Gissurarson: Failure of Communism Systemic, Not Accidental

RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson was one of the speakers at an international conference on communism organised by the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory on 23 August 2018. His participation in the conference formed a part of the joint RNH-ACRE project on ‘Europe of the Victims’. Gissurarson argued that it was not a coincidence, and rather an inevitable outcome, that everywhere communism had led to totalitarianism, oppression and misery. The originators, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, had been full of hate and violence, as their writings, not least their exhange of private letters, showed. The two of them had also adhered to extreme scientism, believing that science was the possession rather than the pursuit of truth. Thirdly, after a revolution there was always the danger that the cruellest and most ruthless filled the vacuum left by the former powers, as Edmund Burke had pointed out in his critique of the French Revolution.

Oksanen and Gissurarson in Tallinn. Photo: Mari-Ann Kelam.

Gissurarson elaborated on two further reasons why communism would develop into totalitarianism. In a country where the state was the sole employer, any opposition would encounter almost insurmountable difficulties: the really significant freedom was the freedom to dissent. Fifthly, the core communist programme was the abolition of dispersed ownership and freedom of trade, but it was precisely under those conditions that the dispersed knowledge of individuals was utilised, as Friedrich A. Hayek had demonstrated. If the state operated all the means of production, it would have to reduce and simplify human needs in order to implement its plans and decisions. This the state could only do by seizing control of the most important means of moulding human souls, such as schools, the media, the courts, art, science and sports, but it was precisely such a system that would be defined as being totalitarian. At the conference, Gissurarson introduced his two recent reports, Voices of the Victims: Notes Towards a Historiography of Anti-Communist Literature, published by New Direction in late 2017, og Totalitarianism in Europe: Three Case Studies, published by ACRE in early 2018.

Other speakers at the conference included Finnish-Estonian author Sofi Oksanen, author of best-selling novel Purge, and Professor Richard Overy, who has written an acclaimed comparative study of Hitler and Stalin. In conjunction with the conference, the President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, inaugurated a Memorial to the Victims of Communism in the outskirts of Tallinn. Guests at the ceremony and the conference included the ministers of justice of the three Baltic republics, Poland, Ukraine and other countries.

President Kaljulaid lays a wreath at the Memorial to the Victims of Communism. Photo: Martin Andreller.


Comments Off

Successful Liberty Summer School

Bergsson opens the School.

The Liberty Summer School, held by ESFL, European Students for Liberty, and SFF, the Association of Libertarian Students, in Reykjavik 28 July 2018 was well-attended and lively. Einar Freyr Bergsson, Chairman of the Assocation of Libertarian Students, opened the School in the morning, followed by MP Oli B. Karason on the origins of liberal ideas and lawyer David Thorlaksson on the proper role of government. In the afternoon, Sigridur Andersen, Minister of Justice, discussed the main arguments for freedom of expression; psychologist Ragnhildur A. M. Vilhjalmsdottir spoke about the decriminalisation of drugs and MP Brynjar Nielsson about the role of media in a free society. Finally, the keynote lecture was given by Professor Jeffrey Miron of Harvard University on the economics of liberty. Miron is the author of four books on libertarian economics. His lecture was very well-received. In the evening, the attendees met over dinner and celebrated the success of the Liberty Summer School.

The support by RNH of the Liberty Summer School forms a part of its joint project with ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, on ‘Europe, Iceland and the Future of Capitalism’. ESFL will be holding a regional conference in Iceland 22 September 2018, in cooperation with the Icelandic Association of Libertarian Students. This video has been made to announce the event:

Comments Off

Gissurarson: Education for a Free Society, Baku

Education does not take place in schools only and is not solely provided by government, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, RNH Research Director, observed at a session on education at a ACRE (Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe) summit in Baku, Azerbaidjan, 9 June 2018. It was necessary, he emphasised, that schools were not diverted from their main purpose, at least at the primary level, which was to teach pupils the basic skills required in a free society, such as reading, writing and arithmetic. But also general education should not be neglected—what the Germans called ‘Bildung’ and consisted in knowledge of other times and other places. Education is essentially the transmission of culture, and, at least in small and homogeneous nations, it should be based firmly on respect for the national heritage, although Edmund Burke certainly was right: “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” Gissurarson submitted that it was therefore an important, indeed crucial, task for any leaders of a country to make it lovely, and that meant to make it free and prosperous.

