A few months ago we were invited to speak at the European Students For Liberty regional conference in Stockholm. Our institute has previously written articles for ESFL and we have also delivered a webinar for them, on May 1st on the topic The Myth of the Socialist Paradise Sweden. It was a great event with about 200 attendees and it was, to our knowledge, greatly appreciated. Thus, we were truly looking forward to speaking at a one of their conferences that was going to be held in our hometown.
The topic of the speech was ”How to achieve freedom”. In the speech we were going to bring up Mises and use him as a role model in the struggle for freedom, and how you had to be uncompromising in your struggle and never water down your message in order to better suit the masses. What mattered was devotion to truth and to your principles. After all, Mises in his memoirs concludes that if there was one thing that he regretted it was that he compromised too much (Memoirs, p. 60).
As a part of our attendance at the event we were planning on selling books from many of the great authors and legends like Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Henry Hazlitt, Stephan Kinsella, Linda and Morris Tannehill and many more. Since these books are hard to get and a bit more expensive in Sweden we always try to sell them at good prices. We were granted the permission to have a table to sell the books from during the day. At this point everything was ok.
However, a few days before the event we announced at the ESFL event page that we were going to sell these books during the day and about ten minutes later we got a message from the organizers asking us to immediately remove the ”Hoppe comment”. After some clarification it was understood that what they wanted us to do was to remove the announcements about the books. The reason was that we were not allowed to sell Professor Hoppe’s books at the event. This was quite surprising, since according to their website, ESFL prides itself on embracing ”the diversity of justifications for liberty and encourages debate and discourse on the differing philosophies that underlie liberty”, and in being a big-tent movement. The explanation was that a person responsible for the event didn’t like Professor Hoppe, and that Hoppe’s ideas were deemed to be too controversial. In other words, an organization that claims that they are all for liberty doesn’t want to sell books written by one of the leading libertarian thinkers of our time because his ideas are deemed controversial.
For many people Professor Hoppe’s books have been and will always be too dangerous to allow. Once you read them you understand the great fiction of the state, and it becomes obvious to what extent you truly believe in property, freedom and society. Of course we fully understand that European Students For Liberty have every right to exclude whatever and whoever they want from their events. It is their property and their event and they can choose to exclude and discriminate in any way they see fit. Ironically, this is a point that Hoppe has made and been widely criticized for, and it is likely one of the main reasons why his ideas are deemed as being too controversial and uncomfortable, and why ESFL wants nothing to do with him.
It is however somewhat hypocritical to say that they want to include everyone in the freedom movement, from minarchists to anarchists, and that they are open to all ideas regarding freedom, but at the same time they are afraid of Hoppe’s ideas. Thus they have shown through their demonstrated preference that they don’t live up to the very ideal and vision they themselves have set up for the organisation.
To water down the message of liberty and shy away from controversies, with no regard to the truth, in order to gain a wider audience is not a behaviour that we think is conducive to the overall goal and can never be a good long-term strategy. It is coincidentally also one which both Mises and Hoppe would advise us against pursuing.
Obviously, since we hold Professor Hoppe in such a high esteem (he is even featured on our crest) and because he is an important reason as to why we started the Swedish Mises Institute we chose to not participate. Following the lead of Mises, and coincidentally even more so of Hoppe, we do not compromise and we are not willing to water down our message in order to better appease the masses. Instead we choose to stand fast in our uncompromising intellectual radicalism. Of course without our participation the event was more homogenous, with statists and bankers.
Also, an interesting detail that seems to have gone by completely unnoticed, is that ESFL at the event handed out a book with the name ”Marknader och demokrati” (”Markets and democracy” in English only available in Swedish) for free, by Björn Wahlroos. What they weren’t aware of is that in the book he references Professor Hoppe’s book Democracy The God That Failed, and even quotes Hoppe regarding the connection between democracy and a higher time preference.
In the end, it was a simple cost-benefit analysis on our part. Yes, it is true, we could have gained some followers in the short-run if we compromised and watered down our message, but we would have done so at the expense of denying who we are and what we stand for.
To conclude, and to paraphrase Shakespeare, there appears to be something rotten in the ESFL. While we are sure this article mostly will fall on deaf ears, we at least hope that someone within the ESFL realizes that something is not right and acts to change this. ESFL could be a strong and true force for libertarianism in the world, and it is likely an organization that will be with us for some time. However, to exclude ideas and authors because they are deemed to be too controversial or uncomfortable will in the end be the undoing of the organization and the overall goal. Only an adherence to non-compromising intellectual radicalism will help us achieve our goal. An adherence to pragmatism and gradualism will not. Because, it is just like the libertarian abolitionist of slavery William Lloyd Garrison put it: ”Gradualism in theory is perpetuity in practice.”
October 23, 2012