An Austrian University in Guatemala

I recently ran across a good article called “Freedom U.” in the National Review, written by Jay Nordlinger. The article is about Universidad Francisco Marroquin (UFM). UFM is located in Guatemala – at the heart of Central America. Founded more than forty years ago, it’s the world’s only classical liberal university. Not liberal in the way you are probably thinking. The origin of the word “liberal” comes from Latin as liber ‘free (man)’ and then into Old French from Latin as liberalis; and from there into Middle English. The original sense was ‘suitable for a free man’. It’s a shame that those of us who are liberals can’t say so anymore, because the word “liberal” in the United States has become identified directly with a political persuasion – and not in a good way. It has come to be associated with ideas espoused by the “left” (taxation, cultural Maoism, limitations of free speech, curtailing free economic interactions and the laisse faire nature of the market, an imposing government presence reaching into our lives, and the like) – positions which in point of fact are not “liberal” at all – that is, not really suitable for a free man in the construction of a free society. Yet I digress.

UFM is “liberal” in the classical way – in the way that is summarized in Edmund Fawcett’s extremely comprehensive book “Liberalism – The Life of an Idea” (review forthcoming). That is to say, in the philosophies that have paved the way for the construction of prosperous, free societies over the last two hundred years. Adding to this, UFM is a “classical liberal” university – which refers to the first economic ideas for building a free society that came from Adam Smith and were perfected by a new group of economists – called Austrians (because they were Austrian mostly) – and which revolutionized the world and saved it from both fascism and communism (both illiberal systems, economically and philosophically) more than once.

At the inauguration of the university in 1971, the founding President Manuel Ayau stated, “We believe that a pluralistic and democratic society will always offer the greatest opportunity for progress and peace. … In such a society, precisely because people are free, diverse, and multiple, experimentation has ample room to supplement the lack of human omniscience.”

I think this is the point that too often escapes those of us who engage in the battle of ideas – that those ideas, at least for those of us who are of good faith, exist to facilitate the construction of a better world. We do not object to communism, or to fascism or to Islamism because of strict ideological reasons. We object because we know a better way to organize society, which will lead to better lives for real people.

Enter UFM. The role of a university is and has always been to train the leaders of tomorrow in ideas that work, that are proven and that are successful. We know the right ideas, the right philosophy. We know who the right authors are for our young people to read. In UFM’s case – wait for it – they actually have the students read them! This is a radical departure from most universities in the world, who focus on defunct ideas that nobody has ever been able to make work – even after turning their respective countries into the largest prison camps in the world (as was the case in the former USSR or Cuba or Venezuela).

UFM’s professors didn’t fight Hugo Chavez’s ideas because they didn’t like his foul mouth or the color of his skin – but because they knew for certain that at the end of the handouts, and the regulations and the nationalizations – at the end of revolution – waited an interminable food line. The same is true for other illiberal ideas – be they sold as social democracy or democratic socialism or Islamism or populism or communism or fascism or whatever. The package of those ideas – authority, control, planning, and coercion – have never led to a better life for real people. UFM tells its students that – and for that, they are unique.

Would that we had a Freedom U. in the United States; I’m a little surprised that we don’t.


About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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8 Responses to An Austrian University in Guatemala

  1. Seth Spearman says:

    You should check out That is America’s UFM.


  2. DaystarEld says:

    After my reply of solidarity with you over the gibberish that is A Hundred Years of Solitude, here is my post of vehement disagreement:

    I respect that we probably have very different values, different lenses, through which to view the world. I’m sure we agree on many things, perhaps more things than we disagree on. Among those things are that corruption is bad, that a completely centrally planned economy is a terrible idea, and that individual freedom and liberty is perhaps the most vital thing to be protected by society.

    Therefor I do not deny that your intentions in asserting that Austrian school of economics is “a better way to organize society, which will lead to better lives for real people” are pure, that you actually believe it to be true. But I hope that your worldview is robust enough, your epistemology sound enough, to constantly question what you think you know, and why you think you know it. Because economics definitely does have right and wrong answers, and the idea that the Austrian school has the majority of the right answers, or even a majority of right answers at all, has been demonstrated to be flawed throughout history.

    I could cite examples. I could list predictions that have proven false. I could bring up famous, accomplished, intelligent economists who reject the Austrian school without jumping straight to some opposite extreme like communism. Milton Friedman, a great mind and champion of conservatism and libertarian economic policy, has said that “the Austrian business-cycle theory has done the world a great deal of harm.”

    But ultimately what it really comes down to, for me, is that Austrian economics is not economics, as in, it’s not a science. It’s a school of economic thought that admits, proudly, to eschewing mathematical modeling and empirical testing in favor of a narrative approach termed “praxeology.”

    When a person in a school of thought openly admits to rejecting the use of math or empiricism in their worldview or philosophy, I cannot help but recoil, and examine their assertions with a precise eye.

    And what the Austrian school offers up is, by and large, philosophy. Not science. It is a method of thinking about the world that supports certain values and promotes certain ideas as true without actually testing them, without troubling itself with verification. It seeks the conclusion first, then finds the words to justify it. And that, at its core, is why it is so wrong about so many things.

    This is not the economic flagship that libertarians and conservatives should hitch themselves to if they want to be taken seriously on the topic. I hope you find yourself researching the alternatives soon, and able to find one that is grounded in more demonstrable truth, rather than one that simply reinforces values already held.


    • I’ve heard the “they don’t use math” argument. I have no problem with modeling – the Chicago school does it well. But you can model all you want, if the philosophies are wrong, you will not find prosperity. Thanks for your comment!


      • DaystarEld says:

        But what determines if a “philosophy is wrong?” You’re talking about the difference between logic and evidence, what separates philosophy from science. Austrian economics has nothing to offer but their philosophy, and no way of demonstrating that it’s right. They dismiss the very notion that they have to, because they see their beliefs as self-evidently true.

        Before there were scientists, there were “natural philosophers” who used logic and reason to construct models about physics and chemistry and biology. They made some great advances in knowledge, but the vast majority of what they believed was wrong, because something can SEEM logical and SEEM true without actually conforming to observable facts. The enlightenment brought about the scientific method through not just logical prediction, but also testing our models through objective evidence. All the natural philosophies have been relegated to history, because empirical evidence is so much better at determining the truth.

        Your argument is exactly the reason why Austrian economics fails. It is a philosophy that people believe in because they take for granted that it is true, because it confirms the values they already have and hold sacred. It is not a science, which offers hypotheses and then goes out and does the hard work of testing their ideas, of observing reality, and updating their beliefs, no matter how much they might not want to, no matter how difficult it is for them to admit “I was wrong.”

        No matter what political persuasion or values, I admire any economist, any scientist, who’s trying to determine the truth, who’s actively seeking to risk prove themselves wrong through experimentation and empirical evidence. I can’t respect Austrian economists for formulating a logical ideal of how the world works, then asserting that they don’t need to test it or prove it through evidence because it’s axiomatically true. It’s the same thing that any faith-based believer says about their worldview, and it fails to answer the fundamental question of rationality: “What do I know, and why do I think I know it?”


  3. Scott says:

    “Would that we had a Freedom U. in the United States; I’m a little surprised that we don’t.”
    There is and the Mises Institute in Alabama. They have an extensive online collection of Austrian based economics literature, videos, lectures, etc,… They offer courses on their campus. They hold seminars around the country. The word is getting out.


  4. Pingback: They Don’t Do Math | Joel D. Hirst's Blog

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