In my first post about Hayek and Pinochet, I quoted a statement that I had written in the Nation in 2009 and had repeated in my book The Reactionary Mind:
Hayek admired Pinochet’s Chile so much that he decided to hold a meeting of his Mont Pelerin Society in Viña del Mar, the seaside resort where the coup against Allende was planned.
The Mont Pelerin Society (MPS) was a group of intellectuals and activists that Hayek helped found after World War II to advance the cause of the free market. In recent years, it has become the subject of some great new scholarship; judging by the fall catalogs it looks likely to be an even hotter topic in the future. Hayek was president of the MPS from 1947 to 1961 and honorary president after that.
I had learned about the meeting in Viña—and Hayek’s role therein—from Naomi Klein and Greg Grandin.
Once my Hayek von Pinochet post came out, a Hayek enthusiast began questioning—among other things—my claim about Hayek’s role in the Viña meeting on Twitter.
Truth is: this was the first time I had heard anyone question the claim about Hayek and Viña, but I decided to follow it up.
I emailed a past president of the MPS, who informed me that a regional meeting such as this one would have been proposed by local members of the Society to the Board, which would have had to have given its approval. My informant wasn’t sure if Hayek was on the board in 1981—honorary presidents, he said, weren’t usually on the board—and he also told me that the Chileans to whom I might pose some questions were “not around.”
So far, so nothing. I emailed a few scholars about the meeting, but didn’t hear back from them.
Then I stumbled across this 1979 letter from Hayek to Joaquin Reig, an MPS regular from Spain who wanted to organize a regional meeting in Madrid. In the letter, Hayek makes plain his preferences for the meeting’s location:
I believe I mentioned to you that I would rather like to have the meeting take place at Salamanca, but that may be, as you pointed out, impracticable. But I want still strongly to urge that we have there a one day public meeting entirely devoted to “The Spanish Origins of Economic Liberalism!”
For several years, Hayek had been growing increasingly excited about the possibility that “the basic principles of the theory of the competitive market were worked out by the Spanish scholastics of the 16th century.” For reasons still obscure to me, he seemed positively ecstatic about the notion that “economic liberalism was not designed by the Calvinists but by the Spanish jesuits.” (In his History of Economic Analysis, Schumpeter also had argued “that the very high level of Spanish sixteenth-century economics was due chiefly to the scholastic contributions.” But it didn’t seem to transport him in the way it did Hayek.)
Hayek insisted that the conference be shipped for a day 132 miles northwest of Madrid in order “to celebrate at Salamanca”—the university town where this specific branch of early modern natural law theory was formulated—”the Spanish origins of liberal economics.”
He got his way: the MPS members dutifully got into their buses and, like medieval penitents following their shepherd, made their pilgrimage to the birthplace of free-market economics. According to one participant:
A particular memory was of a small group accompanying Hayek descending from the newer Gothic Cathedral down a circular stairs to the older Romanesque Cathedral and encountering a small group accompanying Lord Lionel Robbins ascending the stairway. Hayek and Robbins engaged in a conversation, and then the respective parties continued their tours of the cathedrals.
Clearly, whether he was in or out of office, Hayek’s voice held sway at the Society.
But still no word on Hayek and Viña.
Then earlier today I got a copy of this cache of documents, the originals of which are housed in the archives at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, where the papers of both Hayek and the MPS reside.
The documents don’t establish who came up with the idea—or initiated the effort—of holding the 1981 MPS meeting at Viña. An announcement stamped December 1980 merely states:
At a recent General Meeting at the Hoover Institution, our Society decided to hold a Regional meeting in Chile in November of 1981. Preliminary arrangements have already been made for this Meeting with the cooperation of distinguished economists and business leaders of the country.
