I originally began this post as a short note about my experience with libertarian speaking over the past few years, but I began rambling and it became a bit longer, something of an adjunct to my earlier How I Became A Libertarian. See related biographical pieces are here.
A couple years ago, maybe early 2013, I resolved to stop traveling to speak at libertarian events for a while, except for attending the annual Property and Freedom Society meeting in Turkey at least every other year. I wanted to take a break. It was just becoming too much of a time suck and distraction from other matters. But let me back up a bit, in hopes this may be of interest to some young libertarian scholars.
In the beginning…
When I was a young lawyer, around 1994 (I started practicing in 1992), I started attending libertarian events, initially mostly as an attendee. I had attended an Objectivist conference in Dallas in 1988 during law school with my friend Jack Criss, and a couple of LSU campus Libertarian events (where I listened to Ron Paul speak in an LSU classroom, during his 1988 Presidential run), but that was about it. When I started practicing law in 1992, I started publishing on both legal as well as libertarian topics. I’ve discussed my legal publishing before,1 and while I did it partly for career development reasons (publishing is one way for young lawyers at big law firms to get their names out there, develop clients, and so on), it was mainly because I found law and legal theory interesting, and enjoyed writing. It’s the same reason I started publishing in the area of libertarian legal theory as well—such as my first scholarly article sketching out my developing theory of rights, Estoppel: A New Justification for Individual Rights, published in Reason Papers No. 17 (Fall 1992). I wrote it (by hand, in cursive!) while I was a grad law student at King’s College London—University of London in 1991. Somewhat naïvely, I submitted it to King’s College Law School’s law review, whereupon it was summarily rejected. Not daunted, I submitted an improved draft to Tibor Machan for his journal Reason Papers, and it was eventually published.
In any case, a succession of both scholarly articles and books, and more popular-format articles, on both the legal and libertarian sides followed over the ensuing decades.2 One of them was my article The Undeniable Morality of Capitalism,3 a lengthy and favorable review essay of Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s book The Economics and Ethics of Private Property (1993). For many of my libertarian articles, I would try to publish them in standard law reviews, both to get the word out to more mainstream audiences and also to burnish my legal résumé.
While the legal publishing helped in my law career (and also led to lucrative publishing contracts later on), the libertarian publishing opened up doors for me in the libertarian world. As I recounted in How I Became A Libertarian:
By mid-1994 I had moved to Philadelphia …, and resolved to attend the John Randolph Club meeting in October 1994, near Washington, D.C. My primary goal was to meet Hoppe, Rothbard, and Rockwell.
I had in law school become a devotee of the work of both Hoppe and Rothbard. Hans had moved to the US ten years earlier to study under Rothbard. He was interested in meeting me since I had recently published my review of his book. It was amazing meeting and talking to Rothbard, and Hans and I became instant friends and intellectual compatriots. I enjoyed meeting the libertarians there; not so much the paleoconservatives. I found many of them bizarre, offputting, and mostly unlibertarian, often exhibiting weird Foghorn Leghorn exaggerated Southern affectations which did not impress me, since I’m actually from the South.
Rothbard died three months later, in January 1995. Hoppe took over the Journal of Libertarian Studies as editor, and invited me to become book review editor, which we did together for the next ten years. Over those years I started speaking at local Federalist Society events, on occasion (mostly in Philadelphia and Houston), and attending and speaking at the newly-formed Austrian Scholars Conference at the Mises Institute, plus often one or two other events per year at the Mises Institute, such as supporters’ summits, anniversary meetings, and so on.
I met interesting scholars and people from all over the world, at Mises Institute events alone. In 1995 Guido Hülsmann and I met on the bus from the Atlanta airport to Auburn—we were both going there to see Hoppe, and had coincidentally sat next to each other on the bus. Guido was a young and brilliant economics PhD student studying under Hans as his protege, while Hans became a mentor to me in the libertarian legal and political theory areas. Guido and I quickly became very good friends, and sort of Hans’s two intellectual “sons”—at least, that’s how I have thought of it. Hans has become to me one of the most important influences of my life; a truly great man, and the most brilliant person and scholar I’ve ever met.
The annual Austrian Scholars Conference (now re-named the Austrian Economics Research Conference) was always for me the key and my favorite event; I didn’t miss it for many years in a row. Initially I would present a 20 minute paper as part of a panel in one of the breakout sessions. Many of these eventually became papers I published later—on contract theory, intellectual property, legislation and law, and so on. Occasionally I would be asked to be an ASC panel chair, and over the years, I started being specifically invited to speak at particular events. For example, Hoppe arranged for a group of us to travel to Seoul, Korea in February 2000 to participate at the Twenty-Second International Conference on the Unity of Sciences.4 In 2002, I was a faculty member of the Rothbard Graduate Seminar (how I wish the recordings for that seminar had been preserved—it was really great); in 2008, I delivered the Rothbard Memorial Lecture at the Austrian Scholars Conference 2008. (( The Intellectual Property Quagmire, or, The Perils of Libertarian Creationism.” )) I delivered a lecture at Mises University 2009 (( “Intellectual Property and Libertarianism” )) and again at Mises University 2011 (( The Intellectual Property Quagmire, or, The Perils of Libertarian Creationism.” )) (I never attended Mises University as a student).
