Virtual Reading Groups

computer-keyboard-atop-which-a-pair-of-reading-glasses-725x482SFL Virtual Reading Groups give participants the opportunity to explore a set of readings on the intellectual underpinnings of a free society with an instructor who has expertise in the field and a group of similarly interested and qualified individuals from around the world. By creating a space for active discussion with other intellectually engaged individuals, led by capable and informed discussion leaders, VRGs give participants a chance to achieve unusual depth and perspective on the classical liberal tradition that could not be achieved through solitary study. VRGs are open to all individuals interested in expanding their knowledge of the philosophical ideas of liberty. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to have meaningful discussions with other philosophically inclined participants, apply today!

Organize a Virtual Reading Group

Interested in hosting your own Virtual Reading Group on a topic of your choosing? Submit an application for support from SFL staff! Students that host a Virtual Reading Group will determine the topic, help identify a professor that will build a syllabus and lead the overall discussion, and will organize the virtual weekly meetings.

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Can more funding, better teacher pay, or higher standards fix public education’s problems? Or is the best solution to “deschool” society? Published in 1971 but still relevant today, Ivan Illich’s book Deschooling Society argues that the best way to ensure that people are truly educated is to create a complete separation of school and state. In this seminal book, he argues that state education is inherently disabling to those involved in it and paints a vision for what education might look like without state involvement. Join Dr. Kevin Currie-Knight (College of Education, East Carolina University) to read and discuss this intriguing book. You may not look at public education the same way again.

Application deadline: February 1st, 2017

  • Discussion Leader: Dr. Kevin Currie-Knight, Assistant Professor, Education, East Carolina University
  • Meeting Dates: Thursdays, 6pm EST, 2/9/2017 – 3/16/2017

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Throughout the history of Islamic societies the Sharia has formed the main framework of socio-economic and even the political life of the Islamic peoples. During the golden age of Islam (800–1200 AD) the Sharia always seemed compatible with a free society, and this was the experience of Muslim communities. The legal and juridical principles of Islamic law recognized individual freedom and rights (along with the responsibilities of individuals) in a society that provided an appropriate context for an independent judiciary and the defense of individual rights through the courts.

The book contains many chapters, which were developed from presentations made at the annual conferences held by the Istanbul Network for Liberty, whose mission is to explore and promote the principles and values of a free society in the Muslim world. It is incorporated as a non-profit foundation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Application Deadline: February 20th, 2017

  • Discussion Leader: Ali Salman, CEO of Istanbul Network for Liberty
  • Meeting Dates: Saturdays, 11am EST, 2/26/2017 – 4/9/2017

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Past Reading Groups

Cypherpunks and Libertarianism

In this reading group, we will explore the implications of computers and cryptography in the context of liberty. Both trace their origins to the military: Alan Turing worked at Bletchley Park where he used computing machinery to crack the Nazi’s naval enigma code; computer networks, the forerunner of the internet, were pioneered by the U.S. military in order to achieve ‘second strike capability’ during the Cold War. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, computers were adopted and further developed within the civilian sector. The late 80s and early 90s saw the creation of the internet, and during these early years a group of programmers, cryptographers, hackers, and activists came together online to outline how this technology had the potential to realize a radically different political order. These were the cypherpunks, and their vision was ‘crypto-anarchy’: a world where nation-states were stripped of their power to coerce, as cryptography would prevent them from ever knowing who they should be coercing.

You might have noticed something: this has not happened.

The creation of the internet has already raised significant challenges both to libertarians (who are now, post-Snowden, aware of the extent of the surveillance state) and to the state itself (which is trying to understand how to regulate new technologies and structures such as cryptography, cryptocurrency, and distributed autonomous organizations). But so far we have only witnessed the early effects of the internet-of-information; since 2008, the world has seen the start of the internet-of-value and the internet-of-things, which also promise radical transformations. Our aim is to understand how these technologies will continue to change things, and what libertarians can learn from the cypherpunks.

  • Discussion Leader: Dr. Alexander J. Malt, Department of Philosophy, University of Durham (UK)
  • Meeting Dates: Wednesdays 6pm EST, 1/11/2017 – 2/15/2017

Rise of the Warrior Cop 

We have a Constitution with a Bill of Rights meant to protect our liberties, and a Supreme Court that is supposed to enforce these rights. Both horizontally and vertically, we have divided government; a system created on the (true) assumption that divided power is safer than concentrated power. In spite of all the care the Founders took in order to protect our rights, however, we now live in a nation that has more people behind bars than any other country, with 50% in the Federal system and 20% in the state system incarcerated for victimless acts. We don’t have a tyrant or tyrants at the top, but we have thousands of individuals with the power of petty tyrants: cops. They have the power to arrest us for victimless crimes, and even to kill or cripple us if we dare to question them or fail to obey their orders instantly.

