SFL Calendar
SFL's Network
Support SFL
Make a Donation Join the Network Attend a Conference Start a Group
Upcoming Events
Nov 22
Upcoming Events
Nov 29
Upcoming Events
Dec 6

The following was written by European Students For Liberty Local Coordinator Ana Jakšić. 

Last night on November 5th, 2014, European Students For Liberty Local Coordinator from Serbia, Nikola Ristić, organized an event at the University of Belgrade to raise awareness about the war on drugs with ESFL’s program manager Aleksandar Kokotović as the speaker. The panel was a huge success with over 150 people in the audience and some of the media present.

After about 40 minutes into the event a group of neo-Nazis broke in and started throwing flyers, shouting insults, and lunging at attendees like they were about to attack them. One of them had a Nazi skull symbol on his sweatshirt and their sign said: “Students against addiction!” They were loud, violent, and refused to leave the premise.


This post was written by local coordinator Edouard Hesse

On the 5th of october in France, the same group of people that opposed gay-marriage is calling on people to take the streets in order to oppose this great evil that is surrogate motherhood.

In France surrogate motherhood, which enables the carrying of a pregnancy by another woman for parents who cannot conceive, is completely prohibited, whether it is a commercial or altruistic agreement. So what brings all those people in the street? A recent judgment by the European Court of Human Rights compels France to recognize the nationality of children born by surrogacy elsewhere in the world. But this judgment does only that: in no way the French government is about to legalize surrogacy. The Prime Minister recently gave an interview where he claimed he was opposed to surrogacy, putting an end to any doubt that there could have been room for a bit more liberty in France.

In this anti-surrogacy fight, catholic conservatives ally themselves with Marxists for whom the commercial aspect of surrogacy is unbearable. So what are the arguments of this unusual alliance?


Those signs read “You can’t put a price on children”, “in India a baby costs 40.000€, in France it is still priceless”, “women are not baby factories”. The basic mistake of those arguments is quite obvious: what is bought and sold here are not babies, but the renting of a woman’s womb, and nothing else. Those women are financially compensated for the long discomfort and effort of carrying a child. Nobody ever said that you could put a price on children: that argument is a strawman. Buying a person has been illegal since the abolition of slavery, and that’s obviously a good thing. Comparing surrogacy to slavery makes no sense at all since those 2 things are completely different in nature.

Likewise, nobody ever said that women are baby factories: enabling a woman who so wishes to rent her womb for another couple is in no way akin to saying that “women are baby factories”. Each and every woman is free to make her own choices, to live the life she wants, and nobody should ever force a woman who doesn’t consent to carry the child of another couple.

When you refuse a woman her right to self-ownership, you deny her dignity. When you make it illegal for a woman to use her body as she so wishes, it’s an unjust and outrageous attack on her agency. If a women consents to carrying the child of another couple, the choice should be hers, and hers only. Feminists who famously claim to defend “my body my choice” should be fierce defenders of this right.

Let’s review the arguments that the anti-surrogacy people use. “The exploitation of women is intolerable”: yes, indeed the exploitation of women is intolerable. As explained above, refusing a women her right to self-ownership is an obnoxious way to exploit and control her. Is it the commercial aspect of surrogacy that makes it exploitative? This would suggest that women are not able to make choices for themselves: society (and by “society”, people usually mean the State) has to do those choices for them since they are obviously ignorant and irresponsible. A woman is in dire straits, carrying the child of another couple to term would enable her to live a comfortable lifestyle for some time and get her out of misery? She is refused this choice because she is supposed to be unable to do it.

« Because to take away a man’s freedom of choice, even his freedom to make the wrong choice, is to manipulate him as though he were a puppet and not a person. »
― Madeleine L’Engle

But let’s accept this exploitation argument for a moment. Is there a better and more humane way to deal with it rather than complete prohibition? Rules could be put in place so as to avoid the occurrence of a desperate woman doing a choice she’ll regret, as a famous French feminist suggests. We could even go as far as allowing only altruistic surrogacy, keeping commercial agreements outlawed. This would still be a step in the right direction.
“Children are not objects”

Anti-surrogacy people excel at the art of making strawmen. Nobody ever claimed that children are objects, and recognizing women’s rights to carry a child for another couple is in no way akin to saying that children are objects. When you allow women to use their body as they so wish while offering a solution for couples who cannot conceive, how in the world are you making children objects?

“Children need a father and a mother”
Those people still need to scientifically prove that there is a great risk in having parents who are not composed of a woman and a man, or at least a greater risk that the one involved with traditional family models. But let’s accept this argument: is there a better and more humane way to deal with it rather than outright prohibition? Surrogacy could be allowed for parents composed of a man and a woman.

In France a lot of liberals join the anti-surrogacy crowd in the name of a fight against the “right to have a child”. But legalizing surrogacy is in no way similar to guaranteeing a “right to have a child”: such a right would make it so that if a couple wanted a child, the State would be compelled to give them one. Women could be forced to carry the child of another couple to term because this couple is entitled to a child, and that would be truly disgusting, as it should. There is a world of differences between allowing consenting women to carry the child of another couple through a voluntary contractual agreement, and forcing this same woman to carry that child in the name of a “right to have a child”.

