Much talk is often made within Students For Liberty about defining a second wave of libertarianism. Alexander McCobin has spoken publicly on this topic, and he has defined the yearning of Generation Y as being largely libertarian, albeit not always described so discreetly. But by crediting aspects of the 21st century’s convergence of technology, globalization, Internet culture, and growing social tolerance, the implicit impulses of this current youth generation have never before been so largely supportive of various conceptions of individual freedom. It is this common “libertarian culture” that gives Alexander and all of us here at SFL the optimism regarding the long-term success of our highest values, that being the emergence of a free academy and a free society.
However, we have only just begun truly defining what the second wave, or more accurately the “youthful wave” of libertarianism represents. All throughout the weekend of ISFLC13, the pervading message from the Bleeding Heart Libertarians panel, panels highlighting women and black libertarian history, Magatte Wade’s rousing Sunday keynote, LearnLiberty’s focus on telling your personal story, and Jeff Tucker’s renewed optimism for the future, issued a vision for what a newly-conceived youthful wave of libertarianism could possibly look and sound like. How it would craft stories and appeal to sentiment as well as quantitative data, and how it could engage culture in a deliberate way. The youthful wave of libertarianism thinks in the terms of social entrepreneurship, is aware of the importance of building a brand, and has come of age in a world where the Internet has made the human act of creation easier than it has ever been before. This youthful wave of libertarianism has gone further to develop aesthetic sensibilities of freedom than our forebears in this movement had the opportunity, means, or desire to do so before. The young libertarian wave understands that we can capitalize on the natural libertarian culture that the twenty-first century has deeded us, but this requires that we further develop a robust cultural dialogue of freedom in our own way.
Because we are young, we do not want to be limited by the worldview of our parents’ generation. A perfect example of how this new libertarian generation is redefining the terms of debate is Ann Coulter’s appearance on this year’s ISFLC Stossel Show. Ann Coulter pounced on the old libertarian stereotype that all libertarians are just Republicans who smoke pot, and she immediately framed the argument as libertarians favoring pot legalization instead of addressing the welfare state.
While this may have been a somewhat-true stereotype of a “cartoon character” libertarian that existed in the past (the kind Jason Brennan has addressed before), it is not an accurate description of this youth libertarian movement. To Ann Coulter, she can only conceive of libertarians as playing up to liberals or conservatives. If we talk about pot, we’re obviously trying to suck up to our liberal friends; while our conservative friends would rather we help them dismantle the welfare state. But what Ann Coulter misses is exactly what this libertarian youthful generation understands. We make arguments for drug legalization while handing out copies of our book After the Welfare State, by making the consistent argument that paternalism in government never benefits the “children” of the Nanny-Welfare State, whether by restricting what we can do with our bodies or by mortgaging our future and saddling our generation with public debt.
As Students For Liberty, we’re not making arguments to “liberals” or “conservatives,” the way people in Ann Coulter’s day used to frame the debate. Instead, we give voice to the yearnings of this generation’s generally skeptical but highly enterprising sentiments. We speak for ourselves, not to anybody. Ann Coulter frames the debate in terms of right vs. left, but that terminology is so outdated for describing our mindset that it doesn’t actually mean anything anymore. It has ceased to be usefully descriptive of what is happening on college campuses every day within the SFL network. Whatever brand of libertarianism Ann Coulter thinks she may know, it is decidedly not the type of youthful, Generation Y-libertarianism she encountered at ISFLC. We are creating a new iteration of the idea of libertarianism that frees us from viewing the future through the mindset of the past. The future we are to have is the future we choose to create. This is the aesthetic of the young libertarian in the twenty-first century.
We have created new networks and unparalleled levels of connectivity through the emergence of the Internet and social media. The voice of the youthful generation is best heard in the hallways of the interwebs, and has been used to reveal political oppression across the globe and fuel revolutions. At the same time, the Internet allowed us to watch Felix Baumgartner be the first man to supersonically jump from space via live stream, showcasing how humans can create and do really awesome things when innovation and voluntary cooperation are unhindered.
Many of the Millennials reading this article began their personal discovery of freedom by watching Ron Paul videos brought to you by the power of YouTube, or maybe they are hearing the word “libertarian” for the first time from WorldStarHipHop, where 251k people viewed Big Boi of Outkast declare himself a Gary Johnson, “pro-people” libertarian. The reverberating effects of the Internet’s culture have opened a wide berth for young libertarians to create something brand new in our culture. As we have talked about in our webinar series, a defining hallmark of Generation Y is that it creates – whether it creates Youtube videos, mashed up mp3s, memes that iterate through the web dozens of times over, Pinterest pages, Tumblrs, Storify pages, Foursquare locations, blogs, videochatting – the list seems endless. None of these creations existed when our parents were our age, yet they have fundamentally changed the characteristics of life for anyone under the age of thirty today. Generation Y understands that the world is constantly changing, constantly responding, constantly communicating, constantly iterating. All of this has built a new sensibility. The youthful generation understands Schumperterian creative destruction because it is lived in the organic world of culture every day. The only thing that has yet to enter the twenty-first century and has resisted change is the logic and mechanisms of government power.
If there is a youthful wave of libertarianism in the twenty-first century, then I am glad that Students For Liberty is forming its vanguard, and helping it hear its own voice. When over 1400 students show up in DC for a weekend, each one of them realize that they are helping to create a new chapter of libertarian history. Decades of work by thinkers and think tanks have paved the way for a mature, twenty-first century, young libertarian aesthete. As Hayekians, we avidly make use of the knowledge of the past, while also looking forward into our boundless future. And the future must necessarily be boundless, because it is each generation’s right to shake off the cold dead hand of the past and create their own world. “The earth belongs to the living,” after all. If Students For Liberty in some way captures this sentiment, then we are merely holding up a microphone for our generation, giving voice to its yet unvoiced sentiments of freedom.
Bob Dylan called the Sixties out as a decade of social change and youthful movements…in January 1964. Long before anyone could honestly say whether the times were a-changing or not. He released his song before the Civil Rights Act was passed, the birth of the women’s liberation movement, the Stonewall Riots, and before the Gulf of Tonkin incident placed Vietnam within American cultural discourse. But he declared the times as such, and change they did indeed. If Students For Liberty in anyway can be part of a worldwide clarion call for freedom, from and to Generation Y, then let us now be bold and say so. And like Bob Dylan, we will say to outdated thinkers like Ann Coulter who cannot or will not conceive of our brand of cohesive, cultural, twenty-first century libertarianism, “Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one / If you can’t lend your hand / For the times they are a-changin’.”