August 14, 2008

Under repair

A few days spent in a seminar on Terrorism, Civil Liberty and National Security. It was aimed at federal and state judges, so some 15-20 had come from across the country -- Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Washington (the real Washington, he said), Massachusetts and elsewhere. The speakers included Eric Posner of the University of Chicago and Amos Guiora of the University of Utah.

Stimulating lectures and questions, just as stimulating to chat with several of the judges. I didn't agree with everything, but that hardly mattered: I got plenty to think about, especially when I didn't agree. One judge put it this way when he and I chatted over a glass of wine: listening to views that differ from yours is a sign of intelligence. It's "stupid people" (his words) who shy away from that.

Actually, the judge made that remark about differing views not in reference to the subject of the seminar, but about the people that organized it: a generally libertarian, free market organization called FREE (Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment). The Executive VP of FREE, Pete Geddes, is a friend from trekking together in Costa Rica in 1989, and he arranged for me to attend the seminar. The judge told me he came because he had heard plenty about the quality of FREE's programmes. He didn't share all of FREE's views, but that didn't matter "in the slightest" (again, his words) to him.

And talking with the libertarians present -- Pete, John Baden, Henry Manne -- was something of a restitution, if that's the word. No emptiness to the effect of "anecdotes that don't back my view of the world are misleading", or "by virtue of meeting for a drink, we're having a confrontation." No viciousness to the effect of "you're intellectually dishonest." No twists and turns to defend clear perversions of free market mechanisms.

None of that. Instead, these people expressed their views without apology, but also listened, explained, discussed. I could see what the judge I mentioned meant. I could see why another local resident I spent an afternoon with, a man generally opposed to FREE's ideas, described them nevertheless as "thinking people."

I wrote once about the first person I got to know well who called himself a libertarian. 22 years since we met, I remember clearly his razor-sharp intellect, his passion about freedom, and his willingness to listen and learn. Clearly, intellect, passion and that willingness fueled and fed off each other. It's a rare mix, and that's why libertarianism, at least as embodied in him, made such a great impression on me.

It got battered in recent years, that impression. But at FREE, it's been repaired in great measure.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In my experience being an ass and being a '(substitute your ideology)-tarian' are orthogonal. Respectfully arguing a position seems to be a rare trait (esp in the public sphere). But when you find someone who actually does that, it is a rare joy.