Gissurarson stressed that knowledge was valuable in itself, and not only for its usefulness. Science could best be defined, with Karl Popper, as the free competition of ideas. He pointed out however that a 2001 OECD survey showed a robust correlation between the investment by private business in research and development, but no such correlation when government was involved. Indeed, government schools, including universities and science funds, often seemed to pursue other aims than pure knowledge and the transmission of culture. The leftist intellectuals dominant in universities, especially in the humanities and social sciences, had replaced the ideal of the free competition of ideas with a political agenda, substituting collective identities for ideas, seeking out and even creating victims to be helped with other people’s money while trying to erode the moral foundations of the free society, such as property and family. Of course their freedom of thought should be respected, but in this endeavour they should not be supported financially by taxpayers.

Gissurarson, former Bolivian President Quiroga and his wife, after the closing dinner at the Baku summit.

Gissurarson argued that conservatives and classical liberals would probably always be in a small minority in the humanities and social sciences, simply because they tended to choose other professions, such as business, medicine, engineering and law. It was therefore necessary for those right wing individuals who were themselves preoccupied with creating wealth to support the very few intellectuals who were in favour of wealth creation. Economic education in particular consisted in making the invisible hand visible: to explain how the gain of one need not be the loss of another and how order could be brought about spontaneously, by virtue of prices and traditions, and not by orders from above. Gissurarson quoted Friedrich A. Hayek who had once remarked to him that the most important task of economists was to demonstrate why economists were not necessary to run the economy.

Other participants in the session on education for a free society at the ACRE summit were Firudin Gurbanov, the Azerbaidjan Deputy Minister of Education, Professor Asif Ahmed, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Health, Aston University, og Sebastian Keciek, who is in charge of digitalisation in Polish schools. Other speakers at the conference included Jorge Quiroga, former President of Bolivia, Jan Zahradil, President of ACRE, Baroness Nosheena Mobarik, MEP, and many other MEPs. The master of ceremonies was British journalist and publisher Iain Dale, and the conference was organised by ACRE Executive Director Richard Milsom and his staff.

Comments Off

Jordan Peterson in Iceland

Peterson with Jónas Sigurgeirsson, AB Executive Director.

AB, the Public Book Club, an RNH partner, has published 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Canadian Psychology Professor Jordan Peterson who has become an international celebrity after his performance on television. The author visited Iceland in early June and gave two very well-received lectures before a full house in Harpa. Investor Gunnlaugur Jonsson organised the visit. Peterson says that radical leftwingers have taken power in Western universities and that they use this power to silence others. They want to make everybody a victim of some sort instead of encouraging them to resolve their problems by their own effort. Two interviews with Peterson gained much attention and both are available online: by Frosti Logason in Harmageddon and by Thorbjorn Thordarson in TV2.

In his weekly column in Morgunbladid 9 June, RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson sought explanations for the resonance Peterson met with his familiar message of self-reliance and traditional values:

First, he makes full use of the new media, Youtube and Twitter. Lucid and eloquent, he remains calm when his opponents attack him. Second, many more agree with his opinions than are themselves prepared to defend them publicly. Most participants in the public discourse, the intellectuals, are left wing. Competent rightwingers become doctors, engineers, businessmen or lawyers, whereas competent leftwingers become journalists or teachers. Third, left wing intellectuals now are in possession of much more power in the media and the universities than hitherto, and they use this power to quell criticism. For them science is not the free competition of ideas; instead, it is a struggle, mostly against capitalism, but also against ‘Patriarchy’. As Peterson points out, for example, plausible explanations exist of gender income inequality. People have a tendency to choose different careers in accordance with their lifetime projects, and it is the outcome of these choices, made by the sexes, which are being measured in income studies. But in Iceland and elsewhere a gender industry has developed which blames this statistical outcome on the ‘Patriarchy’. At the same time the school system has been adjusted to the interests of radical feminists with the result that energetic, spirited boys do not always feel at ease there. Only one-third of the graduates from the University of Iceland now are male.

Waiting line for Peterson’s autograph on the Icelandic translation of his book.


