Column on My Summer “Vacations”

My Summer "Vacations"
Tibor R. Machan
Every summer since 1989 I have flown to Europe where I take part in a
seminar on political economy organized by the Institute for Economic
Studies, Europe, a classical liberal think tank in France. The objective
is to familiarize students from around the globe with the principles and
implications of classical liberalism-libertarianism by way of lectures by
several scholars from different disciplines.
Initially students came mostly from the former Soviet bloc countries. More
recently they have come from across the globe. These week-long seminars
take place in various countries and are attended by about 35 students
each. The language varies—some are held in French, some in English. The
lecturers are philosophers, economists, historians, and legal theorists.
Aside from these seminars I also lecture around the USA and numerous
countries, such as South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina, the Republic of
Georgia and Armenia, mostly covering elements of liberty. What has
appealed to me about these venues is just how interested and intelligent
are the students who attend. Although the focus is on the free society, a
great deal of time is spent on considering alternatives and challenges.
While the faculty is largely in agreement about the superiority of the
libertarian alternative, there are numerous disagreements as well,
certainly many details to be ironed out. And, of course, there are always
the traditional questions about whether it is even possible to reach firm
conclusions in a complex field such as political economy.
Most of the seminars amount to a brain storming session—every lecture of
about 45 minutes is followed by a Q&A for which questions are carefully
prepared by the students and this then gives rise to many challenges and
follow-up discussions. Even once the formal sessions are over, there
follow exploration of the related ideas.
Although on and off someone jokes about these being indoctrination
sessions, in fact there is wide open contribution from a great many
political and economic positions. If they aren’t introduced by students,
the lecturers will discuss them, usually with scrupulous fairness–what’s
the point of dealing with critics whose views are distorted? Even those
who make no bones about their commitment to certain principles have no
trouble playing devil’s advocate. Aside from the several classical liberal
thinkers who are routinely examined, such as Hayek, Mises, Rand, Rothbard,
Friedman, Locke, Smith, Schumpeter, et al., the ideas of many others such
as Habermas, Sen, Rawls, Dworkin, Sunstein and the like are also explored.
I am extremely eager to take part in these seminars and for a variety of
reasons (not excluding the fee I receive, which is, however, quite
modest). For one, getting classical liberal ideas seriously considered is
the best way to give them a chance in time to be tried out in practice. My
own thinking about the issues can always use the challenge from thoughtful
and seriously interested young people. I get a chance to travel and even
visit the few members of my family still living in Europe. And there is
also the opportunity to see how different places across the globe deal
with various common and diverse human problems.
There is, of course, no guarantee that even the most competent discussion
and defense of classical liberal ideas will lead to concrete results. But
the chance of it is far greater when the ideas get a good run for their
money. I cannot pretend, and would not even be tempted to, that I am
indifferent to the success of classical liberal-libertarian ideas, that
all this is merely some kind of academic exercise to me. As far as I have
been able to discern, these are the best ideas when it comes to
understanding and shaping a decent, just human community. Not that it is
highly likely that they will triumph but just the chance that they might
is enough to keep those like me going, hammering away on the task of
changing minds and hearts.

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