Wroclaw: Remembering the Victims

Edith Stein

The Platform of European Memory and Conscience held a workshop at the History Centre in Wroclaw in Poland on 10–12 October 2022 about how best to remember the victims of 20th century totalitarianism, Hitler’s national socialism and Stalin’s communism. It was organised by the Remembrance and Future Institute in Wroclaw, led by Platform President Marek Mutor. At the same time a conference was held at the same venue about the life and teachings of Polish philosopher Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who lived for a while in Wroclaw and who perished in Auschwitz. RNH Academic Director Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson attended the workshop and gave an account of the project ‘Europe of the Victims’ presented in Iceland by RNH.

One part of the project has been lectures and conferences with distinguished speakers from abroad, including Professors Bent Jensen and Niels Erik Rosenfeldt from Denmark, Professor Øystein Sørensen from Norway, and Professor Stéphane Courtois from France. Courtois was the editor of the Black Book of Communism which Gissurarson translated in 2009.

Another part of the project was an exhibition at the National Library of Iceland in 2013, on Iceland and international communism. In connection with the exhibition, historians Dr. Mart Nutt from Estonia, Dr. Andreja Valic Zver from Slovenia and Dr. Pawel Ukielski from Poland gave talks and were interviewed on Icelandic television.

A third part of the project has been the republication, online and on paper, of anti-totalitarian books in Icelandic which were mostly out of print: Articles on Communism by English philosopher Bertrand Russell; Women in Stalin’s Prison Camps by two former inmates, Elinor Lipper and Aino Kuusinen; Out of the Night by German communist agent Richard Krebs, writing as Jan Valtin; the secret speech about Stalin’s crimes given by Nikita Khruschev; El campesino: Life and Death in the Soviet Union by Spanish Civil War militant Valentín González; Baltic Eclipse by Professor Ants Oras (1955); Estonia. A Study in Imperialism by Swedish journalist Andres Küng (1973); Soviet Myth and Reality by Hungarian-English author Arthur Koestler (1945); I Chose Freedom by Ukrainian refugee Victor Kravchenko (1950); Nightmare of the Innocents by Norwegian fisherman Otto Larsen (1956); six speeches against communism, Til varnar vestraenni menningu (In Defence of Western Civilisation), given in 1950–58 by prominent Icelandic men of letters, Tomas Gudmundsson, Gunnar Gunnarsson, Kristmann Gudmundsson, Gudmundur G. Hagalin, Sigurdur Einarsson and David Stefansson; and a collection of speeches in 1946–1948 by Norwegian poet Arnulf Øverland.

A fourth part of the project consists in works in English by RNH Academic Director, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson:  Voices of the Victims: Towards a Historiography of Anti-Communist Literature (2017); Totalitarianism in Europe: Three Case Studies (2018); and Communism in Iceland, 1918–1998 (2021).

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MPS Oslo: Liberty Decreasing in the World

Gissurarson with two successful liberal reformers, Carlos Cáceres from Chile and Ruth Richardson from New Zealand, at the closing dinner on 8 October.

According to Freedom House and other independent observers, liberty is decreasing in the world, while authoritarianism is on the rise. This was one of the main topics, and worries, at the general meeting in Oslo 4–8 October 2022 of the Mont Pelerin Society, the (classical) liberal international debating club. In one of the sessions, Dr. Tom Palmer of the Atlas Network and Dr. Nils Karlson of Ratio Institute analysed populism as a threat to liberty. According to them, conservative parties in the West were turning increasingly populist. In the following discussion, RNH Academic Director, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, pointed out that the reconstruction of Italy, Austria, and Germany after the Second World War had been implemented by conservative-liberal alliances, led by statesmen like Luigi Einaudi and Alcide de Gasperi in Italy, Reinhard Kamitz in Austria, and Ludwig Erhard and Konrad Adenauer in Germany. Einaudi, Kamitz and Erhard were all members of the Mont Pelerin Society. Again, the wide-ranging liberal reforms in many countries in the 1980s and 1990s were implemented by conservative-liberal alliances, led by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the United States. Other pioneers were Mart Laar in Estonia, David Oddsson in Iceland, and Vaclav Klaus in the Czech Republic, as well as three former finance ministers who all happened to be present at the Oslo meeting, Leszek Balcerowicz of Poland, Carlos Cáceres of Chile, and Ruth Richardson of New Zealand. The question was, Gissurarson said, how to maintain this conservative-liberal alliance and convince conservatives of the merits of the free market.

