Libertarianism

New Study Examines the Youth of the Libertarian Movement

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Liana Gamber Thompson, Ph.D. has a written a study that examines who today's young libertarians are and what they think. In Thompson's own words: 

Based on almost a year of ethnographic work, in-depth interviews, and participant observation, this report seeks to unpack some of the more pervasive misconceptions about young libertarians like Dorian Electra and to give a detailed account of what participants call the Liberty Movement.

The study highlights the work of Students For Liberty and many of the usual suspects in the libertarian beltway scene.

Some interesting points raised by the study:

Young libertarians are not fans of electoral politics: 

Interestingly, the majority of participants in this study spoke of disavowing electoral politics completely. While libertarian-leaning candidates like Ron Paul have gained momentum in recent years, a number of participants identified themselves as categorical non-voters, choosing to focus on educating others about liberty-related issues rather than investing in party politics. 

Young libertarians are mostly white and male, but this is changing:

In the interviews, participants were asked how they would characterize the demographics of the movement. They were also asked to assess gender and racial dynamics in the movement and whether they believed the movement would benefit from greater diversity. Participants' answers varied greatly; the majority indicated that they felt the movement was still predominately comprised of white males, but was in the process of becoming increasingly diverse with respect to gender and race.

Social media is especially important for young libertarians, who oftentimes feel isolated in high school and college:

In their work on the experiences of fan activists, Neta Kliger-Vilenchik et al. identify "sense of community" as one of the main factors that engages young people and sustains their involvement in activist organizations (they look at both loosely networked organizations like the Harry Potter Alliance and more hierarchical organizations like Invisible Children). Many of the interview participants spoke of being the only libertarian in their high school, town, or college social circle and how isolating that could feel. Others talked about "feeling crazy" for being interested in libertarian ideas because no one else they knew had the same beliefs.

And of course, young libertarians are misunderstood:

Ideological beliefs aside, libertarians are too often misunderstood or ignored by the news media, politicians, and academics. They are regularly painted as misguided or misinformed and are frequently ignored in major political debates. However, this case study illustrates that, to the contrary, young libertarians are often extremely knowledgeable about local, national, and often international political issues and about both liberal and conservative party platforms. 

The libertarians I interviewed were intelligent, articulate, and, most importantly, passionate about changing the status quo and working toward what they interpreted as a freer society. 

Before I was at Reason I covered the last International Students for Liberty Conference for The American Conservative. Students for Liberty will be hosting its next International Students for Liberty Conference early next year in Washington D.C., in case any readers would like to see a whole lot of young libertarians under one roof.

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  1. This is how all young libertarians should make their decisions:

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/e9cb/#tabs

    1. Libertarians are inherently deterministic, eschewing your superposition cat and his feline ways.

      1. True, but libertarians are also first and foremost internet nerds, and so a philosophical reference combined with teh kittehs ought to be the standard.

        1. You’re both wrong. I stopped believing in Ceiling Cat when I was in high school.

          1. You never stop believing in Ceiling Cat, Hugh. He stops believing in you. And watching you masturbate.

            1. Those aren’t his footprints on the beach, they’re little lumps where he buried his poo.

    2. I think this might be more effective.

  2. …a number of participants identified themselves as categorical non-voters, choosing to focus on educating others about liberty-related issues rather than investing in party politics.

    This gets a 🙁 from Ron Paul, and then Gary Johnson. Also, how can they educate others when those others stop inviting them out because of all the educating?

    1. Educating takes many forms, Fisty. Sometimes its as simple as being a libertarian but not a cigar-chomping plutocrat.

      Showing people that libertarians aren’t all blackhearted baby-eaters is the first step toward acceptance.

      1. “Acceptance” only matters to the extent that it helps libertarians put their governing principles into action. Those principles will not be put into action without libertarians actively engaging and changing government.

        True, there are ways to do this besides voting, but something tells me that most of the people who won’t even vote for a libertarian candidate won’t undertake the significantly more work-intensive actions available to them, either out of a mistaken sense of purity or simple apathy and laziness.

        1. Or maybe they’re just good at math, and can figure out electoral politics aren’t very useful when you’re vastly outnumbered.

        2. Trying to engage the leviathan while we are a tiny minority composed almost exclusively of pudgy white guys is a losing battle.

          That’s why outreach and education are far more important in this stage of the movement.

