Libertarian Values and Brown: An Unlikely Marriage?

Libertarian speakers have been popular amongst the student body,

As Tevya’s daughters cry in the classic play “Fiddler on the Roof,” “matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match!” Although the notion of a matchmaker may seem rather arcane, for now I will assume that role. And therefore, in such a capacity, I propose that Brown students and libertarian values exchange rings in holy matrimony.

Why? Brown has always held closely — and quite stubbornly — to its liberal self-identification. In fact, Brown’s liberal reputation far exceeds even its students’ claims. No matter where you go, Brown is equated with liberalism. Tell someone you go to Brown, and they assume that on every issue you will think ultra-liberally. Even worse, if you tell someone that you are a conservative who goes to Brown, they will likely stare in disbelief (as I know from experience). Why has Brown clung so dearly to this perception, to this identification? I do not argue against the intrinsic values that Brown holds, but instead against the far to quick labeling of them in every single situation as “liberal.”

In fact, I believe that the values that Brown students hold so dear are more in line with those enumerated by libertarian philosophy. And thus, should students consider only their personal values and not the stereotyped labels commonly placed on them, they may very well find a more appropriate relationship is instead with libertarianism. I present three fundamental reasons why Brown students should consider libertarian values more closely:

1. Our confidence in the individual. There is perhaps no other facet of Brown that is as strong as our sense of individualism. We believe wholeheartedly in the value of each and every person. We relish in the creativity, skills and natural intelligence of our peers. And most importantly, we place a high value on hard work and dedication. As such, we empower the University to provide each student with the liberty to follow his or her own self-prescribed pathway. We believe, ethically, that individual choice is our right. But not only do we believe in individualism morally, we believe that individuality produces the best results and is the best way to enhance our community and society. We have confidence in the value of the individual to make the right choices. That is the cornerstone to the open curriculum: The best decisions are those made by the student. This belief in the power of the individual is also the cornerstone of libertarian values. Libertarians stress that the most ethical and most effective political system is one that empowers the individual to follow his or her own intuition and desires.

2. Limited governance. Although connected with our spirit of individuality, my next argument concerns the implications of that philosophy. Fundamentally, the way that we as students envision the governing structure at Brown is one of a hands-off approach. We fear encroachment of the administration in our choices as a Brown student and on our daily life in general. We do not see the University as a dictator of the best plan for us, vis-à-vis core requirements or other restrictive structures. Instead, we see the administration as a protector of the freedom we have as students and as a creator of avenues to success. Although this is of course a significant role, it is the upper limit to the influence of the University, as far as we students are concerned. We do not want the administration to make the decisions for us concerning our academic plans — even if that means we may make the wrong decisions. That is our personal responsibility and burden as Brown students. It is something that is uniquely Brown, defines our daily academic lives and is fundamental to the Brown culture.

For all intended purposes, we may look at Brown as a microcosm of our nation in general, and our academic lives as akin to the career life we will one day assume. In that way, the administration acts as our government, we as their electorate and their citizens and the aggregate of our academic careers as the economy. With this perspective, we would clearly prescribe our government to have a limited role in the decisions we make as citizens and as actors in the economy. We would value the individual’s ability to make his or her own decisions free from government restrictions. Of course, we would never prescribe anarchy — the government is needed to secure ladders to success. Yet in the decisions we make as individuals, we would limit the government’s influence. Widespread safety nets that interfere with individual decision-making, perhaps similar to core requirements, would be discouraged. We, as Brown students, would encourage individuals to dictate their own actions.

3. Inclusion of other Brown values. Of course, there are other values that are important to Brown students outside of individualism. Brown students would see a valuable role of the government in, as described earlier, securing our ability to realize our utmost potential. Equality of opportunity is something that is important to the Brown community. Yet equality of opportunity is something that libertarian values stress as well. In addition, on a number of social issues, libertarians and Brown students would see eye to eye. Libertarians, as their name implies, encourage liberty, freedom and individual rights in not just the economic sphere, but the social as well. A Brown student could feel comforted to know that calling themselves a libertarian would not preclude them from fighting for their social causes.

It is important in our consideration to avoid political identifications of Republican or Democrat and instead consider only our genuine beliefs. Disaggregating the two is very difficult, especially given our current political culture. Yet take some time to look genuinely at libertarian values and consider your own in comparison. Do you not seem to agree? I’m sure if students open their eyes, they may find themselves saying, “I do.”

 

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