Move over, CPAC: all the cool kids went to SFL

23 02 2012

A recent USA Today article suggests that the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, isthe place to be if you’re young, into politics, and conservative:

The Fairleigh Dickinson University College Republicans saw the big-picture meaning of CPAC.

President James Keyes, who attended with two other members, said, “CPAC is very important to young conservatives because we are the future of conservatism. We are the next in line. Our generation will face a difficult future if we do not act now and stand united. CPAC reminds us that as conservatives we have an obligation to preserve our principles.”

I’ve been to CPAC. It’s fun, especially once you find the open bar events. But I don’t think it’s the future. CPAC may be great for staunch conservatives, but last weekend’s International Students for Liberty Conference was a better choice for those interested in the ideas that have the potential to change the world.

How many future intellectual leaders are in this shot?

Am I exaggerating the importance of the conference? Perhaps, but the attendance numbers seem to back me up. This year’s conference was the first 1000+ student event. That’s up from just 100 students in 2008.

That explosive growth is more impressive when you examine the event’s main draw. No, it’s not political celebrities: the only politician who spoke was Michigan’s own Congressman Justin Amash, and while he’s definitely an up-and-coming defender of liberty, he’s not exactly a household name (yet).

Instead, students came to learn about a wide variety of topics: Campus activism. Privacy. Regulation. Austrian economics. Natural rights. Climate change.

The keynote speaker was Peter Thiel, the libertarian entrepreneur that co-founded PayPal. His positive message about the power of individual initiative was a refreshing change of pace; as fascinating as academic breakout sessions are, it was great to hear from to someone whose success demonstrates the power of the free market in action.

But the conference was about more than interesting speakers. Bring together 1000 intellectually-curious students, and interesting discussion is guaranteed. Interacting with passionate individuals of a similar mindset sparks new ideas. It’s also how you build an enduring, powerful movement.

Credit: Dustin Anderson

The Michigan contingent...over forty students from our state alone made the trip

It’s tough to say where SFL is headed; there are a variety of factors in play (specifically, the buzz surrounding the Ron Paul campaign) that may have conspired to make this year’s turnout exceptionally high. And CPAC’s 10,000+ attendees positively dwarfs SFL’s record-breaking attendance.

Still, after spending a few days with a thousand engaging, intelligent young people from around the world, it’s hard not to be a little more optimistic about the future of both Students for Liberty and the fight for freedom.

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