Why is it important to advance ideas on liberty even when the odds against us seems so daunting?
One reason is because it is the right thing to do.
Another reason is because it’s the only way to achieve a free society. While there is no guarantee that people in society will embrace libertarian ideas once they hear or read them, it’s the only chance that exists to achieve a free society, for if people never hear about such ideas, obviously they won’t ever consider them.
A third reason is that there is always the possibility that people who come after us will be influenced by our words and efforts. The great libertarian thinker Frederic Bastiat is a good example. He was unsuccessful in moving France in a libertarian direction when he was writing and speaking in the 19th century, but his life and his works continue to be a model for libertarians today.
A fourth reason is because one can never predict the outcome of his perspectives and efforts.
Permit me to share with you two examples of this fourth reason.
In the late 1980s, when I was working as program director at The Foundation for Economic Education, I organized what we called “supper seminars,” in which two FEE staffers would go on the road with a program consisting of dinner and two talks plus discussion.
We were averaging about 100 people per event. One evening in Minneapolis, however, the program was a disaster because we had only attracted about 18 people. I said to my boss, “Bob, I’m really sorry about this, especially given the cost of these programs.” He responded, “Hey, no big deal. There’s no way to know what attendance is going to be at these things, and, anyway, it was a good program, which is what counts.”
A few years ago, I was invited to attend a reception at Ron Paul’s congressional office. While there, I was approached by two young men who said they wanted to talk to me. One told me that he was working in Ron Paul’s office as a staffer. The other told me that he had put together an organization whose mission was to influence congressmen in a libertarian direction.
When I asked them how they got into these endeavors, they said, “Many years ago, we attended an evening seminar that you and FEE put on in Minneapolis, which changed our lives.”
So, you just never know.
The second example is more recent. Last winter, we went on our College Civil Liberties Tour, which was co-sponsored by the Young Americans for Liberty, a nation-wide group of college students who are interested in libertarianism. Our tour took us to Colombia University, Purdue University-Indiana University, Middle Tennessee State University, and Ohio State University.
Our program consisted of three speakers and one moderator. The moderator was Jack Hunter, who served as an advisor to the Ron Paul campaign. Our speakers consisted of Glenn Greenwald, who is a liberal, Bruce Fein, who is a conservative, and me, a libertarian.
Fein is one of the most eloquent spokesmen for civil liberties and the Constitution in the country. Since many libertarians came into the movement from the conservative movement, we didn’t expect that his appearance on the panel would raise any eyebrows among libertarians.
But we expected a different reaction about Greenwald, especially since we received some critical comments from some FFF supporters when we invited several prominent liberals to speak at our 2007 and 2008 conferences on civil liberties, the war on terrorism, and foreign policy. Those speakers included the late Alexander Cockburn, Joanne Mariner, Robert Scheer, Daniel Ellsberg, Jesselyn Radack, Joseph Margulies, Jonathan Turley, Stephen Kinzer, and Glenn Greenwald.
As many of you know, we are now taking our tour out west, which is very exciting for us—Seattle, Sacramento, San Diego, Tucson, and Boulder. Recently, in response to a fundraising appeal to help us underwrite this tour, we were asked by an FFF donor why we were including a liberal (Greenwald) in our program.
The answer is simple: Because this particular liberal, Glenn Greenwald, is one of the finest and most principled proponents and defenders of civil liberties in the land. In fact, I personally don’t think there is anyone anywhere in the country, including in the libertarian movement, who is currently presenting a more eloquent, passionate, courageous, and principled defense of civil liberties and critical analysis of the war on terrorism and U.S. foreign policy than Greenwald. I read his blog, which recently moved from Salon.com to the Guardian newspaper in England, every single day. I considered it a huge plus for FFF that he agreed to join us on both of our College Civil Liberties Tours.
Given that Greenwald was named by Forbes as one of the 25 most influential liberals in the country, it won’t surprise you to know that he attracted a large number of students at all the venues at our college tour last winter. And like Fein, Greenwald’s extemporaneous and passionate presentation on civil liberties mesmerized the students at every one of the programs.
At the Purdue-Indiana event, a group of high school students drove up from Kentucky for the program to see Greenwald. What happened then was … well, let me let Greenwald tell you what happened. It’s an absolutely awesome story. Start with this link at Salon.com, the May 23, 2012, article in which Greenwald tells about the initial encounter with the students:
Then, read the aftermath in part 4 of Greenwald’s September 19, 2012, blog post in the Guardian:
Would those students have won the 2012 Courage in Journalism Award if they hadn’t come up and listened to Greenwald and personally met with him? Undoubtedly so, but who can really say that the visit with him and the interview he gave them didn’t serve to inspire and spur them on to greater heights?
That’s why we keep on keeping on! Because it’s right and because it’s impossible to measure the power of ideas on liberty!