The Rafael del Pino Foundation organised, on 16 September 2021, the live dialogue through www.frdelpino.es entitled "Liberal Voices. Frente al autoritarismo" in which Antonella Marty, Gloria Álvarez and María Blanco will speak.
Antonella Martyis a political scientist, associate director of the Atlas Network's Center for Latin America in Washington D.C., USA, and director of the Centre for Latin American Studies at Fundación Libertad in Argentina. She holds a Master's degree in Public Policy and a degree in International Relations from the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is in charge of communications at Fundación Internacional para la Libertad, Spain. She is the author of the books La dictadura intelectual populista (2015), Lo que todo revolucionario del siglo XXI tiene que saber (2018) and Capitalismo: un antídoto contra la pobreza (2020).
Gloria Álvarezis a political scientist, writer, television presenter and radio broadcaster. She studied International Relations at the Francisco Marroquín University and a Masters in International Development at the Sapieza University in Rome, Italy. She also hosts the radio programme Viernes de Gloria on Libertópolis and HDP, hijos de la política on Azteca Guatemala. He has published, among others, works such as Cómo hablar con un conservador (Deusto, 2019), Cómo hablar con un progre (Deusto, 2017) and, together with Axel Kaiser, El engaño populista (Deusto, 2016).
María Blanco holds a PhD in Economics and Business Studies from the Complutense University of Madrid and lectures in Economic History and Institutions at the CEU-San Pablo University. She combines academic teaching and research with the dissemination of liberalism in various media. She is the author of Las tribus liberales (Deusto, 2014) and Afrodita desenmascarada (Deusto, 2016), and co-author of Hacienda somos todos, cariño (Deusto, 2020).
On 16 September 2021, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised the dialogue "Liberal Voices. Facing authoritarianism", with the participation of Antonella Marty, associate director of the Atlas Network's Latin America Center in Washington D. C.; Gloria Álvarez, political scientist, writer, television presenter and radio broadcaster; and María Blanco, professor of History and Economic Institutions at the CEU-San Pablo University.
For Antonella Marty, individual freedom is a central issue today more than ever in the face of all kinds of collectivism. Liberals are confronted with all kinds of collectivism. This is where the central aspect of freedom comes in. Freedom is not divided into little pieces, just as it is not divided according to the convenience of some politician, some institution, some religion, some particular morality that they often want to impose on us. It is a whole and as a whole it must be defended against all kinds of dictatorships. This defence implies the freedom of the individual to make decisions for themselves, without other people making decisions for them. To be a liberal is to be an adult, to expect to be treated as an adult and to treat others as adults. We have governments that treat us like children and we have to stop that. Liberalism has not only been that defence of the free market, of capitalism, of private property. It also goes into other aspects such as equality before the law. In an adult society, individual freedom does not end where the emotions or feelings of others begin. Therefore, no one should impose morals or lifestyles on others.
Gloria Álvarez added that sparks of freedom are found in all cultures in all historical times. Whenever there has been an individual who has questioned the mass mentality of following a leader just for the sake of following him, sparks of freedom appear. This is not unique to the West. There have also been such people in the Asian world, in pre-Hispanic America, even in Africa. When we say that liberalism arose in the West and therefore the West is to be praised, many people confuse that the reason it arose in the West was in spite of the vices of the West, not because of them. There are people who want to defend liberalism by saying that it arose in the West because in the West there was nationalism, borders, Christianity, slavery, machismo. It is true that it arose in the West, above all in the 19th century, accumulating the experience that had been gained in other centuries, but mainly to oppose this feudalist, monarchical, religious and estamental society, and it was able to emerge in those places where the search for truth was not pursued. To be a liberal was to oppose that society, which was very much protected by conservatism that sought border nationalism or a morality that could only be conceived with religion. Liberals must be able to make people understand that, without religion, there is morality, there is the capacity to have individual rights in societies where people's rights are respected. When we are treated like children, totalitarian regimes become repressive. When we talk about a liberal regime that treats us like adults, we are talking about the possibility of having imagination, creativity, expansion of ideas.
Maria Blanco commented that, if they focus on that message, it gives the impression that they are telling others that, if they don't accept liberal principles, they are a bunch of children. It is much easier to be Peter Pan in our society than to be a responsible adult. Being an adult implies the need to emancipate oneself, which is what children do. We all need to emancipate ourselves from others and also from the institutions in which we have been brought up. This does not mean that we necessarily have to do away with them. However, when we talk about emancipation versus sovereignty, versus subjugation, we must not forget that in our societies we have managed to build fantastic, super-wide prisons, with golden bars, even if we are still Peter Pan because, in the end, when something happens, we look to the state for help. It is when these prisons become small, when their pressure is felt, as in the Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, that a person realises the importance of this individual emancipation.