          1. It’s not an either/or thing. We can do both.

            1. True, just like one can masturbate and drive at the same time.

      2. Showing people that libertarians aren’t all blackhearted baby-eaters is the first step toward acceptance.

        That is a viscious stereotype and i resent it entirely

        My family and my heart are demonstrably *pure* aryan stock

        (resumes gnawing on baby leg)

        1. Is it a vicious stereotype, a viscous stereotype, or both?

          1. spellcheck is a bitch on a phone

            ( excuse alert sounded )

      3. Or give them baby cooked in a way they can’t resist.

    2. Most high school students are categorical non-voters out of necessity. I was.

      The educating should proceed from a common ground for all high school and college age people. Start with education about the criminalization of marijuana, then move on to ecstasy, then mushrooms, and so forth. You’ll be invited out all the time, and probably even the head of the round table of libertarians.

      1. So you are saying Marijuana is a gateway issue?

  3. Many of the interview participants spoke of being the only libertarian in their high school, town, or college social circle and how isolating that could feel.

    No one gets ‘othered’ like a libertarian.

    1. I don’t see how, when kids in high school and college aren’t even familiar with the word. At that age, they think all kinds of non mainstream stuff is ‘cool’.

  4. What vehicle will they use for educating once they graduate college?
    What is the local equivalent of a college chapter? The libertarian movement needs an organization that encourages and supports local chapters for those over 25. If not the LP, which is frequently too wrapped up in petitioning, in-fighting, and running unknown and unappreciated candidates, then what?

    1. Gentlemen’s clubs?

    2. No Homers Club?

    3. The Campaign for Liberty tried… but people still wanted to campaign for Ron Paul instead.

    4. The libertarian movement already has too many organiz’ns of its own. Divided we stand, united we fall. Libertarians need to get away from each other’s company. We should do most of our educating in organiz’ns that are not explicitly libertarian. Yeah, the roller derby, gentlemen’s clubs, no Homers, and everything else. You have the most influence where the people around you, either individually or an avg., agree with you only about 50%. That’s the center of mass. Push thru there and you move it, without wasting force into spinning it.

  5. Interestingly, the majority of participants in this study spoke of disavowing electoral politics completely. While libertarian-leaning candidates like Ron Paul have gained momentum in recent years, a number of participants identified themselves as categorical non-voters, choosing to focus on educating others about liberty-related issues rather than investing in party politics.

    IOW, they might have the right idea but can’t be bothered to act on them in a way that can actually affect things.

  6. Young libertarians are mostly white and male

    It’s a hate ideology!

    Others talked about “feeling crazy” for being interested in libertarian ideas because no one else they knew had the same beliefs.

    *barf*

    Take a fistful of benadryl like Barbie-boy.

    1. Aren’t a lot of things in the U.S. dominated by white males, racist patriarchy aside? I mean, I assume that we’re statistically still mostly “white”, whatever that means. And about half of us are male.

      1. NASCAR
        B.A.S.S.
        ARRL

      2. The only reason political parties aren’t 90% male in their leadership is that (at least in NY in the Democrats & Republicans) they have a 50-50 quota in their rules for electing representatives. It’s explicitly allowed by the election law!

  7. Others talked about “feeling crazy” for being interested in libertarian ideas because no one else they knew had the same beliefs.

    I just figured everyone else was wrong, or hadn’t thought about it enough yet.

  8. You know who else was articulate and passionate about changing the status quo?

    1. Ad hominem isn’t just a fallacy for you, it’s a lifestyle.

      1. Only studies from Approved Conservatives can be trusted!

        1. Always KULTUR WAR, nothing but KULTUR WAR, at all times!

          1. Why is it spelled with a ‘k’?

            1. It’s adapted from the German Kulturkampf.

  9. In their work on the experiences of fan activists, Neta Kliger-Vilenchik et al. identify “sense of community” as one of the main factors that engages young people and sustains their involvement in activist organizations…

    You know who else used a “sense of community” to engage young activists?

  10. “Youth” are about as political as an episode of Gossip Girl. They may answer questions about it and act like they give a shit, but it’s not even a mile wide and not even an inch deep.

    1. Usually youth political involvement revolves around a single issue, like gay rights, the environment, free education, and ethno-religious issues like the Palestine issue for organized Muslim campus groups and Jewish campus groups.

      1. But I read that young libertarians are only interested in smoking pot.

    2. Why do you bring every issue back to Gossip Girl?

      1. Because Leighton Meester, that’s why.

    3. Want the youth? Find the Lobster Girl and coach her to spout libertarian views on television, while wearing a bikini and saying how much she loves college boys and girls.

