We have experience in making freedom a global matter

Today’s global libertarian movement emerged in the United States during the 1960s.  Many of the future leaders started as high-school students supporting the 1964 Barry Goldwater for President campaign.  Then in college, they joined the conservative Young Americans for Freedom.  It was an uneasy alliance, and a nasty split occurred at the 1969 YAF national convention in St. Louis over issues like the Vietnam War, the draft, and social issues.  The libertarians walked out and/or were purged.

On October 2, 1969, three ex-YAF leaders – Don Ernsberger, David Walter, and Jarret Wollstein, met near Philadelphia and formed the Society for Individual Liberty (SIL), the first explicitly libertarian organization.   Their intellectual inspiration came largely from Murray Rothbard and Ayn Rand.  SIL published radical, philosophical pamphlets and The Individualist magazine, started Tax Protest Day and Census Resistance and held national conferences.  Members of SIL’s network went on to form leading movement organizations such as the Libertarian Party, Laissez Faire Books, Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, and other organizations and publications.

The activities launched by SIL were subsumed by the Libertarian Party, and the organization faded during the 1980s.  In fact, Dave Walter became Libertarian Party national chair, and Don organized the 1989 Libertarian Party national convention in Philadelphia.  They did not have much time or energy left to put into SIL.

There was also libertarian activity in Canada during the 70s.  Bruce Evoy founded the Libertarian Party of Canada in 1973, and also published an early movement magazine Libertarian Option.  His partner in much of this work was Vince Miller.  Tired of screwups by commercial printers, Vince bought his own press and typesetting equipment and produced many movement newsletters and outside publications.  Having his own equipment (and the mechanical aptitude to run and maintain it) saved up to 90% from commercial printing rates.

Vince went on to publish a magazine called the Mercury International Digest for 1976 USLP presidential candidate Roger MacBride.  MacBride, who was wealthy and a world traveller, found fledgling overseas libertarians and fed the names back to Vince.

On August 3, 1980, Vince, Bruce, and many other prominent libertarians attended a Students for a Libertarian Society conference at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.  Both 1980 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ed Clark and Institute for Humane Studies president Leonard Liggio called for the creation of an international libertarian movement.  Vince stood up and said, “I’ll do it!”  The new organization was named Libertarian International.  He used his contacts and his publishing equipment to quickly build a strong Advisory Board and produce quality stationery and publications that made LI appear bigger than it was.

A top goal of LI was to organize the first international libertarian conference.  The Mont Pelerin Society held conferences, but they were invitation-only meetings of elite classical-liberal free-market academics.  The LI conferences were to be open to anyone in the movement.  Bruce Evoy joined in to help organize the first LI conference in August 1982 in Zurich, Switzerland.  There were about 70 attendees from North America, Western Europe, and individuals from Australia, Guatemala, and South Africa.

Inspired by Zurich, Hubert Jongen of the Dutch Libertarian Center organized a big conference the following year in Brussels.  LI continue to focus on building the European movement with conferences in or near London (1984), Oslo (1985), Stockholm (1986), Dusseldorf (1987), and Paris (1989).

Stockholm was livened up by controversy in our having white South Africans speak at the conference.  Ultra-liberal Sweden assumed that all SA whites were racist.  Never mind that Leon Louw, president of the Free Market Foundation of Southern Africa in Johannesburg, and his wife Frances Kendall, were top anti-apartheid activists.  It took endorsements from Winnie Mandela and Bishop Tutu to get the Swedish government to admit the Louws into the country.  Then we got picketed by the Communist Youth League!

In 1988, Frances & Leon organized the LI World Conference in neighbouring Swaziland, a safe haven (although there were a handful of obvious South African police spies).  We had 12 members of the still-banned ANC, who were quite open to libertarian ideas.  Frances had published a non-fiction best-seller South Africa: The Solution, which proposed a Swiss-style cantonal system (and libertarian ideas) to diffuse hostility between the various racial and tribal groups in the country.  Their work, and the help of contacts made at the previous Stockholm conference, led them to be formally nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988, 89, and 91 – an honour which goes to only about 10 people each year).

