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.