As I’ve said before, I think it’s a pretty exciting time to be a libertarian on a college campus – whether as a student or professor. And a great deal of that excitement is due to the tremendous energy and entrepreneurial activity of Students for Liberty – certainly the most well-organized and effective libertarian student organization I’ve seen in my lifetime.
I’ve learned most of what I know about SFL from my own personal involvement in their events, and from anecdotes from other professors. But for those of you who – like me! – want to learn more, there is now an academic study of the “Liberty Movement” in which SFL features prominently, authored by Liana Gamber Thomson, a postdoc at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The study is called “The Cost of Engagement:Politics and Participatory Practices in the U.S. Liberty Movement.” Here’s a bit from the executive summary:
In a letter to Richard Rush dated October 20, 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave.”1 This report suggests that participants in the Liberty Movement would concur with respect to the challenges they encounter; largely ignored by mainstream media and pushed to the margins of the electoral process, libertarians have it tougher than many groups when it comes to the task of gaining voice and visibility in the mainstream political debate. This report examines how young libertarians confront such obstacles and presents readers with a detailed account of young libertarians and their relationship to the contemporary political landscape.
One of the more interesting topics on which the report touches is racial and gender diversity within the Liberty Movement. A theme is that the movement is becoming diverse, but still largely white and male. According to one interviewee, “There’s pretty big gender discrepancy, and it’s largely male. I would say 60% [men] to 40% [women] on a good day. Sometimes, it’s like 70-30…” I had to chuckle at this. Not to sound like an old fogie or anything, but back in my day we would have killed to have 30% women in the libertarian movement! If we wanted to find a woman libertarian, we had to walk eight miles, in the snow, uphill, both ways!
Unfortunately, the study doesn’t include any detailed analysis of the demographic makeup of SFL or the Liberty Movement more broadly. The closest we get is a note in the appendix saying that of the 27 people from whom she obtained demographic data, 17 identified as male and 7 as female, and 18 identified as white. As far as that latter number is concerned, 66% is still far from ideal, but again, it’s absolutely mind-blowing compared to anything I would have seen when I was a student.