Human rights

Deirdre McCloskey: 'What We Want Is a Nonslave Society'

The economic historian and Magatte Wade, Alex Gladstein, Mohamad Machine-Chian, Tony Woodlief, and Tom Palmer are challenging authoritarians everywhere.


"What we want is a nonslave society, a society without masters," the economic historian Deirdre McCloskey told me late last year at the annual Liberty Forum conference of the Atlas Network, a group founded in 1981 by British businessman Antony Fisher. The Atlas Network supports nonprofits around the globe that fight against authoritarianism and push for free markets, the rule of law, and self-determination. McCloskey was one of a half-dozen participants I spoke with, and she was explaining the end goal of classical liberalism.

Strolling through the conference, which was held in a midtown Manhattan hotel, was like attending a great music festival. People from dozens of different countries and organizations were strategizing and planning on how best to defeat new threats to freedom while keeping and expanding the political, economic, and cultural gains we've made over the past decades.

These are uncertain times—many human rights activists agree that "tyranny is on the rise"—and the vibe at the conference was a mix of deep anxiety and upbeat commitment to empowering individuals in developing and advanced countries alike.

What follows are short conversations I had with McCloskey—whose acclaimed body of work documents the role of property rights, markets, and pluralism in lifting living standards (and whose interview begins at the 0:17:05 mark)—and five other people, including:

  • Magatte Wade [0:02:55], a Senegalese entrepreneur who coordinates Atlas' work in Africa;
  • Alex Gladstein [0:10:25], chief strategy officer at the Human Rights Foundation and a bitcoin evangelist who helps people use cryptocurrency to evade state monetary restrictions;
  • Mohamad Machine-Chian [0:38:35], an Iranian journalist forced into exile due to his criticism of his country's theocratic leaders;
  • Tony Woodlief [0:45:46], the head of State Policy Network's Center for Practical Federalism and author of I, Citizen: A Blueprint for Reclaiming American Self-Governance; and
  • Tom Palmer [0:54:30], who leads Atlas' international programs and has almost 50 years of experience in the libertarian movement.

I talked with each of them about what they do and whether they're optimistic about the future.

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