Why Our Freedom and Personal Character Are Inseparable
Milestones in life can be tricky. Occasionally we zoom right past one without even realizing it until sometime later.
The best ones are those we recognize and appreciate in the moment they’re happening. This past weekend was one of those milestones for me as I found myself in the company of many of the most positive and influential voices for freedom in our day.
What Is FEEcon?
I had the privilege of attending the Foundation for Economic Education’s annual conference in Atlanta. FEEcon 2018 was a gathering of lovers of liberty from all around the globe. FEE is an educational foundation dedicated to inspiring future leaders in individual liberty, entrepreneurship, limited government, and high moral character.
I’m a regular subscriber to their articles and resources and recommend them to anyone who is what Matt Kibbe of Free the People refers to as “liberty-curious.”
Over the course of their three-day conference, I rubbed shoulders with and learned alongside several hundred of the happiest, most engaged people on the planet. This included college and high school students from around the world, scholars, entrepreneurs, artists, and influencers.
During FEEcon, we heard from people who had created solutions and circumstances in which lives were objectively changed for the better.
This included Scott Harrison, a one-time New York City socialite who now heads up a project bringing wells for clean drinking water to impoverished people around the world. We heard from Anousheh Ansari, the first Iranian woman in space.
We also had the chance to hear from a number of young people from Venezuela, including a young violinist named Wuilly Arteaga who was beaten for his public opposition to his nation’s despotic government. If you want to get a sense of how precious authentic freedom is, it’s worth listening to those who have actually lived under total bureaucratic domination.
Along the way, there were other speakers, panel discussions, and presentations providing illumination on how to advance the ideas of freedom for all.
This gathering was more than a simple pep rally for people who dig freedom. It was a chance to share what is actually working to advance and secure greater personal and economic liberty for all, with individuals and organizations that are making a measurable difference.
Unlike doctrinaire ideologies based upon rigidly enforced uniformity and central planning, liberty and free markets thrive where people are free to seek out and create their own solutions. This philosophical division of labor results in solutions that are more than one-size-fits-all.
Far from being a rally for airing anti-government complaints, this conference was a celebration of the qualities and principles that qualify us for the blessings of liberty. It was a chance to hear from those who are effectively improving the world around them.
Builders, as a general rule, are far more reliable sources of illumination and happiness than those who only seek to tear down.
Speaking of builders, the undeniable milestone of my weekend was the opportunity to visit with one of my personal heroes, Lawrence Reed, who is the President of FEE.
What Do Free People Need?
I asked Reed about the essential connection between freedom and personal character. He reminded me of how ancient Rome rose to greatness during its Republic years as a result of the personal character its people were willing to practice.
This doesn’t mean that they were perfect, but when they focused on self-responsibility and self-reliance, they thrived. By the same token, when they let their guard and their character down and started voting themselves benefits, they soon found themselves bought and paid for by a welfare state.
While this may seem to be of interest only to academics and historians, the truth is that our society has a lot more in common with ancient Rome in this regard than we’d like to admit. The cautionary conclusion which Reed is encouraging us to consider is that, historically, no civilization has lost its character and managed to keep its liberties.
It’s not a matter of electing the right politicians or enacting the right policies. It’s about what kind of people we are, individually.
I asked Reed what he would specifically recommend people work on to develop the kind of character that is congruent with freedom. Without hesitation, Reed spoke of the need for honesty and commitment to the truth, even when it is inconvenient.
He spoke of the need for intellectual humility that recognizes that no matter how much we know, there is always more to learn. He spoke of patience, courage, responsibility, optimism, and the need for heroes to inspire greatness.
For someone to be a leader of unshakable character in our time is nothing short of heroic. But that’s exactly what the world needs right now.
I’m happy to report that such heroes do still exist.
It was an honor to associate with some of them this past weekend.