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In his June 22 article “In Search of a Radical Libertarian Utopia,” Tony Hennen eloquently made a case for the most idealistic of libertarian ends: The utility of an entire movement or philosophy, he argues, is “questionable” when it “settles on earth and forgets heaven.” To fight the sense of creeping skepticism in the liberty movement, he suggests that we mentally develop our ideal society to “inspire action and thought.” His socialist peers evince “endearing” and even “enviable” characteristics in their uncompromising idealism, which, in Tony’s words, ultimately allowed socialism to accomplish a great deal in the world. To attain a free society, he challenges us to be fearless in our pursuit of an imaginable end-state: a radical utopia.

Because he offers a compelling and intellectually courageous argument, I will attempt to examine it more closely and respectfully disagree with Tony. After the enticing pull of radical idealism has settled, advancing utopia for an individualistic philosophy is neither possible, nor desirable to contemplate. The only way libertarianism can be vigorous and successful is by remaining on earth with its humans and, alas, its human problems!

Perhaps we might begin by asking ourselves what it means to advocate utopia on behalf of a liberty “movement.” To lend credence to our ideal end-state, it must be definable: it must possess qualities that are different from a non-ideal end-state. We must be able to exclude those who don’t want to live in it, and include those who do. For if we do not banish from our utopia non-wishers whose ideals clash directly with ours, the utopia cannot stand. And then, certain issues must be resolved: are people paying taxes? Is there a private protection service? Are there foreign invaders? Do all the roads have tolls? What do we do about dissenters who decide they don’t like our idea of life? Kick them out of the utopia? I challenge Tony to define his utopia and the means of its attainment; for if one such great end-goal exists, surely we must all learn about it and seek to convince others to accept its tenets. Or, otherwise, we should stand at the doorstep of freedom forevermore.

But such logic inevitably reveals its own fatal conceit: no matter how we define the end goal, the incompatibility of millions of simultaneous imagined utopias will wreak havoc on our pure heaven, and for better or worse, keep us on the chaotic earth. My hunch is: it’s for the better. Many passionate liberty advocates – especially young people – believe that the liberty “movement” is heading towards an ideal destination and thus seek libertarianism as an end goal rather than as a means of achieving a generally prosperous and peaceful society. If we use this “ends” driven logic, we end up undermining liberalism altogether. What is freedom, after all, but a negative value? It’s not an end “state,” it’s not a “thing,” and it’s not a society where people happily reside in private communities with neighborhood common law courts. It is nothing at all but a lack of constraint in the process of learning to live and be happy. Libertarianism as a philosophy is means driven: through both moral and economic arguments, libertarians advocate certain institutions and processes that allow people to discover and pursue their own ends to happiness with as little unjustified constraint as possible. No one shares identical goals in life. If we did, we could take it easy and get a central planner to construct a utopia for us.

Not only is an end goal therefore impossible to construct, but the very thought of utopia should never be enviable, mainly because it tends to result in a theoretically and empirically sound conclusion: repression. Let’s take the thought exercise of defining utopia one step further. Assuming we’re surveying a roomful of twenty people, fifteen of whom come up with different ideal end-goals for society to take (some of whom don’t believe in property rights), how do we know which is correct? Indeed, to have a heaven on earth, it must be defined in one way, and that requires authority. Such an authority can come about only arbitrarily, and to succeed in its realization, the arbitrary utopia will have to be arbitrarily imposed on others by force. If we cringe in horror at such a suggestion, we must compromise our utopia, for we can’t possibly share fifteen different utopias at the same time.  After all, it’s heaven, the ultimate (i.e. only) end-destination! And if we don’t like the idea of force, exactly how might fifteen people employ logical and rhetorical techniques to convince everyone in the room of the goodness of their particular heaven?  Logic may help us justify our means and reasons when it deals with falsifiable claims. It does nothing, however, for blueprints of perfection and imagined holy lands.

Theory aside, we must also confront the dangerous emulation of socialist idealism for its supposed successes.  Tony writes that socialism “accomplished (and continues to accomplish) much because of the brave new world it purports to establish.” But what accomplishments are we emulating? After seven-plus decades of repression spawned by someone’s utopia, entire generations grew up understanding the world via “double think,” learning quickly that the only means of surviving and retaining their humanity was by evading the abusive tentacles of the Party and mentally severing their ties to the state’s mission. The architects of Soviet socialism decoupled human nature from the agenda: while they were supposedly living on clouds, millions spent their lives festering in camps – and the lucky ones in milk lines. Socialism lasted so long not because of the benefits of utopia, but because of utopia’s inevitably repressive consequences. An effort to guarantee one’s free pursuit of happiness differs in essence from an effort to guarantee happiness generally by enslaving oneself and his peers to heaven on earth. — (but of course, one never intended it to end that way!).

Tony believes that a move towards ideal utopia helps enliven a movement’s intellectual spirit. I argue otherwise: we begin to demand heaven not when we are reasoned and confident, but when we are hopeless, disoriented, and confused. Heaven comes to those who cannot otherwise find explanations of their surrounding phenomena. From that hopelessness arises the temptation to separate man from the chaotic historical body of mankind and human nature itself. Indeed, as libertarians, we can, we must, and we do live in the real world and work incredibly hard to remove barriers to a happy human life. Not only are we not more skeptical or lethargic because of our lack of utopia, but we are in fact the most energetic and ardent about promoting liberty when we choose to grapple with real-life issues on earth. How are we losing out in our pursuit of freedom by not knowing where freedom will take us? Indeed, it’s unsettling not to know where we’re going. But I will take that uncertainty any day over the certainty of one man’s utopia.

