The Rejection of the Spirit of the Tribe
Liberty, the corner stone of civilization.
This thesis, sustained by the classic liberal authors, is the focus of reflection of Mario Vargas Llosa (2010 Nobel Prize) who recently published a book entitled The Call of the Tribe (La llamada de la tribu, in Spanish), a book about liberal doctrine (but not as liberal as it is defined in the United States) from a philosophical perspective. If there was ever an academic course offered on liberal philosophy, this book could be if not the textbook at least as a main reference.
For Vargas Llosa the call of the tribe, is the attraction of that form of existence in which the individual becomes a slave to a religion or doctrine, or to a caudillo thus relieving himself of all responsibility for his actions and granting the leader the power to solve his problems, thus avoiding the arduous engagement of the being free and sovereign, in other words, to be rational. This “call of the tribe” is an attempt to return to the primitivism that has been surpassed by civilization. Against this call stands the classic liberal doctrine that has represented since its origins the most advanced forms of democratic culture and is the cause of the progress in free societies. Liberty is at the frontier of human natural rights like freedom of expression, or the rights of the political, religious and/or sexual minorities or the defense of the environment and the participation of the ordinary citizen in public life. In other words, what has been defending us from the unquenchable call of the tribe. (Loc. 3996)
From the perspective of the spirit of the tribe Vargas Llosa identifies historical paths that stop the advancement of civilization namely socialism and nationalism. In these two ideologies, the individual is subordinate to the collective, the community is captured by "charismatic" leaders, but at the end they breed tyrants of the worst kind. Vargas Llosa used renowned classical liberals to support his thesis. They are without a doubt the most insightful thinkers of the liberal literature, apart from Adam Smith, they are all contemporary:
While invoking the liberal doctrine of these thinkers Vargas Llosa refuses to pigeonhole it into economic issues. That is why he says very little about the economic policies that should be an important component of any liberal programme. For example, he mentions Milton Friedman a couple of times, by only as an afterthought. Even when he reads The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, the economist par excellence, he does so according to The Theory of Moral Sentiments, as to make clear that for Smith the free market, competition, free entry and exit to economic activity are consequences of the ethics of individual rights: life, liberty, and property. Something similar he does with the thought of Hayek, placing emphasis on the principles that should be held by laws, by a constitution and by democratic institutions rather than focusing in the spontaneous orders and the coordination of economic actions that result from a free market. He even argues that liberalism has also generated a "childhood disease," sectarianism, embodied by certain economists enchanted by the free market as a panacea to solve all social problems.
He also rejects egalitarianism "because equality of results can only be obtained in a society by means of an authoritarian government that would level economically to all citizens through an oppressive system, making tabula rasa of the varying individual capacities, imagination, inventiveness, concentration, diligence, ambition, spirit of work, leadership. Such equality would result in the disappearance of the individual, back to his immersion in the tribe." (Loc.212)
Vargas Llosa is not libertarian, argues that "it should be kept in mind that a certain intervention of government will be necessary to set clear limits and constraints to individual initiatives, regulations that are essential—otherwise society would slip towards anarchy or the law of the jungle—for peaceful coexistence, though it is also true that any policy of controls should be continuously monitored and counterbalanced, otherwise it would incubate the germs of authoritarianism, the rudiments of a threat against freedom individual. (Loc. 2247)
He also rejects anarchism without much of an explanation. For example, he tells that at a meeting of liberals in Lima, he told Hayek that he had the impression that Hayek was proposing that liberalism should be rescued from the anarchist ideal of a world without coercion, of pure spontaneity, with a minimum of authority and a maximum of freedom, entirely built around the individual. Hayek just looked at him with compassion. (Loc. 1304) Libertarians ought to do the same.
Franklin Lopez, Ph.D.