Antonella Marty referred to fear and indicated that fear is what reigns in all kinds of closed systems, which reject freedom. If you think about the free market and what it has achieved throughout history, that achievement is trust, which is the antithesis of that conception. We developed when human beings understood that it was more beneficial for them to interact and trade than to fight. Throughout history, the concept of emancipation has gone hand in hand with liberalism, because liberalism arises from the defence of individual freedom, economic freedom and political freedom. The emancipation of women came about thanks to liberalism and capitalism. Liberalism is the best friend of women, the best friend of people of all skin colours. The struggle for abolitionism has also been a liberal struggle, or even the defence of LGBT freedoms. Today the great enemies of freedom are appearing as the great lovers of freedom. Liberalism arises within a model understood as an antibody. Liberalism arose in the West because it was a sick body and liberalism arose as an antibody, as a confrontation to the outrages that existed in the West.
With regard to the cultural battle, he indicated that linking a warlike term such as battle to another such as culture, which is a spontaneous order, is a great contradiction. Culture is a spontaneous order, just as language, the market, all these orders that we know arise. The concept of cultural battle is to want to impose one culture over another, to believe that one culture is better than another, simply because some person, institution, religion, movement or populist party of the left or right comes to tell us that this culture is the perfect model of society.
Gloria Álvarez added that what there has to be is a battle of ideas because there are ideas that have to be countered. If an idea is implemented in practice and results in misery, hunger, poverty, brain drain and genocide, such as communism, that idea is no good on paper or in practice. It does not work, it is bad. What is good about liberalism is that it says let's see how reality presents itself to us, how we can use methods that are common sense and obey reason and science, not mysticism, dogmatism or populism, and in this way move forward. What human history has taught us is that when there is freedom and we respect each other, we do better. Liberalism tells us that since no one can have all the reason, all the knowledge, all the information at the same time, it is best for everyone to be the manager of his or her own life. If we don't emancipate ourselves psychologically, how are we going to have institutions that obey that common sense? We are not going to have them. They will continue to be institutions that obey dogmatism, the cultural battle, whatever comes along. Traditionally it was believed that success came from avoiding failure, that happiness came from being almost a robot that never feels sadness. The more you protect someone from failure, from the different, from the hardest part of life, the easier it becomes. To be an adult, you have to fall down to get up. Liberalism has always embraced this logic from the free market because from the free market there is always going to be creative destruction. The jobs that were crucial two hundred years ago no longer exist today. The jobs that are crucial today, in three hundred years, if the world continues to advance, will change. Some people are afraid of that, so they want to take us back to an idyllic past that never existed. What existed were tribes in which the individual did not exist. The only way to be happy is to fail, but saying that is difficult because you are competing with romantic fantasies. Liberals show reality as it is, competing with the socialist fantasy, or the nationalist fantasy. For example, feminism opposes patriarchy, but their solution is to go back to the most corrupt parent of all, which is the state. That is what those who defend liberalism as a whole are up against, not those who defend only the parts that suit them.
María Blanco indicated that the fear of failure, the need to have an idyllic image of how you are inside and out, of how your future is going to be, that fear of uncertainty, are especially emphasised in our society because we do not look inwards as adults, because we have an identity problem. So we look outside for identification so that they tell us how we have to be. We don't set personal goals for ourselves, but we also delegate them. So you have to have a super-successful career, an ideal marriage, you have to adjust to your environment so that no one throws stones at you. But that is a deterioration of our individual freedom, of what makes us human.
He understands the cultural battle as the extremely important need to undo clichés that have been inoculated, such as, for example, the rich are bad, the market is bad. Certain clichés have been installed in our societies that have to be fought. In this sense, the term cultural battle is understood, because a certain culture has been imposed on us. For example, with climate change. We are told that it is going to kill us all and that it is of human origin. The cultural battle means going back to the nuances, to see what happens with ecology, to what extent it is or is not this or that. These are easy slogans that provide votes and that, in the end, are bought by political parties because they are afraid of them, because they don't know who they are politically.
On these myths, on this distortion of words and concepts, Antonella Marty commented that the solution would be rather a freedom of education, a freedom of ideas to combat this, because what the cultural battle gives you is this conception of wanting to impose one culture over the other. Those who seek the concept of cultural battle are those who seek to impose a morality through the state. The concept of cultural battle also arises from Antonio Gramsci's idea of cultural hegemony as a concept of educational and cultural takeover in order to carry a message. This concept is used today by both the left and the right. In order to enter into a cultural battle, you have to have a monopoly of force, which ends up being the state. It is very dangerous to have this monopoly of force dictating what the culture is, who we are over who we are, which is what nationalism, left-wing and right-wing socialism is. These are the same people who use the concept of cultural Marxism, as if Marxist freedoms existed. But the territories where individual freedoms are most respected are the freest countries, the countries with the greatest respect for economic freedom, political freedom and property rights.
