Notes Toward a History of Non-Planning

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Notes Toward a History of Non-Planning
Left: The Road to Serfdom, University of Chicago Press. Right: The Road to Freedom, excerpt in Reader’s Digest, April 1945.

One of the fundamental challenges to design in the 20th century came not from critics within the discipline but rather from the Austrian-British economist Friedrich August Hayek. In his influential mid-century treatise, The Road to Serfdom, Hayek argued that design — specifically, socialist or state-based planning — belonged to a zeitgeist characterized by a “passion for a conscious control of everything.” 1 Written during an extraordinarily turbulent and violent time — when Hayek himself was a political émigré from Nazi-occupied Vienna based at the London School of Economics — the book challenged the assumption, pervasive in the interwar years among leftist intellectuals and politicians, that democratic society was necessarily based upon a “designed order.”

Hayek contrasted the centralized and “planned order” of socialist states with what he called the “spontaneous order” of free-market economies, which he described as the unplanned coordination that results when individual citizens are allowed to pursue self-interest and free trade with minimal coercion. His main polemic focused upon the proposition that spontaneous order was essential to economic freedom and democracy, and that all forms of centralized power and state collectivism, whether from the left (e.g., the socialism of the USSR) or the right (e.g., the National Socialism of the Third Reich) would lead inevitably to an unbearable loss of personal liberties and ultimately to totalitarianism. ….