Liberals and feminists should be allies in this just cause. For feminists, the prohibition of surrogacy motherhood should cause them outrage since this is just another way to control women’s bodies. For liberals, this prohibition should be denounced in the name of the long intellectual tradition that aimed at recognizing people’s right to self-ownership. Conservative leaning liberals should join the cause because this right to freely use one’s body doesn’t conflict with the right to life, like in the abortion debate. Here, on the contrary, it’s all about enabling life, not taking it away.

Friends from the catholic right, you should also be fierce defenders of this wonderful technical progress that is surrogacy. Don’t believe me? If you’re a French-speaker, read this story, it will save you time rather than going to the street to protest against a change that is not about to happen.

This post was written by local coordinator Ana Jaksic

When I was younger, I never understood why people who are attracted to the same sex cannot get married and adopt.

Later on, I became aware of how much more complex the reality of sexual minorities actually is. I became aware of all the privileges heterosexual people enjoy, and all the discrimination and stigmatization gay people face. It didn’t take much for me to decide to go and participate in the Belgrade gay pride parade this year.

The situation is tough for gay people all around the world, and Serbia is definitely not an exception, quite the opposite. This was the first pride parade that had been allowed since 2010, because the government always assumed it too dangerous. And so, I went to show my support and fight for everyone whose rights were withheld and endangered.

European Students For Liberty Local Coordinator Ana Jaksic has her sign broken by an anti-LGBT activist in Belgrade, Serbia during the Pride Parade held on Sept.27, 2014.

Shortly before the walk began, I held up a banner with the face of Amfilohije Radović, who is a Serbian Orthodox cleric and current Metropolitan of Montenegro and the Littoral, with the words: “Find someone for yourself and kiss for hours”. This slogan is taken from the lyrics of a popular Serbian song.

After only around 30 seconds, one guy in a masked uniform took the banner from my hands and broke it. The police caught up with him and he was detained, but they also took my banner and wouldn’t give it back.

All of the media present reported on the incident, and soon my face was all over the news. I started getting death threats and offensive messages right away, and they haven’t stopped since. My inbox exploded with harassments, most of them calling me the devil, a lesbian (which is supposedly an insult), and a whore.

Besides blocking more than 300 people who were insulting me, my friends, and my family, I now have to go and report more than thirty people who outright threatened to find me and kill me, only because I was holding that banner. Everyone close to me is scared for my safety, and it scares me even more to say for good reason.

Now to clarify why I was holding a banner with a church representative in the first place. It is not that I don’t respect other people’s faith, it is that Amfilohije has been notorious for his hate speech against the LGBT community for longer than I can remember, and I wanted to address the problem in a innovative and funny way. But the matter is not funny at all.

Back in 2010, when the last pride parade was held in Belgrade, Amfilohije said, and I quote: “There, yesterday, we saw what garbage poisoned and polluted our capital Belgrade, worse than uranium. The worst sodomite stench that this modern civilization raised to a godly pedestal. And you see, one violence, the violence of those ungodly and perverse people caused another violence. And now they question whose fault it is, and call those kids hooligans.”

In 2013, while appearing on a national television, he said that there is no difference between homosexuals and pedophiles. As you can see, he not only incited the public through spewing his venom, but also supported violent hooligans, who, the day before the parade gathered at the city square and chanted: “Kill, kill, kill a faggot”, as they did again right after the parade.

Therefore, I believe that my banner was not offending the religious feelings of Serbian people; it was taking a stand against a church representative who continuously discriminates the LGBT community and justifies the violence they suffer.

I now feel how every gay person has felt at least once here in Serbia, and all I can say is that I will not tolerate the hate and the violence. Extremist groups can demonize me and threaten me all they want, I will keep on fighting for LGBT community and their individual rights to love whomever they chose, and shape their lives in whichever way they see fit.

Commentary by Lukas Schweiger, ESFL Chairman:

The fact that for the first time since 2010 the gay parade in Belgrade was not shut down at the last minute by the government because of security concerns was lauded by the international community as a sign that the situation for LGBT people is slowly improving in Serbia. However, Ana’s experience shows us that there is still a long way to go.

As a member of the LGBT community and a frequent guest in Serbia and the region, I am all too aware of the risks that are involved when it comes to publicly standing up for who you are.

I have the utmost respect for our Local Coordinator Ana as well as everyone else marching in last Sunday’s Belgrade pride. They walked, regardless of the current climate in the country. This kind of courage is exemplary, and it serves as an inspiration to me and to so many in our movement to work even harder.

To work harder on guaranteeing freedom of speech. It is a basic pillar of civil society. Amongst other things, it allows those who advocate the position of a minority to make their voices heard without being violated.

To work harder against the government-established normative, the ‘one size fits all’ template called marriage, as the only way that individuals who want to commit to each other can legally define their rights and responsibilities. One size simply does not fit all. Of course, the so-called traditional family will continue to serve as a suitable model for many. However, enabling also the rest of us, whether we are part of the LGBT community, adhere to other alternative lifestyles, or find ourselves in unique situations requiring tailored arrangements, to enjoy sound legal protection for our families, is one facet of what Students for Liberty is all about – putting individuals back in charge of their own lives.

As Ayn Rand once put it, “Remember also that the smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights, cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.” In that spirit, it goes without saying that ESFL fully stands behind Ana, and we will support her dealing with the repercussions of her activism in any way we can, and with lots of SFLove.

