My name is Alexander McCobin. I am 29 years old and serve as president of Students For Liberty, a US-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate, develop, and empower the next generation of leaders of liberty. It is one of the most rewarding and exciting things I could ever imagine doing.
I had no intention of doing this with my life until I started to do it. As a child, I wanted to be a scientist to make important discoveries for humanity. I then realized that scientists needed freedom to make those discoveries, and so as a teenager decided to become an attorney to defend their rights. In college, my focus began to broaden as I began studying social change theory and so set my sights upon academia to develop and spread the ideas of liberty to more people. During undergrad, I started a student group called the Penn Libertarians. In my senior year of college, several other students and I organized what was supposed to be a small, one-time conference to discuss best practices for student organizing for liberty. Before I knew it, I was dedicated exclusively to Students For Liberty. Today, SFL has over 2,000 student groups, is training over 1,000 student leaders, organizing 75 conferences on all six inhabited continents, and supporting tens of thousands of students (perhaps hundreds of thousands by the end of this year) learn about and advocate the principles of liberty.
My passion in life is liberty. It has been for a long time. My essay, "The Political Principle of Liberty" in Why Liberty goes into detail about what this means, but in short, it is a principle that should inform policy decisions, which encompasses the freedom of all people in all areas of their lives including economic, social, and intellectual freedom. There are many reasons this is my great passion in life, which I expect to detail throughout the course of this blog. However, the short answer comes down to this: Liberty is both philosophically correct, i.e. the only political philosophy that is not contradictory and is consistent with other areas of philosophy, and pragmatically desirable, i.e. produces the greatest amount of good for human beings, especially the least well off in the world. And it is not coincidental that liberty succeeds in being justified by both deontological and consequentialist grounds.
For those who care deeply about liberty, there are many reasons to be pessimistic about the world today. Liberty is under assault from both the left and the right. Even though socialism was roundly defeated in both theory and practice during the 20th century, and it is leading to destitution where still practiced in the 21st century (e.g. Venezuela), there is a serious candidate for the US presidency who openly describes himself as a socialist. Neofascism is on the rise with the resurgence of nationalist politicians, with another serious US presidential candidate taking notes from Golden Dawn. Dictatorships still abound across the world. It seems that we no longer ask the question of whether we should be at war anymore, only who we should be at war with. And basic freedoms, like speech and conscience, are regularly discarded with ease.
Yet, there is reason for optimism: today’s youth. The Millennial generation has incredible potential to change the world. Millennials have grown up socially tolerant, interacting with individuals from all walks of life. They are skeptical of government intervention in the economy, having seen the dangers of government intervention in the economy that led to and resulted from the 2008 financial crisis. They are ready to take action to build the kind of world they want to live in, having grown up with the explosion of the internet and realizing the power of entrepreneurism at an early age. And this year, Millennials will become the largest living generation in the United States.
This is why it is critical to educate, develop, and empower the next generation of leaders of liberty . There are two things that change the world: people and ideas. Liberty is the right idea. But it doesn’t have enough people broadly (quantitatively) or the who explicitly support the principle or enough leaders (qualitatively) to influence change. The most effective way to ensure there are the right people both quantitatively and qualitatively to bring about a freer world is to support today’s youth who have the potential to bring about meaningful change both right now and in the future. Students For Liberty has the potential to change the world. The importance of SFL’s work has always been my motivating force. SFL has come a long way in 8 years. But there is so much more for us to do. That’s what continues to motivate me.
I have experienced many tertiary benefits thanks to my role. I have met great people and developed some of my best friendships through Students For liberty. I met my wife through Students For Liberty. I have been able to travel around the world, helping to start and grow the student movement for liberty in places I never could have imagined before. These are valuable, but they are instrumental and tertiary. They came about because the principal reason for SFL’s existence, and the reason SFL matters so much, is its vision of creating a freer future.
It’s not all rainbows and lollipops. There have been difficult times in the history of SFL, and there are plenty of areas where SFL can improve as an organization. I am very proud of many things I have done at SFL, there are things I would have done differently if I could go back in time, and I am constantly trying to improve myself as a leader and SFL as an organization.
What keeps me going through all of the hard times, though, is that I can see the impact SFL is having. I opened this post with some numbers about SFL. I care a lot about SFL’s numbers because I know that each one of them represents a life that SFL has impacted. For example, one of SFL’s students in Paraguay recently wrote to me: “When I was in the middle of my undergraduate, I felt frustrated and sad for all the bad education I had, I almost quit my studies, most of my teachers are Keynesians and populists and I felt alone in my university. Thanks to SFL I have the support that I needed, and now I am at the end of my undergraduate.” This is one of thousands of lives SFL has touched recently, and the more that we can help in this way, the more proud I am to be part of SFL.
Last year alone, SFL leaders were imprisoned by their governments on trumped up charges, attacked during their events by Neo-Nazis, had Marxist student groups attempt to forcibly close their school down, and were even beaten by police for organizing a reading group. Yet none of these students have given up. They have continued to carry on their efforts for liberty with even greater resolve. I am continually inspired by the work and achievements of SFL'ers around the globe.
I do this because the world is ready for a change. The Millennial Generation is the liberty generation. Students For Liberty is educating them about the philosophy of liberty, developing their leadership skills, and empowering them make a difference. And as far as we have come, there is much more that needs to be done to bring about a freer future. I want to do what I can to help make that happen.