in,doesn’t it??

If they had selected a candidate better suited to run against Barack Obama, then yes, they would have had a chance. Almost 47% of the population voted against Obama anyway.

Beyond that, I’m not sure that I know what you’re talking about, so I can’t address the second question.[/quote]

EXACTLY…47% of the population voted against Obama…NOT necessarily for McCain. I’m sure plenty of people can address the second question…I’m surprised you can’t.

[quote]Big_Boss wrote:
oneforship wrote:
EXACTLY…47% of the population voted against Obama…NOT necessarily for McCain. I’m sure plenty of people can address the second question…I’m surprised you can’t.
[/quote]

Much like a certain percentage of those who voted for Obama voted against McCain because he made them think of Bush.

I perhaps could address your second question if it wasn’t so vague as to make no sense.

But none of this is what this thread was meant to discuss anyway. It wasn’t supposed to be a comment on Obama v. McCain, more so on how effectively the Obama campaign used the same totalitarian tactics to spur his rise to power that other leaders have throughout history.

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
He’s intimating that you are a secret racist and probably a Klan member!

BB, he’s not. I take role at the meetings and he’s never been on the list.
[/quote]

Yeah, I just haven’t had the time to fill out those new-member forms.

[quote]oneforship wrote:

Much like a certain percentage of those who voted for Obama voted against McCain because he made them think of Bush.

I perhaps could address your second question if it wasn’t so vague as to make no sense.

But none of this is what this thread was meant to discuss anyway. It wasn’t supposed to be a comment on Obama v. McCain, more so on how effectively the Obama campaign used the same totalitarian tactics to spur his rise to power that other leaders have throughout history.[/quote]

It wasn’t as vague as you make it out to be…and what makes you think people didn’t hate Bush before…lol…no Republican was going to change that…guilt by association at its finest.

Its ok…I know…this is not what this thread is about…it obviously has nothing to do with it…at all. Carry on.

[quote]Headhunter wrote:
oneforship wrote:
Big_Boss wrote:
And you thought the Republicans had a chance? Makes it hard to decide who to be more disappointed in,doesn’t it??

If they had selected a candidate better suited to run against Barack Obama, then yes, they would have had a chance. Almost 47% of the population voted against Obama anyway.

Beyond that, I’m not sure that I know what you’re talking about, so I can’t address the second question.

He’s intimating that you are a secret racist and probably a Klan member!

BB, he’s not. I take role at the meetings and he’s never been on the list.

[/quote]

Incite racism much?? In fact…the thought of his skin color was void until you showed up.