Gissurarson: Much to Learn from Three Modern Masters

Gissurarson giving his talk in Berlin. Photo Marek Tatala.

At the 4th annual European Students for Liberty conference in Berlin, 10–12 April 2015, Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, RNH Academic Director was one of the speakers. The title of his lecture was “Three Modern Masters: Hayek, Popper and Friedman. Personal Recollections.” Professor Gissurarson recalled that he first met Friedrich von Hayek in April 1980 when the Anglo-Austrian economist and Nobel Laureate visited Iceland. In the following years, he met Hayek frequently, both at meetings of the Mont Pelerin Society meetings and in Oxford, where he was working on a doctoral dissertation on Hayek’s political theory. An Austrian aristocrat by birth, and a scholar by temperament, Hayek never ascribed base motives to his opponents and always sought to meet their arguments on their own merits. He told Professor Gissurarson that he was delighted that young people were interested in ideas, but that he did not want them to become Hayekians; they should exercise their critical minds.

During his Oxford years, Professor Gissurarson was also able to visit Karl F. Popper at his house in Penn, Buckinghamshire, and to discuss philosophy and politics with him, for example whether Popper’s analyses of Hegel and Marx were entirely fair. Professor Gissurarson first met Milton Friedman in the autumn of 1980, and many times after that, both at meetings of the Mont Pelerin Society and at Stanford University where Friedman was a Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Gissurarson a Visiting Fellow. Friedman also visited Iceland in 1984 and participated in a memorable television discussion with three Icelandic socialists. Here is a very short part of it:

Comparing these three thinkers, Professor Gissurarson submitted that Hayek was the most profound, with his insights that dispersed knowledge required dispersed power and that individuals could overcome their inevitable ignorance in and through the free market and spontaneously developed practices and traditions. Popper was perhaps the most reasonable or moderate, with his contention that man should aim at minimising identifiable evils rather than trying to maximise contestable ideas of happiness. Friedman was the sharpest in debate, quick to strike as a lightning, and also a very serious and original scholar.

Other speakers at the conference included Sam Bowman from the Adam Smith Institute in London who described the benefits of immigration, Professor Pierre Garello from France who discussed globalisation and its discontents, Danish journalist Flemming Rose who defended press freedom, Dr. Tom G. Palmer of Cato Institute in Washington DC who gave a summary of his forthcoming book on liberty, and English MEP Daniel Hannan, Secretary-General of the AECR, Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, who argued that classical liberals should be eurosceptics. Five Icelandic students attended the conference, free-lance journalist Asgeir Ingvarsson, economics student Thorsteinn Fridrik Halldorsson, chairman of the Libertarian Society of Iceland, law student Ingvar Smari Birgission, chairman of Heimdallur in Reykjavik, law student Markus Arni Vernhardsson and business administration student Jon Axel Olafsson. Professor Gissurarson’s lecture formed a part of the joint RNH-AECR project on “Europe, Iceland and the Future of Capitalism.” Here is a tape of his lecture and the slides he used:

Berlin Slides of Gissurarson

Comments are closed.