Comments Off

Gissurarson: The Nordic Models, Copenhagen

The relative success of the Nordic countries is despite and not because of the redistributive efforts of social democrats, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, RNH Academic Director, submitted at the European Liberty Forum, the Comwell Conference Center, in Copenhagen 30 May 2018. Gissurarson was launching his report, The Nordic Models, which Brussels free-market think tank New Direction published. There he describes the strong liberal tradition in Sweden: Finnish-Swedish priest Anders Chydenius explained, several years before Adam Smith, how the gain of one need not be the loss of others and how an order could arise without anyone issuing orders. In the 19th century, liberal statesman Johan August Gripenstedt greatly reformed Swedish society and economy, laying the foundations for its present prosperity. In the 20th century, renowned economists such as Eli Heckscher, Gustav Cassel and Bertil Ohlin argued for economic freedom. Liberalism (in its classical sense) was also influential in Denmark and Norway, as the constitution adopted at Eidsvoll in Norway in 1814 demonstrated. In Iceland, Jon Sigurdsson, leader of the Icelandic independence struggle, Arnljotur Olafsson, author of the first book on economics in Icelandic, and Jon Thorlaksson, Prime Minister and leader of the Independence Party, all supported economic freedom.

Gissurarson pointed out, however, that the Nordic success story was not unique. One might for example compare living standards in the five Nordic countries on the one hand and in northern states of the US and provinces of Canada, such as Manitoba, Minnesota and North and South Dakota, on the other hand. It emerged that GDP per capita was on average much higher in the ‘American Nordic countries’ than in the European Nordic countries.

Gissurarson said that Iceland, a tiny, remote country, had not contributed much to world civilisation, except perhaps three things: 1) The Icelandic Commonwealth of 930–1262 was a society under the law, but without government; the law was privately enforced; ingenuous solutions were provided to problems with which usually government were expected to deal. 2) The Icelandic fisheries, operating under a system of individual transferable quotas, were both sustainable and profitable, whereas fisheries in many other countries made huge losses, requiring large public subsidies, and often overexploiting fish stocks. 3) In the 2008 bank collapse, the Icelanders had hit on the principle of making deposits priority claims on the estates of banks. This principle might make it possible to abolish government guarantees of deposits which had caused much moral hazard in the financial sector.

Gissurarson’s report on The Nordic Models shall soon be available online.

Gissurarson slides in Copenhagen 29 May 2018

Comments Off

Gissurarson: Green Capitalism, Brussels

It is important to distinguish between followers of wise use environmentalism and ecofundamentalism. The first group wants a clean and healthy environment, at the same time as it finds desirable to use natural resources wisely for the benefit of man. The second group believes that ‘nature’ should take precedence over man and it demands preservation rather than conservation. This was the message of Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, Academic Director of RNH, at the ACRE summit on the environment at Bibliotheque Solvay in Brussels 24 May 2018, where his recent report for the Brussels free-market think tank New Direction was launched, both in print and online, Green Capitalism: How to Protect the Environment by Defining Private Property Rights.

Gissurarson illustrated the difference between wise use environmentalism and ecofundamentalism by reference to charismatic megafauna such as the whale, the elephant and the rhino. Ecofundamentalists seemed to insist on treating those animals as ‘sacred cows’, demanding a total ban on their use. Wise use environmentalists wanted to develop use rights in them which would be allocated to those most interested in taking care of them. For example, local communities could acquire ownership over the elephants and sell access to them, including hunting them and harvesting the ivory. Then, overnight, poachers would be turned into game-keepers.

Gissurarson pointed out that whale stocks harvested in the Icelandic waters, the fin and the minke whales, were far from being endangered species. They eat, according to estimates, six million tonnes of seafood from the Icelandic waters each year, while the Icelanders harvest around one million tonne of fish. When ecofundamentalists demand a total moratorium on whaling, they seemed to expect the Icelanders to bear the costs of preservation. Another example was the mackarel which recently had appeared in the Icelandic waters in big quantities. The EU apparently expected the Icelanders to feed the mackerel, but did not want them to harvest it.

Gissurarson also described the Icelandic system of individual transferable quotas: Fisheries in Iceland are sustainable and profitable unlike those in many other countries. The other speakers at the ACRE summit included the renowned philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, author of Green Philosophy and many other books. In connection with the conference, Gissurarson published online articles on sustainable and profitable fisheries and on the protection of charismatic megafauna.

Gissurarson slides in Brussels 24 May 2018

Comments Off