When most commentators talk about the political inclinations of young people, they usually cast them as overwhelmingly liberal. But the truth is that, while Millennials disproportionately cast their votes for President Obama, they tend to be skeptical of big government and have a major libertarian streak.
That's a big opportunity for the free market and liberty movement, and why it's no surprise that groups like Students for Liberty are thriving.
I recently got to participate in a European Students for Liberty conference in Berlin, Germany, which attracted nearly 600 participants of young people from around the world—including, I should note, many, many women. While most libertarian gatherings tend to be overwhelmingly male, this crowd must have been at 35-40 percent female, a tremendously good sign and testimony to the great work of Students for Liberty in their outreach and appeal.
Brad Lips (who is the CEO of the Atlas Network, and also my brother) wrote about his experience at ESFL in American Thinker. He highlighted the opportunity for this movement to grow by demonstrating how big government is explicitly transferring money from the younger generation, setting up opportunity-crushing and unsustainable welfare programs, and creating a crony capitalist system that is the antithesis of the free market. He also warned the young liberty movement about a potential threat:
Where I see danger lurking is in the efforts of some within Students for Liberty, who go beyond advocating for tolerance and instead embrace Leftist critiques of religion, traditional gender roles, and the like. In doing so, they create unnecessary litmus tests for new recruits and they open a door for a new breed of cultural coercion….
While it is worthwhile to make the case for social tolerance, it is also important to practice the art. Libertarians advocate in good faith against government prohibitions on drugs and prostitution, but a free society does not require that everyone adopt libertine appetites for the same. I worry that some of those attending this European Students for Liberty conference would roll their eyes at the concerns of Little Sisters of the Poor, who have fought Obamacare’s mandate to pay for contraception services, without recognizing the religious freedom issue at stake.
Similarly, some younger libertarians want to attract members of the Left by agreeing with politically correct notions of Western society as hopelessly racist and sexist. This is wrong-headed and strategically unwise. Exaggerating cultural injustices (like the debunked-but-prevalent complaint of a significant “gender pay gap” in the U.S.) invariably creates demand for government to “do something” — and that “something” is unlikely to expand freedom.
This last point is worth lingering on. I spoke on a panel about how the concept of feminism fits into the liberty movement. Rather than fighting for legal equality and equal opportunity, some self-proclaimed libertarian feminists seem to focus their attention on the "oppression" created by social norms and civil society.
Of course, it's a fine thing to talk about how society can be improved and how subtle pressures may backfire in terms of encouraging full human flourishing. But there is a big difference between actual oppression and the existence of barbie dolls and pink blankets. Some complain that women are given the message that they need to spend more time at home. I'd argue that just as many women are hearing the opposite message that devalues motherhood and encourages young women to believe that careers are all that matter.
Yet we should trust that women, in spite of these conflicting messages from society, are generally capable of making decisions that make sense for them and are best positioned to know their own self interest. We ought not assume that most women are being duped when they say that they would prefer to work part-time, rather than full time, after having children. We should encourage women to consider their options, understand the tradeoffs that come with them, and pursue their vision of fulfillment, whether that's in boardrooms or in their own homes.
Libertarian feminists, who would have us believe that sexism is so pervasive and overwhelming that many women are unable to make decisions in their own interests (and thus end up spending too much of their time on housework and on childcare), seem unable to offer a vision for what their "truly free" society would look like. In this process, they end up making a very weak case for less government and greater liberty, given that they paint free society as so sexist and bad for women.
The good news is that libertarians have a much better case to make to women. While imperfect, the Western world has created more opportunity and equality for women than any society in human history. Women can pursue their vision of happiness and should be free to do so, while recognizing the inevitably tradeoffs that come in allocating their time and talents between raising children and other pursuits. Greater freedom will create even more options for women, and can create a civil society that fosters greater respect for both sexes, and more security and human fulfillment. That's the message that should attract women around the world to the cause of freedom.
Let's hope the libertarian youth movement focuses on making that case, rather than parroting tired tropes from the Left that paint women generally as unwitting victims of free society.