Barcelona: Liberty Under Threat

Gissurarson with three participants in the workshop, from left: Mathilde Berger-Perrin, Maria Alesina, and Viktorya Muradyan.

Although totalitarianism was defeated in Europe, first national socialism in 1945, then communism in 1989, individual liberty is still under both internal and external threats. The internal threats include calls for restrictions on the freedom to question and argue against ‘politically correct’ ideas as well as the blatant demagoguery of right-wing and left-wing politicians who seek the lowest common denominator in the voting population. The external threats are how Russia and China seem to be returning to their totalitarian past as can be seen in the vicious Russian attack on Ukraine. These recent threats were discussed at a workshop in Barcelona 25–26 November 2022 where historians Johan Norberg from Sweden and Julio Crespo-MacLellan from Spain gave keynote addresses. The workshop was organised by the Brussels think tank, ELF, the European Liberal Forum, which is attached to ALDE, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

RNH Academic Director, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, was invited to participate in the workshop, and in his comments he emphasised that classical liberals could be conservative as well. Indeed, he had himself written a book in two volumes about twenty-four conservative-liberal thinkers for the Brussels think tank New Direction, which is attached to ECR, European Conservatives and Reformists. Gissurarson agreed with the organisers that individual liberty was under threat. He said that those Europeans who valued liberty, whether they called themselves conservatives, liberals, or christian democrats, had to cooperate, at least to some extent. However, in the United States, democratic socialists seemed to have appropriated the word ‘liberal’.

In response to the recent threats, conservative liberals should make use of the division of labour, Gissurarson suggested. Some should fight the political battles, identifying and rallying the likely supporters of individual liberty, for example by lowering taxes and extending the principle of private property, aiming at what Ludwig Erhard called ‘Volkskapitalismus’ and Margaret Thatcher a ‘share-owning democracy’. Some should work at think tanks, comparing the costs and benefits of taxing and pricing, and of cooperation with and without commands. One urgent issue was the environment: often environmental protection simply required environmental protectors. For example, the poachers who were hunting African elephants and rhinos to extinction could be turned into gamekeepers by a stroke of the pen, if and when their communities were made owners of those animal stocks and thus their custodians.

Some of those who valued liberty should however remain independent thinkers, not seeking popularity, but instead quietly articulating and amending the great political tradition of the West, which rested on four main pillars, private property, free trade, limited government, and the respect for traditions. Gissurarson found for example that St. Thomas Aquinas had analysed the tension between law and morality much more clearly than John Stuart Mill with his widely-discussed Harm Principle. The philosopher-saint had pointed out that we are all sinners, but that the law should only concern itself with those sins of ours which hurt or harm others, such as violence, fraud or theft. The new enemies of individual liberty should be dealt with fairly, but firmly, Gissurarson added. Putin was a new Mussolini, bellicose, ruthless, and dangerous, but less under the influence of an ideology than were Stalin and Hitler. Hopefully Putin would be defeated, but if so, it was essential not to turn the Russians against the West, but rather to integrate them into the West.

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Prague: Russia’s Hybrid War Against the West

President Nausėda, Prime Minister Fiala, and Tsikhanouskaya at the conference in the Liechtenstein Palace.

Speakers at an international conference on ‘Russia’s Hybrid War Against the Democratic World’ in Prague 16–18 November included Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nausėda, Prime Minister Petr Fiala of the Czech Republic, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, leader of the democratic movement of Belarus, French Professor Stéphane Courtois, who edited the seminal Black Book of Communism in 1997, American Professor Nicholas J. Cull and American writer and commentator David Satter. The conference was organised by the Platform of European Memory and Conscience and the Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, with the support of the Czech government which provided the venue, the Liechtenstein Palace. RNH has been a member of the Platform since 2014, and its academic director, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, translated the Black Book of Communism into Icelandic; he has also recently published a short history of Icelandic communism.

