Mario Vargas Llosa’s Intellectual Journey

Mario Vargas Llosa will be honored at the Independent Institute's "Gala for Liberty" in San Francisco, Calif., November 15, 2011

Mario Vargas Llosa admired the Cuban Revolution well into his writing career, but for more than two decades the 2010 Nobel laureate author has been the most famous exponent of classical liberalism in the Spanish-speaking world. Why did he forsake the radical collectivism of Che and Marx and embrace individual liberty instead?

In his autobiographical works, Vargas Llosa describes his political migration away from the left as a result of gradual disenchantment with ideology and fanaticism. He also conveys this disillusionment in his greatest political novels, The War at the End of the World (1981) and The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta (1984), explains Julio H. Cole (Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala) in his article for the Summer 2011 issue of The Independent Review.

Both novels shed light on the nature of violent social movements in Latin America. The War at the End of the World is a fictionalized account of a real event—a peasant uprising in northeastern Brazil in the late 1800s led by a charismatic preacher—but it can also be read as “a rejection of a false dichotomy that has plagued Latin America throughout the twentieth century: revolutionary violence versus military repression,” Cole writes. “Neither of these courses of conduct, Vargas Llosa had come to believe, is the solution for Latin America’s problems.”

The other novel, The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta, also deals with a real insurrection. Cole argues that it portrays the leftist cliques of Peru in the late 1950s as clueless and makes the case that revolutionary violence had been disastrous for Latin America. Both novels reflect Vargas Llosa’s close study, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, of the writings of historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin and philosopher of science Karl Popper. Vargas Llosa, according to Cole, viewed their works as antidotes to dogmatism and fanaticism, the two great enemies of liberty.

Mario Vargas Llosa: An Intellectual Journey, by Julio H. Cole (The Independent Review, Summer 2011)

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Event: A Gala for Liberty, with Mario Vargas Llosa, Lech Walesa, and Robert Higgs (San Francisco, California, 11/15/11)

[This post first appeared in the July 12, 2011, issue of The Lighthouse. To receive this weekly email newsletter of publication summaries and event announcements from the Independent Institute, enter your email address here.]

Carl P. Close is a Research Fellow and former Executive Editor for Acquisitions and Content at the Independent Institute and former Assistant Editor of The Independent Review.
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