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«ECON JOURNAL WATCH 12(3) September 2015: 400–431 Classical Liberalism and Modern Political Economy in Denmark Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard1 LINK TO ...»

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freedom of enterprise, trade, and speech, and he received the first Danish Adam Smith Prize in 1988. Even so, his influence was limited, and his impact was made primarily on fellow Georgists.

A less prolific author in his early years was the hell-raising, rugged individualist Flemming Juncker (1904–2002). First a farmer, he also turned industrialist, making—and losing—a fortune in the timber industry. Most famously, he was the leader of the Jutland-based resistance during the German occupation of Denmark. He eventually had to flee for his life, settling in London where he became an officer of the Special Operations Executive, leading strategic missions behind this more modest organization too was up against the tides of the times and had become dormant by ca.


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German lines. For the next forty years Juncker was a high-energy powerhouse as a path-breaking farming and business entrepreneur. Juncker eventually spent his retirement, from age 75 to 97, as an active writer. He always championed limited government, low taxes, and free markets, but it was not until his retirement that he devoted himself to public debate. Then, he came out as a fan of Friedman, the Chicago school, and Austrian economics (e.g., Juncker 1986). But Juncker’s writings were too late and perhaps too eclectic to gather a wide audience or make any greater impact than being a rare free-market voice on the op-ed pages and an occasional contributor to Libertas.9 Another liberal from this era is Svend Thiberg (b. 1920). Thiberg has eschewed a public profile and is little known to the public. His influence came as a publisher and editor of the weekly magazine Finanstidende (“Financial Times”), which had been founded in 1914 by Thiberg’s father-in-law, the economist Carl F.

S. Thalbitzer (1876–1970). The Thalbitzer family had been prominent liberals for generations, and for 75 years the magazine relentlessly criticized pervasive Danish taxes and interventions, providing one of the very few places where liberal academics might write. In the decade before its closing, Finanstidende regularly featured articles on such topics as public choice theory, government failure, privatization, and F. A. Hayek.10 Apart from people such as Gandil, Tholstrup, Juncker, and Thiberg, there were few intellectual standard-bearers of a classical liberal bent, and on the political scene the picture was perhaps even more depressing. Among conservative and liberal politicians, whatever elements of anti-statism had remained in the 1950s and 1960s gave way to what was mostly a very defensive position and often a more state-embracing, left-leaning, big-government ideology.

A few examples may suffice to illustrate the point. Among the Conservatives, who had in the 1950s been stalwart defenders of individual liberties, private property, and free markets (see, e.g., Kraft 1956), there was in the 1960s a decisive turn toward statism. The novelist Hans Jørgen Lembourn (1923–1997), who for a period was an MP, spokesman, and unofficial ‘chief ideologue’ of the Conservative Party, in the late 1960s resurrected the idea of a corporatist organization of society, which many on the right had championed in the 1930s. In his book Een/mange (“One/Many”), Lembourn distanced his brand of conservatism from the freemarket economics that had characterized the collaboration of the Conservatives and the Liberal Party in the 1950s and early 1960s. Instead, he proposed alliances with the left, under the misleading label “liberal conservatism” (Lembourn 1967).

9. Juncker received the Danish Adam Smith Prize in 2001 (see Kurrild-Klitgaard 2001b).

10. A festschrift in Thiberg’s honor included contributions from many Danish free marketeers who had been employees of the magazine over the years (Ziegler 1990).

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Perhaps most illustrative of this trend is the case of Per Stig Møller (b.

