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.

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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.


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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

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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

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Gissurarson: Why Intellectuals Supported Totalitarianism

Hannes talking. Photo: Ragnhildur Kolka.

The 20th century was the best of times, and it was the worst of times, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, RNH Academic Director, said in a talk at the University of Iceland 26 April 2018. It was a time of prosperity and progress, but also of totalitarian mass murders, by Nazis and communists. It is estimated that about 120–125 million people lost their lives because of totalitarianism in the 20th century, but the lives of many more people were affected and abrogated. The occasion for Gissurarson’s talk was the recent publication of his Totalitarianism in Europe: Three Case Studies, written at the initiative of ACRE, Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, as a part of the joint project with RNH, ‘Europe of the Victims’.


Gissurarson first told the story of Elinor Lipper, a young and intelligent girl of Jewish origin who became a communist and a Comintern courier all over Europe, also briefly having an affair with Italian writer Ignazio Silone. She went to Russia in 1937, but then Stalin’s purges were at their worst, and she was to spend the next eleven years in labour camps. She was a Swiss citizen, and because of the persistence of Swiss authorities she was released in 1948, after which she wrote a book about her experience that sold quite well and was much-discussed. Extracts of the books were published in Icelandic newspapers Timinn and Visir, and the one in Visir has been republished. In his research, Gissurarson discovered many unexpected facts about Lipper.

Then Gissurarson gave an account of a surprise encounter at the 60 years birthday party in Iceland of communist leader Brynjolfur Bjarnason in May 1958. A Jewish lady attending the party, Henny Goldstein, who had fled from Hitler to Iceland in 1934 suddenly noticed there a German Nazi whom she had known in Iceland before the war, Dr. Bruno Kress. She protested against his presence, but the incident was hushed down. During the war, Henny’s brother, Siegbert Rosenthal, and her sister-in-law and nephew, were sent to Auschwitz only a month before Henny and her husband had provided the necessary permissions for living outside Germany. The wife and the son were murdered almost immediately by the Nazis, but Rosenthal was selected to participate in the ‘skeleton collection’ of the Ahnenerbe, the SS ‘research institute’ and subsequently murdered. In Iceland, Dr. Kress was on a grant from the same Ahnenerbe, to write an Icelandic grammar. He was then a Nazi, but after the war he became a communist and the director of the Nordic Institute at Greifswald University, whereas the Director of Ahnenerbe was hanged for war crimes. Kress received an honorary doctorate from the University of Iceland in 1986.

Laxness. Image: Gunnar Karlsson.Finally Gissurarson turned to the most prominent Stalinist apologist in Iceland, the writer Halldor K. Laxness. In the 1930s, he wrote two travel books about the Soviet Union, but decades later he admitted that there he had not told the truth. In his later trip to the Soviet Union, in 1937–8, he had attended the public trial of Bukharin and his comrades whom Stalin forced to confess to the most extraordinary misdeeds. During the same trip, Laxness had also witnessed the arrest of an innocent young woman at her home, Vera Hertzsch, who had had a child with an Icelandic student in Moscow. Hertzsch was a German communist living in Russia and previously had been married to an alleged ‘Trotskyite’.

Gissurarson then tried to explain why so many prominent 20th century intellectuals supported totalitarianism, bitterly rejecting the system of free competition and private property. Schumpeter had suggested that intellectuals were alienated from society and that they usually lacked experience in making things works. Mises had surmised that intellectuals expected to do better personally under socialism than capitalism. Jouvenel had pointed out that intellectuals seemed to abhor having to produce in order to satisfy the needs of others, as the market system requires. Hayek had observed that many intellectuals could not envisage the spontaneous evolution that takes place under capitalism: They thought that everything had to be designed by human reason. Gissurarson found all of these explanations to fit Laxness, but especially the last one.

The meeting was well-attended. While historian Bessi Johannsdottir chaired it, Dr. Dalibor Rohac, analyst of Central and Eastern European affairs at the American Enterprise Institute, was commentator. Rohac recalled that he was born in a communist country with barbed wire and watchtowers visible from his parents’ house in Bratislava. The stories Gissurarson told were tragic, but needed to be remembered,  Rohac said. Guests at the meeting included Tomas Ingi Olrich, former Minister of Education, and History Professor Thor Whitehead, Iceland’s leading expert on communism, both of whom joined in the discussion after the talk.

Gissurarson Slides 26 April 2018

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Tszwai So Gets First Prize in Platform Competition

MEP László Tökés, Dr. Łukasz Kamiński, Platform President, and designer Tszwai So.

Designer Tszwai So from Spheron Architects in the United Kingdom received first prize in a competition of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience on proposals for a memorial for the victims of totalitarianism to be erected at the Place Jean Rey, in the heart of the European district of Brussels. This was announced at a meeting of the Platform 24 April 2018 in Brussels where RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson was present. Attending the meeting were MEPs László Tökés from Romania, who hosted it, Milan Zver from Slovenia and Petras Auštrevičius from Lithuania, as well as representatives of the embassies of Poland, Lithuania and the Czech Republic to the EU. So’s proposal was that the square would be turned into a kind of an historical post office, with letters from prisoners in totalitarian countries.


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