Vienna Conference: Hayek as a Conservative Liberal

Friedrich A. von Hayek’s political position can be characterised as conservative liberalism, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson argued in a paper at the VIIIth Conference on Austrian Economics (the School of Menger, Böhm-Bawerk, Mises and Hayek) in Vienna 13 November 2019. It is conservative in its awareness of the limitations of individual reason and in its respect for tradition. It is liberal in its acceptance and indeed celebration of a concrete historical reality, the individualistic progressive civilisation of the West, built upon liberty under the law and bringing about human flourishing, not least in the exercise of entrepreneurship. A conservative liberal political tradition combining these elements can be identified to which David Hume, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and Lord Acton in the United Kingdom belonged, and Alexis de Tocqueville and Carl Menger on the European continent, besides von Hayek.

The strongest theoretical case for this position is provided by Menger and von Hayek, Gissurarson submitted, relying on the insights of Austrian economics. They can be interpreted as asking the ‘Kantian’ question how this progressive civilisation came into being without anyone designing it. The answer lies in spontaneous coordination, not only in the marketplace but also in the whole of society. Through the price mechanism and certain traditions such as money and the rule of law individuals can utilise much more knowledge than each and any of them possesses, while creating new knowledge in an experimental process. The free market order thus produces the mutual adjustment of different and often conflicting aims rather than the maxismisation of any one goal or value. This is an order which is purposeless without being pointless.

This research programme was outlined in Menger’s Untersuchungen, according to Gissurarson, and skilfully implemented in von Hayek’s works. With its help, conservative liberals can respond to the most persuasive arguments offered by conservatives: The free market may erode some traditions, but it also develops new traditions; it may lead to some suboptimal results, economically and morally, but within in much stronger self-corrective elements operate than in government. Again, von Hayek’s economics enables him theoretically to reject both comprehensive economic planning and extensive redistribution of income: Such planning is bound to fail because the planners cannot to a sufficient extent utilise the knowledge dispersed among individuals in society, including tacit knowledge and temporal and local knowledge. And an income distribution brought about by choices in the marketplace serves as indispensable information to individuals about where their different abilities and talents could best be utilised.

The conference was organised by Dr. Barbara Kolm and her staff at the Austrian Economics Centre in Vienna and took place in the premises of the Austrian Central Bank of which Dr. Kolm is a Board Member. Professor Erich Weede gave a keynote speech about geopolitics and international economics, observing that peace could be facilitated by free trade no less than by fear, with special reference to China. Gissurarson’s participation formed a part of the joint project of RNH and ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, on ‘Bluegreen Capitalism’.

Gissurarson Slides in Vienna 13 November 2019

Comments Off

Chydenius Pioneer of Nordic Liberal Thought

The Finnish-Swedish Lutheran priest Anders Chydenius expressed similar ideas as Adam Smith did in the Wealth of Nations, but eleven years earlier, claims Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, the Academic Director of RNH, in an essay on Chydenius which forms the latter part of his paper on pioneers of Nordic liberal thought, the former part being on Snorri Sturluson. The essays were published in the Swedish magazine Svensk Tidskrift. Born in 1729, Chydenius was a Swedish-speaking priest in Northern Finland who was elected to the Swedish Diet in 1765-1766. There he successfully proposed the abolition of a trade monopoly in Northern Finland and a law protecting the freedom of the press. He also published some pamphlets advocating free trade, including The National Gain (Den nationaalle Winsten), where he argued that the economy tended to establish a natural equilibrium if each and every citizen were left free to pursue their own objectives and interests. The pursuit of self-interest could therefore coincide with the public interest. Chydenius was however adamantly opposed to privileges and preferential treatment of individual classes or groups. When he was again a member of the Diet in 1778, he fought for better treatment of workers and put forward the idea that Lapland should be made a duty free zone. Chydenius passed away in 1803.