The first MPS meeting in 1947. Hayek speaking and Dorothy Hahn taking notes. In front row from left: William Rappard, Ludwig von Mises, Walter Eucken and Carl Iversen. In second row from left: Herbert Cornuelle and Bertrand de Jouvenel.

At one of the sessions in Oslo, Professor Bruce Caldwell presented his recent book, based on original documents about the first conference of the Mont Pelerin Society in April 1947, more than 75 years ago. The Society was founded by Friedrich von Hayek, Milton Friedman, Wilhelm Röpke, Karl Popper, Bertrand de Jouvenel and other prominent classical liberals (not in the present American sense of the word) and named after its first meeting place in the Swiss Alps. Some of the papers read at the first conference are still available, and Hayek’s secretary, Dorothy Hahn, also took notes. Caldwell’s forthcoming biography of Hayek, based on decades of research, is eagerly awaited. At another session in Oslo, the future of liberalism was discussed. Some speakers wanted to be more receptive than most MPS members of the past to demands for free education and free health care and also for diversity, making liberalism more inclusive, they say, not solely focusing on economic freedom and efficiency. In particular, the example of German liberal Ralf Dahrendorf was invoked. Again, Professor Gissurarson intervened and criticised Dahrendorf’s idea of the equalisation of life chances. This amounted to the creation of positive rights or claims on productive people who were supposed to contribute to the costs of such equalisation. Liberals should instead continue to speak for consumers and taxpayers, innovators, entrepreneurs and investors, Gissurarson said. He reminded the audience of the eleventh commandment, as Milton Friedman called it: ‘Thou shalt not do good at other people’s expense.’ There was no right, Gissurarson submitted, to education paid for by others, although it was certainly prudent and indeed advisable to ensure that all citizens had a certain level of education. He also recalled that in the 1960s Dahrendorf, a member of the German Free Democrats, had followed his party in leaving the coalition with the Christian Democrats and forming instead a government with the Social Democrats, a government with a much less liberal economic agenda. Thus, the very successful conservative-liberal alliance in Germany was broken up.

From Iceland, Associate Professor Birgir Thor Runolfsson from the Economics Faculty of the University of Iceland also attended the conference which was ably organised by Lars Peder Nordbakken of the Norwegian Civita organisation. Speakers included Nobel Laureate Finn Kydland, economic analyst Anders Aslund and economic historian Deirdre McCloskey. In general, pessimism about the near future was prevalent at the conference, although Tom Palmer warned that pessimism could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nordbakken gave a talk about prominent Norwegian economist Trygve Hoff, a founding member of the Mont Pelerin Society, and Dr. Eamonn Butler spoke briefly, but movingly, about English liberal champion Linda Whetstone, who passed away unexpectedly in December 2021 after only serving a year as President of the Society. The excursion, a traditional part of any Mont Pelerin Society meeting, was on 7 October to Oscarsborg, the fortress on a small island in Oslofjord where the Norwegians in April 1940 resisted the German occupation forces for a day, thus providing an opportunity for the Norwegian king and government to escape, taking with them Norway’s gold reserves and issuing orders to the Norwegian merchant fleet immediately to sail to harbours under Allied control. At the members’ meeting on 8 October, Professor Gabriel Calzada from Spain was elected MPS President for the next two years, and McCloskey Vice President. At the closing dinner, Swedish historian Johan Norberg gave a rousing speech on today’s challenges.

Some participants at dinner on 5 October at Restaurant Kontrast in Oslo. From left: Drew Bond, Caroline Mühlfenzl, Gissurarson, Shawn Stephenson (Rising Tide Foundation), Carolyn Anker, Jo Ann and Professor Mark Skousen (Chapman University), Lord Borwick, Morgan Stephenson, Dr. Barbara Kolm (Austrian Economics Center).

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Young Leaders Academy in Split

View of Diocletian’s Palace, Split. This Emperor (reigned 284–305) imposed price controls, increased taxes and restricted freedom of movement, thus contributing much to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

RNH Academic Director, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, was one of the speakers at a Young Leaders Academy held in Split, Croatia, 25–29 September 2022. It was jointly organised by the Brussels think tank New Direction and the Croatian Centre for the Renewal of Culture. The Academy set itself the task of exploring key conservative-liberal ideas such as individual responsibility, tradition, national sovereignty, liberty, and the market economy. The aim was to provide an intellectual framework for the future leaders of Europe, while strengthening their understanding of the values of Western civilization.

