The news that Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for literature has gratified me beyond words. The award is a huge boost for liberty in Latin America. Through his literary genius, prolific essays, and ceaseless activism, Vargas Llosa long established himself as perhaps Latin America’s most well-known public intellectual, and certainly its most well-known classical liberal. For decades, he has used his ability to reach a mass audience to promote the principles of the free society, becoming the region’s foremost advocate of democratic capitalism.
It was not always so. In the 1960s when his first novels appeared to wide acclaim, Vargas Llosa was representative of the Latin American intellectual establishment in his admiration of the Cuban revolution and his advocacy of radical leftist politics. Even then, however, anti-authoritarianism and a concern for the individual were prominent themes in his novels. In an example of independent thinking that characterizes Vargas Llosa’s commitment to the truth, he broke with the intellectual establishment in the early 1970s, strongly denouncing Fidel Castro’s revolution and turning away from statism in general. His increasingly forceful defense of individual liberty was strengthened by his discovery, by the 1970s, of the work of Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek, whom Vargas Llosa cites as one of the three biggest intellectual influences on his thinking (the others being Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin)
An extremely versatile communicator, Vargas Llosa has explored Latin America’s deepest social problems and has demystified the utopian vision of demagogic leaders so common in Latin American history. A major theme of his 1981 novel, The War of the End of the World, for example, was that collectivist promises of a better life, or happiness, can only end in fanaticism—especially if various brands of collectivism are pitted against each other—precisely because civilization depends on the primacy of the individual and a close regard to the real world as opposed to dogmatic reliance on abstract but erroneous ideas of how the world might work.