Lukas Schweiger

This post was written by Eyð Áradóttir Hammer

Last Tuesday (September 3), Danish Students For Liberty, together with the Danish free speech organization, Trykkefrihedsselskabet, went to the Swedish embassy in Copenhagen to protest.

Sweden was one of the first countries to introduce freedom of speech. Now you risk being jailed for making the wrong kind of painting in Sweden.

This is what happened to the Swedish artist, Dan Park: He was sentenced to 6 months in jail and was fined 60,000 Swedish kroner (around 6,500 Euros) for some paintings that were considered to be racist. Henrik Rönnquist, who is the owner of the gallery that chose to exhibit Dan Park’s paintings, was fined 8,000 Swedish kroner (almost 900 Euros) and got a conditional sentence of 2 years in jail. Henrik Rönnquist is considering moving to Denmark because he is constantly threatened in Sweden. He has to wear a personal attack alarm and an extra pair of glasses with him because of the several attacks that he has been exposed to. I met him at the demonstration and it was heartbreaking to hear his story.

The funny (or sad, really) thing is that the Swedish people just accept the sentence as fair. I imagine that if it had happened in China, Russia or North Korea, the Scandinavian media would be extremely quick to condemn it, but instead, everybody just looks the other way.

This could happen elsewhere in Europe as well. Dan Park and Henrik Rönnquist were sentenced according to the Swedish hate speech paragraph that is called “Hetz mot folkgrupp”.

In Denmark, §266b in the penal code also offers the possibility of being thrown to jail for up to 2 years. So far, no one has been sentenced to jail for violating the hate speech paragraph in Denmark, but it is an imminent danger.

The problem is that people do not realize the significance of these events. Or they tend to justify them because “it is not okay to be a bigot”. Of course it is not okay to be a bigot, but if we threaten these people with coercion when they say things that we do not like, can we really claim to be better persons? I do not think that we can.

Bigotry should be fought with arguments, not with violence.


This post was written by Leo Traugott

Since several weeks, there have been big clouds hanging over the future of the United Kingdom as we know it right now – and they are growing every day. Today, on the 18 September 2014, the Scottish nation is set to decide on its further future: will it stay part of the UK, or is it going to form an independent state? While for many spectators from abroad this debate is merely about questions of international economics, the European Union membership, and the peculiarity of British tradition and sentiment, there is more to this debate than meets the obvious. The Scottish referendum sheds light on the question of who has the right to decide on the form and existence of a state. Can a part of a state withdraw itself from a union unilaterally? And if so, under what conditions? For every liberal and libertarian out there, the Scottish referendum should be of highest importance – not necessarily because one cares about the result, but because it reminds us that state borders and affiliations are not set in stone, but should be up to democratic decision making. States should exist to serve and protect people, not to hold them hostage, owing to the fundamental opinion of Ludwig von Mises, that “no people and no part of a people shall be held against its will in a political association that it does not want“.

Since long, liberal thinkers and politicians have defended the rights of secession and independence for groups all over the world, insisting on the fundamental right of voluntary cooperation among people as the only legitimate way to organize society. Today, this school of thought is once again highly needed. At this point, there exist more than fifty movements all over the world, which try to garner outright independence, or at least a higher level of autonomy from their current state. Many people know about the situation in Scotland, about Quebec and Canada, Flanders and Belgium, the Kurds in the Middle East, or the Basques and Catalans and Spain. However, these are not isolated cases, but parts of a large movement, wich also includes regions in Italy, France, India, Brazil or Russia. Yet, contrary to Scotland and Quebec, most of these groups demanding independence are denied it. In Spain for example, every discussion about Catalan or Basque independence is refused with reference to the Spanish constitution, in which the unity and indivisibility of Spain is engraved. In Italy, the independence for Padania is reprimanded on reasons of national solidarity. And in Russia, even the discussion and publication of separatist ideas has been made a punishable offense, all under the pretext of safeguarding territorial sovereignty. Unfortunately the West, normally praising itself as the defender of democracy and self-determination, has taken a very ambiguous stance on this issue so far. When it suited the USA’s or the EU’s interests, such as in the cases of Kosovo and Southern Sudan, the support for newly found states was never far away (albeit Spain did until today not acknowledge the Kosovo’s independence, fearing repercussions for its domestic independence movements). When it came to cases however where a support for the independence movements would mean harm to political or business interests, most states kept their mouths shut. No European state publically interved for a Catalan or Basque right to hold a referendum, tried to persuade Turkey or Iran to grant independence to the Kurds, or lend public support to the case of the Western Sahara. As long as states cannot gain from supporting an independence movement, they will refrain from doing so.

While most people are used to be citizens of a certain state, no matter whether through ethnic or civic nationalism, this can by no means be seen as natural and eternal. In many cases, opponents of the right to secession and autonomy bring forward arguments about the inherent validity of a country’s constitution, or the solidarity to which its citizens must adhere. Yet, just because in the past the leading citizens of a state decided on a common constitution or a a “social contract“, this must not curtail the rights of self-determination for future generations. Thomas Jefferson argued that “we may consider each generation as a distinct nation, with a right, by the will of its majority, to bind themselves, but none to bind the succeeding generation [...]“. How can it be that Spain denies Catalonia a referendum on self-determination, solely on the base of a constitution which was written in the seventies after the fall of the Franco regime, and without any consent of the current generation? If we truly believe in the right of self-determination, no matter whether for nations, groups or even individuals, we have to defend the rights of secession and independence for every groups which demands it. It may not always be the best solution, and in many cases it surely is no solution at all. But it should nevertheless be always up to discussion, and a people should never be denied the possibility of independence and an own state, simply out of conservative and statist reasoning. We should therefore not lose our nerves over what happens with Scotland in the future, whether they will succeed with their referendum or not, and how an independent Scottish state might govern itself – instead we should embrace the fact that at least one nation amongst many has received the possibility to vote on its own future, and one shall wish the best for whatever outcome this referendum might bring. Nevertheless, we should not forget that Scotland is not a solitary case, and that their are more groups out there, which are currently denied the right which Scotland enjoys.

