High School Students for Liberty

In her interesting new study of young libertarians, which I discussed in my last post, Liana Gamber Thompson notes “a significant deficit” in the libertarian movement – the lack of an organization for high school students interested in libertarian ideas:

Of the five participants [in her study] under age 18, four reported participating in the Liberty Movement in a majority online capacity, as did one of the 18-year-old participants with whom I spoke. While access was an issue for these young people, they still considered their political interests and aspirations to be a very important aspect of their lives. Even though they did not participate in local libertarian organizations, they described feeling very much a part of a tangible movement.

This finding also highlights what can be viewed as a significant deficit within the movement: a general lack of high school groups and clubs in which young libertarians can participate….

It is unclear why there is a lack of “in person” spaces for high school libertarians. Young Democrats of America (YDA) clubs are common in high schools, with over 1,500 chapters nationwide. The Young Republican National Federation (better known as Young Republicans), with limited control over its state federations, does not publish statistics on the number of local chapters; but it is the oldest political youth organization in the United States, and thus has a well-organized leadership structure and resources to hold national meetings and events for members. Libertarians have no analogous organization.

This is a significant problem. Many people who are strongly interested in politics first develop that interest in high school, or earlier. And it is easier to influence the political views of younger people than older ones. As people get older, they become more set in their views and less open to new ideas – especially ones that diverge from the political mainstream. I first became interested in libertarianism when I was in high school. The same is true of many other libertarian scholars and activists. People active in other political movements often first became interested in them in high school as well.

Only a small minority of high school students are going to be actively involved in political groups. But those few are disproportionately likely to grow up to be influential political activists, conmmentators, or scholars. Libertarians should strive to reach a higher percentage of them while they are still young.

As Thompson points out, the Democratic and Republican parties both have numerous organizations for high school students. The same is true of many other liberal and conservative organizations. For example, my high school had a fairly active chapter of Amnesty International. Libertarians should learn from these examples. A libertarian organization for high school students could play a valuable role similar to that of Students for Liberty in the college setting. Maybe we could even call it High School Students for Liberty.

One obstacle to forming libertarian high school groups is that the number of libertarian-inclined students at any one school will often be very small. But the internet makes it much easier for students at different schools to connect. Even if there is only a handful of people potentially interested in libertarianism at High School X, that handful can use the internet to locate like-minded people at nearby schools Y and Z. Some of this can be done by individual students acting entirely on their own. But a nation-wide organizational structure can make it easier for like-minded people to find each other and develop closer ties.

UPDATE: Some commenters claim that is there were a need for a libertarian high school student organization, the market would have already provided for it; or perhaps they mean that libertarian defenders of the free market must be committed to the idea that it would. Either way, it’s a weak claim.

By the same logic, you can argue that every new idea or product is unneeded. Before the first car was built, the market failed to provide automobiles too. Ditto for the first light bulb. Markets are dynamic institutions that regularly provide new products and organizations that didn’t exist before, in some cases because no one had seriously considered the idea behind them. I think this is a new idea that few if any libertarians have seriously considered previously. Before SFL was created just a few years ago, there was no significant libertarian organization for college students. SFL’s tremendous success since then shows there clearly was an unmet need. The same may well be true in the high school context.

Libertarians don’t claim that “the market” automatically and instantaneously fulfills all needs. Rather, they argue that it meets more and more needs over time thanks to ongoing processes of innovation and competition.