Great books are hard to classify. By that standard, F. A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom is great. Is it philosophy? economics? political theory? history? cultural commentary? prophecy?
The short answer is "Yes." Hayek is best remembered as a libertarian economist of the Austrian School, trained by the eminent Ludwig von Mises and, despite a Nobel Prize in 1974, forgotten in the West.
Until recently. After many of his predictions came true there was a resurgence of interest, especially in the United States where a few optimists believe it might not be too late to implement his ideas and save the U. S. from otherwise certain doom.
Theorists in the early 20th century generally assumed German Nazism was a right-wing capitalist ideology, and socialism became the de facto alternative. Hayek warned that Fascism is actually rooted in the same ideas as socialism, and that if nations could embrace that truth they would also embrace free enterprise and individual liberty.
His warnings were unheeded. Some (like Winston Churchill) listened, but most preferred the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, an economic and political thinker who supported highly regulated capitalism. Hayek, though brilliant, was largely ignored.
This book is nonetheless one of the great works of social and political theory. Building on the idea that loss of freedom is rarely sudden but rather the result of citizens gradually abdicating their freedoms and responsibilities, Hayek outlines with chilling accuracy the Western march toward political, economic and intellectual bondage to the State.
Hayek was a "classical liberal," a position resembling contemporary conservatism. Classical liberal ideals included personal liberty, freedom of the press and religion, self-regulating free market economics, and the promotion of virtue.
These ideals inform The Road to Serfdom, a book which, despite its clarity, is sometimes difficult. Even readers who agree with Hayek will sometimes think he goes too far (another mark of a great book).
Hayek's masterpiece must be read by anyone who understands the danger America is in but can't see the way out, and all those even the least bit curious about conservative and libertarian political thought and its application.