Topics at the conference included Russian disinformation as a tool of aggression, the question how to counter Russian disinformation, the experience of communism in the European remembrance perspective, and the question how to deal with the communist past. Three common themes were that after the Russian attack on Ukraine it was even more urgent than before to keep alive the memory of the victims of Soviet communism; and that the meaning of the term ‘totalitarianism’ had to be re-examined and deepened in the light of historical experience; and that it should never be forgotten that the Second World War was started as a result of the Non-Aggression Pact signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939 when Stalin and Hitler basically divided up between themselves most of Europe. Professor Gissurarson chaired the last session, on what more needs to be done. The participants in that session were the Polish historian Dr. Łukasz Kamiński, Romanian philosopher and writer Professor Vladimir Tismăneanu, Ukrainian actress and blogger Yanina Sokolova, English architect Tszwai So, German historian and novelist Nancy Aris and Russian chess grandmaster and human rights champion Garry Kasparov. When introducing Professor Tismăneanu, Gissurarson recalled a remark that Leszek Kolakowski had made to him at a dinner in April 1979: ‘The problem is not that God is dead in the minds of men. It is that the devil is dead in the minds of men. We have little or no awareness of the evil men can do.’ Gissurarson also quoted Arthur Koestler’s remark that statistics do not bleed: therefore it is difficult to convey the sheer horror of totalitarianism.

Tsikhanouskaya gives the prize to Belinkin, Dr. Mutor and Vystrčil applauding.

The Platform held its annual meeting on 16 November, re-electing Polish historian Dr. Marek Mutor as its president. The Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, a founding member of the Platform, was re-admitted to it, to the great satisfaction of present members. The annual prize of the Platform was given to the Russian institute Memorial which sadly has been dissolved by the Russian authorities. Historian Boris Belenkin, member of Memorial’s Board, received the prize on its behalf. ‘I am pleased that the Prize of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience for the year 2021 is being awarded to this association and that it will be presented to Russian historian Boris Belenkin. It is essential and right to support efforts to seek the truth in history. I consider it symbolical that this is happening in the Czech Republic at the time of the anniversary of the Velvet revolution which brought us freedom and democracy,’ said Miloš Vystrčil, President of the Czech Senate, on this occasion.

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Pacheco Receives Hayek Prize

Pacheco accepts the Hayek Prize. Photo: Victoria Schmid.

Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson gave the laudatio for Dr. Emilio Pacheco, former Liberty Fund President, at a gala dinner on 8 November 2022 in the Ringturm, Vienna, organised by the Austrian Economics Centre, where Pacheco received the Hayek Lifetime Achievement Award. Former prize winners include novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, economist Arthur Laffer, and historian Niall Ferguson. In his speech Gissurarson recalled that Pacheco was born in Venezuela in 1953, graduating with a BA in social sciences from the Catholic University André Bello in 1975, an M.Phil. in intellectual history from the University of Sussex in 1980 and a D.Phil. in political studies from Oxford University in 1986. He is married to Isabel Pacheco, also from Venezuela, and they have two daughters, Isabella and Iñez, residing respectively in Japan and Jamaica, and five grandchildren, Margot, five, Jósefina, four, Agnes, three, Carmen, two, and Oscar, one.

Hayek and Pacheco at the Ritz in London in spring 1985.

Gissurarson recalled that he and Pacheco were at the same time at Oxford where they founded, with some other students, the Hayek Society in the spring of 1983. Hayek came to visit that spring and told the students that he was delighted that they were interested in his ideas but that he had to make them promise not to become Hayekians: the Keynesians were much worse than Keynes and the Marxists were much worse than Marx, he observed. In the spring of 1985, Pacheco, Gissurarson and three other active members of the Hayek Society—Chandran Kukathas, Andrew Melnyk, and Stephen Macedo—had a memorable dinner with Hayek in London where the guest of honour was in a very good mood and told them a lot of anecdotes about his long life some of which Gissurarson shared with the audience.