Gloria Álvarez explained that it is ideas that drive certain cultures. Depending on what ideas are allowed in a culture, there will be more or less diversity. For example, climate change. The idea behind it is that humanity is capable of destroying the planet. But if we look at the history of planet earth and humanity, we will realise that the planet can exist without us perfectly well. In fact, it has had five mass extinctions. So the idea that human beings can wipe out the planet is completely wrong, but it can generate cultures that are even anti-humanist, liberticidal, because their goal is that humanity just doesn't exist, because their impact always has an opportunity cost. This is so, whatever we do is going to have an opportunity cost because we live in a reality in which one resource implies an impact on another. But there is no study that supports the idea that humans can wipe out the planet. What can happen is that, if we continue in this way, fomenting hatred among ourselves through dogmas, nationalism and populism, we are going to end up with ourselves as a species. But the planet will go on and form something else, just as all life formed after the dinosaur meteorite. The battle, therefore, is not cultures fighting, but the ideas that are allowed within those cultures and to keep the space for common sense ideas from ever ceasing to exist. If those ideas are removed and we just let the fanatics fight amongst themselves, we are going to have everything from communism to fascism, and moralities imposed by institutions outside of those governments.
On the question of what is and what is not liberalism, Gloria Álvarez pointed out that either individual rights are guaranteed and the individual is the most important minority in a society, or a society cannot move forward. But, at the same time, freedom cannot be imposed either. It is a psychological and personal decision. Without these conditions, one cannot speak of liberalism. Liberalism is respect for the smallest minority there is, which is the individual, and for his or her life project, which consists of that person having, at all times, the ability to decide how he or she wants to live his or her life, especially in decisions that can completely transform it. For example, when to become a mother, whether to pursue a university degree or not, whether to emigrate, to start a business, to trade with others, and that when an individual asks himself all these questions, his only limit is his own decision, as long as he also understands that everyone else has the same right. There are many people who are very good at defending their own freedoms, but when it comes to defending the freedoms of others, who don't have the same lifestyle as they do, they don't like it. The quintessential liberal always puts new knowledge above any dogma and is not afraid to say he was wrong.
For María Blanco, liberalism is a way of looking at the universe, of facing life, based on individual responsibility and individual freedom. Individual responsibility implies making decisions knowing that you are going to take responsibility for the consequences. If you do not take responsibility for the consequences, you are not making a free choice. On the other hand, it is very important to associate this way of seeing the world, in which the individual is the basis, bearing in mind that we are social animals that exchange ideas, words, affection, affection, artistic expressions, goods, services, and so we form communities without this implying collectivism. It is very important to associate this methodological individualism with the absence of coercion. The absence of coercion implies a huge personal exercise to accept that the other does not agree with you and that should not offend you. You can simply trade with the other, live with him in peace, without having to impose on him what you think is right, even if the other is an absolute believer in totalitarianism. You cannot impose freedom on him, you have to persuade him. Persuasion does not come from words; it comes, above all, from examples. Being a liberal means living by those principles.
For Antonella Marty, liberalism is a way of living your life, not only preaching freedom as the great value, but also exercising it through responsibility, not wanting to control other people and not wanting other people to control you. It implies understanding the individual as the centre of the scene. Neither the idea of tribe, nor the idea of society, nor the family, the individual is the basis. The freedom of the individual has to be respected at all times and in all places. Freedom allows the individual to carry out his or her life project, which bears great fruits that the world enjoys, thanks to economic freedom, to political freedom, to that complete and indivisible freedom that has borne great fruits throughout history. In the last thirty years, more than a billion people around the world have been lifted out of extreme poverty. Two hundred years ago, nearly 95% of the people living on this planet were poor. Today that percentage is 9%. We are better off than ever because of freedom, because we have to cooperate and trade instead of waging wars, instead of closing ourselves off as a society. We are in the middle of nowhere and when we understand that, when we understand that we are not irrelevant in a universe that began and that will come to an end, that will also be the destiny of human beings. It is a question of knowing what our values will be, the idea that will make us last a little longer in time. When this is understood, xenophobia falls, racism falls, homophobia falls, all those dogmas and collectivisms that these dictators, these politicians, messiahs or populists seeking ephemeral glory fall.
