A couple of weeks before Christmas The Edmund Burke Institute held a session for undergraduates in Dublin. It went well; and we plan to hold more of them, although probably not before the start of the next academic year. As everybody introduced themselves I was struck by the fact that two of the ten or so people who attended came from Latin America, and I wondered whether this might be part of a larger story. And this indeed seems to be the case- if the BBC is to be believed. This morning the Beeb’s web site contained a story about young Conservatives and Libertarians in Brazil- as if this was a very exotic development.
I must confess to knowing very little about Brazil. Consequently I do not know whether the story was accurate or fair. But what was certainly evident was the utter amazement of the piece’s author that anyone in the third world could ever espouse any ideas other than those of the centre left. Indeed the tone of the report brought to mind an occasion some years ago when a young researcher at RTE telephoned me about some story he was working on. We fell into a quite convivial conversation about this web site. He flatteringly said that he found it “thoughtful” ( which is indeed the intention! ) however as he spoke it became clear to me that before visiting our site he had absolutely no exposure to the ideas of the intelligent right at all. The names of Burke, Hayek, Mises Kirk, Scruton and the rest, were quite unknown to him. His store of knowledge about the history of ideas was lamentably small; and entirely restricted to figures such as Marx, Lenin- whose tract on imperialism has been unaccountably influential- Keynes, Galbraith, and Rawls. It isn’t then just libertarianism in Brazil which is exotic and “unlikely” to many of our contemporaries, but the whole notion that serious discussion is possible about a wide range of issues. Debate has in effect been made impossible by selective ignorance.
The point here is not just a matter of left versus right. The reality is that our education system has failed. The popularly held view of our past is utterly attenuated. The multi- faceted richness of the western intellectual tradition seems to be as unknown as the far side of the moon to much of our media class. Is it any wonder then that they are baffled by the presence of those in Brazil who believe that a wise mixture of tradition and freedom is the best way of achieving the order and progress which is so proudly inscribed on their nations flag? Our new conservative friends in South America will find that they have their work cut out. So have we.