The city of Berlin has been through a lot. In the 20th century alone, it survived the First and Second World Wars, only to be promptly divided by Soviet and Western occupiers. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, marking a symbolic end to Soviet domination. Since the reunification of Germany, East Berlin has seen a large increase in prosperity, and today’s reunified Berlin is probably the most energetic and youthful city in Europe.
Somehow, the discourse in Berlin remains hostile toward free markets. When he was young, Felix Hosse too believed in socialist principles. But once he joined a one-year exchange program in Iowa, his views began to shift. By age 16, Felix had gained an appreciation for the importance of individual rights. But his voice was not heard in the leftist dialogues happening back home.
In 2014, while back in Germany, Felix Hosse attended a Students for Liberty event. He was instantly intrigued by the atmosphere of the event. Unlike the public arena he was accustomed to, at SFL Felix “could discuss ideas without being canceled.” At last among like-minded peers, Felix felt secure and motivated: he was no longer the odd man out. “That’s the moment I realized that SFL is my intellectual home.”
Sadly, Berlin public discourse seemed to be lacking in intellectual diversity. The dialogue is dominated by what Felix calls “lifestyle” socialists. These young people do not necessarily believe in socialism – they simply adhere to an ideology they perceive as trendy and humane. In doing so, says Felix, such Berliners forsake the open market that gives them such comfortable lives.
There is therefore a disjointedness in Berlin’s political life. The social structure in the city is lively, free, and open, while economic life is too strictly regulated. When the Berlin youth operate their own small businesses, an under-the-table gray market predominates due to government regulations on business – laws which the youth themselves endorse.
Felix Hosse was brooding on this topic when an opportunity presented itself. SFL Germany was hosting the John Galt School with the Ayn Rand Center Europe. Felix approached guest speaker and former SFL leader Djordje Mancev soon after. They voiced their frustration with how Berlin’s economics and politics are not in sync with the city’s liberal way of life. This is where the idea of the Berlin Center for Individualist Thought (BCIT) was born.
Then an idea struck. “Berliners are familiar with and have embraced individualism,” Felix recalls thinking. “Now is the time to help them learn the philosophy behind it.” So they decided to establish an organization that educates students and young entrepreneurs on individualist philosophy.
The organization, called The Berlin Center for Individualist Thought (BCIT), plans on a multi-pronged approach to spread free ideals. For instance, they will conduct a study on the current motivations and beliefs of young Berliners, in order to determine how to educate them on libertarian and freedom-loving philosophy. The Rational Self Love campaign will focus on instilling students with self-esteem and ambition. And BCIT will organize lectures in Berlin geared toward business-savvy young people.
Recently, the Prometheus Foundation awarded a grant to get BCIT off the ground. Felix is especially proud of this early success. “Being able to actually get this started has been a great accomplishment.”
Djordje and Felix are in the process of registering the center, so these projects will begin in late summer. But BCIT is not starting from scratch. “We will include people from SFL in this project as there are many great voices inside the organization,” Felix says. They will also capitalize on the SFL’s pre-existing social network and skilled writers to start off strong.
Felix wants to emphasize that he did not reach this point on his own. The idea itself was inspired at a Students For Liberty event, and it became a reality thanks to the skills and training that SFL provides.
“The skills you get from SFL really enable you to think outside the box.” And besides the know-how, SFL also offered the tools needed to branch out into new ventures. “SFL provides you, to an excess, with a great network that you can use for starting your own thing.”
The BCIT has grand ambitions for the future of ideas in Germany. “The long term hope is that we can influence the culture not just in Berlin, but in Germany as a whole.” But in order to become a “prominent voice in the social commentary,” BCIT must form a lasting partnership with SFL.
Felix and Djordje want to keep in mind how broader dynamics can help reshape German discourse for the better. For instance, the large Eastern European population in Germany might communicate their valuable communist or post-communist experiences. But there are other concerns as well. “We want to especially target the international community in Berlin,” who are largely left out of the debate.
Felix Hosse and the BCIT hope to make Berlin a place where free social attitudes coincide with free markets. If they harness everything at their disposal – their talented leadership, SFL’s network, and the inherently liberal views of the city’s younger generations – they may have a tangible impact soon.
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.