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The Mont Pèlerin Society and the Rise of a Postwar Classical Liberal Counter-Establishment

  • Niels Bjerre-Poulsen
Part of the The Palgrave Macmillan Transnational History Series book series (PMSTH)

Abstract

In March of 1947, the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek gathered a group of 39 participants from 10 different countries together at Mont Pèlerin, near Vevey in Switzerland. The idea was to create an informal network of scholars and politicians, who all shared a belief in liberalism and who all believed that freedom was under serious threat, either from socialism or from Keynesian ideas. The participants, who had been exclusively selected by Hayek, believed that not only had faith in the forces of a free-market economy been dealt a severe blow during the economic crises of the 1930s, but equally troubling, the wartime experiences of many Western countries had also convinced the political elites that central planning was a viable option. Democracies not only faced an external threat from communism, these liberals would argue, but also an existential one from the collectivist ideas of their own governing elites.1

Keywords

Chicago School Social Market Economy Liberty Fund Liberal Capitalism Governing Elite 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    The Papers of the Mont Pèlerin Society are located at the Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University (hereafter MPS Papers). On the Mont Pèlerin Society’s history, see R.M. Hartwell, A History of the Mont Pèlerin Society (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995);Google Scholar
  2. Angus Burgin, The Great Persuasion; Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands; The Making of the Conservative Movement From the New Deal to Reagan (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009);Google Scholar
  4. Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe (eds), The Road from Mont Pèlerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009);Google Scholar
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  6. Bernhard Walpen, Die offenen Feinde und ihre Gesellschaft: Eine hegemonietheoretische Studie zur Mont Pèlerin Society (Hamburg: VSA Verlag, 2004).Google Scholar
  7. 3.
    F.A. Hayek, “Address to the Mont Pèlerin Conference”, 1 April 1947, MPS Papers.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Jamie Peck, “Remaking laissez-faire”, Progress in Human Geography 32 (2008), p. 25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 6.
    Many of the participants had been the leading critics of John M. Keynes’s The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936).Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    Milton Friedman’s expression, quoted from R.M. Hartwell, A History of the Mont Pèlerin Society (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995), p. 203.Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    On Hayek’s view of the Fabian Society, see Richard Cockett, Thinking the Unthinkable: Think-Tanks and the Economic Counter-Revolution, 1931–1983 (London: Fontana Press, 1995), pp. 111–12.Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    F.A. Hayek, “The Intellectuals and Socialism”, in George B. de Huszar (ed.), The Intellectuals: A Controversial Portrait (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1960), pp. 371–84.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (University of Chicago Press, 1972 [1944]), pp. xiff. In this respect Hayek’s analysis was building upon his mentor, Ludwig von Mises.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    Walter Lippmann, The Good Society (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction, 2004 [1937]).Google Scholar
  15. 22.
    Carlo Mötteli, “The Regeneration of Liberalism”, Swiss Review of World Affairs 1 (November 1951), p. 29.Google Scholar
  16. 35.
    For a discussion of the role of neoliberal ideas in the larger conservative intellectual movement in the United States, see Angus Burgin, The Great Persuasion, pp. 137ff., and Niels Bjerre-Poulsen, Right Face: Organizing the American Conservative Movement 1945–65 (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2002), pp. 39–54.Google Scholar
  17. 38.
    Quoted from R.M. Hartwell, A History of The Mont Pèlerin Society (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995), p. 28.Google Scholar
  18. 44.
    See James C. van Hook, Rebuilding Germany; The Creation of the Social Market Economy, 1945–1957 (Cambridge University Press, 2004).Google Scholar
  19. 45.
    The ideas of the Social Market Economy are described by Alfred Müller-Armack himself in “The Social Market Economy as an Economic and Social Order”, Review of Social Economy 36.3 (1978), pp. 325–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. See also Ralf Ptak, Vom Ordoliberalismus zur Sozialen Marktwirtschaft. Stationen des Neoliberalismus in Deutschland (Opladen: Leske and Budrich, 2004),CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Alan Peacock and Hans Willgerodt (eds), Germany’s Social Market Economy: Origins and Evolution (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1989),Google Scholar
  22. and Mark E. Spicka, Selling the Economic Miracle: Economic Reconstruction and Politics in West Germany, 1949–1957 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2007).Google Scholar
  23. 47.
    Quoted from Alfred C. Mierzejewski, “Water in the desert? The Influence of Wilhelm Röpke on Ludwig Erhard and the Social Market Economy”, Review of Austrian Economy 19 (2006), pp. 275–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 52.
    By 2005, The Mont Pèlerin Society had close personal ties to more than a hundred neoliberal think tanks across the globe. For a list of these, see Dieter Plehwe, Bernhard Walpen and Gisela Neunhöffer (eds), Neoliberal Hegemony: A Global Critique (London: Routledge, 2006), pp. 48ff.Google Scholar

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© Niels Bjerre-Poulsen 2014

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  • Niels Bjerre-Poulsen

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