  11. “Young libertarians are mostly white and male”

    Well, that sort of confirmed my suspicions of the movement. Not that I’m leftist and find anything wrong with that per se. A bad idea enjoying a multicultural support still a bad idea.

    But there’s just no denying that the side interested in even a modicum of limited government is whiter than snow. The media will continue to see something “exclusionary” about it, even if this group is growing more socially liberal. And the electoral math is such that if you don’t get minority support, you’ll have hard time winning elections.

    The GOP will get at least 30% of minority voters, and they still have a tough road ahead of them. The movement needs fresh young blood that’s not from the same pool where libertarian-ish support usually comes from.

    1. My wife largely votes libertarian, and she’s a filthy heathen chink. So that’s something, right?

      1. Also, I don’t think Episiarch exactly counts as “white”, so there’s another one.

        1. “Swarthy”

          1. “Greasy”

      2. Do inbred backwoods yokels like you really count as white either?

        1. I’m a special form of super-white. The inbreeding just ensures that I conform to the One Drop Standard.

          1. So what genetic flaws are most prevalent in your family, JJ? I’m guessing mental retardation and microcephaly.

            1. Jimbo has more toes than he does teeth.

            2. Actually it’s a beneficial mutation; if you lift up my left testicle, the normally green, runny discharge from my penis becomes vanilla soft-serve, and if you lift up my right testicle, it’s chocolate.

              Efforts to lift both at once in order to create a swirl cone have thus far proven ineffectual.

      3. Score so far,

        XM, the original poster, is Korean (yes?). Gojira posts nexts about how his Chinese wife votes libertarian. Now, I’m posting.

        Anyone else want to join this rainbow party?

        1. My roots are Eastern European, so at least part of me falls pretty low on the eugenics scale.

        2. Polish, AKA Europe’s Doormat

        3. Half-Hispanic and half-white with Hispanic last name.

          1. Just like the cracker who lynched TRAYVON.

            1. Isn’t he the other way around?

        4. I’m a native American (I was born in the USA).

          My family is originally from Africa (if you go back to mitochondrial Eve).

          They took a few pit stops in northwestern Europe before migrating to America.

          1. My family is originally from Africa (if you go back to mitochondrial Eve).

            So you’re part Cylon?

            1. You fracking toaster!

        5. Off the top of my head, we have OM, Immortal Trouser (I think? I may have him confused with another poster), and Killazontherun who I believe are all Hispanic. And a Brazilian guy posts here. And I know several guys have minority wives who may or may not vote libertarian.

          I’m white personally (I am part Italian, so I guess Gojira wouldn’t count me), but my roommate last year did vote for Paul and he’s half Mexican

        6. Puerto Rican quadroon, here.

          Wifey is Panamanian-German, but she’s only libertarian-lite at best.

        7. Indo-Pak with a bit of Chinese all by way of the Caribbean.

          Oh yeah, also gay, atheist and former muslim for the bonus points.

          1. What island? I’m a Trini, myself. Port-of-Spain represent!

        8. I’m of Asian descent as well. Libertarian principles can appeal to members of minority groups. The challenge is to find a way to counteract the Democratic Party’s smear campaign which paints all other political groups as racist.

    2. Libertarians were the last, best hope for Team Red, but they have told us on numerous occasions to go piss up a rope.

      Libertarians hoping for a Red reconciliation are battered wives with no women’s shelter.

      With Team Blue already out-hawking the border and defense hawks, it will be a genuine pleasure to watch the GOP ride the SoCon train to oblivion.

    3. While libertarians are probably whiter than the general population, I think we’re more disproportionately male.

      Also, something interesting that I noticed when sifting through exit polling data recently – New Mexico was (naturally) the only state where Johnson was included in the Fox News exit polls. According to those polls, he got 6% of the Latino vote, compared to 3% of the white vote. Now maybe that didn’t hold up in other states, but it is noteworthy, and does seem to indicate that Latinos can be receptive to libertarianism as much or more than whites can. Johnson did get elected twice in the most Hispanic state in the country

      1. Activists of all kinds are disproportionately male.

    4. I’m a female classical liberal (i.e. libertarian), also quite swarthy.

      1. Me too! Puerto Rican, female, and Buddhist!

  12. Ideological beliefs aside, libertarians are too often misunderstood or ignored by the news media, politicians, and academics. They are regularly painted as misguided or misinformed and are frequently ignored in major political debates.

