Politics & Policy

Freedom U, Part IV

At Francisco Marroquín University, Guatemala City (Photo: Jay Nordlinger)
The passion and compassion of classical liberals

Editor’s 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 has expanded the piece in his Impromptus. For Parts I, II, and III, go here, here, and here. The series concludes today.

Where was I? I was talking about the Spark program, here at Francisco Marroquín University. It is led by Carla Hess. She also leads ropes courses, up in the hills. This is “adventure learning,” as she says.

Hayek writes about central planning versus spontaneous order. Up in the hills, you can see the difference for yourself, in creative exercises.

Some things, you may not want to participate in. They may be too daunting. And you don’t have to, because you are “free to choose,” as the slogan goes. Carla makes an interesting point: “If a student admits, in front of everyone, ‘I don’t want to do it, I’m afraid,’ he will probably have the guts to say no to drugs, too.”

‐You see all sorts of names in Guatemala — same as throughout the Americas, including in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Here on campus, I meet Jorge Jacobs. Turns out his paternal ancestors were German Jews, who left their native land in the 19th century.

That was lucky for Jorge. And, as I mention to him, a lot of us can sing a verse of that song . . .

‐A couple days after I leave, UFM will host a College Freedom Forum. It will feature such figures as Danilo Maldonado, popularly known as “El Sexto.” He is the Cuban street artist and dissident. He is also a former political prisoner, having endured brutal treatment.

You know what his offense was? He had two pigs, and scrawled names on them: “Fidel” and “Raúl.” He was making a point related to Animal Farm.

You don’t do that sort of thing in the Castros’ land, unless you want to be arrested, beaten, and jailed.

During my visit, a wall is being prepared for El Sexto, to practice his art on: graffiti art, that is.

It occurs to me, we didn’t have many El Sextos visit when I was in college. I can tell you a story from graduate school: They invited Armando Valladares to speak. He was the Cuban poet, dissident, and ex-political prisoner, who had just emerged from 22 years in the Cuban gulag. He had written a memoir called “Against All Hope.” Sometimes, he was referred to as “the Cuban Solzhenitsyn.”

That the school invited him was terrific. But they would not let him speak alone: They paired him with a professor of Latin American Studies, who would speak up for the Castro regime, just in case the kids got the wild idea that Cuba was a police state.

UFM will not be pairing El Sexto with anyone pro-Castro.

‐As a liberal democrat, I think a pro-Castro voice is appalling. But I’ll tell you this: I like a campus without any intellectual or political slant. According to my ideal, a university should be a buffet, at which you try a bit of everything, and hear from everyone, in a balanced way.

But look: If our universities, thousands and thousands of them, are going to be dominated by the Left, what’s wrong with one classical-liberal university in all the world? How about ten? Even 20?

I’ll adapt a disgusting slogan from Che Guevara: Let’s have two, three, many UFMs!

In this series, I’ve sounded like a cheerleader for UFM. But readers will forgive me because there’s so much to cheer.


‐Hanging around campus — talking and observing — I hear a dog not barking. I notice no sense of entitlement. Instead, I notice eagerness, curiosity, and gratitude.

This is in stark contrast with the trends at home (in America). Our campuses boast such phenomena as trigger warnings and safe spaces. Last fall, I did a report from one of our most elite universities, Brown. There, students had started a secret Facebook group so that they could discuss issues freely.

Read that again, please, if you need to: Students at Brown University started a secret Facebook group so that they could discuss issues freely. They could not discuss them above ground; they needed to go underground.

Such a thing would be unthinkable at UFM. Everything is on the table. They talk and argue with abandon.

‐At UFM, you can get an Acton MBA. The university’s MBA program is named after Lord Acton. They promise to teach you “how to learn,” “how to make money,” and “how to live a life of meaning.”

One class begins at 6:15 — in the morning. And you’d better be on time. And you’d better be ready to be peppered with questions, right off the bat.

I myself might have a smidgeon of trouble adjusting . . .

‐One of the students I meet is from rural Guatemala and has won a scholarship here. In previous times, he picked beans on a coffee farm to support his family. I’m pretty sure that a sense of entitlement would be utterly foreign to him.

‐Thanks so much for making this trip with me — for reading this series. I’d like to close with two final thoughts.

No. 1 is easy: I’d like to enroll — enroll at Francisco Marroquín University right now.

No. 2 is fairly easy too: When I was growing up, I think I was led to believe that the capitalists — the free-marketeers, the classical liberals — were selfish, materialistic, and greedy. They preached a gospel of dog-eat-dog. Every man for himself. Survival of the fittest. “You’re on your own,” as our president, Obama, says (caricaturing the Republican party).

In due course, I realized that these people were among the most caring people on earth. They want people to be prosperous, free, fulfilled, and well.

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