Radley Balko’s book documents and explains the rise of these petty tyrants. The biggest single source of their power is the war on drugs, aided and abetted by the Supreme Court’s failure to limit the power of cops to search, seize, and arrest, and by the increasing militarization of the police. We will discuss the history of drug criminalization, the laws and court decisions responsible for increasing police power, modern police training, and Balko‘s proposals for reversing these trends.

  • Discussion Leader: Dr. Neera Badhwar, Professor Emerita, Philosophy, University of Oklahoma
  • Meeting Dates: Tuesdays 8pm EDT, 11/8 – 12/13

Subjectivism, Spontaneous Order, and Praxeology 

In this advanced virtual reading group, we will explore the emphasis on subjectivism and spontaneous order in the Menger-Mises-Hayek tradition in economics. We will begin with Menger’s original treatment of spontaneous order theorizing as a method for the social sciences. We will then turn to Mises’s extension of those ideas in Human Action and his discussion of praxeology and catallactics. Hayek’s work on the methodology of the social sciences in the 1940s emphasized the importance of subjectivism and his treatment of those issues in The Counter-Revolution of Science is among his most clear statements on the topic. Hayek’s work on the philosophy of mind also has important implications for how social science is done, and we will take a look at the last chapter of The Sensory Order to examine those connections. Our conversations will end with a look at some more recent statements of what Austrians mean by praxeology and subjectivism and how they fit with the original Mengerian approach.

    • Discussion Leader: Dr. Steve Horwitz, Department of Economics, St. Lawrence University
    • Meeting Dates: Mondays 8pm EDT, 10/24 – 11/28 (11/21 is off)

Exploring Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged is one of the primary works that inspired contemporary libertarianism, due to Rand’s vision of free-market capitalism as a moral ideal and her analysis of anti-capitalist cronies and politicians. Atlas is also a thrilling mystery story with a complex plot and fascinating characters. This reading group will cover Part I of the book, with the options of parts 2 and 3 later. We will discuss the meaning of the events, the motivations of characters, and the portrayal of a world in decline. Depending on the interests of participants, we will discuss philosophical, politico-economic, and literary features of the novel.

    • Discussion Leader: David Kelley, Founder and CIO, Atlas Society
    • Meeting Dates: Sundays 3pm EDT, 10/9 – 11/13

Education and Classical Liberalism

In this group, we will discuss classical liberal critiques of state education at the k-12 level, and their ideas on how k-12 education should be offered. First, we will look at the history of how the state became the primary provider of education, and classical liberal critiques of that development. After that, we will read and discuss visions of how k-12 education might be offered in a classically liberal society.

    • Discussion Leader: Dr. Kevin Currie-Knight, Department of Special Education, Foundations, and Research, East Carolina University
    • Meeting Dates: Summer 2016

Anarchism: Theory in Practice

While some associate anarchism with violence and chaos, most philosophical proponents of anarchism have something more subtle in mind – and not always the same thing.  The readings for this program explore how social order and legal systems can arise independently of centralized political authority and in fact avoid violence and chaos. The selected readings are a combination of theoretical and historical studies, allowing us to discuss both the logical coherence and the practicality of proposed approaches to non-state social order.

      • Discussion Leader: Dr. Aeon Skoble, Department of Philosophy, Bridgewater State University
      • Meeting Dates: Summer 2016

War, Security, and Liberty

Issues of national security and intervention have always been a source of tension and disagreement among classical liberals and libertarians. This reading group will explore a variety of issues related to war, security, and liberty from an economic perspective. The topics covered will include: common justifications for state-provided security, the political economy of foreign intervention, the origins of the permanent war economy in the United States, the perverse incentives created by the military contracting process, and the negative effects of foreign intervention on the liberties and freedoms of U.S. citizens.

      • Discussion Leader: Dr. Chris Coyne, Department of Economics, George Mason University
      • Meeting Dates: Summer 2016

Black Studies and Classical Liberalism

This reading group will look at the intersection of Black Studies and classical liberalism. Join Dr. Fabio Rojas to explore the following questions: what is Black Studies? Where did the field come from? How can we understand the various struggles for Black freedom? How does that relate to classical liberal ideas about freedom? Learn about these topics and more as we discuss the abolition of slavery, civil rights, black power and mass incarceration.

