An informal and international association of scholars and public figures dedicated to the generation and dissemination of liberal ideas through its world-wide network of members. Described by one of its founders, the economist Friedrich Hayek, as a ‘kind of international academy of political philosophy’ having the aim of ‘regenerating the ideas of classical liberalism and in order to refute socialism’.
The Society first met in 1947, when socialist interventionist views were in the ascendant, in the Hôtel du Parc on Mont Pelerin sur Vevey in Switzerland. Its members were concerned about the decline of liberalism and the threat to their vision of the free society posed by the post-1945 political settlement in favour of collectivism in democratic-capitalist regimes and the authoritarian socialism of the Soviet empire. Since that time there have been more than 50 meetings; by 1968 the membership of 350 covered 31 countries; in 1984 a survey of members revealed that 50 per cent were academics, 25 per cent were in business, 10 per cent belonged to private research institutions, 7 per cent were politicians, 5 per cent lawyers, and 3 per cent government officials and others. Distinguished scholars who have belonged to the Society include Carlo Antoni, Frank H. Knight, Michael Polanyi, Karl Popper, Lionel Robbins, George J. Stigler, Carl Iverson, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, James M. Buchanan, and Gary S. Becker.
The Society did not attempt to shape the formation of government policy directly, being more a ‘meeting of minds’ than a physical organization or pressure group, but there are those who claim that, by waging a constant ‘battle of ideas’ against interventionism, individual members exerted considerable indirect influence on the world of politics generally, and contributed significantly to the revival of liberalism in the West in the 1980s. For example, twenty-two of the seventy-six economic advisers to Ronald Reagan during the 1980 US presidential campaign were members of the Society, and a dozen or so members were subsequently involved in the implementation of the Reagan programme. Two of the principal architects of German post-war economic prosperity—Walter Eucken and Ludwig Erhard—were also members. The Society continues to act as a network for the effective dissemination of liberal ideas. There is an interesting official history by R. M. Hartwell (A History of the Mont Pelerin Society, 1995).