“Essere liberale oggi significa saper essere conservatore, quando si tratta di difendere libertà già acquisite, e radicale, quando si tratta di conquistare spazi di libertà ancora negati. Reazionario per recuperare libertà che sono andate smarrite, rivoluzionario quando la conquista della libertà non lascia spazio ad al altrettante alternative. E progressista sempre, perché senza libertà non c’è progresso.” Antonio Martino
Prof. Antonio Martino, one of Italy’s most profound scholars of classical liberal thought and daring politicians has died in Rome on March 5, 2022. He was 79.
The melody of Antonio Martino’s spoken language as well as his most pleasant and charming personality gave him away as a native of Sicily. Martino was born in Messina (Sicily) on December 22, 1942 into a prominent and political family. Antonio was a son of Gaetano Martino, Italy’s Foreign Minister (1954-1957), who engineered the Conference of Messina and also signed the Treaty of Rome, that brought about the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC). His father was also President of the European Parliament (1962-1964) and an outspoken promoter of the so-called ‘Italian Economic Miracle’.
After graduating with the degree of Doctor of Jurisprudence from the University of Messina’s Law School he went on to study Economics at the University of Chicago. His years in Chicago’s intellectually stimulating environment, with Milton Friedman (Nobel Prize 1976, George Stigler (Nobel Prize 1982) or Gary Becker (Nobel Prize 1992) in the economics department had a lasting impact on Martino’s thinking and teaching.
Soon after having defended his thesis and due to his unusual talents as a teacher he was offered the position of a Visiting Professor and started his successful academic career at the Rome Center of Loyola University, Chicago. However, in 1976 he relocated back to Italy and was appointed Professor of Economics at his Alma Mater, the University of Messina. From there Martino moved to the Universities of Bari, of Naples, to Rome’s La Sapienza and in 1982 at last he joined Italy’s leading private university LUISS (Libera Universita Internazionale degli Studi Sociali) in Rome. Countless graduate students are still respectfully and fondly remembering his stimulating lectures and seminars.
Always straight forward and much to the point in his analyses, as an academic teacher Martino was endowed with the almost inexhaustible knowledge and the wit of a politically savvy scholar. As one of Italy’s leading and candid protagonists of the free markets, he decisively helped shape the socio-economic policies from the mid 1990s to about 2005. Firmly grounded in the principles of free markets, yet always carefully weighing the pros and cons, he honestly confronted the utopian ideas of mainstream economics with a social and economic theory based on property rights, contracts, self-responsibility and free trade. Accordingly, for Martino the main purpose of politics was the finding and ultimately also enforcing of rules that enable men with different value convictions to live freely together and thus to limit government actions. Moreover, he maintained that the most profound error of the Welfare State’s ideology is the precarious misunderstanding of the equal treatment principle that must ultimately lead to the destruction of morals and ethics in any free society. Equality under and before the law and material equality have not only totally different socio-economic implications. They are in utter conflict with one another. Thus, an open society can only attempt to achieve one, but never both at the same time.
As an unusually prolific scholar he was the author of 17 books and well over 150 academic papers and articles in the fields of economic theory, monetary history and economic policy. In addition Martino was also an editorial writer for a multitude of Italian daily newspapers and contributed frequently to international periodicals, television and radio programs. Among his most influential books is his Stato Padrone (1997), a treatise on excessive taxation, its causes and possible remedies. Martino worked as an Adjunct Scholar at The Heritage Foundation (Washington, DC) since 1978, and a member of the Editorial Board of the Cato Journal since the early 1990s. From 1988 to 1990 he served as president of the Mont Pelerin Society, an international academic association of liberal (European sense) thinkers that was founded in 1947 by Friedrich A. von Hayek (Nobel Prize, 1974).
However, besides his scholarly work and achievements, Antonio Martino also had an equally successful political career, that began with his first election to the Italian Parliament’s Chamber of Deputies in 1994. He was proud of having been subsequently reelected four times, in 1996, 2001, 2006 and 2008. Together with Silvio Berlusconi and others he founded “Forza Italia” in 1992, a party that, in the beginning, stood for political reforms, limited government, free markets and less regulations. In Berlusconi’s first government, Martino was Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1994-1995. After Berlusconi returned to power for the second time, Martino served as Minister of Defense from 2001 to 2006. During his tenure he was first among the main architects and then the most outspoken promoter of the suspension of compulsory military service. Accordingly, since January 1, 2005 the obligatory military service in Italy was suspended indefinitely and the act became known as the ‘Martino Law’. The US Department of Defense awarded him the Medal for Distinguished Public Service in 2005.
Antonio Martino belonged to that irreplaceable generation of European academics and politicians whose work arose and developed from a comprehensive approach to various disciplines that condition and influence one another. His extensive academic Oeuvre developed from a comprehensive view of various interdependent fields of the social sciences. It comprises seminal contributions to applied monetary- and fiscal policy, monetary history and -theory, essays promoting the idea of a ‘Flat Tax’ as well as free markets. His honest political approach, his elegant reserve and his fine sense of humor are well known to those who ever had the pleasure to meet him privately, at international conferences or in the Italian Parliament’s Chamber of Deputies. As a scholar, as a colleague and a friend, he came as close to the vanishing ideal of a gentleman as perhaps humanity will ever permit. Under the title Promises, Performance and Prospects, a collection of his essays has been edited by Dwight R. Lee in 2005. His inspiring and much enjoyable biography An Italian Life, by Robert Maltais, was published in 2021.
*Kurt R. Leube is the Academic Director of ECAEF (European Center of Austrian Economics Foundation), a leading think tank headquartered in Vaduz, Principality of Liechtenstein.