Today is the 75th anniversary of VE Day — Victory in Europe Day — and to read some of the comments on social media, you’d think that the defeat of the Nazis was a uniquely left-wing achievement.
Conservatives, they seem to imagine, had nothing to do with it because conservatives are literally Hitler.
— John Colbert – #SHEDLIFE (@swlondonbloke) May 3, 2020
But that’s certainly not how it seemed at the time to the economist and political philosopher FA Hayek. In his book The Road To Serfdom — published in 1944, while the war was still raging — Hayek made little distinction between Nazism and Communism. Both, he argued, were ‘totalitarian’, ‘collectivist’ ideologies inimical to freedom and prosperity.
Nazis and Communists, as far Hayek was concerned, were just different ends of the same turd.
Since today is not just VE Day but also Hayek’s birthday, it might be worth speculating on what he would have made of the strange, strange world we inhabit today.
There are lots of clues in The Road To Serfdom, which he wrote partly as a warning to Britain that its wartime regime was itself straying dangerously close to the authoritarianism of the Axis powers it was trying to defeat.
The conviction grows that if efficient planning is to be done, the direction must be ‘taken out of politics’ and placed in the hands of ‘experts’, permanent officials or independent autonomous bodies.
This, of course, is exactly what is happening now: governments from Britain to the U.S. are contracting out decisions that should be made by democratically elected politicians to unelected experts such as Anthony Fauci and the SAGE committee.
The belief is becoming more and more widespread that, if things are to get done, the responsible authorities must be freed from the fetters of democratic procedure.
Even before the 2020 pandemic crisis, this view was becoming increasingly fashionable not just on the left but among centrists and squishy conservatives too: the idea that maybe free markets were too messy, chaotic, unfair, inefficient and that perhaps we ought to look to countries like China for our political and economic example.
Since the pandemic, this tendency has become even more widespread with lots of people strangely addicted to being put under effective house arrest by their governments, despite a worrisome lack of evidence that this is the best response to the problem.
In 1944, the pretext for abandoning democracy was the war; today, it’s the coronavirus. Hayek, I’m sure, would have been tempted to mutter to himself: “Any excuse will do.”
Maybe this is the real lesson we should learn from the Second World War on the 75th anniversary of VE Day.
We may have defeated Hitler but the authoritarian, collectivist tendency he embodied is alive and well and thriving everywhere from the hard left to fake conservative governments like cuddly Boris Johnson’s.
Hayek was right. Why didn’t we listen?