What is a student for liberty?
To be a student is to have an appreciation for the art of learning as an open-ended process of entrepreneurialism, mutual gain and intellectual progress. To learn, you must open yourself up to other ideas and strive to discover the good ones by using your best judgement. You must see past the blind tribalism of everyday discourse and the complacency of arguing merely to argue rather than to learn. Engaging with new, strange ideas shouldn’t be seen as a challenge to one’s ego, as proof of another’s superior knowledge, as a WWF cage match, or as an ideological war, but as a cherished opportunity for reciprocal understanding and growth.
Despite what the average quality of discourse on social media might seem to imply, there are opportunities for learning everywhere if you remember that you can learn from everyone.
We can not only learn from our teachers and professors, but also our peers, our mentors, our families, our friends, our enemies, our ideological opponents, and even our own students. We can learn from strangers. We can learn from people who are long gone from this world. And, perhaps most importantly, we can learn from ourselves. Contrary to the way many people act in discussions, there is no endpoint to learning, no stopping point at which study is useless, improvement unattainable, and intellectual exchange unproductive. Those bumps on the winding road of learning are always and everywhere self-imposed, but we must avoid the temptation to cut ourselves off intellectually out of fear of being wrong. We must remember learning is a never-ending process of mutual advancement between interlocutors that can extend only as far as our capacity and will to learn.
In other words, being a student transcends time and space. It is not listening to a lecture, reading a book, engaging in an argument, or even being on a campus. Those can be required to learn, but they are not sufficient. They are merely actions that may or may not be accompanied by the psychological attitude that enables you to truly recognize, understand, appreciate, and learn from intellectual disagreements and new ideas, regardless of their source. And that requires charity over distrust, humility over arrogance, and engaging with stone-persons over straw-persons.
Being a student is fundamentally motivated by that desire to learn; to avoid the stagnation of a supposed “dialogue” made up of warring factions and pandering, trolling, bickering, posturing, or anything else that gets in the way of true dialogue; to recognize the endlessly diverse and unpredictable, yet inevitable, disagreements one encounters, not as frustrations or obstacles on the path to one’s achievement, but as the fuel necessary for one to succeed, and to learn from them everything you possibly can.
To be a student is to have an insatiable craving to seek out intellectual rewards in an intellectually unfree world. To be a student is to marvel at the division of knowledge and all its achieved. To be a student is to believe in the virtue of productive disagreement, the creativity of conversation and the wide-reaching rewards of diverse ideas, traditions, thinkers and dialogues playing out in literally unforeseeable ways. To be a student is to prefer open discourse to discourse closed by outrage and call-outs, distorted by social status and tribalism. To be a student requires discovering the infinite opportunities to learn, wherever and whenever they appear, and treating them as the liberating gifts they are.
To be for liberty is to have an appreciation for the art of voluntary social cooperation as an open-ended process of entrepreneurialism, mutual gain and material progress. It is to have the enlightening ability to see the infinitely diverse building blocks the modern world is built atop, the miraculous efforts to test, trade, combine, and rearrange resources and human knowledge for better and more fruitful arrangements, for everything from a mere pencil to a skyscraper.
To be for liberty is to have an insatiable craving to seek out the rewards of freedom in an unfree world. To be for liberty is to marvel at the division of labor and all its achieved. To be for liberty is to believe in the virtue of voluntariness, the creativity of cooperation and the wide-reaching rewards of diverse skills, talents, origins and knowledge combining in literally unforeseeable ways. To be for liberty is to prefer open markets to markets closed by state edicts and laws, distorted by crony legislation and intervention. To be for liberty is to recognize how liberty is what transforms our world from a War of All Against All into a Great Society.
To be a student for liberty is to see that the division of labor and the division of knowledge are two sides of the same coin. To see that the conditions that enable us to turn opportunities for domination and predation into opportunities for trade and respect, that break down self-destructive tribal alliances in service of more expansive social connections, that convert diverse strangers into collaborators for mutual benefit, that support the division of labor, are ones of liberty and free exchange of goods and services. Similarly, the conditions that enable us to turn opportunities for bickering and posturing into opportunities for learning and appreciation, that break down self-destructive tribal alliances in service of more expansive comprehension, that convert disagreeing strangers into collaborators for mutual understanding, that support the division of knowledge, are ones of liberty and free exchange of ideas. The free flow of goods and services depends on the free flow of ideas and vice versa. Free markets and free minds are mutually reinforcing.
Institutional problems require institutional solutions. State tyranny must be replaced with freed markets. Humanity’s material flourishing and progress depends on replacing norms that suppress and restrict with ones that liberate and emancipate. Likewise, discourse tyranny must be replaced with open discussion. Humanity’s intellectual flourishing and progress depends on replacing norms that devalue and dismiss with ones that understand and appreciate.
Ultimately, to be a student for liberty is to have the ability to recognize how being a student, advancing intellectually, and increasing your understanding of the world around you crucially depends on the division of knowledge freely facilitated by open discourse and mutual exchange, not the unfree, false discourse that is obscured by tit-for-tat outrage, call-out culture, posturing, bickering, tribal alliances, and mutual distrust.
If we wish to free the division of labor for profit-seekers, we must likewise free the division of knowledge for truth-seekers. And both goals start with us and our actions. Just as the division of labor depends on liberty for individuals to fully discover and develop their talents and abilities, the division of knowledge depends on liberty for individuals to fully discover and develop their ideas and comprehension. Just as the Great Society depends on the liberty to engage in mutual trade through open markets, it depends on the liberty to engage in mutual learning through open discourse.
To be a student for liberty requires the recognition that we are all students of liberty. And it requires honoring, not just the beautiful, inspiring vision of a free and open society we are striving toward, but the beautiful, inspiring vision of free and open discourse needed to get us there.
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, visit our guest submissions page. Like what you read here? You can sign up for a weekly digest of the SFL blog and subscribe for a weekly update on SFL’s events, leadership programs, and resources.