Where are all the libertarians coming from?

Anton Howes

140084661 300x200 Where are all the libertarians coming from?There’s a silent revolution happening on campuses across the world. Libertarian activism is on the rise. Political figures like Ron Paul have started to draw huge support from younger voters, but the trend seems to be much deeper and more sustained than any single political campaign. Rather than simply throwing support behind individuals and politicians, students are rallying around distinctly pro-liberty ideas and ideologies.

The US has been at the forefront of this change. Even discounting Ron Paul drawing huge crowds to his rallies, purely ideas-based organisations like Students for Liberty have grown rapidly. Its International Conference attracted over 1000 students this February, and while this might not yet compare with some socialist and conservative rallies or conferences, the most astonishing thing is that just four years ago that same conference attracted only 100 people. A tenfold increase should be cause for interest, and the first four-figure libertarian student conference in the world, without any of the politics or rallying around a central figure is unprecedented.

Groups like Students for Liberty have even become confident enough to set up activism infrastructure in Europe too, with the very first European conference last year attracting over 200 people from 25 countries. Generally considered more socialist, with large welfare states and the continuation of radical socialist politics on its campuses, many would have said Europe was a highly improbable place for libertarian ideas to be so popular.

In the UK alone, the number of freedom-oriented student groups quadrupled in just a year from 7 to around 30, and the conferences held by the Liberty League, the UK’s network for young libertarians already attract over 100 people. The presence of these groups allows for all sorts of possibilities. Once they start to use their support to make their voice heard around campus, it will no longer appear as though the radical left is dominant in universities, and this may eventually lead to a new status quo in student politics.

So where have all these young libertarians come from? The underlying answer is that the internet has allowed more rapid transmission of ideas and opinions. Whereas there was once only a solitary libertarian bookshop in London which had to be either visited or written to, the internet has provided the opportunity to read the intellectual forebears and opinion-dispersing bloggers of classical liberalism for free, and instantly.

But that’s not a sufficient explanation. Although ideas may spread, this effect would only amount to lots of dispersed, isolated people being broadly sympathetic to libertarianism and classical liberalism. The appearance of an actual movement depends on the growing infrastructure to gather pro-freedom students together in one place to discuss their ideas face-to-face, form social bonds, and perhaps most importantly of all, show that they are not alone: the most frequent phrase I hear from potential activists is “But my campus is so socialist, I’m probably the only libertarian there!”

This activism infrastructure started with think-tanks and pressure groups spreading the ideas, and even crafting the policy proposals to implement them. But with the advent of dedicated support networks for student societies and young people to bring them together, this has allowed an initially small number of activists to inspire each other, create their own social groups, and consequently expand them even further. Perhaps most importantly, the success of these ideas-based groups is likely to be more sustainable than any overtly political or partisan project. Unlike political party youth groups, they lack the wannabe politicians and careerists, have a much broader appeal across the political spectrum, and aren’t dependent on individual political figures or the popularity of parties.

So it’s a good time to be a libertarian. The policies may not all be going that way just yet, but if the movement maintains its rate of progress, we may soon see student libertarians being a large enough constituency to sway even the politicians.

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  • bobklinck

     Yours is a civilized, if naive, position.  However, surely what you advocate is exactly what I did in the initial comment I posted here about the folly of “fighting” inflation (of which Ron Paul doesn’t even understand the nature) by means of raising interest rates and of shackling human initiative to the precondition of mining gold (I guess if you don’t have any gold you just sit on your hands in impotent frustration!).  These “ideas”
    are plainly idiotic and ought to be identified as such.

  • Alexander Snitker

    RJL It is your lack of understand in the founding principles of this country that gives you that idea.

  • Valientkay

    That’s probably the most ignorant thing I’ve ever seen anyone put on the internet. I seek license? How about I want the government to not bother me, ever? Can you accept the fact that a bunch of people in college now might actually be wiser than you? From what I read, you make a lot of generalizations based on here-say. I’m 22 and I know a lot more about liberty than the baby boomer generation does. They’ve been coerced by the government for fifty+ years. I’ve lived in a time where I’ve seen just about the last of our civil liberties disappear and I know that everyone is born into this world with just as much right to do what they want as everyone else. It seems to me like you should try smoking a joint and opening up your pea-sized mind. Maybe even com to terms with the fact that things have changed since you were in college. Read the constitution.  

  • 24AheadDotCom

    Another great reason to oppose libertarians is because they’re deranged idiots. For instance, some libertarians can’t realize someone is speaking tongue-in-cheek, even when they follow that by “But, seriously…”

  • De_Directeur

    Finally more ideas spreading to end the idea that more free market was the problem of our crisis; it was government intervention and government professed monopolies that created it. I might go to one of those international libertarian conventions once they occur again in Europe.

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