One of my most special memories was at Mises U 2009. As I’ve recounted here, Guido Hülsmann and I had been working for a couple years on a festschrift for Hoppe, in time for his 60th birthday in September 2009. It was completed in time and presented to Professor Hoppe at a touching private ceremony on July 29, 2009, at the lovely home of Judge John Denson, a long-time Mises Institute supporter and important scholar.
Nowadays things are different for young libertarian students and scholars. There are so many choices and events—the already-well known think tanks, new ones, regional and state-based groups, international/foreign groups, the Ron Paul movement and spinoffs, Liberty on the Rocks, Students for Liberty, and on and on.
When I was focused on grad school and then my early professional career, initially I focused on attending Mises Institute events, as it was then the major worldwide hub of serious Austrian and libertarian scholarship. Over the last fifteen or so years, partly since the publication of Against Intellectual Property in 2001 (presented earlier at the Austrian Scholars Conference), I’ve tended to get a few invitations per year to speak or lecture at various events (including, since 2006, the Property and Freedom Society annual meeting in Bodrum, Turkey, of which I was a founding member). I would accept some, where logistics were acceptable, but in the last fifteen years I haven’t traveled to any libertarian events as an attendee—I just selected from the ones I was invited to. Now, I’m not a natural or very good speaker, or even writer (I do believe my experience writing and debating and speaking over the years has greatly improved my somewhat mediocre natural talents), but I’m passable; I do this out of passion and to be involved, and used to always be nervous and dread my appearances, but I was persistent and soldiered on. I’m not nervous anymore when I speak—experience helps with that—but I always prepare a lot for my talks; I never “wing it,” unlike some of my best buddies in this movement who speak more often than I do and who just improvise quite often. So the preparation takes time and attention, at least for me. This means that I can never enjoy myself at a conference, in the days leading up to the speech; and the speech itself is always intense brainwork (though enjoyable). I always have found that as soon as my talk is over I breathe a sigh of relief and start to enjoy myself immensely. I then become a mere attendee, and it’s nicer.
Of course it occurs to me now that this is what it was like when I was younger in the movement and not a “name”, when I was attending events just to be an attendee. And so, with life somewhat busier now, a child and career and family and other issues, a few years ago, maybe early 2013, I resolved to turn down every event that required me to travel, other than PFS. I mean I have to keep that one; it’s special and awesome.5
Boycotts and failed speaking hiatuses
This whole episode reminds me a bit of my occasional boycotts every five years of being the tech-support and legal-help guy for every friend and family member in my circle—sometimes I go on a Randian-style strike and stop answering the phone, except for my wife and son… but then, of course, eventually, I relent. But for long-distance libertarian events, I figure—podcasts and the Internet are booming. I can do local events, on occasion (such as Liberty on the Rocks in Houston, Mises Circle in Houston (which I almost did but had to turn down one time)), or events within driving distance such as a talk I did with Jeff Tucker and Stefan Molyneux in 2013 near Houston6 or another at UT Austin, just three hours’ drive away.7 Or interviews via Skype, for podcasts and radio shows, as I’ve done a lot over the last few years. Just takes 30-60 minutes, and no travel.
So I was all set to boycott it all. Just one conference in Turkey every year or two. Everything else online or local. No more, for a while, people! I had just started a podcast—that should be enough, and you can do it from home…
Let’s see how I did, starting 2013. I started making exceptions. To my wife: “Hey, I know I said no travel this year—but for this one, you’ll be out of town anyway.” Or: “We’ll be in Canada anyway, I can swing by Calgary and do this talk.” Or: “The kid will be in summer camp then, so why not.” And so on.
So let’s look at my exceptions since early 2013. In 2013 itself, despite my boycott, I:
- Traveled to Atlanta for Jeff Tucker’s Crypto-Currency Conference: Bitcoin and the Future of Money, speaking on “The History, Meaning, and Future of Legal Tender.”8 Hey. Mr. Tucker invited me. And Atlanta. How could I say no?
- Spoke on “The Role of the Corporation and Limited Liability in a Private Law Society,” 2013 Annual Meeting, Property and Freedom Society, Bodrum, Turkey.9 This one should not count, really, since I made an exception for PFS. But still, travel to Bodrum from Houston is not easy.