This post was written by Senior Local Coordinator Luca Bertoletti

These days, there is a growing minority who believe that Islam needs to be banned in our countries, that it’s not a peaceful religion, and that Muslims who believe in peace need to convert to Christianity.

But what is Islam? Does Islam really want only war and destruction? Or is it more closer with classical liberalism than we can think?

At first sight, the social, economic, ethical, and political connotations of Islam might give the impression to be unfavourable for believers in liberalism.

Superficially it looks like to have features of authoritarianism or even totalitarianism: Islam is an all-embracing creed that provides its followers with certain and indubitable knowledge of ethics, law and religion.

Important is, also, the fusion of church, as well as scepticism about fundamental ethical and political truth, which is absent in Islamic doctrine.

Professor Norman Barry, in his article Civil Society, Religion and Islam, tries to explain why we can say that Islam is not so far from classical liberalism.

Berry’s article is concentrated first on the character of Islamic law. That sovereignty ends in God means that there can be no absolute sovereign.

According to Barry’s view, the lawmaking process in Islamic traditions is also very interesting in his opinion. In Islam, there is an Hayekian  understanding of lawmaking, that is no final and absolute power to make law but it comes from individuals.

In the last part of his article, Prof. Barry speaks about ethical imperatives in Islam, such as respecting human beings, even including enemies, and the Islamic idea of human rights.

It is not too difficult to read about a set of human rights in Islam which, according to Professor Berry, “is not radically different from Lockean tradition of the West”.

Indeed, in 1981 a very important document, titled “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Human Rights in Islam” was published. This document put Islamic human rights theory in the context of contemporary debate.

There are a lot of similarities between Western and Islamic approaches. There are not only the fundamental rights of human beings but also in this document we can read the conventional clams to freedom of thought and discussion, including religious freedom, property, dissent, non-discrimination (including LGBT rights), and free movement.

At the end, Professor Berry, after pointing out so many positive points in Islam with respect to its relation with civil society and market economy, raises a very important question: “Why have Islamic countries, with of course some exception, not been recognised as part of mainstream liberal social and political theory since much of its doctrine is consisted with it?”

It is not difficult to share Barry’s conviction that “Muslim states took the wrong doctrines from the West and many ideas which are alien to pure Islamic tradition,” but, I believe this answer is not sufficient to explain the problem in itself.

To explain it, we have to ask: can Islam co-exist with the modernity?

Like every religion I think yes, it can. But exploring that, we should reject a  prejudice.

This suggests that Islamic religion is irrational. This view should be rejected because it fails to recognise the centrality of religious and experience to so much of human society, Islam, as well Christianity, as well as Judaism and many more. At least the people who spread this idea do not say anything about what might be put in its place (we cannot convert 1.57 billion people to Christianity or make 6 billion people Atheists).

Islam is not the problem it is often presented to be even thought it is true that there have been Muslim tyrants — as many, perhaps, as there have been Christian, or Hindu ones.

Islam is not in contrast with democracy or modernity.

The key to understanding this, is to understand that Islam recognizes that a religion cannot hug the entire  society for as long as there are people who don’t believe in it. It has therefore concerned itself with the question of the treatment of those who dissent from its teachings.

The earliest Muslim community had its origins in the seventh century as a persecuted minority in Mecca.  As is well-known, Muhammed and his followers eventually left Mecca for Medina in order to establish a community of the faithful.

Nevertheless, when the success of Muhammed’s mission saw the expansion of the Islamic community, it was itself forced to address the question of how to deal with the diverse people, and what forms of diversity to accept in its community. Its response was to develop a political tradition which was remarkable for its tolerance of non-Muslim communities.

Islam today, particularly in the west, conjures up images of fanaticism and intolerance. Yet much of its history is in contrast with this impression.

In the eighth and ninth centuries, the Byzantine empire was destroyed under the force of Islamic expansion, and Muslim armies eventually overran the Persian empire before also taking the regions of Syria, Iraq, North Africa, southern Europe and Spain. These areas, many of which were already subjugated to foreign rulers, particularly in Byzantine and Persian territories, were re-purposed to Islamic ones.

Islam, for the most part, proved more reasonable and tolerant, and more disposed to grant its populations a measure of local autonomy — with lower rates of taxation. To Jews and Christians it accorded greater toleration than they had been accorded until that time.

In fact, the local Christian churches had also helped the invading Muslim armies to escape persecution for “heresy” that had suffered at the hands of Christian orthodoxy.

The Muslim rulers left existing governmental institutions intact, and left religious communities free to govern their own internal affairs according to their own faiths.

