Mises Daily September 20, 2010

Advancing the Scholarship of Liberty in the Tradition of the Austrian School

September 20, 2010

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Il libertarismo arriva in Italia — Revolution Comes to Italy
by Ralph Raico on September 20, 2010

[Sandro Scoppa of the Vincenzo Scoppa Foundation reports that the Italian municipality of Soverato will name an important street after Ludwig von Mises. More than thirty years ago, Ralph Raico announced some of the early signs of the libertarian movement in Italy. This article was originally published as “Il libertarismo arriva in Italia — Revolution Comes to Italy” in Libertarian Review (May 1978), p. 28.]

The Revolution Was, said Garret Garrett, meaning that the irreversible state-socialist transformation of America had already occurred. The Revolution Will Be, some of my optimistic libertarian friends tell me, meaning that libertarianism is truly the idea whose time has come. One tends to be a little skeptical — on the political level, at least, things seem mostly to be going the other way. But perhaps those optimistic friends are on to something. There is, after all, the surprisingly favorable response that libertarianism encounters from people in all walks of life; there is the person one increasingly comes across who gives every evidence that this idea has changed his or her life.

In mid-March I received in the mail a copy of a new magazine. It was entitled Claustrofobia[1] and was well made; I leafed through it. What immediately caught my eye were some very familiar faces: Murray Rothbard, Ed Crane at the 1977 Libertarian Party National Convention in San Francisco, Dave Bergland, John Hospers, Nathaniel Branden, Tibor Machan, Mary Louise Hanson (the secretary of the national party), others. Names leapt up at me from the text: Rothbard, Ayn Rand, Roy Childs, Thomas Szasz, Robert Heinlein. Then I noticed that the text was in Italian. What is this?

Claustrofobia is a monthly magazine published in Rome by Riccardo La Conca and some friends. The issue I had in my hands was of February 1978, Year 1, Number 1. A 32-page, professional-looking job, it contained an editorial, “The Fever of Liberty,” which explained the name of the magazine. The name derives — it’s obvious when you think about it — from the state of mind a libertarian must experience living in a society such as Italy, where intellectual life is dominated by priests, Communists, and a few timid liberals.

There were other articles by La Conca, and translations of Sharon Presley’s essay on feminism and of Libertarian Party position papers — by Murray Rothbard on inflation and Dave Nolan on “Pot, Helmets, and Vitamins.” The latter, from what I could make out (I had edited the originals), were quite good — either La Conca or someone else out there has a professional translator’s knowledge of English.

From Reason, there was Rollins’s “Lucifer’s Lexicon” and Hylkema’s comic strip, rendered into Italian. There were the classifieds (“Signorina libertaria attraente, simpatico”), an ad for a punk-rock disco in Rome, and a house ad urging the reader to “Support free trade … Smuggle!” On the back cover was a notice for a libertarian radio station broadcasting at 88 megahertz FM in Rome.

La Conca’s lead article, “Who are the Libertarians?” proved to be intelligent and displayed a truly astonishing knowledge of libertarian ideas and of the American libertarian movement. Among the works cited are Karl Hess’s article “The Death of Politics,” Franz Oppenheimer’s The State, Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Rothbard’s For a New Liberty and Power and Market, Hospers’s Libertarianism, Roy Childs’s “An Open Letter to Ayn Rand,” Albert Jay Nock’s Our Enemy the State.

La Conca points out that part of Rothbard’s achievement is that, to the antistatist philosophy of 19th-century thinkers like Spooner and Tucker, he has “united a scientific approach in economic questions … incorporating … the doctrines of the Austrian school of economics of Hayek and von Mises.”

La Conca goes on to discuss with some sophistication the differences between Szasz and Branden on psychology. A number of Szasz’s works, it turns out, have been translated into Italian, including The Manufacture of Madness and Ceremonial Chemistry, La Conca’s exposition of Szasz’s principal ideas is necessarily brief, but reveals an easy familiarity. The author is familiar even with libertarian-oriented science fiction, mentioning, besides Heinlein, Eric Frank Russell and Poul Anderson. He even knows Ira Levin’s novel This Perfect Day. Who is this?

A photo accompanies another essay by La Conca, “Conceiving the Inconceivable,” which I have translated here. It shows him to be young, intense, handsome. The essay itself is well-reasoned, with a particular bent toward philosophy. There is a really moving part, when La Conca tells of what the discovery of the American libertarian movement meant to him:

In our country, a libertarian is a Martian, a one-hundred-percent foreigner. His break with his surroundings is so total that he lives always on the borders of psychic disintegration. I myself have experienced this lacerating experience, in conceiving the inconceivable. What removed me from this situation, in part, was the casual reading of an article on the Libertarian Party of the United States in an Italian magazine. The article was critical and ironical, but for me reading it constituted a great event. It was like the discovery of a piece of terra firma, of a kind of ideological homeland for a philosophically displaced person. After reading that article, I knew that I was not alone. I knew I had companions in the faith, even if they were across the ocean. I knew that my madness — If that’s what it was — was shared by others.

Yes, something out of a novel, but sometimes, at least, nature does imitate art. So, across the ocean — hello, friend.

Ralph Raico is a senior fellow of the Mises Institute. He is professor of European history at Buffalo State College and a specialist on the history of liberty, the liberal tradition in Europe, and the relationship between war and the rise of the state. You can study the history of civilization under his guidance here: MP3-CD and Audio Tape. Send him mail. See Ralph Raico’s article archives.

This article was originally published as “Il libertarismo arriva in Italia — Revolution Comes to Italy” in Libertarian Review (May 1978), p. 28.

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Editor’s Note

[1] Claustrofobia.org is now an Italian libertarian website.