Mises often said that ideas are more powerful than armies. In the midst of war — and all governments are, to some extent, at war with their own people — it can take a leap of faith to agree. But if you step back and look at the progress that the ideas of liberty are making, it is easy to believe that what Mises said was exactly right.
Ideas know no borders. They are not inhibited by considerations of space. They can eat through the limits of time. They grow and spread by individual decisions and actions that no one can control. In the end, governments cannot manage ideas, and are even rendered powerless by them.
I would like to share an example of how this works based on my recent trip to Brazil.
The background takes us to fifty-one years ago, when Mises travelled to Argentina to give a series of lectures. He helped cultivate the seeds of freedom in a region increasingly under the sway of government control and intervention. His lectures were published, translated into many languages, and continue to wield influence among new generations.
Massive trees from these seeds are thriving today in Latin America. This past month, Brazilian financial and ideological entrepreneur Helio Beltrão invited a delegation from the Mises Institute to the formal inauguration of the new Instituto Ludwig von Mises Brasil. The idea was to give this organization a wonderful kick start toward becoming another institution of revolutionary ideological impact, flourishing in Latin America as the Mises Institute has in the US.
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Mises.org.br is already substantial and serious. I was there for MisesBrasil’s sponsorship of the first Austrian economics conference in the country’s history. Hundreds of young people gathered in Porto Allegre to hear Joe Salerno, Mark Thornton, Tom Woods, and me from the US, and Antony Mueller, Rodrigo Constantino, Fabio Barbieri, and Urbiratan Iorio from Brazil. David and Patri Friedman were also with us.
The moderators were Helio and Globo TV journalist Maria Beltrão. There were simultaneous English-Portuguese and Portuguese-English translations, and the entire program was webcast as well. All talks will be archived on the site, with subtitles in English or Portuguese as required.
Among many other projects, MisesBrasil is also bringing back into print the excellent Portuguese translation of Human Action, as well as other books of Mises. Already in print is the translation of Economic Policy, those very lectures by Mises, with the far better title in Portuguese of Six Lessons.
This year, the 23rd conference of the allied Liberty Forum, sponsored by the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, was held at the Pontifical Catholic University of Porto Alegre. The theme was the life and work of Ludwig von Mises. The 5,500 students in attendance each got a copy of Six Lessons.
The highpoint of the conference was the presentation of the prestigious award for leadership in liberty to Helio, and the talk he gave was an intellectual call to arms. The love for liberty and learning was palpable, but so was the desire for practical action. As in the whole history of liberalism, that means finding a way to throw off the yoke of central power.
Thus is there secessionist sentiment alive in Brazil. The students, faculty, and business people ritualistically stood for the national anthem, but they sang movingly the anthem of Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state whose capital is Porto Alegre. All hail organically formed associations and down with coerced collectives!
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I also learned that the state of São Paulo — we North Americans flew into its capital city, a great commercial hub — fought a war for independence against the central government and its new dictator and constitution in 1934. There is a very impressive monument to the secessionists, and a tradition. And at Helio’s conference Patri Friedman talked in part about secession, the basis of his Seasteading Institute. And I was moved to see how his father David sometimes resembles Murray Rothbard.
Brazil’s taxes — a gigantic VAT being the worst — are even higher than what Obama plans. The interventionism in this country is truly horrific. The tariffs are abusive too. But a warm, well-mannered, and generous people can help make up for a cold, cruel state. And I was impressed by not having to take my shoes off at the airport, nor my laptop out of its case; by free-flowing shower heads; and by restaurant menus that listed lower prices for women than for men, to mention just a few of the Brazilian things outlawed in the Land of the Free.
Thanks also to Graziella Beltrão for one of the great parties in the history of the Western hemisphere, held in Helio’s and Graziella’s spectacular home, in honor of Joe, Mark, and me (Tom not having arrived yet), complete with traditional Brazilian food, band, and singer.
Also impressive were Helio’s “Taliban” (as they are kiddingly known), the smart young Misesian-Rothbardian-LRC’ers who aide him with the Instituto. Many thanks to Cristiano Chiocca, Leandro Roque, and Fernando and Roberto Chiocca, among many, for all their help. I was also pleased to see none of the anti-religious prejudice so common to the US movement. Instead there is tolerance.
One person had complained about the appropriate inclusion of Rothbard as well as Mises on MisesBrasil’s handsome crest. Wait until he sees the crest of the new Swedish Mises Institute — founded at our conference in Salamanca in discussions with Helio. It features Mises and Hoppe.
This kind of movement, the result of vast amounts of human energy and inspiration, cannot be cobbled together by a government bureaucracy, nor can it be stopped by one. It is the manifestation of human energy, applied with vision and entrepreneurship, driven forward by brilliant technique and hard work, and with its purpose secure in a burning passion for liberty and truth.
We have long known that Austro-libertarianism is the only truly international economic-political movement outside of Marxism. How thrilling to see a borderless boom, not Fed backed, but truth based. This is a worldwide struggle, and now especially, we must work together, in the tradition of Mises and Rothbard, for the good of all.