cover image The Call of the Tribe

The Call of the Tribe

Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. from the Spanish by John King. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-374-11805-1

Nobel Prize winner Vargas Llosa (Harsh Times) lays out in this pensive survey the seven thinkers who shaped his belief in liberal democracy. An early supporter of the Cuban Revolution and socialism, Vargas Llosa saw how powerful “the call of the tribe” was, but ultimately came to view it as “sovereign responsible individuals regress[ing] to being part of a mass submissive to the dictates of a leader.” Vargas Llosa devotes a chapter to each of the seven authors: Adam Smith, “the father of liberalism,” “wrote with elegance and precision” and “was sensitive to good literature”; José Ortega y Gasset “would today be as widely known and read as Sartre” were he French; Friedrich von Hayek’s work gave “liberalism a very clear content and very precise boundaries”; Jean-Francois Revel had a keen “ability to see when theory stops expressing life and begins to betray it”; and Isaiah Berlin wrote with “discretion and modesty” as a “wily strategy.” The snapshot biographies of each figure are fascinating (Hayek’s “first passion” was botany and Smith “was known for being extraordinarily absentminded”), and cumulatively they amount to an illuminating look at the author’s own political and intellectual trajectory. Vargas Llosa’s fans should check this out. (Jan.)