Gissurarson: Liberty Made Inspiring Again

From left: Kolm, Gissurarson, and Zaric. Photo: Yannik Simkovicz.

Liberty has to be made inspiring again, seen as an intellectual adventure, recognised as a precondition for innovation and entrepreneurship, RNH Academic Director, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, said at a seminar on 13 May 2022 organised by the Faculty of Economics and Business at the University of Belgrad and the Austrian Economics Center in Vienna. He gave a brief account of the intellectual tradition he identified in his recent book in two volumes, Twenty-Four Conservative-Liberal Thinkers. The tradition of classical liberalism was articulated by John Locke, David Hume, and Adam Smith, but it became conservative liberalism in response to the 1789 French Revolution. The reason, Gissurarson submitted, why the French and the Russian Revolutions failed was that they sought the impossible, the total reconstruction of society according to abstract principles dreamt up by intellectuals, as Edmund Burke, Benjamin Constant, and Alexis de Tocqueville analysed. The English and the American Revolutions succeeded, on the other hand, because they were about preserving and extending existing liberties.


The most distinguished representative of the conservative-liberal political tradition in the twentieth century was, Gissurarson argued, Anglo-Austrian economist and philosopher Friedrich A. von Hayek. He and another renowned economist, Milton Friedman, provided many of the ideas and arguments behind what has sometimes been called ‘neoliberalism’: the reconstruction of Germany after the Second World War; the comprehensive economic reforms in countries as diverse as Great Britain under the Conservatives, Chile ruled by a military junta, and New Zealand at the initiative of social democrats; and the return to normalcy in Central and Eastern Europe, guided by Mart Laar in Estonia, Leszek Balcerowicz in Poland, Vaclav Klaus in the Czech Republic and others. Other speakers at the seminar were Dr. Barbara Kolm of the Austrian Economics Center in Vienna and Professor Christopher Lingle of Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala. Professor Sinisa Zaric chaired the seminar.

Gissurarson slides in Belgrad 13 May 2022

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Gissurarson: Make Trade, Not War

Small states may be feasible and in many cases more efficient and desirable than larger political units, but they are vulnerable, as the recent Russian attack on Ukraine showed, RNH Academic Director, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson argued at a seminar 12 May 2022 in Sarajevo, organised by the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology, SSST, and the Austrian Economics Center in Vienna. Being vulnerable, small states have to form alliances with one another and with stronger states. There are essentially two ways of keeping peace, Gissurarson observed. One is free trade. Your propensity to shoot at your neighbour diminishes, if you see in him a potential customer. And, when goods are not allowed to cross borders, soldiers will. The other way of keeping peace is by preparing for war, as the Romans knew: Si vis pacem, para bellum. The free countries of the world, under the leadership of the United States, have to be powerful enough that nobody dares attack them. China and Russia seem to reject democratic capitalism, with its tolerance, decentralisation, diversity, and respect for human rights and with peaceful means of replacing bad rulers with good ones. The very existence of individual freedom and democracy is seen by oriental despots as external threats.


Gissurarson submitted that the West had to know what it wanted to defend. He had himself recently published a book about Twenty-Four Conservative-Liberal Thinkers who had since the Middle Ages articulated the political tradition of limited government, private property, and free trade. It was a tradition which included philosophers and economists as different as St. Thomas Aquinas and Ayn Rand, Ludwig von Mises and Robert Nozick, Herbert Spencer and Karl Popper, not to mention its two best-known modern proponents, Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman. It was, and is, a tradition which has encouraged economic growth, innovation and entrepreneurship, but also the development of individual skills, abilities and talents, enabling individual to live meaningful lives and flourish. It was a tradition which recognised the many intermediate institutions, conventions and customs which had developed spontaneously between individuals and the state, and the many ties, commitments and attachments they inherited and formed outside the realm of contract. Other speakers at the seminar were Austrian economist Dr. Barbara Kolm on globalisation, American businessman Terry Anker on business regulations, and American Professor Christopher Lingle on entrepreneurship. Professor Vjekoslav Domljan, Dean of the Economics Faculty of the SSST, chaired the meeting.

