The call of the tribe

Mario Vargas Llosa, Albert Rivera and Pepa Bueno

On 21 March, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised the dialogue "The Call of the Tribe" with the participation of Mario Vargas Llosa, Albert Rivera and Pepa Bueno on the occasion of the presentation of the book of the same title.

Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010. Born in Arequipa (Peru) in 1936, he is a journalist, writer and politician. He studied literature and law and worked for several publications, including as editor of the magazine Literatura. When he moved to Paris, he joined Agence France Press and also worked for French Radio Television. In Peru, Vargas Llosa entered the television scene and the world of politics, where he was defeated by Alberto Fujimori in the 1990 presidential elections. His collaboration with EL PAÍS, being one of the newspaper's most recognisable signatures on the international scene, began in 1993. Appointed member of the Real Academia Española in 1994, his work has been translated into more than 30 languages.

Albert Rivera is President of Ciudadanos. He holds a degree in Law, a Master's degree in Law from ESADE and a PhD in Constitutional Law from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He studied at the University of Helsinki (Finland) in 2001 and in 2009 he took a course in Political Marketing at George Washington University (USA). During his time at university, representing Ramon Llull University, he won the Spanish University Debating League Championship. From 2002 to 2006 he worked for La Caixa as a legal advisor. In 2006 he was elected to the Parliament of Catalonia and since the elections of 20 December 2015 he has been a member of the Congress of Deputies.

Pepa Bueno is a Spanish journalist and presenter. She currently directs, together with Gemma Nierga, the programme Hoy por hoy on Cadena Ser. Previously (1996) she was deputy director and co-presenter with Jose Toledo of the TVE current affairs programme Gente, where she spent almost eight years reporting on events. She later presented Los desayunos de TVE (2004-2009) and Telediario (2009-2012).

This is an intellectual autobiography of Nobel Literature Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa through the readings that shaped his way of thinking and seeing the world over the last fifty years. The Peruvian Nobel Prize winner has mapped out the liberal thinkers who helped him develop a new body of ideas after the great ideological trauma of his disenchantment with the Cuban Revolution and his distancing from the ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre, the author who had most inspired him in his youth. Adam Smith, José Ortega y Gasset, Friedrich Hayek, Karl Popper, Raymond Aron, Isaiah Berlin, Jean-François Revel, were of enormous help to the author during those years of unease, showing him another tradition of thought that privileged the individual over the tribe, the nation, the class or the party, and that defended freedom of expression as a fundamental value for the exercise of democracy.


