The last several weeks for me could be denoted by midterms, chaos and a lack of sleep. Along with my president Sean Oppenheimer, I’ve been trying to officially start a Young Americans for Liberty chapter on campus. I reached out to no less than five political science professors before I managed to find a willing advisor. While I expected many professors to be uninterested due to their ideological bent, I was nonetheless surprised when one professor maintained that “I have no interest in fostering imperialist ideologies.”
Something that immediately occurred to me is that there is widespread ignorance towards the goals of libertarianism. Our “radical” ideology is simply to minimize coercion by government and allow people the freedom to pursue their dreams. Furthermore, most libertarians agree that government is a tool used by the elite to maintain power. We agree with liberals that no one should be in jail for drug offenses. We see asset forfeiture is an intimidation tactic. Finally, we believe war and colonies are unequivocally bad. It seems really surprising upon first glance that leftists would be opposed to our goals.
However, where leftists and libertarians sharply disagree is on the economic system and the ramifications of freedom. Milton Freidman frames our viewpoint clearly: “A society that aims for equality before liberty will end up with neither equality nor liberty. A society that aims first for liberty will not end up with equality but will end up with a closer approach to equality than any kind of other system that has been developed.” Since libertarians believe that capitalism is an effective mechanism for freedom, it follows that we prioritize it. We agree with the premise that our labor is our own, and think it follows that what we decide to sell, be it time or goods, can be sold on our terms. Unlike depictions of us in Hollywood, we believe that entrepreneurs fundamentally have to learn to cooperate because they lack the coercive power government does. Think about that obnoxious lady at Taco Bell who gets banned for her uncouth demeanor and verbal abuse towards the service workers, or think about how shopping outlets, despite being competitors, put thieves in a shared registry. Capitalism, freedom and cooperation go hand-in-hand.
Last weekend for me started on a Thursday where around 10:35 a.m., I dashed out of my economics class, peanut butter packet in hand and navigated my way to the bus stop that would begin my journey to Michigan. I was headed to YALcon to further learn about freedom, and how to effectively encourage people to join our movement. YALcon is a national convention for Young Americans for Liberty. Everyone there was extremely kind, patient and willing to explain their personal ideological bent associated with libertarianism. One lawyer from the Alliance Defending Freedom personally took the time to explain his belief in human dignity and how to preserve civil discourse. In the middle of the reception, the president of YAL, Cliff Maloney, spoke to me personally and treated me as his equal when we were chatting about Connecticut. It felt validating that our movement is not about power, but rather about giving individuals the freedom to be themselves.
After taking the time to engage with the intellectual leaders of the movement, I’m inspired to make a difference on campus. That’s how I found myself on Thursday spending four hours convincing people to sign petitions for free speech and to write their opinions on a gigantic beach ball. Even if people initially see libertarianism as crazy, the more we address criticisms and mobilize, the more our ideas will be accepted into the mainstream. Just 10 years ago, it seemed crazy that marijuana would be legalized. However, a large part of that was due to the libertarians. If we can continue to advance the public good, address criticisms and take credit for our accomplishments, we can win in our lifetime. At the same time, I understand that not everyone sees free speech as important. Many still see free speech as attempts for corporations to overpower the political process, or to supplant the ideas of the tiki-torch losers of Asheville. But, I’m hopeful that despite present misconceptions, we can make liberty win.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of @yaliberty Instagram.
Isadore Johnson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.