It has been one hell of a weekend, and this was probably the best International Students for Liberty Conference I have been to (and Ive been to four). Highlights include meeting the Prince of Liechtenstein, Gary Johnson, and talking to young libertarians about the Free State Project as a mover. I almost didnt go. I had planned to take two weeks to do this and next weekends CPAC, but time and money constraints made that impossible. At nearly the last minute, I was able to secure a ride from a friend here in New Hampshire, for which I am grateful.
We had left Thursday night, and stopped over in New York. The whole trip normally would take eight to nine hours. We arrived midday Friday to a bustling conference, that seems to get better organized every year. This is the second year in a new venue, the Marriott Wardman Park. On Friday each year, everyone from all over the country, and the world streams in during the day. There are some early (3pm) events, but the main festivities happen after sunset.
Intriguingly, for the first time, I saw not one, but three men walking around with kippahs on top. One of them I knew already, but this was awesome to see. I asked them about how they keep Shabbat in such an environment. One said its fairly easy to just go to lectures and stay within the hotels. Another said its a bit difficult to meet with people, but it can be done, and isnt always necessary. ISFLC is about meeting new people.
The opening ceremonies included a panel moderated by George Will that tried and failed to avoid mentioning Donald Trump. After that, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot was interviewed. The original program made it seem like the group would be performing. Tolokonnikova wore a Bernie Sanders shirt and appeared incoherent, uncomfortable, and somehow intoxicated.
The exhibition hall was one of the fullest ever with many new organizations to complement the regulars. One group was focused on promoting freedom in North Korea, a truly superhuman task. Also notable was the debut of Muslims 4 Liberty and the return of Libertarian Christians, both of whom have inspired this group. I hope to join them next year.
The usual suspects from the Charles Koch Institute to Cato to the Libertarian Party were present with their wonderful promotional junk for people to take for “free”. The Atlas Society was giving away great canvas bags. Cato always has nice cinch bags, and I have grown to like the USB plugs from the Koch Brothers. They also had “Koch-a-Kola”. A social rounds off Friday and Saturday nights with drinks on offer and food sometimes served.
Saturday is always the big day, with dozens of breakout sessions lined up with speakers of various types talking about all sorts of topics from standard libertarian fare to free market environmentalism. I always sleep in and miss the first session or two, hoping that there is nothing I want to hear. For one session, I attended a talk by Davi Barker about how to propagandize liberty. He wrote a series of short stories about a kid who survives a zombie apocalypse. He used the stories to demonstrate a libertarian society. He presented a lot of good ideas and I later asked him how he is able to stick to writing and avoid distractions (something I struggle with, note the delay of this blog post and my still unfinished book that you probably dont remember).
Later, I went to a talk by Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein, who is an interesting character. He is probably the most powerful monarch in Europe, relatively speaking, and has fostered capitalism in a country drenched in welfarism. The prince has a veto power that ensures the masses dont get too excited with short term whims. This is balanced by a direct democratic process to remove him if he oversteps, or even abolish the monarchy. Liechtenstein is small, but remains one of the economically freest countries in the world. If only the principalities of old had not merged.
The final talk of the day I went to featured John Mearshimer, who is infamous for cowriting a book entitled The Israel Lobby. I intended to confront him about the obvious bias of the book. His talk was fairly interesting and raised some good points about geopolitics between the United States and Russia, particularly over Ukraine. I did not fully agree with his assessments, but he turned out to be much more interesting and balanced on the topics he mentioned. I did not get a chance to ask him a question, but another attendee got close by asking about Saudi and Turkish influence in the Middle East conflicts.
In between the talks, I circulated around the exhibition hall and talked to the people manning the booths. Many of them and many attendees were intrigued and excited that I had moved to New Hampshire with the Free State Project. Movers are looked upon highly here, and I evangelized and encouraged people to move or at least visit. New Hampshire is not perfect, but this is where “its happening”. Shuffling papers at DC think tanks or praying for a teaching or professor position is not going to advance liberty.
Sunday featured a couple more breakouts that I missed and closed up with a speech by Gary Johnson. He touted his campaign for the Libertarian Party nomination, which is unusually competitive this year. During the Q&A, I asked him why he did not run for the open Senate seat in New Mexico in 2012. A former governor would have won easily, and polling showed as much. Imagine Senator Johnson standing with Senators Paul, Lee, and others. Instead, he foolishly went on a quixotic and failed quest to win 5% of the national vote and still delusionally believes he can be elected president. I had waited four years to ask this and he disappointed, talking only about how the 17th Amendment should not have been adopted and
that Congress and the US Senate, at the end of the day, have a job thats judged by how much bacon they bring home, and that they are directly responsible for us being in the situation that we are in: $20 trillion national debt. And I dont want to have any part of going up to that trough and adding to it, because like I said, at the end of the day, thats what gets you elected or reelected.
Rand Paul manages to do well without bringing home bacon and will likely be reelected. I will repose this question to him at a future date with updated information. His dismissal of the question sustains my disinterest in his candidacy, but I have not had a chance to evaluate all but one of the other candidates running for the Libertarian Party nomination. I am, however, as much as I disagree with some of their methods, pleased that the Libertarian Party is having a horse race and multiple televised debates. The much-talked Stossel debate will be televised on 1 April 2016, which is the beginning of Shabbat. It is unknown if it will be reaired or taped. If you are Shomer, ask a friend to tape or DVR it.
I encourage you to consider attending ISFLC next year. It is one of the largest libertarian gatherings in the world, cheap to attend, and filled with great people. I am hopeful that Jewish Libertarians will have a presence next year. It is difficult with it being held mostly over Shabbat, but it may be possible to share a table. If money can be raised, we would even be able to sponsor a breakout session speaker. Stay tuned.