The Mont Pelerin Before Mont Pelerin

Interesting essay on libertarian movement history from the U.K.'s Standpoint, about a society of classical liberal-leaning thinkers that first met in 1938 and had its history derailed by World War II. Among the members were libertarian luminaries F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. Twelve attendees at this meeting in France were at the founding meeting of the still-living Mont Pelerin Society, a more long-lasting and successful organization of academics and businessmen promoting classical liberal values still around today.

Of course, the problems these types faced in 1938 still ring eerily familiar today, as Jeremy Jennings notes (in those precise words!):

The immediate cause of this coming together was the publication of a French version of [American journalist Walter] Lippmann's An Inquiry into the Principles of the Good Society by the Librarie de Médicis, the same publisher that had also recently published Rougier's Les Mystiques Economiques and von Mises's anti-collectivist broadside, Socialism. The wider context was the challenge to liberalism and the free market posed by the rise of a generalised state interventionism in the form of planning, corporatism and socialism. Capitalism seemed on the brink of systemic failure and for many it was capitalism itself that was to blame. Its decline and its end appeared inevitable......

To read the transcript of these (often heated) discussions today is to enter a world that is eerily familiar. The participants reflected upon the rise of protectionism and economic nationalism. They saw the pressures placed upon governments to save big companies from bankruptcy. They acknowledged that people were perplexed and bewildered by the economic phenomena of the modern world. One French professor even commented: "An unreasonable optimism and enthusiasm took hold of the public and led bankers to excessive courses of action; the federal reserve banks were unable to temper such an élan." For good measure, he then added: "The fall that followed the boom was that much more catastrophic."

Jennings article does a decent job limning the line of division, still cutting through the world of free-market thinkers, between those who believe in total laizzez-faire and those who believe certain government actions or interventions are needed to forge a stable and livable order in which the price system and private property can optimally function.

For more on the larger history of free-market and libertarian ideas in which this group, dubbed by member Louis Rougier the Colloque Lippman is enmeshed, see my book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.

[Hat tip: David Boaz]

UPDATE: Unremembered by me, this same article was noted and quoted by Damon Root here all the way back in March.

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  • Paul||

    Everyone in this Mont Pelerin Society smokes. We can't have any of that.

  • Paul||

    It emphasised that it did not intend to create an orthodoxy, to form or align itself with any political party or parties, or to conduct propaganda. Its sole objective was to facilitate an exchange of ideas between like-minded scholars in the hope of strengthening the principles and practice of a free society and to study the workings, virtues, and defects of market-oriented economic systems.



    Me likey.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Gee, I remember sending this link to you guys back in February, to no avail, and then I remember that someone else did link to it a month or two later. But it's still a good read.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    It emphasised that it did not intend to create an orthodoxy, to form or align itself with any political party or parties, or to conduct propaganda. Its sole objective was to facilitate an exchange of ideas between like-minded scholars in the hope of strengthening the principles and practice of a free society and to study the workings, virtues, and defects of market-oriented economic systems.

    So in other words, it's a group-groping pipe dreaming session. They're just going to observe the world, cry "Doom! Doom! Doom!" three times loudly (possibly in unison), and then "share" that experience betwixt themselves.

    And then maybe they'll talk about how the world could have been, if only.

    If only there was a group of powerful people actually organized, coordinated, and pushing really fucking hard for free minds and free markets.


    Except that this is not how the "free minds and free markets" brain ticks. Instead, it sits on its ass waiting for "the voters" to fix the problem by "voting" for better candidates.

    Except that there will never be such candidates on the stage and even if there were, the voters to put them into office would not exist.


    Get a clue, ladies and gentlemen. "The voters" will never get there, no matter how much anybody debates. We need serious PACs if anything is ever going to change*. Complete with orthodoxy, political agenda, and propaganda arm.

    It also wouldn't hurt if this PAC bought up majority shares for the whole f***ing MSM. So we could at last shut down the Obama-gasm that's lasting on, and on, and on, and on.....


    *Note: the Libertarian Party isn't it.

  • Paul||

    "The voters" will never get there, no matter how much anybody debates. We need serious PACs if anything is ever going to change*.

    But with the money now successfuly taken out of politics, PACs have no teeth.

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