A group of economists, historians, philosophers, and other students of public affairs from Europe and the United States met at Mont Pelerin, Switzerland, from April 1st to 10th, 1947, to discuss the crisis of our times. This group, being desirous of perpetuating its existence for promoting further intercourse and for inviting the collaboration of other like-minded persons, has agreed upon the following statement of aims.
The central values of civilization are in danger. Over large stretches of the Earth’s surface the essential conditions of human dignity and freedom have already disappeared. In others they are under constant menace from the development of current tendencies of policy. The position of the individual and the voluntary group are progressively undermined by extensions of arbitrary power. Even that most precious possession of Western Man, freedom of thought and expression, is threatened by the spread of creeds which, claiming the privilege of tolerance when in the position of a minority, seek only to establish a position of power in which they can suppress and obliterate all views but their own.
The group holds that these developments have been fostered by the growth of a view of history which denies all absolute moral standards and by the growth of theories which question the desirability of the rule of law. It holds further that they have been fostered by a decline of belief in private property and the competitive market; for without the diffused power and initiative associated with these institutions it is difficult to imagine a society in which freedom may be effectively preserved.
Believing that what is essentially an ideological movement must be met by intellectual argument and the reassertion of valid ideals, the group, having made a preliminary exploration of the ground, is of the opinion that further study is desirable inter alia in regard to the following matters:
- The analysis and exploration of the nature of the present crisis so as to bring home to others its essential moral and economic origins.
- The redefinition of the functions of the state so as to distinguish more clearly between the totalitarian and the liberal order.
- Methods of re-establishing the rule of law and of assuring its development in such manner that individuals and groups are not in a position to encroach upon the freedom of others and private rights are not allowed to become a basis of predatory power.
- The possibility of establishing minimum standards by means not inimical to initiative and functioning of the market.
- Methods of combating the misuse of history for the furtherance of creeds hostile to liberty.
- The problem of the creation of an international order conducive to the safeguarding of peace and liberty and permitting the establishment of harmonious international economic relations.
The group does not aspire to conduct propaganda. It seeks to establish no meticulous and hampering orthodoxy. It aligns itself with no particular party. Its object is solely, by facilitating the exchange of views among minds inspired by certain ideals and broad conceptions held in common, to contribute to the preservation and improvement of the free society.
Mont Pelerin (Vaud), Switzerland, April 8, 1947
In his opening address (republished in Studies in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, Routledge, 1967), Professor Hayek considered the name “Acton-Toqueville Society.” Ultimately, the name “Mont Pelerin” was chosen to honor the place of the first meeting near Vevey on Lac Leman, Switzerland.
Since 1947, 32 General and 27 Regional Meetings have been held mostly in Europe but also in the United States, Japan, Australia, and South America. Membership has risen from under 50 to over 500. It has attracted men and women from almost 40 nations diverse in academic discipline, age, and renown.
Members have included high governmental officials, Nobel prize recipients, men of affairs, journalists, and scholars — all philosophically isolated in their own communities and anxious to engage in discussion of fundamental issues with persons sharing common interests and points of view.
Meetings last a week, usually at the beginning of September. Papers on subjects of common interest are read, discussed, and criticized. The society has not sought publicity, but neither does it strive to be secretive or anonymous. It is a collection of individuals, no one of whom may speak for another.
In brief, the society is composed of persons who continue to see the dangers to civilized society outlined in the statement of aims. They have seen economic and political liberalism in the ascendant for a time since World War II in some countries but also its apparent decline in more recent times. Though not necessarily sharing a common interpretation, either of causes or consequences, they see danger in the expansion of government, not least in state welfare, in the power of trade unions and business monopoly, and in the continuing threat and reality of inflation.
Again without detailed agreements, the members see the Society as an effort to interpret in modern terms the fundamental principles of economic society as expressed by those classical economists, political scientists, and philosophers who have inspired many in Europe, America and throughout the Western World.