To be sure, these rulers sought to eliminate idolatry and paganism, and regarded Islam as the one true religion. But the Islamic ideal demanded that others be invited and persuaded to convert, not forced.

If they refused, they were to be left in peace. This was most notably so in Jerusalem, which had been captured by Muslim armies in 638 CE. Under Muslim rule, not only were Christian churches left unharmed, but Jews, long banned from the city by Christian rulers, were allowed to return in several centuries of peaceful coexistence, brought to an end only by the Crusades.

The point of noting all this, is not to insist that Islam’s history is stainless, or that those of its rivals are bloody.

Like any tradition with a history spanning centuries, it has had its periods of stagnation as well as its periods of flowering. And those traditions have varied from the harshly austere, to the mysticism of Sufism.

Now, we can find a lot of Muslim countries where the minorities are protected: Morocco, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Jordan, as well as Iraq before the fall of Saddam, Indonesia and many more.

Within Islam’s traditions, we find not only the practice of toleration but also the concepts which give it theoretical expression: concepts of opposition and disagreement, consensus and consultation, and freedom of thought and expression.

Like that of any doctrine, Islam’s humanity and capacity for toleration depends on questions of interpretation.

In the Qu’ran, the injunction to Fight to defend Islam (jihad) is capable of of many interpretations, but not all consistent with the use of armed force to persecute non-believers.

In the same way, if you read the Leviticus book of Bible, as well some sentences of the Gospel according to Luke, you can get a lot of interpretations. Fortunately, not all of them consist with the use of armed force to kill the non-believers.

Luca was born in 1990 in Brescia, Italy. He studies economics and political science at the University of Milan and is a Senior Local Coordinator for Students For Liberty.

This post was written by the members of ESFL Spain

Last week, September 5th, members of ESFL Spain were dismayed by the following news:

Dr. Juan Ramón Rallo, one of the greatest representatives of the Austrian School of Economics in our country, has been publicly censured after his first appearance on Wednesday on the Spanish state television TVE. His collaboration with the morning magazine La mañana was cancelled due to the complaints received from the Spanish trade union UGT (Unión General de Trabajadores). The union issued an announcement two days before Rallo’s ban stating its disconformity with the fact that a libertarian minded economist such as Professor Rallo had a slot in public television. On different occasions, Rallo defended that all public TV channels should be privatized. Apparently, this became the perfect casus belli for the UGT to wipe out a libertarian minded intellectual from “the People’s television”.
Situations like these reveal who is really in charge of the state’s TV. This event constitutes an unacceptable attack on plurality and freedom of speech that deserves the deepest rejection by civil society. Seemingly, state’s media (which all the citizens are forced to fund at gunpoint) has seen its decision-making authority absorbed by a trade union mafia who now imposes the editorial line which journalists working in the government’s TV must follow.
Therefore, not only are Spanish citizens forced to fund trade unions like UGT (which, by the way, hold charges for the greatest case of public funds misuse in Spain’s history), but they must also see how these “defenders of the proletariat” decide what the appropriate content to be broadcasted on public television is and what must be banned (of course, according to their own views).
As a collective of student groups, we feel ashamed and outraged seeing how a trade union, instead of representing its members, dedicates to lobby in order to advance its own agenda, a pretty different agenda from the one of the Spanish society. We hope that, sooner than later, the civil society will react and decide to cut the funding to these public money leechers and censorship lovers – 40 years of fascist dictatorship were more than enough.

Business shapes our world positively. From waking up to going to bed we use goods produced for profit, making us better off as well. Almost daily we enter– barely noticing it – into private contracts by buying what we need for our lives, making life possible for the providers of those goods likewise. Trade always is a win-win situation for both parties – at least from their subjective perspective.
Politics shape our worlds negatively. From waking up to going to bed we are annoyed by politician’s talk and initiatives profiting themselves, not making us better off as well. Once every couple of years we enter – barely noticing it – into the polling booth to further give away our lives, making life possible for those we vote for. Democracy is always a lose-win situation for both parties – at least from my subjective perspective.

Differences between business and politics are manifold. The sociologist Franz Oppenheimer distinguished between two means to achieve the end of survial: the political and the economic means. The political means is based on violence and force: taking without asking – robbing – a lose-win situation. Contrary, the economic means is based on peacefulness and voluntariness: taking with negotiating – trading – a win-win situation.

In the end, business produces value for everyone, while politics takes value away. Politics are not able to produce any value in any manner. It only can give value back which it had formerly taken away. Its attempts to create value for special groups by making them dependent through welfare is always overshadowed through a loss of value for other groups, which is exponentially higher.

Despite this, politics and its institution – the government – are quite popular. In Germany, around 60% of students want to work either for government itself or areas heavily subsidized and intervened by government like health and education. They expect even more from the one thing government should provide for: security. For sure, they have good intentions. They are not evil. They don’t use violence in their private transactions. They think they provide value – but they do not.

Business – on the other hand – is getting really unpopular despite securing the foundations for politics at all. To attack its institution – the market – is not only since Karl Marx a favorite leisure activity. It is blamed for making the climate warmer and the people colder. It is a place of exploitation where capitalists enslave workforce, which rather works out of need than starves to death. Nevertheless, those people attacking markets still use goods they won’t have without them. They continue drinking beer, eating out and using their smartphones. That is perfectly fine – they probably paid for that. Likewise, anarchists using public roads have paid more than enough taxes for that. However, while private initiative can provide for roads, can government produce our food and smartphones? Ongoing experiments of world history prove the contrary. Governments are not even able to provide toilet paper in the case of Venezuela, despite sitting on the world’s biggest oil reserves.