In the paper, Gissurarson also describes the successors of Chydenius who contributed to a robust conservative-liberal tradition in Sweden. Statesman Johan August Gripenstedt (1813–1874) implemented comprehensive liberal reforms in 1866–1976. Economists Gustav Cassel (1866–1845) and Eli Heckscher (1879–1952) not only were internationally respected scholars, but also firm supporters of free trade. Indeed, in 1947 Heckscher was one of the founders of the Mont Pelerin Society. In the heyday of Swedish social democracy, economist Sven Rydenfelt (1911–2005) was a voice in the wilderness. Gissurarson argues that the relative success of the Nordic countries is despite, and not because of social democracy. It rests, he says, on three main pillars, the rule of law, free trade and social cohesion, brought about by social homogeniety.

Comments Off

Three Forthcoming Lectures

In the second week of November 2019, RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson gives three lectures. On 8 November in Kyiv he discusses free trade and the problem of Ukraine. He argues that international free trade makes it possible to reduce the size of political units because these smaller units can benefit from the international division of labour, as the record shows. Economic integration, somewhat paradoxically, enables political disintegration. Therefore it was not inefficient for Norway to separate from Sweden, for Iceland to separate from Denmark or for Ukraine to separate from Russia. If the Ukrainians wanted to tread carefully in dealings with their powerful neighbour in the north, then it might be a sensible alternative for them to become members of the European Economic Area, EEA, instead of joining the EU or NATO. In general, Iceland for example had benefitted from her membership of the EEA, gaining access to the European market without too many political obligations.

Hayek gives a talk on “The Muddle of the Middle” in Iceland 5 April 1980.

On 13 November in Vienna, Professor Gissurarson discusses the Mengerian roots of Hayek’s conservative liberalism. Both Menger and Hayek conceived of the economy as a process rather than an equilibrium, and this process takes place in time and is subject to risk and uncertainty. Menger regarded the main task of the social sciences to try and explain how social phenomena such as the law, money, language and the market could arise out of human activities without being designed by any one human being. Hayek agrees, but his real question is how the productive and rich civilisation of the West could arise despite the inevitable ignorance of one and every human being. His answer, briefly, was that in a free economy people could utilise the knowledge of each other and in the process also create new knowledge, by trial and error. Hayek visited Iceland in 1980, gave two lectures and made quite an impact.

On 15 November in Poitiers, Gissurarson discusses the 1941 publication in Iceland of Jan Valtin’s controversial book, Out of the Night. One-half of the book was published then, by the social democratic book club. The Icelandic communists conducted a fierce campaign against the book in which Valtin—whose real name was Richard Krebs—described his work as a Comintern agent, especially in the early 1930s. Stalinist author Halldor Laxness (later a Nobel Prize winner) and economist Benjamin Eiriksson, a renegade communist and veteran of the Comintern training camps in Moscow, hotly debated the book, and Gissurarson—who wrote the biographies in Icelandic of both men—reveals a dark secret about Stalinist persecution that they both knew, and almost nobody else. The Icelandic communists managed to stop the publication of the second part of Valtin’s book by the social democratic book, club. Instead, some anti-communists published it in 1944. The Icelandic book club reprinted the book in 2015 with a foreword and notes by Professor Gissurarson. Recent research has shown that many of the statements made by Valtin and dismissed as pure fiction indeed had a factual basis, such as his revelation that Icelandic seamen acted as secret couriers for the Comintern.

Professor Gissurarson’s participation in the two former conferences forms a part of the joint project by RNH and ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, on ‘Bluegreen Capitalism’, whereas his participation in the third conferences forms a part in another joint project of RNH and ACRE on ‘Europe of the Victims’.