    Probably the biggest challenge I face in even opening a discussion of libertarian principle with other college students is at first dispelling the notion that we are Republicans 2.0. Most of the time it’s like arguing with Tony in that regard.

    After that comes the questions about Ayn Rand, which puts me in the awkward position of having to both explain her ideology, defend some of her finer points, and differentiate it between it and other types of libertarianism.

    1. I feel bad for you. At least explaining individualist anarchism is pretty simple and I don’t have a tarnished “brand name” (libertarian) to get past.

      1. You don’t have a tarnished label with idiots, but I have run into it with the most troublesome group – people with just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

        Since a lot of “anarchists” both past and present were/are actually demanding massive gov’t goodies, anybody who’s read a history book can give grief.

        1. That is why the “individualist” part is important. I would never say I am just “an anarchist”, because that creates exactly the problem you describe.

          I mean, it could mean I’m an anarcho-syndicalist, taking it in turns to act as a sort of executive-officer-for-the-week, but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting by a simple majority, in the case of purely internal affairs, but by a two-thirds majority, in the case of more major ones.

          1. I would never say I am just “an anarchist”…

            For a so-called individualist, you’re awfully concerned about branding.

            1. You would be too if you had been branded by Warty.

            2. Yeah, I smell a closet collectivist. Probably a Bolshevik, wouldn’t you say?

              1. They’re on to me!

              2. You’re probably just smelling that brand. It’s fairly fresh.

                1. Smell the Glove. . .of Oppression.

                  1. He’s worse than a bolshevik – he’s a kulak.

                    1. Kulak? Hell, he’s a whoreder!

                    2. He hordes a hoard of whores.

                    3. Er, scratch that.

                      He hoards a horde of whores.

                    4. I thought I was a whore.

                    5. You never received any compensation from me, so how could you be a whore?

                    6. How much wood would a whorefuck fuck if a whorefuck could fuck wood?

    2. My experience corroborates your “Republican” and “Rand” points.

      Other biggies I run into are: “Anarchist!”, “What if *everyone* thought like that?”, and “Nice *theory*, but totally impractical”.

      Sometimes you just gotta
      laugh.

    3. Maybe the way to reach more college students is by promoting the original libertarians: the Taoists. Taoism is very much against big government and meddlesome policies and it respects the individual. The appeal of ancient Asian philosophy might open up some minds that would remain closed otherwise.

  13. a number of participants identified themselves as categorical non-voters

    So they’re stupid. That’s just great.

    1. And I suppose tilting at windmills is the height of mental sophistication.

      1. ALL: Don Quixote.

        The singer/lyricist is an old hardcore punker turned conservative pundit/newspaper publisher.

  14. However, this case study illustrates that, to the contrary, young libertarians are often extremely knowledgeable about local, national, and often international political issues and about both liberal and conservative party platforms.

    i.e. “Dorks” – We already knew that.

    We’ve also learned that “reason” and informed-opinions do not do much to sway TEAM BE-RULED, who operate emotively. I would be interested if this reaseach also determined the Emotional IQ of these Seedling Monacle-Aspirants.

    1. I’ve long believed that any ideology which demands that humans stop emoting and only act rationally is doomed to failure over the long-term.

      Like it or not, human beings aren’t robots: we’re emotional creatures. It’s part of our makeup, and it isn’t going away. So if we can’t make an emotional appeal for libertarianism, then the thing is dead in the water.

      1. Fuckin A. Fortunately, self-reliance and genuine community-building are far more emotionally compelling than free ponies and hating on teh fagz. We just have to show people the way.

        1. I agree with you, it’s just that sometimes people around here (you know who you are!) are so quick to trot out the, “Liberals don’t think, they only ffeeeelllll”.

          Well, that’s a large portion of the human race, and it ain’t gonna change. So if your professed ideology can’t cope with that, can’t deal with and incorporate it…then the ideology is bullshit.

  15. We have come along way since the early 1990’s when young libertarians were often referred to as “goat fuckers” by all the silly C-student Pat Buchanan legions. I’m talking about you Cory, you little douche.

  16. I’m looking at that Students for Liberty logo and all I see is a fat spliff and something to spark it up with.

    Wait, is that their official litmus?

  17. ANOTHER grossly inaccurate study praised by REASON? If this ‘academic’ doesn’t get that the ‘Liberty Movement’ and pro-libertarians/libertarian movement are different, the study is compromised from the start. Is this an academic or a propagandist?

    See http://www.libertarianinternat…..-desirable

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