This is a critical chapter in Hayek’s 1944 classic, The Road to Serfdom. The books is a deeply thoughtful examination of why planned economies lead to despotic rule. In several different parts of the book Hayek explains that the motivation to improve an economy by elitist planning runs counter to a democratic society that respects individual virtues and rights. Such planning requires an agreement of ends and priorities that conflicts with individual rights. The quest for a planned economy inevitably creates a need for power to enforce common ends that is often reluctantly embraced for the common good. Thus those who valued freedom and democracy start on the “road to serfdom”.
In the pursuit of a common end this path draws on the worst elements of society. The higher the education and intellect that individuals achieve the more their view become differentiated and the less likely they are to agree on a single hierarchy of values. In order to find a high degree of uniformity one must descend into the more common and less educated masses; “the lowest common denominator which unites the largest number of people.”
The “docile and gullible” with no strong convictions will be swayed with a simplistic ready-made system that appeals to this common denominator. The final ingredient is that tendency to focus more on a negative program than any positive task. The “us and them” mentality flourishes in this planned environment. At its worst it created the virulent anti-Semitism that Hayek was viewing; but its far less virulent exhibition is the class warfare mentality we currently witness.
Perhaps this explains how some of the intellectually vacuous have risen into national leadership positions. But Hayek’s analysis should be fair warning to the many intelligent who think “they” can plan a better economy or a better “health care system” than the market. The eventual need for raw power to enforce the common ends that such planning requires will betray the very democratic principles many planners hold so dear.