Comments Off

Platform: Kamiński Re-elected President

Polish historian Dr.  Łukasz Kamiński was re-elected President of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience at its annual meeting 3–6 November 2019, at the Tirana International Hotel in Tirana, the capital of Albania. RNH is a member of the Platform whose goal it is to keep alive the memory of the victims of totalitarianism, Nazism and communism, by organising conferences and seminars, by publishing relevant works and by other activities. Recently the European Parliament passed a resolution in support of the Platform. Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson attended the meeting on behalf of RNH, and the annual meeting was efficiently organised by Dr. Jonila Godole, Director of the IDMC, Institute of Democracy, Media and Culture in Albania.

Monday 4 November, an excursion was made to the town of Shkodra near the borders with Montenegro. This was the centre of the opposition to the communist terror of 1944–1991. Enver Hoxha’s totalitarian regime went so far as to stipulate atheism in its constitution and to destroy all mosques and churches by dynamite or to transform them into cinemas, gyms or warehouses. In Shkodra an exhibition on ‘Totalitarianism in Europe’ was opened, while leading members of the Platform gave interviews to the media. In the afternoon, there was a lunch of reflection at the famous restaurant Mrizi i Zanave near the village of Fishta.

Tuesday 5 November, the Council of Members had its meeting, discussing the annual report for 2018 and planned activities in 2019 and 2020. The statutes were changed somewhat in order to facilitate the Platform’s activities and the number of governing board members was increased from five to seven. In the afternoon, a round-table discussion took place about memory politics in Albania and Europe, after which the ‘House of Leaves’ was visited. This was originally a maternity ward, but in the War Gestapo was based there. After the 1944 communist takeover, it became the headquarters of the communist secret service, and now it is a museum about communist terror, with surveillance equipment, hidden cameras and tools of torture. Around 34 thousand people were imprisoned in Albania under the communists, and around six thousand lost their lives because of them. In the evening, attendees had dinner at the restaurant Millennium Gourmet Restaurant.

Wednesday 6 November, a seminar took place about the cooperation of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and institutes promoting democracy in Albania, in particular the IDMC. Then, some leading members of the Platform, including Professor Gissurarson, had a meeting with the Committee of Foreign Affairs in the Albanian Parliament. In a lively discussion on the reckoning with totalitarianism, Ralf Gjona, Vice-Chairman of the Committee, gave a spirited talk. RNH participation in the activities of the Platform form a part in its joint project with ACRE, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, on ‘Europe of the Victims’.

Comments Off

European Parliament Endorses Platform

RNH is a member of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience which seeks to keep alive the memory of the victims of totalitarianism, communism and Nazism. RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson has given lectures at Platform conferences and contributed to its publications. On 19 September 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution about the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe, urging the European Commission to support the Platform. In the resolution, the European Parliament emphasised the annual Day of Memory for the Victims of Totalitarianism, 23 August. It was on this very day in 1939 that Hitler and Stalin made their Non-Aggression Pact, signed in Moscow and dividing up most of Europe between them and starting the Second World War.

Annual meeting of the Platform in Bled, Slovenía 2018. RNH Academic Director is 8th from left.

Comments Off

Hannan Supported Iceland in 2008

RNH was a sponsor of a conference organised by Students for Liberty Iceland in Kopavogur 6 September 2019. In an interview with Morgunbladid 12 September, the keynote speaker, ACRE General Secretary and Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, discussed the impending exit of Great Britain from the European Union, for which he had fought in the national referendum on the issue. He said that the EU was trying to keep Great Britain inside by offering unacceptable terms for an exit. “Just imagine if Iceland sought a free trade deal with the EU, but that the EU insisted on two conditions: that you had to cancel all your free trade deals with other countries because the EU would supervise them, and that from now on the EU would be in full control of Kopavogur,” Hannan commented, referring to the conflice over Northern Ireland. “I am however proud of being the first British politician who publicly supported Iceland in the Icesave dispute. I was always convinced that the depositors would be fully reimbursed, and I was upset at the British authorities for mistreating a loyal friend and ally by invoking the Anti-Terrorist Act,” Hannan also said.

Comments Off