Mario Vargas Llosa at the AEI: Confessions of a Liberal
Dr. Vargas Llosa was awarded the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research‘s Irving Kristol Award on Wednesday, March 2, 2005. Prior award recipients are Paul Johnson, Alan Greenspan, Norman Podhoretz, Thomas Sowell, and Ronald Reagan.
In his acceptance speech, MVLl raised the question of what is liberalism, (emphasis mine)
Thus, the liberal I aspire to be considers freedom a core value. Thanks to this freedom, humanity has been able to journey from the primitive cave to the stars and the information revolution, to progress from forms of collectivist and despotic association to representative democracy. The foundations of liberty are private property and the rule of law; this system guarantees the fewest possible forms of injustice, produces the greatest material and cultural progress, most effectively stems violence and provides the greatest respect for human rights. According to this concept of liberalism, freedom is a single, unified concept. Political and economic liberties are as inseparable as the two sides of a medal. Because freedom has not been understood as such in Latin America, the region has had many failed attempts at democratic rule. Either because the democracies that began emerging after the dictatorships respected political freedom but rejected economic liberty, which inevitably produced more poverty, inefficiency and corruption, or because they installed authoritarian governments convinced that only a firm hand and a repressive regime could guarantee the functioning of the free market. This is a dangerous fallacy. It has never been so.
. . .
Political democracy and the free market are foundations of a liberal position. But, thus formulated, these two expressions have an abstract, algebraic quality that dehumanizes and removes them from the experience of the common people. Liberalism is much, much more than that. Basically, it is tolerance and respect for others, and especially for those who think differently from ourselves, who practice other customs and worship another god or who are non-believers. By agreeing to live with those who are different, human beings took the most extraordinary step on the road to civilization. It was an attitude or willingness that preceded democracy and made it possible, contributing more than any scientific discovery or philosophical system to counter violence and calm the instinct to control and kill in human relations. It is also what awakened that natural lack of trust in power, in all powers, which is something of a second nature to us liberals.
Vargas Llosa remains optimistic about Latin America, and the speech deserves more publicity than it has received. Go read it.