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The Roads to Serfdom

Theodore Dalrymple

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People in Britain who lived through World War II do not remember it with anything like the horror one might have expected. In fact, they often remember it as the best time of their lives...

The answer, of course, is that it provided a powerful existential meaning and purpose...

The war having instantaneously created a nostalgia for the sense of unity and transcendent purpose that prevailed in those years, the population naturally enough asked why such a mood could not persist into the peace that followed. Why couldn't the dedication of millions, centrally coordinated by the government--a coordinated dedication that had produced unprecedented quantities of aircraft and munitions--be adapted to defeat what London School of Economics head Sir William Beveridge, in his wartime report on social services that was to usher in the full-scale welfare state in Britain, called the "five giants on the road to reconstruction": Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor, and Idleness?

By the time Beveridge published his report in 1942, most of the intellectuals of the day assumed that the government, and only the government, could accomplish these desirable goals...

For George Orwell, writing a year before the Beveridge Report, matters were equally straightforward. "Socialism," he wrote, "is usually defined as 'common ownership of the means of production'...

It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that, by the time Orwell wrote, his collectivist philosophy was an intellectual orthodoxy from which hardly anyone in Britain would dare dissent, at least very strongly. "We are all socialists now," declared Bernard Shaw 40 years before Orwell put forward his modest proposals. And before him, Oscar Wilde, in "The Soul of Man under Socialism," accepted as incontrovertible--as not even worth supporting with evidence or argument, so obviously true was it--that poverty was the inescapable consequence of private property, and that one man's wealth was another man's destitution...

Read this article on the City Journal website (new window will open).

Posted: 23 Jun 05



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