6. Actions at a historical level

The third and last level at which action should be taken in order to break the vicious circle of political impossibility is in practical everyday life, which we will call the “historical level”. It is clear that political decisions depend on the public opinion at any given moment and on the way in which it influences the political processes.(17) Moreover, public opinion is the result of a series of ideologies, beliefs and principles which, although they are often false and contradictory, slowly filter into the social network through a constellation of ideological intermediaries, which Hayek calls second-hand dealers of ideas. Among these, what are generally called “intellectuals” may be highlighted: novelists (18) , historians, cinema scriptwriters, and those professional disseminators of other people’s ideas who undertake to communicate and interpret the most topical news every day (journalists).

The main and most urgent need at this everyday reality level is to modify public opinion and provide it with an appropriate theory and morality in accordance with libertarian principles. In order to do this, great effort and perseverance are necessary, aimed, in the first place, at educating the “intellectuals” and disseminators of other people’s ideas, winning them over to the scientific and ethical cause of freedom, which has already been formulated at the theoretical and ethical levels we discuss above. Thus, the libertarian ideal may ferment in the social body, thanks to the effective labour of an “army” of disseminators and intellectuals who act applying the established principles of the pure theory of freedom to the everyday reality.

What kind of specific activities can and should be carried out in this field? Although it is not an exhaustive list, as examples, we can classify the activities that should be promoted and performed every day in this field:

a) Teaching and educational activities. These include organizing educational seminars in university environments and, in general, promoting meetings, congresses, conferences and talks at which intellectuals and disseminators may receive first-hand information on the essential principles and arguments upon which the free market economy is based. These meetings also serve to interchange experiences and propose new forms of explaining the practical application of libertarian principles to the citizens.

b) Activities of dissemination and publication of books, works and studies related to the libertarian ideal. Here, we should mention, for example, the great editorial effort made by several publishing companies and institutions to publish the most important classics in libertarian theory. There is also a numerous group of institutes, business organizations, foundations, etc. which promote, to a greater or lesser extent, studies and research intended to apply free market ideas to the most pressing social problems.

c) Activities related to the media, such as the promotion of journals and magazines specialized in the study and application of free market ideas; having prestigious newspapers adopt an editorial line committed to the free market economy; seeking good and sustained relations with mass media professionals, especially those who are most sympathetic to libertarian ideas; and, finally, obtaning influence over the mass media which, like the radio and television, have the broadest impact on society today.

d) The creation of institutes and think tanks with a libertarian leaning. In other words, to reproduce the successfully tried and tested method consisting of the creation, promotion and development of free market institutes and foundations devoted to the analysis of social problems from a libertarian point of view, together with the award of scholarships and grants for the study, development and articulation of the specific political measures for libertarian reform.(19)

e) Finally, an adequate international coordination of all these activities is indispensable. Thus, for example, the interchange of experiences among institutes in different countries and mutual assistance internationally among the theorists and disseminators of libertarian ideas has been found to be extremely useful. Here, in the academic field, the Mont Pèlerin Society, created by Hayek after the Second World War, has played a leading role. Today, its members include more than four hundred libertarian intellectuals, seven of whom have won the Nobel Prize for Economics.(20) The role of the Atlas Research Foundation, also founded by Anthony Fisher, in promoting the creation of institutes in Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe has also been of great importance in spreading libertarianism into areas which, until recently, were a closed shop of Marxism and international socialism. Finally, the labour of organizing academic seminars and publications, carried out at an international level by Liberty Fund, the Institute for Humane Studies, the Cato Institute, the Ludwig von Mises Institute and many others should be highlighted.

As is logical, all these types of activities must be carried out following the principle of specialization and division of labour. The same person or institution cannot and should not dilute his efforts over all of them. On the contrary, it is necessary for the different activities to be carried out on a specialized and professional basis, although it is true that an adequate coordination and organization of functions tends to reinforce the success of each initiative. Thus, little by little, sustained and combined action in all these fields finally not only reveals to the citizens the errors of interventionism, its profound immorality and the egoism of the privileged pressure groups that take short-term advantage of the mechanisms of political power, but also makes the irreversible erosion of the establishment and of interventionist ideologies possible, generating a situation where the presence of public opinion favourable to the free market and libertarianism slowly grows and is finally consolidated, becoming inexorable and irresistible from the social and political point of view.

 

 

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(17) “The supremacy of public opinion determines not only the singular role that economics occupies in the complex of thought and knowledge. It determines the whole process of human history. The flowering of human society depends on two factors: the intellectual power of outstanding men to conceive sound social and economic theories, and the ability of these or other men to make these ideologies palatable to the majority.” Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, Fourth Revised Edition, The Foundation for Economic Education, New York 1996, pp. 863-864.

(18) See F.A. Hayek (ed.), Capitalism and the Historians, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1954. With regard to Ayn Rand, author of, among others, the novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and her influence on the American libertarian movement, see D.M. Sciabarra, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, The Pennsylvania State University Press, Pennsylvania 1995.

(19) A detailed analysis of the history and importance of this type of institutes and foundations in the libertarian revolution of recent decades can be found in Richard Cockett’s book Thinking the Unthinkable: Think-Tanks in the Economic Counter-Revolution, 1931-1983, Harper Collins Publishers, London 1994, specially pp. 123-124 in which Anthony Fisher explains how F.A. Hayek was determinant in his decision to found the Institute of Economic Affairs (I.E.A.): “Hayek first warned against wasting time -as I was then tempted- by taking up a political career. He explained his view that the decisive influence in the battle of ideas and policy was wielded by intellectuals whom he characterised as the ‘second hand dealers of ideas’ … If I shared the view that better ideas were not getting a fair hearing, his counsel was that I should join with others in forming a scholarly research organization to supply intellectuals in universities, schools, journalism and broadcasting with authoritative studies of the economic theory of markets and its application to practical affairs”.

(20) With regard to the Mont Pèlerin Society, see R.M. Hartwell, A History of the Mont Pèlerin Society, Liberty Press, Indianapolis 1995.