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Gissurarson: Catholicism and Liberalism Compatible

Pribicević, Gissurarson, Anker, and Grubišić.

Catholicism and classical liberalism are quite compatible, RNH Academic Director, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, argued on 11 May 2022 at a seminar in Zagreb, organised by the Zagreb School of Economics and Management and the Austrian Economics Center. He recalled the cogent defence of private property rights presented by St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica and his argument about sin: Man is indeed a frail being, a potential sinner, the philosopher-saint recognised, and accordingly government should concern itself only with those sins which are harmful to others, such as theft and physical violence, and leave alone other sins, today often called victimless crimes. Gissurarson also pointed out that two of the most distinguished representatives of what he had identified as the conservative-liberal political tradition were devout Catholics, Alexis de Tocqueville and Lord Acton. In his recent book in two volumes, Twenty-Four Conservative-Liberal Thinkers, Gissurarson devotes chapters to Aquinas, Tocqueville, and Acton.

Other speakers at the seminar were American businessman Terry Anker on entrepreneurship, Croatian Finance Professor and investor Andrej Grubišić on economic opportunities in Croatia, Croatian Economics Professor Vedrana Pribicević on preconditions for economic growth in Croatia, British-Croatian writer Dr. Robin Harris on Croatia and the European Union, Austrian economist Dr. Barbara Kolm on monetary regimes in small countries, American Professor Christopher Lingle on the case for the free market, Croatian financial strategist Dr. Neven Vidaković on necessary reforms in Croatia, American writer Craig Biddle on individualism, Canadian-Croatian accountant John Gasparac on doing business in Croatia, and Croatian businessman Damir Vanđelić on the prospects for economic growth in Croatia. After the seminar, Croatian political philosopher and MP Dr. Stjepo Bartulica took the speakers on a tour of the Croatian Parliament and the premises of his think tank, Center for the Renewal of Culture. At a subsequent drinks party at the Center, Gissurarson and Harris discussed the personality, policies and legacy of Margaret Thatcher on whom Harris had written a book, Not for Turning: The Life of Margaret Thatcher. Gissurarson had met Thatcher on several occasions and Harris had worked for her at 10 Downing Street.

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Gissurarson: Small States Feasible, Efficient, and Desirable

From left: Steinbacher, Biddle, Turk, and Gissurarson.

Paradoxically, economic integration facilitates political disintegration, RNH Academic Director, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, argued at a seminar on 10 May 2022 in Ljubljana, organised by the Faculty of Economics and Business at the Catholic Institute in Ljubljana and the Austrian Economics Center in Vienna. By political disintegration Gissurarson meant the reduction in size and the consequent addition in number of political units which the world has seen in the last seventy-five years. The explanation of this paradox was, Gissurarson submitted, that with economic integration small states could enjoy the immense benefits of the international division of labour. As Adam Smith remarked, the division of labour is limited by the extent of the market. Gissurarson also said that usually small states were more homogeneous than large states and that therefore the citizens often identified more with one another, developing a stronger sense of solidarity. Again, small states tended to be more flexible and transparent than the larger ones. Their citizens were closer to those who wielded power over them than was the case elsewhere. There was not necessarily any economies of scale favouring large states. Indeed, the cost per capita of policing was actually lower in some small states such as the five Nordic countries than in much larger states such as the United Kingdom or the United States, Gissurarson observed.

Ljubljana at sunset.

