Libertarian Campus Organizations: Will Harvard Beat Auburn?

For the last year or two, I’ve placed Auburn University at the top of my subjective personal list of libertarian universities. In addition to an awesome campus libertarian organization, they are also the home of libertarian philosopher Roderick Long as well as home turf for Lew Rockwell and the von Mises Institute. It’s a lot easier to win on home turf — just ask any serious SEC football team.

An article from The Harvard Crimson provides cause for me to anticipate having to modify my opinion in the not-too-distant-future. In addition to being provided detail about the new campus organizaton, the Harvard College Libertarian Forum (HLF), the writer also did something no one has been able to accomplish in a month or so: Reading the article by Alexander Harris caused me to look up the definition of deontologist. We’ll get to that in a moment.

To begin, Harris is a good writer. His introduction provides:

The recent controversy surrounding top-level Bush administration officials, the apparent unwillingness of Democrats to fight the President’s Supreme Court nominations, and the political posturing surrounding the two-and-a-half-year-old Iraq question are the latest in a string of events that have left many in the country, and at Harvard, disenchanted with traditional party politics. But it’s not just periodic crises and scandals that have left many disappointed with the two major political parties: the parties’ ideologies leave no room for people to form separate opinions on each policy issue.

Harvard students vary in their political opinions as much as Harvard and Yale vary in their skills at playing football. Social security, the Patriot Act, tax cuts, affirmative action, gay marriage, drug prohibition deregulation, eminent domain, free trade: each student has an independent answer to each of these questions. Nonetheless, the two-party system forces people to pick one of two package deals of nonsensical and often contradictory opinions. If you favor gay marriage, you must oppose cuts in government spending; if you oppose racial profiling, you must believe in affirmative action; if you believe in free trade, you must oppose drug legalization.

There is no political home at Harvard for a person who wants gay marriage and spending cuts, who opposes affirmative action and racial profiling, and who believes in free trade and drug legalization. She must choose between two (to her) equally objectionable options, the Harvard Republican Club and the Harvard College Democrats. That is, until now.

If I was charged to grade this article, he’d have already earned an A. In addition to superior writing skills, he also provides that he has the real world knowledge to understand how real world tasks are actually accomplished:

But what is libertarianism? Over 250 Harvard students list “libertarian” as their political affiliation on their facebook.com profiles.

To the best of my knowledge, facebook.com is a tool which has only been used in the libertarian world by Dick Clark, formerly of Auburn and now at von Mises. Facebook.com has a lot to do with the recent success of the Auburn University libertarian group and speaks very well of the libertarians at Harvard.

Harris then explains:

Libertarians more or less fall into two camps: consequentialists and deontologists. Consequentialist libertarians want a more limited government because they believe it will lead to better social conditions, such as a higher gross domestic product, more personal choice, and increased self-reliance.

-snip-

Deontological libertarians, often referred to somewhat ambiguously as “philosophical libertarians,” desire limited government because they think it is the only government that can be morally justified. The fundamental claim of deontological libertarianism is that an innocent person — that is, someone who has not violated another’s rights to life or property — never deserves to be punished by having her rights violated.

Yep, I had to look up the word. I’m glad I did, despite the blow to my ego. Being a typical male, I’ve often been accused of having an ego larger than my penis size, so I was starting to look for reasons to trash the article. He mentioned Robert Nozick and I have some problems with Anarchy, State, and Utopia, so I was ready to start tearing him a new asshole. He must have anticipated my reaction, as he continued with:

HLF welcomes all shades of libertarians and, more generally, all students who are interested in — either because they’re in favor of, or because they’re opposed to — any kind of libertarianism. Plans for future activities include both lectures on economics as well as discussions about philosophy. We will, of course, also discuss specific policy issues, libertarian views on law and constitutions, libertarian organizations, and opportunities for libertarian-related summer work and career paths.

All bases covered, his grade gets bumped up to A+. While I’m sure that Auburn would score a basketball-sized point spread against Harvard in a football game, they will really have to step to the plate to ensure they don’t get beaten in the battle of campus freedom organizations.

11 Comments
  1. Like the Federalist Society, the HLF is taking the position that, possessed with the superior ideas, they welcome opposiition within their midst. In my brief law school stint on a very liberal campus, I’ve noted that the Federalist panels always include vigorous opposition members, while the more liberal student groups tend to have one-sided panels of people reciting slightly nuanced versions of the same idea.

    Guess which ones have better attendance?

    Yours truly,
    Nick

    …consequentialist…

  2. Unfortunately, going to that “small school down the river” from harvard, I can tell you that most people living in the people’s republic of cambridge are bleeding heart liberals through and through.