1942)—son of the Conservative Party leader and former Finance Minister Poul Møller (1919–1997) and nephew of Aksel Møller (1906–1958), both of whom had fought the welfare state in the 1950s (see Kraft 1956). The younger Møller became chairman of Conservative Students and, in the spirit of 1968, a proponent of a sharp left turn for the Conservatives (see Møller 1968). Møller went so far as to posit Mao Zedong as an ideal who should inspire conservatives rather than Adam Smith (Møller 1970). He also embraced central elements of the left-wing Frankfurt School of Jürgen Habermas, championing a “utopia” he called “total democracy,” which he saw as “a realistic-idealistic socialism.” It included specific proposals such as collectivization of the means of production, government publication of newspapers, a social organization based on collectives and with communal property, income taxes approaching 90 percent, energy usage based on quotas, prohibition against excessive consumption of television, forced cross-racial marriages, and forced relocation of all citizens every seventh year (Krarup, Møller, and Reich 1973). Møller went on to become leader of the Conservative Party and a longtime cabinet member.

A new beginning:

From three circles to many strands By the late 1970s there was plenty rotten in the state of liberalism in Denmark. With a few isolated exceptions, no intellectual circles existed; little academic work of note was being done; no outlets produced anything longer than op-eds.

But around 1980 a visible rejuvenation of non-socialist thought began to take place in Denmark.

For the first time in decades, authors began going against the tide and even on the offensive—a tendency that coincided with the broader Western phenomenon of the ‘New Right’ and the rediscovery of liberalism. Simultaneously new winds and new inspiration came into Danish academia through developments abroad in economic and political science research. Initially the number of persons was small, and their contributions were diverse and sporadic and characterized more by idiosyncrasies and an anti-left reaction than by the articulation of a constructive line of thinking. The developments took place through a number of quite heterogeneous channels, but in various phases the process was assisted by at least three organized circles: the publishing company Forlaget i Haarby in the early 1980s, the liberal debate forum Libertas in the late 1980s and 1990s, and the think tank Center for Political Studies (CEPOS) since 2004.



Forlaget i Haarby Forlaget i Haarby was a small private publishing company founded in 1977– 78 by Poul A. Jørgensen (1934–1996).11 Jørgensen was a schoolteacher with a background in the Liberal Party (Venstre) but with a more intellectual than partisan outlook. Jørgensen was a frequent participant in public debates, but like Gandil he was perhaps less of an original thinker than an idealistic entrepreneur who made a difference by bringing others together. Over a relatively short period, Jørgensen managed to assemble intellectuals from the center-right to produce a number of books bringing liberal intellectual ideas to a broad Danish audience.

Forlaget i Haarby produced new reprints of classics such as the long out-ofprint Danish translation of F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, Vejen til trældom (1946, republished 1981) and selections from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, published as Lighed og frihed (“Equality and Freedom,” Tocqueville 1978). Jørgensen also published Danish translations of more recent books such as Eamonn Butler’s introduction to Hayek (as Vejen til frihed, Butler 1986); Lars Gustafsson’s För liberalismen: en stridsskrift (Gustafsson 1983), and Guy Sorman’s overview of the new liberal wave (as Den liberale løsning, Sorman 1986).

But perhaps most importantly Jørgensen provided a publishing outlet for original works by Danish authors, such as professor of philosophy Justus Hartnack’s analysis of the debate between John Rawls and Robert Nozick (Hartnack

1980) as well as public policy books by center-right politicians. Following serious illness—and perhaps less-than-stellar commercial success—Jørgensen closed shop in the late 1980s and sold the rest of his books to another, new forum: Libertas.

Libertas Libertas was founded first as a magazine, in 1982, and then as an organization in 1986. The forum traces its history back to the late 1970s when a group of leaders within Konservativ Ungdom (KU, the “Young Conservatives”) took part in a couple of meetings of the Mont Pèlerin Society, where they met Hayek, Friedman, and others. First and foremost were two young economics students, Otto BrønsPetersen (b. 1961) and Palle Steen Jensen (b. 1961), and the writer Villy Dall (b.

