This weekend Students for Liberty hosted their sixth annual International Students for Liberty Conference in Washington D.C. The conference brought together liberty-minded students from around the world for training sessions, seminars, lectures, and panel discussions on subjects such as Austrian economics, the war on drugs, free market environmentalism, criminal law, student activism, the welfare state, and more. This year’s conference featured keynote speeches from Magatte Wade and Whole Foods founder John Mackey as well as two tapings of the John Stossel's show.
Given the diversity of the students attending the conference it should come as no surprise that there were different opinions on how best to advance freedom on display.
While the contemporary political situation was discussed at the conference Alexander McCobin, executive director of Students for Liberty, made sure to emphasize that the focus of Students for Liberty is not political, saying:
Everyone here is absolutely an activist, but its not activism for politics, its activism for ideas.
We’re trying to spread the philosophy of liberty so that more people will embrace and understand what it means to then have bigger change down the road.
Many of the students at the conference were introduced to libertarian philosophy by the two most recent presidential campaigns of Ron Paul, the former Texan congressman who managed to excite and motivate a young and deployable demographic. Despite Ron Paul’s departure from Congress some of the students have kept some faith in the political process. The names Massie, Paul, and Amash were sometimes mentioned in excited and hopeful tones.
Jack Hunter, one of the speakers at the conference and contributor to The American Conservative and official blogger for Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign, emphasized that the growing libertarian influence in the Republican Party has allowed for serious conservative opposition to the CIA’s drone program to be taken seriously, "Things like this are no doubt due to partisanship, but also present opportunities for libertarians to move the ball in the liberty direction. Civil liberties. Economics. Federal Reserve. Foreign policy. A host of issues."
While most of the workshops were on libertarian philosophy, economics, and politics, there were also panel discussions and lectures that showed that young libertarians are not only interested in the academics of libertarianism but that they are also interested in reflecting on how their culture is perceived. There were two panel discussions on women in the liberty movement as well as a lecture on how to market libertarian ideas. There was also a film crew from the “Liberty is Personal” campaign, which aims to highlight stories of how young people became supporters of individual liberty and limited government.
One of the particularly attractive aspects of ISFLC13 was that there was debate, and not only within the libertarian camps. The conference featured a particularly interesting debate between George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan and Temple law professor Jan Ting on immigration and military interventions abroad.
Although the effectiveness of student groups implementing political and cultural changes can be debated it is reassuring that much of the emphasis remains on the ideas of libertarianism and not political activism. How well libertarian-leaning politicians market themselves to young libertarians in the future will be interesting to see. If this weekend is any reasonable sampling, these students’ votes and support should not be taken for granted, especially considering that “would not vote” won the ISFLC13 2016 presidential straw poll.