Tony and I will most likely agree on many things, including the means of attaining a free society. He himself seems to define utopia quite loosely, as a system of organization defined by certain moral and philosophical principles. This does not amount to a utopian vision of heaven. It is a valid confrontation with reality and should be treated as such. Attempting to escape reality and advocate for a vision of the radical alteration of society has highly illiberal and often unintended consequences that cannot and ought not to be part of a libertarian’s agenda. We must be free of the chains of utopia in the first place to properly offer our moral and philosophical arguments for liberalism, wherever it may take us. Just as we seek to eliminate the barriers to human freedom on an everyday basis, we must seek to eliminate intellectual barriers in our conversations of what that freedom really means and how to secure it.

To end, I revisit F. M. Dostoevsky’s chilling novel about the consequences of utopia, Demons. Shigalyov, the leading theoretician in the intellectual company of the novel’s nihilist heroes (of the utopian sort Tony may find admirable), discovers the path to an earthly heaven: To find liberty, one tenth of humankind will be granted unlimited rights over the remaining nine tenths.  Calmly, he states,

“…my conclusion directly contradicts the original idea I start from. Starting from unlimited freedom, I conclude with unlimited despotism. I will add, however, that apart from my solution to the social formula, there is no other.”

At least he’s honest.

This week we are featuring two wonderful SFL Executive Board members. The first is returning Executive Board member Ankur Chawla, a student at UC San Diego.

The second is Kelly Jemison, a recent graduate from James Madison University. She previously served on the Executive Board, but now she is the new SFL Program Manager on staff.

Check back soon for another round of the Behind the Scenes!

Today a dear advocate for liberty, loyal friend and beloved staff member for Students For Liberty will be departing DC, our one and only Blayne Bennett. She has served dutifully as Students For Liberty’s Communications Manager over the past year on SFL’s staff and has done incredible work for our organization. She will be missed greatly and as such we’d like to take this opportunity thank her for all she has done and express what she means to us.

As SFL’s first ever Communication Manager, Blayne made the position her own setting a high bar for those that will be following in her footsteps.  SFL VP Clark Ruper summed up her contribution to SFL, “Blayne’s lasting legacy will be taking Students For Liberty’s communications strategy to new and unimaginable heights.  At this time last year our website, media presence, facebook, newsletter, and other platforms were mere shadows of what they are today.  Her passion for the job was unmatched.  She took a vague and undefined role and turned it into one of SFL’s greatest strengths.  I could not have asked for a better co-worker, friend, and comrade in the fight for liberty.”

In the words of Irena Schneider, “Blayne brought color, buzz, movement, class, professionalism and tact to every blog post, newsletter, presentation, webinar banner rotator, facebook link, and even LOLcat poster that passed through her hands.”

Blayne never hesitated to give the extra effort for love of SFL and liberty. Ankur Chawla talks about all of the help she gave when she flew across the country to lend a last minute hand at the NorCal Regional Conference. “Blayne has been an absolute inspiration to me.  I most fondly remember working with her to organize SFL’s Northern California conference and I have to say, her dedication, professionalism, and above all her passion for the movement is just astounding.”

In addition Blayne has served as a mentor for many individuals at SFL. Pericles Niarchos recounts his struggles in writing blog posts at first. “In the beginning, I frequently asked Blayne to review my postings.  Unlike others, by ‘review’, I meant basically ‘write’. While it is true that today I can hyperlink and insert pictures like no other, I owe my start up to Blayne.” Molly Fratianne has similar feelings, “Blayne has been my mentor and friend these past couple months. She is a wealth of knowledge and exudes passion for what she does that is apparent in the work she produces.”

There is no doubt she is one of a kind. Andrew Kaluza recounts his first memory of her. “Blayne has become a true inspiration to us all.  When I first met her, I was impressed right off the bat.  She is a brilliant woman, but she would be too humble to ever show arrogance about it.  I have learned quite a great deal from her.  She will be outstanding at whatever she does.”

However more than anything right now, we are struggling with losing one of our greatest friends. As Alexander Falkenstein, fellow graduate of Blayne’s alma mater Arizona State University, writes, “Blayne is truly an amazing person and every day since meeting her I’ve been greeted with the fact that she continues to surprise me by demonstrating her big heart and overall awesomeness. I truly consider it an honor to call her a friend; her simple presence brings a smile to my face. I wish you the best moving forward, but I know you will accomplish great things.”

We will never be able to thank Blayne Bennett enough for all she has given Students For Liberty and the liberty movement. For the reasons above and so many more she will remain an unforgettable colleague. We will miss you Blayne and we all wish you the best in the future.

The Charles Koch Foundation today launched an educational campaign on economic freedom and the societal benefits it produces with a new video titled, “Economic Freedom and Quality of Life.”  The video uses sleek visuals and solid data to highlight how economic freedom is the greatest tool in generating prosperity.  This video is only the first in a series, so be sure to check it out, send it to your friends and fellow students and sign up for updates.  You can also ‘like’ Economic Freedom on Facebook and follow it on Twitter to keep up to date on efforts to promote economic freedom.

The Ayn Rand Institute is giving away a free copy of Atlas Shrugged to anyone who fills out the request form found here by June 30th. Atlas Shrugged, written by Ayn Rand, paints a dystopian future of a world where government regulation has run amuck and productive members of society have had enough. It lays the framework for a society based on morality, property rights and liberty.

The Ayn Rand Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works to introduce young people to Ayn Rand’s novels, to support scholarship and research based on her ideas, and to promote the principles of reason, rational self-interest, individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism to the widest possible audience. The Institute is named for novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand (1905-1982), who is best known for her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

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