      • Discussion Leader: Dr.Fabio Rojas, Department of Sociology, Indiana University
      • Meeting Dates: Spring 2016

The Socialist Calculation Debate

This reading group will explore the socialist calculation debate. Readings will be available online and include work by Ludwig von Mises, Frederich Hayek, Don Lavoie, Frederich Engels, Oskar Lange, and others. This reading group is for students who have some experience in economics, and are interested in the long running theoretical debate concerning the viability of centrally planned economies. We will explore classic texts in this debate which remains of critical importance today as socialism remains a hotly contested topic.

      • Discussion Leader: Dr. Steve Horwitz, Department of Economics, St. Lawrence University
      • Meeting Dates: Spring 2016

Libertarianism and Feminism

This reading group will be led by libertarian feminists Rachel Davison and Charles Johnson. Are libertarianism and feminism compatible? How have the two ideologies interacted historically? What would a truly libertarian feminist look like? Join Rachel and Charles to learn what feminism can tell us about liberty.

      • Discussion Leaders: Rachel Davison, Co-founder of the Libertia Society
      • Meeting Dates: Winter 2015/2016

The Work of Don Lavoie

This reading group will be led by economist and student of Don Lavoie, Steve Horwitz. Don Lavoie earned his PhD in economics from NYU in 1981 for his thesis Rivalry and Central Planning: A Re-examination of the Debate over Economics Calculation under Socialism and is an enormous influence on the modern Austrian School of Economics. Author of numerous articles, essays, and books, Lavoie’s work focuses on competitive rivalry in the market system, the nature and function of prices, and the role of culture in economic development. Join Professor Horwitz to gain a better understanding of this monumental thinker.

      • Discussion Leader: Dr. Steve Horwitz, Department of Economics, St. Lawrence University
      • Meeting Dates: Fall 2015

The Case for Open Borders

Immigration and the moral status of national borders have historically divided many liberty-oriented thinkers and remains a hot-button issue among the libertarian minded. An issue this complex can be approached from a variety of different analytical lenses. Libertarian thinkers have studied borders from a wide array of ethical, economic, sociological, and political viewpoints over the years, yet a widespread consensus on the their role, if they have one, has yet to be realized in the community. The debates about the moral status of national borders, the economic effects of immigration, the way in which immigration affects culture, and the political consequences of immigration policy have roused freedom lovers’ intellects, imaginations, and hunger for debate for decades. But the time has come for a consistent, reasonable, and libertarian approach to borders. Put simply, borders are a contentious, complex issue and libertarians are in a perfect situation to provide a consistent, principled solution. Leading this riveting discussion is economist Bryan Caplan, who will be helping us explore the ins and outs of the border debate from moral, economic, cultural, and political viewpoints. What is the solution to the immigration problem? Open the borders!

      • Discussion Leader: Dr. Bryan Caplan, Department of Economics, George Mason University
      • Meeting Dates: Summer 2015

The Origins of Radical Libertarianism in America

Participants will read selected debates from Benjamin Tucker’s periodical, Liberty and will analyze them from both a historical and philosophical perspective to understand the context in which libertarianism was born and to see whether the arguments made by these early libertarians stand up to critical scrutiny.

      • Discussion Leader: Matt Zwolinski, Department of Philosophy, University of San Diego
      • Meeting Dates: Fall 2014

The Past & Future of the Libertarian Left

This reading group will be led by Charles Johnson and will focus on his anthology, Markets Not Capitalismand a variety of other readings regarding left-libertarianism, individualist anarchism, and free market anti-capitalism.

      • Discussion Leader: Charles Johnson, Senior Fellow at the Center for a Stateless Society
      • Meeting Dates: Fall 2014

Beyond Orthodoxy: Understanding Rothbard

This reading group will focus on Rothbard’s text, “The Ethics of Liberty” and a variety of other readings in Murray Rothbard’s formidable body of work. For the first half of this reading group, Dr. Kevin Vallier will lead the reading group in a critical treatment of Rothbard’s work and in the latter half of the reading group, Dr. Roderick Long will defend his work from common criticisms.

      • Discussion Leader: Dr. Kevin Vallier, Department of Philosophy, Bowling Green State University
      • Discussion Leader: Dr. Roderick Long, Department of Philosophy, Auburn University
      • Meeting Dates: Fall 2016

Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford

This reading group will dive into a literary adventure set in the late 1950s Soviet Union. Dr. Sarah Skwire will lead a discussion on the novel Red Plenty, highlighting the struggle of implementing a planned economy.

      • Discussion Leader: Dr. Sarah Skwire, Senior Fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc.
      • Meeting Dates: Summer 2013

Discovery of Freedom, by Rose Wilder Lane

Ever heard of Rose Wilder Lane?  Did you know that she was one of three “founding mothers” of American libertarianism? This reading group will explore Rose Wilder Lane’s Discovery to Freedom: Man’s Struggle Against Authority, and will be lead by the captivating Jeffrey Tucker!