Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Libertarianism 101 colloquium

Occasionally, when I read infuriating online articles or blog posts about libertarianism, I start thinking that there should be a "Libertarianism 101" blog that covers essentials about our beloved political philosophy. It would look something like this blog, which aims to do the same thing for feminism.

What might be as or more useful, though, is a six to eight lecture D.C. based  "Libertarianism 101" course intended to introduce fundamentals of libertarian thought to non-libertarians. Nobody would required to go to all of the lectures or even more than one, though there would be some thematic continuity among the lectures, and it would certainly be great for people to go to all of them. There should be nice receptions afterwards with wine, cheese, appetizers, etc. to encourage hanging out and chatting with the speakers.

As far as I can tell, no organization in the movement is really trying to do such a thing (though if there's some effort on this front that I've missed, please tell me so in the comments.) I'm aware of the IHS "outreach" seminars. But they typically require a much longer time commitment -- usually a full week -- which can be tough to impossible for anyone with a full time job not in libertarian advocacy. I suspect most internship employers especially are not that keen on letting people go for a full week. The intended audience would be "idea geeks of all parties." I'd also like to draw in roommates/close friends/significant others of libertarians, who are somewhat curious about "this libertarian stuff" that their junior Cato staffer friends are spending so much time on, but who know very little about it themselves. Someone like Josh Barro's then-boyfriend in this story would be pretty much the perfect intended audience.

The goal would not be to "convert" these people, at least not in the short run. The goal would be to produce more liberal, progressive, and socially conservative journalists and policy wonks who could pass a libertarian ideological Turing test. If the faculty are worried that they are sounding like vacation time-share salesmen doing a hard sell or Baptist preachers at a revival, they are probably doing it wrong. They should be going approximately for the tone that Patrick Allitt strikes in this Conservative Tradition Teaching Company course (n.b. that it includes some discussion of libertarianism as an important element of the American conservative tradition, but the focus of the course is elsewhere, as it should be.)

I've been musing some on what, ideally, I'd like each lecture to cover. We'd have to start with a broad overview. Maybe Nigel Ashford could do a modified version of the speech that he normally gives to the Koch summer fellows. There would have to be another on "libertarianism and the left" and another on "libertarianism on the right." I picture Will Wilkinson doing the first and Mike Rappaport of USD doing the second of those two, though maybe other suggestions could be found. There would of course need to be a "Is there more to libertarianism than Ayn Rand?" day, with the answer being "Yes," although I'm not clear on who the best choice of speaker for that would be. Maybe Bryan Caplan of GMU. For the next couple of years, a lecture on "Is health care special?" (brief answer: no) should be included because it's such a hot question in current affairs, although it's not a topic that I imagine including forever. There should be a variant on "Is it possible to be libertarian and care about the poor?" (answer:yes), although that is of course a huge topic and there are any number of angles to hit it from (should the lion's share of the lecture be devoted to philosophical considerations that the Bleeding Heart Libertarians like to discuss, or policy nitty-gritty on Milton Friedman and the negative income tax?)  Other ideas are of course welcome. Conversely, I'm trying to figure out what I consider too Libertarianism 201 for this....

... This also raises the question of whether libertarians would find interesting a similar outreach project on conservatism, progressivism, or non-classical liberalism. I certainly would, and I'd encourage the Center for American Progress, Heritage, etc. to explore putting together such programs.

 Note also that the Libertarianism 101 colloquium might actually make a decent, do-able Social Entrepreneuship Project for some Koch Associates, if the KAPs are indeed still doing SEP.

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