If There’s Will for Classical Liberalism, Alberto Mansueti Has a Way


EspañolLawyer and political theorist Alberto Mansueti does not mince words. He is so blunt, in fact, that he often does not see eye to eye with even his natural ideological allies.

Many libertarians, for example, consider Mansueti too conservative, and not actually one of them. This shouldn’t come as a shock, given his support for “Christian liberalism” and staunch opposition to what he calls “cultural Marxism” — a touted conspiracy behind indigenous movements and gay marriage.

Nevertheless, Mansueti prefers to leave aside academic discussions or any talk of current events; that’s what the “libertarian pundits” are for, he says. Instead, he wants to focus on political action, an area where the liberty movement has had little success. Mansueti recently spoke with the PanAm Post on this very issue.

What is your liberal movement for Latin America about?

Several people at the Center for Classical Liberalism in Latin America and I are promoting a platform of five reforms. We have a presence in several countries, but where the project is the most advanced is in Peru.

These reforms comprise of: (1) politics, (2) economics, (3) education, (4) health care, and (5) retirement and pensions.

They are based on three pillars of classical liberalism: limited government as the foundation for political reform; the principle of free markets leads to the second, which also includes currency, banking, and finance; and the third principle, private property, is the basis of the last three “social” reforms.

Do you plan on forging alliances with any political party?

No party is willing to take up the banner of classical liberalism. Therefore, we are creating them in many countries: in Peru (New Peru), Venezuela (Devolutionary Liberal Party), and Cuba (Cuban Revolutionary Party).

We have two principal strategies. First, building parties from scratch around this project of five reforms, which are very attractive. When one talks with people in their homes, in universities, or in some unions where they let us in, and explains the reforms, its advantages, and who would be the losers (those in power), we find a lot of support. One does not need to dwell on academic explanations.

The second way is to openly infiltrate existing parties that are not liberal, but where our members can promote the five reforms. We have people in María Corina Machado‘s party, Vente Venezuela, which is not a classical-liberal party, and also in Álvaro Uribe’s Democratic Center in Colombia.

Attempts to create classical-liberal and libertarian parties in Latin America have so far been unsuccessful. How will you succeed where others have failed?

We think they failed to translate the romantic ideals of liberty into a concrete political program, and explain to people what they will do as a government. That is a failure in communication.

People think we are heartless individuals who will fire workers and reduce everyone’s wages. To make matters worse, in the 1990s, we had the unfortunate so-called neoliberal experiences, which had little to do with liberalism, and much to do with mercantilism.

It is a communication gap that must be overcome, and we are doing it: showing people what we are going to do.

We copied the strategy of Zhou Enlai’s Four Modernizations for China, which started to pick up speed in the 1980s. It is important to highlight that we have five reforms, because these are the concerns that are always the first to show up in serious and scientific surveys. We did not make them up; they are based on many years of studies.

The problems appear in this order of priority: crime rates; low wages and unemployment; low-quality and expensive education; poor and expensive medical care; and finally, retirement and pensions. Sociologists can quickly identify this hierarchy of needs with Abraham Maslow’s pyramid.

Thus, our plan addresses these five concerns in that same order of priority, and that is why it resonates with the public.

What is the strategy for countries that openly repress classical-liberal ideas, or where the culture is not receptive, such as Cuba or Venezuela?

We start from the premise, based on a lot of studies, that all Latin American countries are very similar in terms of problems and solutions. The left has fooled everyone for 50 or 60 years with the story that each country is atypical, unique, and unrepeatable.

Therefore, when one talks about liberalism, they say “No free market here! This is a different country,” as a pretext to avoid classical-liberal policies. However, when they rise to power, they stick us with the same socialist recipe they apply in every country: Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina.

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It’s a story told by the Sao Paulo Forum founded by Lula da Silva in the early 1990s, when the Germans tore down the Berlin Wall, and the Soviet empire collapsed in Moscow. In that sense, leftists are smart; they think long term. They are not focused on the immediate. Unfortunately, their long-term plan is the one that is bearing fruit now.

That is what we are promoting as well: a medium and long-term plan.

There are differences across countries to the extent that they have let socialism move forward. On the one hand, we have Cuba and other countries on the brink of destruction, such as Venezuela, and Brazil and Argentina are not far behind. On the other, there are countries that have not allowed things to go that far yet, such as Chile, Peru, and Bolivia.

In those countries where socialism was pushed back, such as Nicaragua and Chile, it has now regained some of the ground they lost in the 1990s, because of the mistakes of what we call the “bad right”: mercantilist, authoritarian, violent, and sometimes strongly anti-liberal (Argentina).

How do you plan to attract young people, since many now are looking for alternatives to politics in nonprofit or student movements, such as Students for Liberty?

That is an ideological issue. Students for Liberty (EsLibertad) members are not classical liberals; they are, as they well say, libertarians. They could be cousins, but they are not the same.

Libertarians have their ways. Classical liberals like us are doing very well in attracting young people with our five reforms, because the order of priority of problems that they respond to follows people’s life cycle.

The reason why we insist so much that the first reform must be to put the state in its place, and to tighten security, is that criminality affects everyone, young or old. That is what the anarchists and libertarians do not see.

The second reform addresses one’s livelihood. Do you have a job? Is your salary enough? Can you do business? The economy also affects young professionals who enter the labor market and often bear the brunt of recessions and crises more than those who are better off.

The third reform points to education. When there are problems there, it is the youth who suffer the most. Health problems affect the elderly more, but young people have children too. As for the fifth reform, no young person is thinking about retirement, but they have their father or grandfather who they might have to care for because their retirement pension is not enough.

Classical liberalism connects with people very easily, according to Mansueti.
Classical liberalism connects with people very easily, according to Mansueti. (Alberto Mansueti)

So the biggest secret to our success is that we have managed to bring the classical liberal ideas down to earth, and connect them with the real problems people face, as they have indicated in polls. We have closed the gap between the ideas of Mises and Hayek and the people.

Part of our success in Peru and Venezuela is that we are reversing the trend of the past 100 years, when socialism captured the great majority of Catholics and evangelicals. The difference between the socialism of the 20th and 21st centuries is that the former was militantly atheist, and the latter merges with religious beliefs, both Christian and non-Christian.

The five reforms do not address the problems created by cultural Marxism: gay marriage and all that. We go for unemployment, problems with education, lack of attention in hospitals. Homosexuals may be interested, but what is the number of homosexuals in relation to the total population? And it won’t interest all of them, because homosexuals do not actually care much about getting married.

We do not pay attention to those problems. We do have our own position, which is that the state should not be involved in marriage. It should be re-privatized. The issue is not a priority for us, as opposed to fundamentalist Christians and gay activists.

Translated by Rebeca Morla.

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