Libertarianism is growing slowly, but steadily in the Netherlands. The European Students for Liberty (ESFL) is currently at the forefront of spreading the free-market gospel to young people. Last Saturday I had the opportunity to attend ESFL’s Regional Conference in Europe’s libertine capital: Amsterdam. Through the busy streets I made my way to Oudemanhuispoort, passing a Soviet-themed “coffeeshop”, several gay bars and a shop specializing in 3D printing.
The conference featured a wide range of topics. I learned about the importance of open borders, the history of (inter)national drug-prohibition, free-market feminism, piracy in the horn of Africa, and libertarian hacktivism. What was the highlight of the conference were not the lectures or official debates; the day offered the opportunity to talk to people all across the classical-liberal, libertarian and anarchist spectrum. It was surprising to see how many people recognized the C4SS badge pinned to my sport coat and the conversations it started allowed me to explain free-market socialism, left-libertarianism, feminism, and provide insight into thick vs. thin libertarianism.
I had an interesting conversation with an American anarcho-syndicalist turned anarchist without adjectives about technology. C4SS sounded familiar to him and I pointed towards Kevin Carson’s work on the subject. He talked excitedly about how the People’s Republic of China was planning to build futuristic self-sustaining cities to house its worker population. I remarked that it sounded like the pinnacle of central-planning and managerial socialism and that the real interesting thing about China is its underground economy and its ability to efficiently produce quality knock-offs and I shared with him a story from Kevin Carson’s Homebrew Industrial Revolution about the Chinese underground bicycle industry. He was quiet for a few seconds and said he’d never thought about it that way. A rebellious low-tech spontaneous order is indeed far more awe inspiring than any grand futuristic centrally planned project.
At dinner I took a seat near three young German speaking libertarians and one fellow Dutchman. The topic of conversation quickly turned to left-libertarianism and I talked about my leftist reasons for being a libertarian and how the free-market is the best solution to the problems faced by socialists in the 19th century. In reference to Caroline Devine’s talk on Free-Market Feminism earlier that day I received a few questions about feminism and I went on to explain rape-culture referencing Charles W. Johnson’s essay Women and the Invisible Fist. Although my conversation partners weren’t thoroughly convinced of feminism’s necessity at the end of dinner they did seem somewhat open to the idea. As we left, the Dutchman confessed that he was an anarcho-capitalist heavily influenced by Hoppe and that he nevertheless enjoyed my presence and willingness to calmly and clearly explain so many foreign concepts to him.
All in all the conference was a success. Many young people were introduced to libertarianism through a varied array of topics and the topics of the conference proved for great conversation starters during the social aspect of the conference including my many smoking breaks. C4SS has attained some level of notoriety amongst young European libertarians and people were very much interested in our viewpoint. At the end of the evening I made my way back to Amsterdam Central Station through a cloud of pot-smoke, passing several aging hippies, groups of mohawk sporting punks and a pair of flamboyant transvestites skilfully strutting their way across a cobblestone road in stiletto heels. If it wasn’t for Amsterdam’s big-government and corporate capitalist nature I would swear I was walking through liberty’s Eden.