The great disadvantage of small states however was their vulnerability, Gissurarson added, recalling the famous Melian Dialogue described by Thucydides. Therefore, small states had to seek strong allies. ‘Si vis pacem, para bellum,’ as the Romans used to say: If you want peace, prepare for war. Gissurarson observed that both his own country Iceland and Slovenia were members of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and with good reason. The seminar was chaired by Professor Mitja Steinbacher of the Catholic Institute. The other speakers were American businessman Terry Anker on entrepreneurship, Austrian economist Dr. Barbara Kolm on sound money, British accountant and businessman Keith Miles on Brexit and the European Union, American writer Craig Biddle on individualism, and Slovenian Professor Žiga Turk, former Minister of Education, on the evolutionary argument for freedom. On 9 May, the day before the seminar, Professor Gissurarson met with Slovenian historian Dr. Andreja Zver who has visited Iceland to give a paper on the victims of twentieth century totalitarianism, and her husband Dr. Milan Zver, former Minister of Education, who is at present Member of the European Parliament. In Ljubljana, Professor Gissurarson was interviewed by Peter Merše of the online magazine Domovina.


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Snorri Sturluson’s Political Theory

Gissurarson in front of a statue of Snorri Sturluson in the library at Reykholt. Photo: Gudlaugur Oskarsson.

It is nothing new that Icelandic chronicler and poet Snorri Sturluson (1179–1241) is seen as a critic of royal power, RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson pointed out in a talk on 19 April 2022 about Snorri’s political theory in Reykholt, where Snorri lived and where he was killed on the order of the Norwegian king. This has been argued by other scholars, for example Sigurdur Lindal, Birgit Sawyer, and Magnus Fjalldal. But what Gissurarson did in his recent book, Twenty-Four Conservative-Liberal Thinkers, was to place Snorri as a pioneer in the conservative-liberal tradition, alongside another 13th century writer, St. Thomas Aquinas. They had in common the idea that kings were no less than their subjects under the law, and that they could be deposed if they broke the implicit social contract, in Snorri’s case as determined by customs and conventions and in Aquinas’ case as determined by the natural law. Snorri went even further and argued in Heimskringla, in the famous speech he put into the mouth of an Icelandic farmer, Einar from Thvera, that it was best for the Icelanders to have no king but the law.

Gissurarson said that several points could be added to his account of Snorri’s thought in his recent book. For example, in the Book of the Icelanders, composed by Ari the Learned in the 1120s, a reference was made to the inherent conflict in Scandinavia between peaceful and thrifty farmers on the one hand and bellicose and profligate kings on the other hand. Again, Snorri’s tale in Heimskringla of Iceland’s four ‘protective spirits’ was a subtle intimation to the Norwegian king not to invade Iceland. Gissurarson found it most likely that Snorri had first written the saga of Olav the Fat (995–1030) who was the first Norwegian king to try and subdue or annex Iceland, and that he had then added sagas about his predecessors and successors. Gissurarson also suggested that Snorri might himself have composed some of the poems in the Saga of Egil, the first real saga of the Icelanders.

A lively discussion followed Gissurarson’s talk with comments by psychiatrist Ottar Gudmundsson, the author of a book about the personalities of Snorri and his contemporaries from a medical point of view, and the Reverend Geir Waage, former Pastor of Reykholt, an avid reader and interpreter of ancient Icelandic literature.

Glærur Hannesar í Reykholti 19. apríl 2022

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Acton Institute in São Paulo

Dinner on 24 January. Gissurarson is second from right, Hélio Beltrão is sitting on his right, and Alejandro Chafuen is standing by them.

RNH academic director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson attended two meetings which the Acton Institute, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, held in São Paulo for its Brazilian friends, sponsors and alumni on 24 and 25 January 2022. The institute, named after the distinguished historian Lord Acton, presents the case for liberty as grounded in Christian morality. It has conducted many seminars and summer schools in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America. In São Paulo, Professor Gissurarson had talks with Kris Alan Mauren, President of Acton Institute, Alejandro A. Chafuen, Managing Director of the Institute, and Hélio Beltrão, Director of the Brazilian Mises Institute. Gissurarson’s book in two volumes, Twenty-Four Conservative-Liberal Thinkers, is being translated into Portuguese and will be published in São Paulo by the Mises Institute. There are chapters on both Lord Acton and Ludwig von Mises in the book.

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