Politics & Policy

Freedom U, Part II

Gabriel Calzada, rector of Francisco Marroquín University
The making of classical liberals

Editors Note: In a recent issue of National Review, we published a piece by Jay Nordlinger called “Freedom U: A unicorn of a university in Central America.” This week, Mr. Nordlinger is expanding the piece in his Impromptus. For Part I, go here.

The campus of Francisco Marroquín University, here in Guatemala City, has its share of art. For instance, there is a sculpture called “Infinite Relationships.” It’s by Lourdes de la Riva, a local artist, meaning, a Guatemalan one. The sculpture seems to me a bunch of coils or tubes. I’m told it represents the market.

What a beautiful concept, and a true one. The infinite relationships of a market.

There is also a sculpture of Atlas, as in “shrugged.” It’s by a Swiss-Guatemalan artist, Walter Peter Brenner. The sculpture is “an homage to the entrepreneurial spirit and the creative force of the individual.”


‐The core courses of the university are given in the Henry Hazlitt Center — named after the American journalist who wrote the iconic volume Economics in One Lesson. There is also a room named for Leonard Read, the American educator who wrote the iconic essay “I, Pencil.”

Next to one another, there are rooms named after Hannah Arendt, Lao-Tze, and Booker T. Washington.

Booker T. Washington! This warms my heart, I must say. When I was growing up, he was often disparaged, portrayed as a kind of Tom, an embarrassment, especially in contrast with the proud W. E. B. Du Bois. Washington deserves the honor.

Is he ever honored at home, by the way? I mean, in America? I don’t see it much. Do I see it at all? I’d have to think about it.

I am pleased to see a room named after someone I know: George Gilder. Another room is named for Bruno Leoni, an Italian philosopher and lawyer who lived from 1913 to 1967. And, what do you know? Lecturing in that room this very day is a friend of mine: Alberto Mingardi, the executive director of the Bruno Leoni Institute in Turin.

I am a holdout, one of the last to still say “Turin,” instead of “Torino.” (But can anyone, with a straight face, refer to the “Shroud of Torino”? Really?)

Back to Alberto: I met him and the president of the institute, the esteemed Franco Debenedetti, at the Salzburg Festival last summer.

Alberto is at UFM to lecture on, among other topics, Herbert Spencer. In particular, he will lecture on Spencer’s book The Man versus the State.

Early on, Alberto points out that Spencer has been tainted by Social Darwinism — but he should not be thrown out altogether. One can learn from him.

If a person read only one thing by Spencer, Alberto advises, it should be “Over-Legislation,” an essay from 1853. It’s now on my list.

I’ll give you one more nugget from Alberto: He notes that people are always knocking politicians, saying what fools they are. Then, in the next breath, they ask for more government.

Che stupidi!

Outside on the UFM campus, there is a walk named for Cato the Younger. It tells you things about his life and thought. Even in the parking garage, they are honoring people, and teaching you something. The levels of the garage are named for members of the School of Salamanca (from 16th-century Spain).

All through campus — in virtually every corner — there are quotations and slogans. This bothers me a little at first, because I associate the ubiquity of quotations and slogans with the Left.

But, you know? If you’re going to have quotations and slogans, they might as well be good, true, and salutary.

‐In the library — the Ludwig von Mises Library! — I’m shown a very, very old encyclopedia. It came from France centuries ago, via ship and muleback. I feel privileged to see it, and hear about it.

I also see a photo, of Jimmy Wales, looking at this same encyclopedia. Mr. Wales, of course, is responsible for another encyclopedia: the Wiki one.


‐“How did you come to your current views? Why are you a classical liberal?” I ask that of many staffers, faculty members, and administrators here. I ask it of Gabriel Calzada, whom you have met: He’s the rector, or president, of UFM.

He’s an economist from Spain — the Canary Islands. I did not know that anyone was from there. I thought it was a place to vacation in, only! When Calzada was in high school, he was on the left (of course). Indeed, he started a trade union of students. They went on strike and all that.

But Calzada was interested in freedom. He knew he was on the side of freedom. He had just not found a true philosophical home. He read the usual: Hegel, Marx, Engels — even Bakunin! They did not satisfy him.

When he got to college in Madrid, he had a right-leaning professor, which is to say, a liberal-leaning professor. This man was an adviser to Felipe González, the prime minister. Young Calzada often argued with him in class. He was always raising his hand and so on. One day, the professor said to him, “Mr. Calzada, would you like to know more?” The student said, “Yes, please give me more.”

The professor said he would give him further readings and have him to his home every week, for discussion and debate. There was just one condition: Calzada, and the other students who would join, would have to do the reading.

He assigned them a variety of thinkers, from left, right, and center. Calzada was drawn to the classical liberals. The first book that made an impression on him was by Jean-François Revel: La Connaissance inutile, or, Useless Knowledge. In English, we generally know this book as The Flight from Truth.

Then came Karl Popper: The Open Society and Its Enemies. And then F. A. Hayek: The Road to Serfdom.

Young Calzada knew he had found his home. Classical liberalism struck him as true. This was freedom on a sound basis, he thought. And, again, the first to make an impression on him was Revel.

Who had an influence on me, too, by the way.

In his third year of college, Calzada ran into trouble with a professor — one very unlike the first professor. This one was a leftist, a Communist. And he said that Hayek was a fascist. “Really?” said Calzada. “Can you explain why you say this?” The professor said, “His solution to poverty was to make a system in which the poor die quickly. That way, you get rid of the problem.”

The student said, “That’s odd. I have read only five of his books, and I know he wrote many. Can you tell me in which book Hayek says this?”

The professor gave him a grade of 0 out of 100. He said that Calzada would never, ever pass his class.

So, Calzada went to the exchange office and arranged to study abroad — in Bayreuth, home of the Wagner shrine. He is grateful to his Commie professor — because, in Bayreuth, he met his future wife, a Belgian. And he had wonderful doses of Wagner.

‐At UFM, are there lefty, rebellious students? Students who quarrel with the reigning ethos, which is classical liberal? Oh, heavens yes. It’s only natural. Like Calzada under that first professor, students are exposed to a wide variety of thought. They are free to explore, think, and argue as they will.

Most gravitate to classical liberalism — either before they graduate or after. UFM has had a considerable effect on its country, Guatemala. I’ll pick up that discussion tomorrow, in Part III.

Thanks for joining me on this journey down under — or south of the border — and I’ll see you later.

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