Gissurarson gave a brief account of the conservative-liberal tradition in European politics, starting with medieval writers Snorri Sturluson in Iceland and St. Thomas Aquinas in Italy and continuing with four key British thinkers, John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Edmund Burke. What made this liberal tradition conservative was the challenge of radical Jacobins in the French Revolution, vehemently rejected by Burke and later explained and analysed with great insight by French philosophers Benjamin Constant and Alexis de Tocqueville. What was needed, the two French thinkers concluded, was a vibrant and diverse civil society of spontaneous associations, families, congregations, local communities, sports clubs, cooperatives, even nations and nationalities, political parties and trade unions, standing between government and the individual and providing a sense of belonging and promoting responsible and meaningful citizenship.

Adenauer and Erhard.

Gissurarson observed that the successful reconstruction of Europe after the Second World War had required the alliance of conservatives and economic liberals, mentioning in particular Luigi Einaudi and Alcide de Gasperi in Italy, Ludwig Erhard and Konrad Adenauer in Germany, and Reinhard Kamitz in Austria. The Mont Pelerin Society, founded by Friedrich von Hayek in 1947 as an international academy of liberal and conservative scholars and men of affairs, had been crucial in the revival of conservative liberalism. Some of its members, such as Hayek and Milton Friedman, had inspired comprehensive economic and political reforms in countries as different as Great Britain, Chile, New Zealand, Iceland, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Georgia.

Other speakers included Croatian MP Professor Stjepo Bartulica, leader of the Centre for the Renewal of Culture in Zagreb, Alvino-Mario Fantini, Editor of the European Conservative, Dr. Alex Chafuen of the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Robert Tyler from New Direction, John O’Sullivan of the Danube Institute in Budapest, and Dr. Robin Harris of the Centre for the Renewal of Culture in Zagreb. Over dinner one evening, Gissurarson expressed his appreciation of the fact that two advisers and speech writers for Margaret Thatcher, O’Sullivan and Harris, were both present, 32 years after she left office: They had fought the good fight, and they had kept the faith, as it says in the Holy Book.

Gisurarson Slides in Split 27 September 2022

Gissurarson’s Speech:

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Whither the Centre-Right?

Goncherneko gives his speech in Tallinn on 22 September 2022.

RNH Academic Director, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, attended the annual Margaret Thatcher dinner organised by Brussels think tank New Direction on 22 September 2022. This time, the venue was the House of the Blackheads (medieval merchants) in Tallinn, Estonia, and the speaker of the evening was Ukrainian member of parliament Oleksiy Goncherneko, who is active in the defence of human rights at the Council of Europe. He eloquently expressed his conviction that Ukraine would repel the attack by the Russian forces under Putin.

The day after the dinner, New Direction held a debate on the direction in which European centre-right parties should go in the future. Gissurarson argued for the conservative liberalism which he described in his recent book on Twenty-Four Conservative-Liberal Thinkers. Its four main pillars are private property, free trade, limited government and respect for traditions, in particular traditions developed in spontaneous voluntary associations such as families, congregations, cooperatives, sports clubs and local communities. Conservative-liberal thinkers include, Gissurarson submitted, St. Thomas Aquinas, David Hume, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Benjamin Constant, Alexis de Tocqueville, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich von Hayek, Wilhelm Röpke, Michael Oakeshott, and Karl Popper.

Gissurarson said that in his opinion Hayek was perhaps the greatest representative of the conservative-liberal political tradition. Hayek’s question was how we, in spite of our inevitable individual ignorance, have been able to develop Western civilisation with its enormous variety, diversity, creativity, entrepreneurship and opportunities. His answer was that in a free society knowledge could be acquired and transmitted, between different generations through tradition and between people in different places through the price mechanism. Unlike utilitarian liberals, conservative liberals did not ignore the many ties, attachments and commitments which individuals acquire as a result of their membership in various communities.

Gissurarson made a distinction between good and bad nationalism. Good nationalism was the collective will of a community to live together, almost always based on a long, shared history and sometimes on a common language. But the community should not be closed; it had to be the subject of choice; the nation should be a daily plebiscite, in Ernest Renan’s apt phrase—a home, neither a prison nor a fortress. Bad nationalism was however aggressively directed against other communities, seeking to subdue, oppress and humiliate them. Gissurarson suggested that the War in Ukraine was between these two kinds of nationalism: the Ukrainians’ will to maintain a sovereign state which would preserve and develop their common identity, and the determination of a small clique in the Moscow Kremlin to conquer the fertile fields of Ukraine and to be seen to triumph on the international arena.