What is the meaning of liberalism in the 21st century and what can it contribute? To analyse these issues, on 21 March 2018, the Rafael del Pino Foundation hosted a meeting between Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa and the leader of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, on the occasion of the presentation of the Peruvian writer's book "La llamada de la tribu", in which he reviews liberal thought and its contributions. Albert Rivera began by pointing out that Spanish political liberalism has not been very successful at the ballot box so far, but it has been very successful in our history. Its political ideas can be transferred to Spain and Europe. The first characteristic of liberalism is that it does not believe in dogmas. Dogma is more comfortable, but we liberals make pacts with those who think differently, we ask ourselves whether we need more or less State, and so on. Nor do we believe that we should be afraid of change, that nothing needs to be reformed. What is happening in other countries has to do with that. The question is whether the ideas of classical liberal thinkers can be transposed to the 21st century. That is the ideological battle of the 21st century, between liberalism as a way of life versus nationalism and populism, and how democracy prepares to do political, social and intellectual battle with these movements. With Macron's victory, liberalism is at the right moment. Mario Vargas Llosa said that liberalism has triumphed. Today's Europe is infinitely more civilised, prosperous and just than in the past, and this is due to democracy and liberalism. The problem with liberalism is that it has been the doctrine most caricatured, ridiculed and attacked by its enemies, both on the right and on the left, the great enemy of liberalism, because liberalism is the main enemy of all totalitarian doctrines, since the supreme value of the liberal is tolerance. It is this attitude that provokes this extreme hostility towards liberalism. Liberalism has often been denaturalised because those who used that label to present themselves were not liberals. Liberalism is a range in which there are many different tendencies, positions and ideas. Ideas must adapt to reality, not the other way around. While that is true, the question is whether liberalism can survive the international financial crisis of 2007 which, according to its critics, was caused precisely by liberal policies. Rivera replied that the crisis was a crisis of a malfunctioning market, which is the opposite of what liberals stand for. Selling financial products without providing information is not liberal. The fight against monopoly is. Vargas Llosa took this opportunity to stress that equality of opportunity is absolutely fundamental. That is why we do not accept that at the starting point some people have such privileges that it is impossible to compete with them. The more or less equal starting point can be created through education. That is why education is so fundamental to this principle of justice and equity. Rivera recalled that the Cadiz Constitution stated that there should be a public school in every town. It is important because education is what makes us free. And Vargas Llosas concluded by warning that equality cannot be the point of arrival, but rather the point of departure; then we must let life establish the differences. Should it be the State that guarantees this initial equality? How should it do so? For Rivera, a distinction must be made between public policy and state spending. It is possible to have a public education policy and maintain economic agreements with private schools. The key is for the state to supervise, to know the values of education and to have an educational programme. The state cannot forget about what is happening in education in its country, be it public or private schools. But it is one thing to have a strong and efficient state, and another to shoot up public spending, because heavy indebtedness conditions your policies. At the same time, Vargas Llosa believes that it is wrong to think that all social functions should be assumed by the state. In many cases, civil society can take on these functions and do so less expensively and more efficiently than the state. We are so imbued with the idea that the state is the best servant of society that we forget that it performs these functions in a much less efficient and more costly way. For example, it should not have enterprises. Businesses are more efficient where the state is not an entrepreneur and does what it should do, such as ensuring equality before the law, defence and public safety, for example. But it should not intervene in the economy except to ensure competition. The idea of the school voucher is a liberal idea that was much discussed by the left, but it has been making headway and is working very well in Sweden, the paradigm of the welfare state. Speaking of the state, what should fiscal policy be like? According to Rivera, the deficit does not always have to be zero, but when you have a decentralised state, either you set a spending ceiling or it's a joke. What happened? Zapatero eliminated that ceiling and, as a result, we now have autonomous regions that have had to be bailed out and city councils that have gone bankrupt. We have proposed removing personal income tax for incomes of less than 17,000 euros, which is better than giving subsidies, which shows that liberal economic policies can be implemented. Many social organisations know much more than the state and it costs the state less to work with them to solve problems because they are the ones who know them best due to their proximity to them. The reference to autonomies gave Vargas Llosa the opportunity to point out that if there is a doctrine that is against nationalism without inferiority complexes, it is liberalism, because the love of freedom is the very essence of its thinking. Nationalism is at odds with freedom. That is why it is very important for liberalism to reject nationalism, because it is an enemy of democracy and at its core there is racism by making belonging to a particular nation a value. The tribe represented a stage of civilisation in which the human and the animal were practically adjacent, and then, due to various factors, the tribe evolved and individuals emerged, beings who differed from others simply because they chose. As the individual emerged, the tribe disappeared. This differentiation, thanks to democracy, makes coexistence possible. Nationalism has not yet left the tribe, it is still the tribe. That is why, in the short or long run, it potentially means violence. Nationalism has re-emerged in Europe and this must be confronted in the name of freedom and democracy. Nationalism is incompatible with freedom and democracy. It can push Spain back into confrontation, misunderstandings and isolation. Rivera added that nationalism tries to impose a single identity pattern. In Catalonia, language was the excuse. What is positive in Spain is that, if the political and intellectual battle is fought, nationalism can be won. We must not give up the intellectual battle. Europe was born precisely to fight nationalism. The construction of Europe represents peace, cooperation between different people. Half of the blow to separatism in Catalonia has come from Europe. In Spain we have the complex of identifying the dictatorship with Spain, but this must be overcome, we must not confuse nationalism with patriotism. We confuse a decentralised state with the decomposition of the state. It is compatible for a State to decentralise competences with being a nation. I don't believe that Spain is a nation of nations, it's fine to be one nation and not fifty. I am an autonomist, returning to the autonomies, not to the tribe. The autonomies must have a budget, powers and financial autonomy, but not to break up Spain. In this sense, Vargas Llosa considered that, if Europe definitively materialises, the concept of nation will be diluted. And Rivera added that, in the future, our grandchildren will live in the United States of Europe. That is why part of the national political battle must be to work for Europe. The construction of Europe could not be done with nationalism as a banner. Europe lacks a civic and cultural project; it cannot be built on economics alone. But we must also provide solutions for the citizens, for example, in relation to the labour market and training, because populism feeds fundamentally on the middle class, which has been diminished as a result of the crisis, technological change and globalisation.

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.