A “time capsule” from Mont Pelerin, 1947

 

Bruce Caldwell has published the transcripts of the founding meeting of the Mont Pèlerin Society. It is an invaluable book, largely made by records of F. A. Hayek’s Secretary, Dorothy Hahn (by the way, Frank Hahn’s wife) plus some drafts of the paper presented at the first Mont Pèlerin conference. Published by the Hoover Institution with a preface by John Taylor, the book is superbly edited, and I ran into quite a few surprises. The thing I was most surprised by was Bertrand de Jouvenel, the French journalist and sociologist with “a colorful checkered past”, proposing psychologist Carl Jung and theology Karl Barth as potential members.

The discussions of those days are often surprisingly relevant to ours. The passage I was most struck by is the following, from the session on religion and Christianity, opened by Frank Knight. It came from Trygve J.B. Hoff, a Norwegian writer and economist. His Economic Calculation in the Socialist Society is published by Liberty Fund. For a nice introduction to him, see this short and informative piece by Lars Peder Nordbakken.

So Hoff commented:

It seems to me that the decline of liberalism has something to do with what we call the cultural crisis. Majority of men in the western world have lost their faith in God. And few have the ability to be agnostics. Then there is a tendency for people to become converts to secular religions, Nazism, Communism, etc.

Trevor pointed out yesterday that liberalism has no mystique. I agree. And this is a handicap in the fight against secular religions. If we are going to diagnose the causes for decline of liberalism: the need for faith, the will to believe, and the need for group feeling.

I don’t know Hoff’s work so I don’t know if he made something of this observation. But it seems to me very profound and relevant today as well. In particular, I find the words “the ability to be agnostics” amusing and particularly adept.