Ideas matter – when they are applied to the real world. The idea of omipotent government is deeply rooted in the heads of many people. Planting the idea of a voluntary society is a hard task. Social Change is possible in the long run, though. However, why do we have to wait to live in a free society? Why can’t we just start creating one – despite politics? Actually, we can. Business shapes our world. Business creates value for us. Business can also create more freedom for us. Now and in the very short run rather than in our uncertain future!

Business can even restore value politics have taken us. Modern encryption allows us to communicate without being spied upon. Digital currencies allow us to decide for valuable money. Internet exchanges of all kinds allow for purchasing goods government tries to deny us. Modern transport opportunities make it easier to move – and finally escape politics.

Politics, however, mostly tries to destroy this newly created value. Politics seem to have an inferiority complex despite being superior. Because they are not able to create value, they rather destroy than admire it. Politics equals the jealous children who destroy other children’s brick towers because they’re higher than theirs.

It is time to show this to the world. While many students prefer false security working for government and taking value away, few are willing to work hard and take risks to create value. Those students are the future innovators. Those students might be able to make the difference. Those students will create value and may even serve liberty.

For those students, Entrepreneurial Students for Liberty was recently founded. Dozens of future leaders of liberty in Europe want to raise awareness of the fact that business, not politics, shapes our world and creates value. They want to follow the path of entrepreneurship to find freedom for themselves by creating value for others. And they want to encourage you to do the same!

Without doubt we need more entrepreneurial-minded people. Way too much talent is wasted in government and state education. To meet this demand we need to change our perception.“Safe is the new risky“ – a wise sentence goes. This might be true considering the continuing self-made problems of governments worldwide. The solution does not lie in politics – it lies in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs make us better off, politics do not. Entrepreneurship is the „new safe“, because entrepreneurs can trust in their abilities to care for themselves in tough situations.

Entrepreneurial Students for Liberty understands itself as a platform for like-minded individuals to go the path of entrepreneurship together. Mutual support – sharing one’s knowledge and skills voluntarily – is essential for the development of one’s self and business. Everyone can be an entrepreneur – he or she just needs to serve the needs of other people. Finding ideas, finding colleagues, finding liberty for oneself – liberty needs entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship needs you. Shape the world yourself rather than being wheel in the whirl!

If I say the name Hayek, do you associate it with spontaneous order, law versus legislation and tradition? Or do you associate it with social justice, markets and the Universal Basic Income?

Have you, the last year, read any of these works: Human Action, by Mises. An Inquiry into the Cause and Nature of the Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith. Individualism and Economic Order, by Hayek. The Calculus of Consent, by James Buchanan. Man, Economy & State, by Murray Rothbard? (Any works equivalent in size and importance for understanding classical liberalism is also allowed.) Or have you limited your reading to blogposts, and short articles?

If you have read contemporary academics: have you read their peer-reviewed literature in, for example, Critical Reviewor any of the many, many other peer reviewed academic outlets? Or again, have you limited yourself to blogposts?

If you are part of the latter, this blogpost is for you. If you are part of the former, this blogpost is probably also still for you. The purpose of this blogpost is to create a perspective on how to study classical liberalism, because I have the impression that, on the margin, some are confusing studying a body of intellectual thought with reading blogposts. Let us give you the quick and dirty summary: if the only thing you are doing is reading blogposts, even if they are from Bleeding Heart Libertarians or other high quality libertarian leaning websites, you are doing it wrong. One notable, online exception, would be George Smith’s essay collection at Libertarianism.org. George Smith takes great pains to explain the historical context of intellectual debates in a way that teaches people context, rather than ‘fad of the days’.

The reason why I am warning against blogposts is not because I want to devalue the work that these academics are doing, but it’s important to understand why they are doing this. They are not trying to rehash the core of classical liberalism (usually). They are focusing on the edges of the arguments, the controversies and the discussions. And in the blogosphere, they are doing this in a way they consider to be fun, and not necessarily in a way they think is publishable. (Although some definitely is.) Trying to learn classical liberalism through the online blogosphere is similar to trying to understand the Middle East by looking at a panel discussion. Yes, they’ll cover the current issues, but they’ll usually not have the time to give all the knowledge required to discuss why this current issue is a relevant addition.

Of course, it’s easy to have an essential grasp of spontaneous order. Per usual, just reading the wikipedia page would give you a good introduction. However, a part of being a good advocate of your ideas is to push yourself to know more and know better. SFL as such has only very limited programs to make yourself more knowledgeable as libertarians. (Although the online virtual reading groups and the Liberty Fund session in Vienna are important exceptions!)

None of this should be taken to understand that the current cutting edge stuff should be ignored, but the cutting edge stuff of academics is done in their academic, peer reviewed work, not on their blogposts. 
But it’s also important if you want to become a knowledgeable advocate of ideas, to also read Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, Narveson, Rand, Lomasky, Smith, Hume, Locke, Nozick, Machan and many, many others. Don’t ignore the classics assuming you can learn their insights from social media.