Gissurarson giving his talk.

Gissurarson also made a distinction between positive and negative populism. Positive populism consisted in taking the voters seriously, but trying to direct their emotions, interests, and frustrations into socially and politically useful channels. One example was when Margaret Thatcher sold off council houses, changing by one stroke tenants into responsible house owners and her potential supporters. Negative populism was however when unscrupulous politicians try to unite the masses against some imaginary enemies, such as the rich or the Jews. It was important, Gissurarson said, to extend the moral vision to the whole of mankind, to apply the old Catholic concept of ‘universitas hominum’, but without neglecting our duties to those standing closer to us.

The other participants in the debate were Federico Ottavio Reho, Strategic Coordinator and Senior Research Officer at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, who defended christian democracy, Anna Wellisz, VP for External Affairs of the Edmund Burke Foundation, who advocated national conservatism, and John O’Sullivan, President of Danube Institute and former speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher, who stood up for traditional conservatism.


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Lisbon: Freedom Through Reciprocal Control

Prof. Gissurarson and Professor Alves.

Two of the most distinguished representatives of the conservative-liberal tradition were St. Thomas Aquinas and Edmund Burke, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, RNH Academic Director, observed in a lecture he gave at the Institute of Political Studies at the Catholic University of Lisbon on 8 September 2022. Aquinas not only taught that kings should, like everybody else, be under the law and that they could be deposed if they gravely violated the traditional liberties of their citizens. He also realised that we are all sinners, imperfect human beings, and that government should only try to deal with sins harmful to others, such as theft and assaults. Aquinas was an inspiration for the Salamanca School on which a professor at the Catholic University had ably written, André Azevedo Alves.

Edmund Burke saw a free society as being one of ‘reciprocal control’ where no single body, not even a democratically elected assembly, controlled everything but where several institutions shared power and kept one another in check. Since this was the very day in which Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Head of the Commonwealth, sadly passed away, Gissurarson recalled that one of the institutions contributing to Burke’s process of reciprocal control was the monarchy. It provided stability and continuity. According to Gissurarson, Professor João Carlos Espada of the Catholic University in his writings had perceptively explained the Anglo-American political tradition of liberty under the law. Espada had been inspired to study the Anglo-American tradition by his conversations with Karl Popper, to whom Gissurarson devotes a chapter in his recent book, Twenty-Four Conservative-Liberal Thinkers, available online free of charge.

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Tbilisi: The Anti-Socialist Tradition

Experience shows that socialism has failed wherever it has been tried, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, RNH Academic Director, maintained in a lecture at the Liberty International conference in Tbilisi, Georgia, 13 August 2022. The most plausible theory explaining the inevitable failure of socialism was, he added, that of the Austrian economists, Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich von Hayek. They had demonstrated the crucial role of knowledge in a dynamic, free economy where it is acquired through individual experiments and transmitted through the price mechanism. There are chapters on all three Austrians in Gissurarson’s recent book, Twenty-Four Conservative-Liberal Thinkers. There is also a chapter in the book on perhaps the most influential economist at the end of the twentieth century, Milton Friedman, and the economic reforms he inspired in countries as different as Great Britain, Chile, New Zealand, Iceland, Estonia, the Czech Republic, and Poland. Gissurarson also expressed his admiration for the successful comprehensive economic reforms implemented in Georgia in 2004–2012, under the leadership of President Mikheil Saakashvili and Economics Minister Kakha Bendukidze.

Gissurarson emphasised that even if historically freedom could be seen as the product of a long tradition of mutual adjustments in the Anglo-Saxon countries, in principle every human being was fit for freedom, in Mongolia as well as Massachusetts. The conservative-liberal political tradition he described in his book rested on four pillars, private property, free trade, limited government, and respect for traditions. It had developed out of the classical liberalism of John Locke, David Hume, and Adam Smith, as a response first to the Jacobin Revolution, and then to the Bolshevik Revolution. Edmund Burke, Benjamin Constant, and Alexis de Tocqueville had presented cogent arguments against the Jacobins, and the Austrian economists against the Bolsheviks. Gissurarson also pointed out that there was a strong conservative-liberal or non-socialist political tradition in the Nordic countries, articulated in particular by Snorri Sturluson, Anders Chydenius and Nikolai Grundtvig. The success of the Nordic countries was despite, and not because of, social democracy.

Gissurarson Slides Tbilisi August 2022

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