Gloria Álvarez added that, in the face of the criticisms of liberalism, accusing it of being obsolete, these theories are not obsolete at all. There were two world wars, a depression, a cold war that hindered liberals from implementing many of the things they had been thinking about. Fortunately, there was a spontaneous order that allowed us to get out of that poverty. The media now focus their attention on the ten percent of things that are going wrong. That is why many people live in eternal pessimism, because too much attention is paid to the little that is going wrong and too little to the much that is going right. For example, fifty years ago it would have been unthinkable for a private company to be talking about colonising Mars; today it is a reality. It used to be if the government doesn't do it, what are we going to do? Not now. Liberalism has a lot to give, but as long as people only advance materially but not mentally, liberalism will have to keep wasting time talking about things like lowering taxes. The advancement of humanity is going to depend on who is right. What many people forget is that freedom is a torch that is passed from age to age by a brave few who risk being attacked, insulted. If there are no brave people who dare to pass the torch to the next, humanity falls.
María Blanco referred to institutions and commented that one of the main obstacles that we encounter, which can be a hindrance or a driving force for developing individual freedoms, is precisely institutions. In this partial victory over misery and poverty, because there is still Africa, institutional improvements have been fundamental. The development of healthy institutions that facilitate the exercise of freedom is very important. Healthy institutions are those that generate incentives and expectations so that everyone can develop their life project properly. Adam Smith was very clear that if you are a producer with great inventiveness and you generate more efficient modes of production, but you know that you are not going to be able to access external markets, you are not going to produce more, you are not going to improve the productivity of your workers or your capital because you know that you are not going to sell that production. The moment you have the expectation that there is going to be a free market, that if I compete, if my quality is better, if my product has easier packaging, I can sell abroad, then you have incentives to improve yourself and, in the long run, the rest of society. As soon as you make a profit, other entrepreneurs will imitate your way of doing it and the quality of the products will improve, it will allow them to be sold more cheaply, spread to more countries, etc. It is important to understand that institutions should not impose where to invest, where not to invest, what to do, what not to do, but that they are there to prevent contracts from being breached, violence against other people's property, attacks on people, etc., so that these expectations and incentives are fostered. In this sense, both economic and political institutions are very important, and one of the most important of these is the rule of law. The rule of law is the set of rules, of premises, that ensure that democracy is not going to be an imposition of a majority on a minority, that the democratically elected president is not going to give a constitutional kick that is going to screw him into power and decide for others. The rule of law ensures that we are all equal, that there is accountability, that he who does it pays. Institutions are living things that evolve. That is why we have to make sure that they do not deteriorate, that they are doing what they are supposed to do. The exercise of these institutions that protect individual freedom and ensure that our democracies do not become corrupt democracies, where there is an assault on private property, where the justice system is permanently threatened, etc., cannot be transgressed. We citizens are the ones who have to defend, with our voice and with our actions, that our institutions are on the list of inclusive and non-extractive institutions.
Gloría Álvarez said that we have to understand that democracy is something so rare in the history of humanity. Historically, there is no democracy that endures over time, it almost always succumbs. What happens is that it is the least bad of the systems. Institutions evolve and, perhaps, we can find something better than democracy. While everything else is advancing, science, medicine, biology, astrophysics, psychology, in bureaucratic matters, as there is no competition, we are still dragging along a model that is more than two thousand years old, with 18th and 19th century technologies, which, with difficulty, are adapting to new modern issues. There may be other ways of understanding democracy, but the fundamental one is that the majority can never go against the smallest minority that exists, which is the individual. This is what is not fully understood, especially in Latin America, when an enraged majority raises its hand and says exprópiese, censure, assassinate, put in jail. As the majority says so, there is carte blanche for dictators to do as they please, because the leaders become dictators despite the fact that they were democratically elected.
Antonella Marty added that the limit to power comes into play. This is something that they should be working on with great emphasis, with great force, in Latin America, because we are seeing governments that grow without being able to put them on a diet, that become bigger and bigger and that take on more and more powers. The issue of social justice begins to emerge, when it is said that all this growth of government is for and because of social justice. There is nothing more unjust than social justice because it is basically taking from some to give to others. That's where the role of institutions and incentives come into play. When you vote for that you end up generating societies in which nobody wants to produce because you are going to take away the incentive from the person who produces, who works, who wants to get ahead and stand on their own feet and have human dignity instead of depending on the crumb of a government, which in order to give it to you the government has to take it away from someone else because there is no such thing as state money.
The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for the comments, opinions or statements made by the people who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their sole responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio González, are the result of the debates held at the meeting held for this purpose at the Foundation and are the responsibility of the authors.
The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for any comments, opinions or statements made by third parties. In this respect, the FRP is not obliged to monitor the views expressed by such third parties who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their own responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio J. González, are the result of the discussions that took place during the conference organised for this purpose at the Foundation and are the sole responsibility of its authors.