In regard to those arrangements our President Dr. Chiaki Nishiyama has approved the nomination of an Executive Committee for the Regional Meeting, made up as follows: Paulo Ayres (Brazil), Ramón Díaz (Uruguay), Alberto Benegas Lynch Jr. (Argentine[sic]), Carlos Cáceres (Chile) and Pedro Ilbáñez (Chile) as President; Hernán Cortes acting as the Committee’s Secretary.
Hayek’s name appears nowhere on this announcement—except on the letterhead (“Honorary President”). The announcement does add that “leading Members of Mont Pelerin are assiting [sic] us in organizing the meeting, deciding on the programme and inviting the main speakers and discussants.” But it doesn’t specify who those leading members are.
But then I found this follow-up announcement, dated June 1981:
Final arrangements for the event were approved at a recent meeting of the Executive Committee for the Regional meeting attended by our President Dr. Chiaki Nishiyama and our Honorary President, Professor Friedrich von Hayek.
So it seems that Hayek did attend the meeting that approved the “final arrangements” for the Viña conference. So much for the Hayek enthusiast who also had tweeted at me:
Whether Hayek formally voted at that meeting or not remains unclear. Given his interventions two years earlier in the Salamanca affair, however, it’s hard to conclude that he didn’t play a significant role. At a minimum, he didn’t veto the meeting place, which he could easily have done. And he most likely had a hand in those final arrangements, which included the adoption of a program and a tentative list of speakers.
The list is of interest in its own right. It’s a veritable who’s who of mid- to late-century conservatism and libertarianism: William F. Buckley (on “Freedom of Expression and Misinformation of the Western World”);
George Gordon Tullock and George Stigler (on “Decentralization and Municipal Autonomy”); James Buchanan (“Direct or Indirect Taxation. New Approach to Taxation Policies”); Martin Anderson (“Social Security, A Road to Socialism?”), with Thomas Sowell as a discussant; Irving Kristol (“Ethics and Capitalism”); Milton Friedman (“Monetary System for a Free Society”); and Friedrich von Hayek (“Democracy, Limited or Unlimited?”)
In the end, several of these tentative’s, including Hayek and Buckley, proved to be no’s. On the final agenda, however, some new names appeared. One of them was Gary Becker—with a “t” next to his name. Tentative.
In the last few months, I’ve been engaged in an ongoing battle with the libertarians about their lack of interest in workplace freedom. The operating assumption of those conversations seems to be that however indifferent libertarians are to coercion in the private sphere, when it comes to the state, they’re the real deal. Yet here we have some of the leading lights and influences of the movement —Tullock and Buchanan were listed as “confirmed” speakers; not sure yet what happened with Becker—convening in the very place where the Pinochet regime launched its bloody rule.
There is a large discourse on the left of intellectuals and activists trying to come to terms with their erstwhile support for Stalinism and revolutionary tyranny. Indeed, a great deal of 20th century intellectual history is driven by that discourse, with entire literatures devoted to the Webbs in Russia, Sontag in Vietnam, Foucault in Iran. Yet where is the comparable discourse on the right of intellectuals coming to terms with their (or their heroes’) support for Pinochet, Salazar, and the like? With the exception of John Gray, I can’t think of a single apostate from—or adherent of—the right who’s engaged in such a project of self-examination: not breast-beating or mea culpas, but really looking at the relationship between their ideas and their actions. Now there’s a road to serfdom that’s yet to be mapped.
I’ve now ordered a whole bunch of additional documents from the Hoover Institute. I’ll keep you posted on what I find. In the meantime…
* The title of this blog comes from Tim Barker.
Update (12:15 pm)
Because sharp and smart readers like Kevin Vallier have misinterpreted this, I wanted to clarify something about my post. In bringing up the Salamanca story, I was not trying to make the case that there was any connection between Hayek’s interest in Spanish Scholasticism and his support for Pinochet. I was trying to establish a very different point: despite not being the head of the Mont Pelerin Society, Hayek could and did intervene in decisions about where its regional meetings were held. Sorry if that was unclear.