Last Saturday, I attended the 2011 Students for Liberty Northern California Regional Conference in Berkeley, California, which featured speakers, literature, brochures, and activism panels to help understand and spread libertarian ideas. Students for Liberty is a non-profit organization “whose mission is to provide a unified, student-driven forum of support for students and student organizations dedicated to liberty.”
The huge majority of the attendees were in college or in there mid-20s. Events like these demonstrate that the ideas of liberty are incredibly appealing to young people and that the growth of this student activism will greatly contribute to a future realignment in American politics.
Other than the incredible speeches, free literature, and lively camaraderie, what I took away from the conference was the effect that a strong and detailed presentation of complicated ideas had on the people in attendance. When I first became interested in libertarianism in high school, I often heard it called “Republican-lite” and “low-tax liberalism.” Since still only a small percentage of people call themselves libertarians, I wondered if libertarian scholars and advocates could increase these numbers by embracing a moderate alternative to conservatism and liberalism.
Judging from the event, as well as how libertarians like Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and his “Campaign for Liberty” have affected public debate, I could not have been more wrong. I did not hear talk of cutting taxes; school vouchers; or cutting “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Instead, I witnessed lectures on natural law, revisionist history, and the intricacies of monetary policy. The conference represented the root of philosophical libertarianism, and the young crowd soaked it up like a sponge and wanted more.
For example, kicking off the conference at 10 a.m. was Professor David Friedman (son of Milton Friedman) on historic examples of stateless, private law, and how justice and disputes could and should be a function of the market. The Hoover Institution’s David Henderson offered a defense of a strict non-interventionist foreign policy and discussed many of the myths behind some of the most popular wars in American history. And closing off the event was author and activist Tom Palmer on the morality of capitalism, not the economic benefits, per se, but the ethical foundations behind liberty and the free economy.
There were no watered down messages, backwards hats, or appeals to our youthful emotions. We were immersed in intellectually challenging ideas, and the speakers were met with applause and engagement.
For too long, politicians have talked to the American people like they were children, feeding them a heavy dose of chants, slogans, and flattery with little substance. This is why I saw such positive reactions; young Americans are tired of being talked down to by politicians and respond to honest debate, challenge, and stimulating discussion. Even members of the Marxist Conference who were invited to sit in on Palmer’s closing speech occasionally nodded their chins.
Events like this are happening all across the country in universities where the youth are eager for something different to the status quo, and their bellies are lit when they hear about the philosophical roots of individual liberty.
Since these ideas bypass Left and Right, as they spread amongst colleges and universities, public debate will soon be framed more in nonpartisan ways. Instead of liberals and conservatives arguing over Lenin’s who-whom question, the spread of libertarianism will frame issues as individual liberty vs. government control and chip away at counterproductive horizontal quarrelling.
Thanks to groups like Students for Liberty, the future of public debate can only get more interesting and stimulating and will help spread freedom to more and more people.
Photo Credit: philosophygeek