This is especially true if you want to modify your classical liberalism/libertarian label. Let me take one example. There are a lot of self-identified left-libertarians in SFL, people who study the works of Kevin Carson, Gary Chartier, Charles Johnson and Sheldon Richmann. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this; the intellectual diversity in SFL is one of the many reasons why I love this organization. But in order to understand and read these authors effectively, it’s important to understand the core of classical liberalism, to completely understand where and to what extend they diverge, criticize, build of and/or apply in an onorthodox way from the original core.

To quote Nathan Goodman, a self-identified Left-libertarian and Campus Coordinator in the USA, as a response to the question: can you study left-libertarianism when you are not studying classical liberalism?

Maybe, but doing so would almost certainly leave the student with a poor understanding of left-libertarianism, if we’re speaking in the C4SS/ALL sense. To properly understand Kevin Carson’s arguments against large hierarchical firms, one should understand Coase’s work on the firm and the work of Hayek and Mises on economic calculation. To properly understand left-libertarian arguments for the commons, one should understand Lockean/Rothbardian theories of just acquisition of property and probably also Ostrom’s work on governance of the commons. To understand left-libertarian arguments for why the state entrenches the power of privileged interests, it’s useful to understand public choice theory. Left-libertarianism in the C4SS sense is heavily informed by classical liberal insights that have been developed by classical liberals outside of left-libertarianism, and thus it probably can’t be fully understood without understanding classical liberalism.

This point is relevant for all modifiers to your classical liberal/libertarian label.

One last suggestion. As a young student, it’s normal to try and read the classics and grapple with their insights. It’s ok that when you are 18-23 (random age) you are blogging on Law, Legislation & Liberty of Hayek, Theory & History from Mises or The Ethics of Liberty of Rothbard. You are in that stage of life during which you are learning about the ideas. And learning doesn’t have to be difficult. You think reading Human Action is too difficult? Use the study guide to the book to help you! Do you think reading everything from Hayek is too difficult? Read very smart people who write about his work. If you want to inquire into the nature and cause of the wealth of intellectual classical liberalism, don’t let your sentiments get the best of you and find good secondary literature to help you with it.

You are – usually – not yet engaged in the production of new insights or the creation of cutting edge of social science or philosophy. Don’t feel the need that, as a student, you have to emulate the kind of topics and blogposts the actual academics are doing. They are at a different stage of your life. And if you think you can take a short cut, if you think you can blog as if you are already a learned and well-established professor while you are still trying to learn, you will probably not succeed compared to a route where you first learn to walk before you learn to run.

Lode Cossaer received master’s degrees in philosophy from the University of Antwerp and the Catholic University of Leuven and is currently working on a PhD proposal.

He teaches economics in Brussels, at a private business school. Cossaer was a political officer of the LVSV. He is an executive board member of European Students For Liberty and president of the Murray Rothbard in Belgium.

SFL has gotten some criticisms regarding the role of activism in the past. Is there any role for activism? If so, which one? This blogpost is to give my hypothesis for the role of activism. The reason why I am writing this is to offer a possibility, but I am opening the debate, rather than trying to close it, to answer the important question: why are we trying to do what we do?

As a Hayekian, I belief that both (1) ideas matter and that (2) activism is only of secondary importance. As Dan D’Amico says: the amount of liberty in a society was never a derivative from the amount of libertarians or the success of the libertarian movement in society. So therefore, ipso facto, it must be foolish to try to invest in activism, right? It is with this latter implication I tend to disagree – but again: opening the floor, rather than closing the debate.

It seems to me obvious that the most important branch – the root, so to say – of any political movement is the academic and intellectual backing that it has. No long term change is possible without an academic backing, that brings better arguments to the table, that can both provide intellectual legitimacy, as well as provide people across the board information on how to improve their lives and politics and even though we might not be able to convince all, they can at least learn from the academics who also happen to be libertarian. But for those people who don’t see themselves becoming academics – the so called activists – is there room for them? The answer seems to me: obviously, but let’s try to clarify what it is.

Let us take a look at a political movement that inspired most, if not all, of us in doing what we do: the slavery abolitionist movement. I am going to make the wild assumption that the abolitionists all had secondary goals besides slavery abolition, but that they managed to form a grand coalition around the intrinsically moral goal of slavery abolition. In short: they set aside their political differences to try to achieve a goal they could all agree on. Although there is some evidence that overtime slavery would have disappeared (as well as some evidence to the contrary) I’d be surprised if we can convincingly show that the abolitionist movement was completely useless in making this happen as fast as it did.

Most people are, what I would describe as, slightly xenophobic, security craving social democrats. There are people of the ‘nicer’ kinds – your typical liberal or social conservative – and of the meaner kind (fascists and the like). But in essence: most people are scared of the unknown, scared of changes they can’t control and have a strong desire that there are political measurements in place that take care of them. Most people are naive, incoherent about their political views and have the implicit hubris that they can control and oversee more politics than they can actually manage. In short: most people are not libertarians, and will never become libertarians.

Although it’s not logically impossible to turn everyone into good classical liberals or libertarians, it’s also very unlikely – and we’d be better of we accept this fact into our activism. Obviously, we still need to try to reach out, present the best possible arguments and try to convince as many people as possible, but mostly, we have to do this to assure the next generation of classical liberals who will continue the work, rather than some idea that eventually we’ll convince everyone to our way of thinking.