1955).12 In 1982 the three founded what they envisioned to be a think tank, the “Danish Adam Smith Institute,” and launched the magazine Libertas, whose first issue was published in early 1982. It featured articles about Friedman and monetarism, the economic policies of the Thatcher government, and other topics. The

11. On Jørgensen, see Kurrild-Klitgaard 1996b.

12. On the history of Libertas, see Kurrild-Klitgaard 1996a.

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name Libertas was borrowed from the short-lived forum Libertas: Næringsliv og Samfund, which had briefly succeeded Gandil’s Erhvervenes Oplysningsråd.

For a number of reasons the magazine was discontinued, but in 1985 the same group as well as newcomers re-created Libertas—but this time at a lower level of ambition, organized as a society and centered around a more modestly published journal, which was to serve as a forum for debate, translations of classics, and new work done mostly by students. A statement of principles was drafted and the first meetings were organized by Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard (the present author, b. 1966), then a first-year student of political science, who was elected secretary (i.e., functioning as chairman). There were about 35 founding members, mostly students, but more took part in the first conference, and soon there were between 100 and 200 subscribers to the magazine (a number that would peak at about 300–400 at some point).

Initially most people in Libertas were drawn from tight-knit ranks within the Young Conservatives and Conservative Students, but this was gradually to change.

One reason was an increasing hostility to liberal ideas within the Conservative Party—including the party leadership tacitly supporting a purge of libertarians in 1988–1989 and the party’s secretary general stating publicly in 1990 that there were too many libertarians among the Young Conservatives.

Another reason was that liberal ideas came to have a better reception elsewhere. Among an emerging, broader circle were Bent Honoré (b. 1936), a Lutheran priest, former member of Parliament for the Christian People’s Party, and book publisher, whose firm Forlaget Kontrast published several free-market works; Jens Løgstrup Madsen (b. 1961), a political scientist and later MP for the Liberal Party from 1994 to 1998); Christopher Arzrouni (b. 1967), a political scientist, journalist, political advisor, and author, long active in the Liberal Party; Kim Behnke (b. 1960), leader of the Progress Party and member of Parliament from 1987 to 2001; and Nicolai Juul Foss (b. 1964), professor at the Copenhagen Business School.

The circle around Libertas was heavily influenced by the Anglo-American strands of classical liberal and libertarian thinking, which had emerged or gained wider attention in the 1970s and early 1980s. These included the works of Hayek, Nozick, Milton Friedman, David Friedman, James M. Buchanan, Murray Rothbard, and Ayn Rand. Early on, contacts were established among Libertas, British think tanks such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute, and U.S.-based organizations such as the Institute for Humane Studies, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

In particular, people such as Leonard P. Liggio (1933–2014), John Blundell (1954–2014), and Tom G. Palmer (b. 1956) played a significant role in Libertas’s early years.



Aside from the magazine and one or two annual conferences, Libertas has never been extroverted, so to speak. The Danish media have perhaps both overestimated and underestimated the importance of Libertas: newspaper articles have described it alternately as “influential,” “the closest Denmark gets to a political think tank,” a new “intellectual elite”—and as an irrelevant group of sectarian students.13 What is clear is that from the circle came a number of works which while in themselves were perhaps not too impressive, nonetheless signaled a change in the uniform direction of public discourse. For the first time in two generations, young non-socialist intellectuals were producing ideological and scholarly work that unapologetically defended the free market and provided uncompromising attacks on socialism as a doctrine and the modern welfare state. In the first few years alone, these works included the aforementioned translation of Eamonn Butler’s book about Hayek, two anthologies on privatization (Kurrild-Klitgaard 1988; Behnke, Borges, and Hansen 1990), a translation of selected works by Frédéric Bastiat (1989), and a hard-core libertarian anthology, Samfund uden stat (“Society Without State,” Andersen 1992). Later came such publications as the

anthology Den moderne liberalisme: rødder og perspektiver (“The Modern Liberalism:

Roots and Perspectives,” Madsen 1997), with essays on subjects such as public choice theory (Arzrouni and Ziegler 1997; Ziegler 1997) and the challenges facing liberals who want to reform society (Kurrild-Klitgaard 1997).

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