Shamelessly reposted from Charles Rowley.
On April 1, 1947, Friedrich von Hayek delivered the opening address to an international conference held at Mont Pelerin, near Vevey, Switzerland.
Such a meeting was a rare delicacy for Europeans afflicted by severe exchange controls in the immediate aftermath to World War II.
Mont Pelerin was a rare, undamaged location on a European continent largely destroyed by a war of unprecedented physical destruction. The meeting was a time of unadulterated joy for those who attended, the scattered Remnants of the classical liberal intelligentsia, who had only recently feared the complete elimination of Western civilization under the jack-booted armies and tank divisions of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.
Hayek’s objective in calling this conference was as simple as it was important: to prepare for a revival of the classical liberalism that had blessed much (though not all) of Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, prior to World War I.
If he succeeded in this task, the conferees would unite to build an intellectual defense against the viruses of communism and Euro-socialism that were threatening to sweep across the entire European continent; they would unite to rebuild a badly bruised philosophy that honored the individual, not the state, that honored liberty, not a state-imposed order.
“The basic conviction which has guided me in my efforts is that, if the ideals which I believe unite us, and for which, in spite of so much abuse of the term, there is still no better name than liberal, are to have any chance of revival, a great intellectual task must be performed.
This task involves both purging traditional liberal theory of certain accidental accretions which have become attached to it in the course of time, and also facing up to some real problems which an over-simplified liberalism has shirked or which have become apparent only since it has turned into a somewhat stationary and rigid creed.”
“It seems to me that effective endeavours to elaborate the general principles of a liberal order are practicable only among a group of people who are in agreement on fundamentals, and among whom certain basic conceptions are not questioned at every step.
But not only is, at this time, the number of those who in any one country agree on what seems to me the basic liberal principles small, but the task is a very big one, and there is much need for drawing on as wide an experience under varying conditions as possible.”
“the farther one moves to the West, to countries where liberal institutions are still comparatively firm, and people professing liberal convictions still comparatively numerous, the less are these people prepared really to re-examine their own convictions and the more are they inclined to compromise, and to take the accidental historical form of a liberal society which they have known as the ultimate standard.
I found on the other hand that in those countries which either had directly experienced a totalitarian regime, or had closely approached it, a few men had from this experience gained a clearer conception of the conditions and value of a free society.”
“The old liberal who adheres to a traditional creed merely out of tradition, however admirable his views, is not of much use for our purpose.
What we need are people who have faced the arguments from the other side, who have struggled with them and fought themselves through to a position from which they can both critically meet the objection against it and justify their views.”
This challenge from Hayek nearly 100 years ago still lays unfilled.
Anyone else willing to carry such a challenge?