Students for Liberty Invade Washington, DC


EspañolWe often hear that the most powerful man in the world resides in Washington, DC. The expansion of executive power and the steady growth of the state in recent years has given the White House unprecedented political power, lending credence to this belief.

Thousands of classical liberals and libertarians from around the world descended on Washington, DC for the annual International Students for Liberty Conference.
Thousands of classical liberals and libertarians from around the world descended on Washington, DC for the annual International Students for Liberty Conference. (Olivia Valentine)

But while the “leader of the free world” decided what country to attack next or where to impose new sanctions, over a thousand young liberal and libertarian activists gathered only a few miles away to envisage a truly free world — one no longer manipulated by the upper echelons of power.

On February 13, the 2015 International Students for Liberty Conference (ISFLC) came to Washington for the eighth straight year, and for a weekend at least, the city once again became a global beacon of freedom.

The lobby of the Washington Marriott Wardman Park offered an encouraging scene. Hundreds of people had arrived to hear some of the most prominent liberal and libertarian thinkers present their ideas.

From discussions on the need to respect different lifestyles to exploring alternatives to state power, the range of topics address throughout the three-day conference provided a sure sign that the libertarian movement is more alive than ever.

Edward Snowden: Student of the Year

The presence of libertarian icons like Ron Paul and Judge Andrew Napolitano ensured a steady flow of ideas throughout the weekend. On Friday afternoon, conference attendees greeted former CIA analyst Edward Snowden — the man responsible for the single largest leak of classified information in recent history — with a standing ovation lasting several minutes.

Snowden addressed the crowd via webcast; the audience listening attentively to the man who challenged the planet’s largest state surveillance system.

Edward Snowden, SFL's "Student of the Year," spoke to attendees via webcast from Russia.
Edward Snowden, SFL’s “Student of the Year,” spoke to attendees via webcast from Russia. (Rick Montaine)

The opening session was followed by one of the most anticipated presentations of the conference: Ron Paul, whose consistent, logical, and radical discourse has distinguished him from other contemporary US politicians. During his runs for president in 2008 and 2012, Paul attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of young people who previously knew no alternative to the traditional Republican-Democrat rhetoric that has dominated US politics for the better part of a century and lead to economic and moral bankruptcy.

Together with Paul, Judge Andrew Napolitano gave an impassioned speech on the right of the people to resist the actions of the state.


On Saturday, a moving speech from the North Korean Yeon-mi Park brought some audience members to tears. It served as a reminder that state oppression has very real consequences and affects the lives of flesh-and-blood human beings that we otherwise only read about in news stories.

Later in the day, the theoretical anarcho-capitalist David Friedman offered one of the more thought-provoking talks. In a room overflowing with people, the son of Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman explored alternatives to a state-run criminal justice system. His presentation not only attracted the anarchists in the room but also grabbed the attention of the classical liberals who sought to test his ideas.

Much of the conference played out this same way: intellectual stimulation, coupled with testing one’s ideological boundaries.

On the last day of the conference, former Mexican President Vicente Fox reaffirmed his commitment to end the war on drugs, and highlighted the work of Students for Liberty in spreading the virtues of a free society.

Although the former president’s liberal credentials are not entirely clear, his call to end such a pointless and damaging war led to another standing ovation. All that is left now is to make the rhetoric a reality.

The libertarian movement is truly more alive than ever, and the ISFLC has proved this once again. The diversity, fellowship, and discussion experienced throughout the three-day event made this one of the most significant gatherings of liberal thinkers across the globe.

Translated by Michael Pelzer. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

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