Gissurarson pointed out that Pacheco had been with Liberty Fund in Indianapolis since 1991, making a significant contribution to the remarkable work of the Fund which had been established in 1960 by an Indianapolis businessman, Pierre Goodrich, who believed passionately in liberty as the product of Western civilisation. Liberty Fund is unique as an institute in that its focus is not on short-term policy, but rather on the conservative-liberal political tradition of the West in a broad sense. It regularly holds colloquia which engage in what could be called Socratic dialogues, without any preset conclusions, and it publishes classical political texts in accessible formats, both on paper and online, including the collected works of Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, James M. Buchanan, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill. In the same way as monasteries were sanctuaries for scholars in the Middle Ages, Liberty Fund has been a sanctuary for conservatives and (classical) liberals since its foundation, Gissurarson said, but more than that: it has been a lively and inspiring forum for the discussion and development of conservative-liberal ideas.

The day before, on 7 November, the Austrian Economics Centre held a seminar on the newly-published biography of Hayek by Bruce Caldwell and Hansjörg Klausinger where much new information is presented, not least about Hayek’s personal life. The participants included Pacheco, Gissurarson, Dr. Barbara Kolm, Director of the Centre, Sean Shelby, Director of Liberty Fund, Nathan Feltman, Chairman of the Liberty Fund Board, and Prince Michael von und zu Liechtenstein. After the seminar, Dr. Kolm graciously invited its participants to dinner at her Vienna residence. On 6 November, Pacheco, Gissurarson and several other foreign visitors for the event were treated by the Austrian Economics Centre to supper at the Rote Bar in the Sacher Hotel and afterwards to the Vienna Opera House where Verdi’s Traviata was performed.

Gissurarson Slides in Vienna 8 November 2022

Pacheco receives the Prize from Dr. Kolm, watched by Gissurarson and Peter Thirring of the Vienna Insurance Group, a major sponsor of the event. Photo: Victoria Schmid.

Gissurarson’s speech:

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Bucharest: The Right Alternative

Conservatives, classical liberals and christian democrats have to work together to defend European values, limited government, private property, free trade, and respect for tradition. This was the main conclusion at a conference on ‘The Right Alternative’ held by ECR, European Conservatives and Reformists, in Bucharest 4–5 November 2022. Romanian politician Adela Mirza, Leader of the Right Alternative Party, argued that conservatives had to present clear and plausible policies on two key issues, immigration and environmental protection. She said that the success of Giorgia Meloni in Italy served as an example to other European conservatives. Romanian philosopher Mihail Neamțu emphasised that man is not only a consumer, but also a citizen. He discussed three conservative values, honour, fatherhood, and patriotism. Spanish MEP Hermann Tertsch criticised the attempt by the Left to rewrite and indeed to falsify history. It was essential, he said, that the Right fought bravely in the culture wars.

Gissurarson with Adela Mirza.

Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, RNH Academic Director, was one of the speakers. He said that he was mostly a Hayekian but that he parted company with Hayek on one issue, national sovereignty. Hayek was a committed cosmopolitan and very critical of nationalism. So were many other conservative liberals, such as Lord Acton and Karl R. Popper. Gissurarson made a distinction however between good and bad nationalism. Good nationalism was the acceptance of membership in a special community with shared history and values, and a will to maintain and develop this community. Bad nationalism on the other hand was aggressive and menacing, with no respect for other nations and nationalities, seeking to subdue and humiliate them.

Gissurarson also pointed out that the two gurus of the modern Left, John Rawls and Thomas Piketty, promoted radically different policies. Rawls was concerned about poverty and constructed a theory of justice according to which income distribution was just when the worst off were as well off as they could be. Piketty however was concerned about wealth, not poverty, wanting to bring down the rich. Gissurarson said that poverty was a problem, but that wealth was a solution rather than a problem. Indeed, the system of private property and free trade provided great opportunities for people to escape poverty. Amazingly, the average income of the poorest 10 per cent in the freest economies was higher than the average income of all in the least free economies, as shown by the Fraser Institute’s Index of Economic Freedom.

Gissurarson Slides in Bucharest 4 November 2022

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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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