    That’s why http://www.libertyformassachusetts.org/ is having such a bear of a time getting up and running… simply lack of numbers really. Even the republicans are usually dead in the water before they get going.

    Now granted, students at a college (thankfully) don’t reflect the values of the townies living around them. So here is hoping that they can at least make some head way.

    Cheers

  3. I always felt Geroge Mason University was far more libertarian than most. Or is your list confined to libertarian student organizations?

  4. CvV,

    Mason is pretty cool, too. I was referring to total campaus libertarian activity, BTW. Auburn has a good student organization, newspaper, and professors — and this is augmented by von Mises and Rockwell being part of the local academic community. If you are not aware, von Mises is located physically right across the street from the Auburn campus.

  5. Thank you for the highly complimentary post. There’s actually a bit more background to it.

    “Moral Reasoning 22: Justice” is by far Harvard’s most popular class, with over 1,000 students. This year, Prof. Michael Sandel started a blog to discuss issues raised in the class. Very popular with students, the blog was a locus for philosophical debate of varying calibers. Since the class started with utilitarianism, then jumped to Nozick, then continued to Locke and Rawls, I started posting on the blog. For over a month, I would spend about six hours a day posting. Thankfully, my comments generated a lot of controversy and a lot of interest. So, Prof. Sandel called me and HLF VP John Sheffield up to talk to the class about libertarianism. After that day, I became by far the most frequent contributor to class discussions, which some people enjoyed but most sensibly lamented. Nonetheless, my name was quite infamous long before I published the op-ed.

  6. Alex,

    I’ve heard about the class, but was unaware of the blog. Sounds like it was another great tool. I’m going to pass your tidbit on to some other libertarian campus organizers, as they may wish to emulate your technique a bit.

    Out of curiosity, what is your major and are your intended educational goals?

    Good luck with HLF.

  7. It seems the HLF has cast a wide net of inclusiveness across campus to capture what they style the duality of libertarian-mindedness—delineated, no doubt, from Rothbard’s trinity of the free psyche: the emotivist, utilitarian, and the natural rights viewpoints.
    Good for them! Many a movement has perished due to some breedbate at the helm insisting on senseless infighting over particulars and varying degrees of bullshit.

  8. A big photo of the HLF meeting was on the front page of the Crimson above the fold on Friday. It’s still the lead photo on their website:
    http://www.thecrimson.com/

    As to Mr. Gordon’s question, I’m a Social Studies concentrator. (Social Studies is Harvard’s rather ridiculous-sounding name for a major that combines philosophy, economics, social theory, and history.) I’m focusing in political philosophy, specifically planning my thesis on writing about Anarchy, State, & Utopia and libertarian deontology in general.

    Anyone who wants to know more, please feel free to e-mail me at [email protected].

    And please sign up for the HLF open discussion e-mail list:
    http://lists.hcs.harvard.edu/mailman/listinfo/hlf-open

  9. Alex,

    If you remember, please send me a copy of your thesis when it’s completed. I’d love to read it.

    Sounds like a very reasonable major; I’d merely add some literature to the list. My son recently completed a double-major at Mercer U. (liberal arts and mathematics) with a minor in Spanish (or German, I don’t recall). He is now in grad school for linguistics. 4.0 GPA, too (proud poppa line inserted).

    The best of luck to you personally and to the HLF.

  10. Its always great news to hear that the libertarianism community is growing!

    Alex: are you considering transforming HLF eventually into a Libertarian Think-Tank? If so, please check the Atlas Economic Research Foundation (http://www.atlasusa.org/) the “mother” of Libertarian Think-Tanks worldwide. It was founded by Sir Anthony Fisher thanks to the advice of Friedrich A. Von Hayek (Nobel Laurate). They give you the start-up help.

    P.S: also would love to read your thesis.

    Rgs,

    Guayaquil, Ecuador (SouthAmerica)

  11. Another HLF-sponsored op-ed just got published in the Crimson. This one is on drug prohibition, and its application to a member of our club. Unfortunately, I don’t think it turned out as well as the last one. Nonetheless, you can read it here:
    http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=512025

    And I’m only a sophomore, so it will take a while before my thesis is anywhere near complete. I’m basically just thinking about it right now.

    I don’t think the HLF will ever turn into a think-tank; it’s just a student group, though a politically-active one. We’re hoping to, with the IOP, bring some big-name libertarian speakers to campus. We’re also having a debate with the Republican Club and the Salient, a conservative campus newspaper, about drug prohibition next week.