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This past weekend, March 2 to 4, hundreds of young people from around the world connected in Washington DC for the annual Students for Liberty conference, LibertyCon.
This year marks the 11th year SFL has hosted this conference, formally named the International Students for Liberty Conference (ISFLC). This was my second year attending the event, but this LibertyCon managed to distinguish itself with a very specific theme that was especially welcoming in our current political climate.
It is certainly true that the conference this year had plenty of discussion about economics, currencies, foreign relations, the media, and many more. But the main idea of this year’s event seemed to be centered around free speech and the marketplace of ideas.
This tone was appropriately set during the opening session on Friday night. While SFL had many options to choose from for their headline speaker, they chose Dave Rubin to draw the crowd. Dave has become very well known for using his show, the Rubin Report, as a platform for ideas to flourish in a civil manner without censorship or fear of those ideas being too controversial.
Dave sat down for a live interview with Reason TV’s Nick Gillespie during the opening session. Though he was on the opposite end of the interview than he normally is, much of what they discussed was similar to what is discussed on his show: the idea that free speech is the only tool that can develop critical thinking skills.
Rubin said on stage, “If you don’t say what you think now, when you’re 19 or 20, in college, you don’t suddenly get braver when you are out.”
After opening session, the theme of the diversity of ideas continued into Saturday, as the main portion of the conference began. During the full day of programming, there were not only several panels and speeches but also many debates. It featured a lively debate on the legitimacy cryptocurrencies, one on immigration reform, and even a debate on capitalism versus socialism.
While all of the content that LibertyCon provided was good and thought-provoking, the debates at the event suggested to me that SFL wanted to push the intellectual boundaries of their attendees. To really make them understand both what it is they believe and how to defend it.
Compare that to the experience of this year’s CPAC. Some panels did hold speakers with dissenting opinions outside of the conservative norm, but it seemed like they were just brought on stage to be used as an ideological punching bag rather than deepen the understanding of opposing views.
OUTSET Editor-in-Chief Stephen Perkins highlighted many of these moments in a piece he wrote last week summarizing the event.
It is very clear after returning from the conference that instead of reinforcing what many libertarians there already believed, Students for Liberty wanted to create the best possible learning environment. The only way to do that was to utilize the free expression of ideas the way it is supposed to be.
I sat down with SFL CEO Wolf von Laer for an interview on my podcast, MilLiberty, on Saturday and asked him about the broad spectrum of ideas being discussed at LibertyCon.
Wolf told me, “We don’t want to be an echo chamber. We want to talk to people on the left, on the right, and to libertarians in a civil way and learn from one another.”
You can listen to my full interview with Wolf on Episode 71 of MilLiberty, which you can find here.
In closing, LibertyCon, like most other political conferences, is a great time to see familiar faces and make new friends. Unlike other conferences, it not only allows dissenting opinion and debate but welcomes it. LibertyCon understands it is the only way for future leaders of the liberty movement to grow in their ideology and convictions. Only through free speech can we truly know what it is we believe and sharpen the defense of those beliefs into something unbreakable.