Combining the lesson I draw from the slavery abolitionists and from the empirical observation above, the role of the activism part of the liberty movement – including SFL – is our continuous effort to try to build grand coalitions with other political groups for goals we can all agree on. Today, those can be, among others, the war on drugs, foreign intervention in the sense of nation building, civil rights, freedom of speech, open immigration and, maybe, even global free trade. I don’t think we can convince the average political partisan that we need to abolish our countries welfare systems, or health care systems, or labor regulations and any of that. But maybe we can try to build grand coalitions around particular goals that we can convince them are worthwhile, without blowing up our bridges by arguing that we’ll only work toward a goal that benefits everyone if they accept libertarian anarchy.

This is, by the way, not an argument for unprincipledness, but an argument for principledness in choosing one’s battles. Would I – as an IP-abolitionist – abolish IP even though social security remains? Of course. I am not selling out on my ideals by doing so, I am achieving one of my goals. The effort of forming a grand coalition is not the same as selling out on other ideas. Selling out implies that one starts supporting ideas that one rejects in order to get something else: this is far from what I am advocating. I am only advocating that the role of activists is to pick and choose the battles they can win by forming coalitions.

What is funny about this, imo, is that someone wrote something very similar, namely Murray Rothbard in his Memo to the Volcker Fund. (I highly encourage everyone who wants to be an activist to read this. Rothbard is at his strategic best in this memo.)

(1) In the very act of agitating for repeal of the income tax, he is pushing people in the direction of repeal and perhaps eventually bringing about repeal—which, in itself, is a worthy, if limited, libertarian objective. In short, he is advancing the cause of libertarianism in the very act of advancing the cause of income tax repeal. Thus, everything he does for ORFIT, being consistent with the ultimate libertarian objective helps advance that objective, and does not betray it.

(2) In the course of this work, the hardcore libertarian should try to advance the knowledge of both the masses and his fellow ORFIT members, toward fuller libertarian ideals. In short, to “push” his colleagues and others toward the direction of hardcore libertarian thought itself. (In Communist- Leninist terms, this is called “recruiting for the Party,” or pushing colleagues at least some way along this road.) The hardcore man is working for his idea on two levels: in a “popular” or “united” front for limited libertarian goals, and to try to influence his colleagues as well as the masses in the direction of the total system. (This is the essence of the much-misunderstood Leninist theory of “infiltration.”)

Suppose there was a strong, self conscious libertarian movement that covers around 5 to 10% of the population. Although we’d never be able to convince the remaining 90/95%, if that libertarian part of the population does well, they could shift the debate into their direction, at least, maybe preventing the biggest problems that are caused by governments. Wouldn’t it be nice if more people started saying: ‘X is a libertarian, I think they are overall wrong with their general idea, but they do have a good point on government power and we should really try to limit that’, rather than dismiss everything we say merely because we are saying it? If the medium voter theorem is right, it follows that if we can change the margin of where the medium voter is, there is a possibility to improve society.

However, an important part of this is that SFL need not just a place of refugee for activist, but also, as Rothbard called it, “an open center for hardcore men” (and I will add: and women, of course).

I need not dwell here on the overriding importance of the intellectuals and scholars in forming a libertarian cadre. For the filiation of ideas and influence works as a pyramid, from the highest-level intellectuals to lower levels, from graduate school to college, from treatise authors to journalists, on down to the housewife and man in the street. In this pyramid, one scholar is worth a thousand housewives, in the matter of influence, import, etc.(…) But there needs to be, in addition, much greater concentration on nourishing a hardcore libertarian center. (…) I believe that a scholarly libertarian institute, on the postgraduate level, a counterpart to the Institute for Advanced Study, would be the ideal solution. The idea would be to gather together leading libertarian scholars, to have permanent and also temporary staffs (the latter via fellowships), etc.

If SFL truly are Hayekians – and it is clear that Rothbard learned a lot from Hayek – than we have to focus on both the activist side, as well as the academic side of things.

Additionally, I also believe in the possibility for unintended consequences that can follow from political activism. Is it possible that if we achieve a particular goal X – by building a grand coalition with non-libertarians – that we inadvertently create the possibility for the state to actually increase its power or limit freedom more? Yes, this is very likely. But the other way around is also possible, and I don’t have any numbers on the statistical likelihood of either one. Is it possible that by achieving a particular goal the unintended consequence is that we set in motion a set of institutional decision making procedures that actually limit or roll back the centralization of power?  This doesn’t seem impossible a priori; and thus it’s important to keep thinking critically what might be potential unintended consequences of certain goals that we try to focus on.
We will live never in a libertarian society, unless, perhaps, when we physically go and build it. But in the mean time, for those who want to make an impact now: (1) focus on outreach to create your successor and (2) try to build grand coalitions for goals you can achieve here and now. Politics responds to incentives and at least part of these incentives are determined by activists. It might not always matter in the (very) long run, but there are marginal gains of trade to be won by acting today in a smart and concentrated way.

Lode Cossaer received master’s degrees in philosophy from the University of Antwerp and the Catholic University of Leuven and is currently working on a PhD proposal.

He teaches economics in Brussels, at a private business school. Cossaer was a political officer of the LVSV. He is an executive board member of European Students For Liberty and president of the Murray Rothbard in Belgium.

Sign up for the ESFL Newsletter

Enter your email to stay on top of things,