LI had been largely modelled on SIL, and by 1989, Don and Dave were happy to merge SIL into LI.  We incorporated the new organization as the International Society for Individual Liberty, Inc., and applied for 501c3 foundation status.

The public announcement of the merger was made on August 31, 1989, at the SIL 20th Anniversary banquet, held just before the Libertarian Party convention in Philadelphia.  International stars like Frances Kendall and Hubert Jongen attended, and it was quite an emotional and uplifting evening.

By 1990, we had the opportunity to move from Richmond, Virginia (a nice, but provincial city) to take over a libertarian bookstore in San Francisco – a cosmopolitan city and a much larger libertarian community.  That year, we held a star-studded World Conference in SF, with the Louws, Ron Paul, Barbara Branden, and several free-market environmentalists.  And for the closing banquet – which drew 400 people – the keynote was Nobel laureate, Milton Friedman.

Moving into the 1990s, the big world development of the course was the fall of the Berlin Wall and soon the Soviet Union.  And China was becoming somewhat liberalized.  In 1992, we held our World Conference in Poprad, Slovakia.  The facility turned out to be a run-down technical high school, next to a chemical plant.  We all got a real taste of life in eastern Europe, as they were barely beginning to recover from communism.  It actually led to some of the best camaraderie of any of our conferences, including with the local hosts.  We met three of our eastern European country Reps:  Virgis Daukas (Lithuania) – who would co-found the Liberty English Camps; Valentina Nicolaie (Romania), who would translate six books; and Tomislav Krsmanovic (Serbia), who would arrange several translations of books, pamphlets, and campus distribution in seven Balkan languages. We continued to hold conferences throughout the ex-Soviet bloc.

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When the conferences moved into Eastern Europe, LI members enabled us to offer scholarships to students and young activists from the region. Over 500 individuals have participated thanks to the scholarships, and many have gone on to start or expand think tanks, become academics, journalists, businesspeople, or run for public office.  One of the recipients of our 2006 Prague conference scholarship was a young Polish activist, Jacek Spendel, who is now LI President.

The LI conferences generated the Liberty English Camps, starting in Lithuania in 1997 by Virgis Daukas and Stephen Browne, which have run nearly every year since with substantial help in recent years from LI director Lobo Tiggre. Glenn Cripe joined the team in 2004, and spearheaded the expansion of Liberty Camps into 30 countries, reaching nearly 5000 students.  As with LI conferences, the Camps have inspired a large number of liberty leaders.

Around 1980, Ken Schoolland, professor of economics at Hawaii Pacific University, produced a series of audience-friendly radio commentaries into a satirical, free-market book: The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible: A Free Market Odyssey.  In 1990, Hubert Jongen sponsored the Dutch translation, and it was off to the races.  JG has now been published in a record-shattering 57 languages around the world through the LI network.  The book has won awards from several organizations including the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and endorsements from freedom luminaries Milton Friedman, Walter Williams, Steve Forbes,  John Stossel, and Mark Skousen. There is an online flash animation based on the book in 48 languages, and stage productions in Slovenia, Kazakhstan, and several African countries.

Liberty International has also sponsored the translation of several other liberty books by Mary Ruwart, Frederic Bastiat, Walter Block, Karl Hess, and works by Ayn Rand in her native Russia!

During the 1990s, LI updated the SIL pamphlet series, publishing 37 titles in English plus 18 Spanish translations. Over 3 million printed issue pamphlets were distributed across the US.  They are still available on the LI website.

All of the above projects over the decades have contributed to what we call our “Johnny Appleseed” strategy of introductory public education and network-building around the world.

Recent posts

ConferencesLIWC
July 10, 2020

LIWC in Colombia – Summer 2021

Due to the current situation in Colombia, as well as prolonged lockdowns and imposed economic restrictions, we have made a decision to postpone the conference. The new date is being scheduled for August 12-15, 2021.We will announce the event's further…