- Delivered the talk “Locke’s Big Mistake: How the Labor Theory of Property Ruined Economics and Political Theory,” Liberty in the Pines conference a couple hours’ drive away at Stephen F. Austin State University, in Nacogdoches, Texas.10 As noted: I could drive, so it’s no biggie, right? Though I did get a goddamned speeding ticket with Jeff Tucker in the passenger seat on the way home that night.11
So I was pretty good in 2013. Atlanta was the big exception. But I was pretty much holding strong with my resolve!
- Spoke in Moscow, Russia on “Argumentation Ethics, Estoppel, and Libertarian Rights,” for the 6th Adam Smith Forum.12 Just kidding. I turned down the Moscow trip and did this one by remote video (my third Russia invite I’ve turned down in recent years. Russia scares me).
- Traveled to Brooklyn to speak on “Libertarianism After Fifty Years: What Have We Learned?” at the NYC LibertyFest.13 Okay so this one takes more explaining. I combined this one with a trip to the New York comiccon, since my son is a comic nut. So see, that one makes sense. Right? Right? Plus—Brooklyn, amiright?
- Traveled to Yale to speak on “Balancing Intellectual Property Rights and Civil Liberties: A Libertarian Perspective”.14 Okay, I mean, I had to break my rule to attend a Yale event. Fricking Yale. I figure here is a school too good for me to have attended; I can’t turn down an invitation to speak there. Plus, I stayed overnight in Philly on the way there and had a reunion dinner with three old patent lawyer buddies from my old days in Philly.
Okay, so 2014: only two fails: Brooklyn, and Yale. Not too bad.
Now last year, 2015, I slipped yet again:
- Attended PorcFest 2015 in New Hampshire, in June, to deliver “Intellectual Property is the Root of All Evil” and participate in “Anarchism, for and against: a debate”
- Traveled to New York to appear on the Stossel Show on Intellectual Property (Fox Business Channel, Jan. 30, 2015). Because how can you turn down Stossel? Plus my good old buddy Jack Criss joined me and we had a grand time.
- Went to Turkey again for PFS 2015.15 Hey, it was the Tenth Annual Meeting. It was special! How could you miss that?
This coming year, 2016, looks like I’m off to a rocky start:
- Giving the keynote speech on“Legislation and the State’s Corruption of Private Law—Louisiana’s Special Connection” in Baton Rouge at the Louisiana Libertarian Party Annual Convention16 Hey, I get to drive to this one, at least, though it is five hours. And I did turn down LP speaking events in Austin, for the Texas LP convention, and Palm Beach, for the Florida LP convention. So that’s something. I guess. [Update: I ended up having to cancel this for health reasons]
- Speaking at the Libertarian Party of Canada policy convention, July 21–22, 2016, in Calgary. But our family is gonna parlay this into a summer vacation in Banff. So I kinda get a pass for this one. I think. [Ended up canceling for health reasons]
- Probably attending PorcFest 2016 in New Hampshire again, in June. But this time only as an attendee, so I can relax at a conference for the first time in years. Revolutionary! [canceled]
- I was going to travel to DC to be a panelist on Cato’s Policy Forum on Intellectual Property and First Principles,17 but I dodged a bullet by being later disinvited (long story — see Disinvited from Cato).
- Of course, going to Bodrum, Turkey again in September. [also canceled]
So, 2016: I am slipping on Baton Rouge, Calgary, New Hampshire. And as usual, Turkey.
Okay, new resolution. In 2017, no libertarian travel. Except maybe Turkey. And…
Well, in 2017, I ended up speaking in Sao Paolo, Brazil, for the Mises-Brasil conference, in March. Had a great time there with Yuri Maltsev and Andy Duncan. Attended the PFS in Bodrum, Turkey, in September. And attended the Mises 35th Anniversary event in New York in October. And in December spoke at the Yale Political Union in New Haven, Connecticut.
In 2018 I once again failed in having a speaking/libertarian events hiatus. I did attend the Mises UK inaugural meeting with my buddies Lee Iglody, Jeff Barr, Doug French, and Hans Hoppe, which was a blast. While there I debated “Faketoshi” Craig Wright on IP, with Vin Armani hosting from Las Vegas. And once again spoke at the PFS meeting in Turkey in September. In October I spoke on IP at Berkeley School of Law, outside San Francisco. Also flew back to New York to attend the Mises Libertarian Scholars Conference with my boys Lee, Doug, et al. So 2018 was another fail.
In 2019, I spoke already in February at the New Hampshire Liberty Forum in Manchester, and am heading to Auburn in March to appear on a panel in honor of Hoppe’s 70th BD at the Austrian Economics Research Council. Will travel to Turkey again in September for the PFS Annual Meeting, and possibly Sao Paolo, Brazil to speak at a Students for Liberty event.
- See New Publisher, Co-Editor for my Legal Treatise, and how I got started with legal publishing; Preface and Introduction to International Investment, Political Risk, and Dispute Resolution: A Practitioner’s Guide; Louisiana Civil Law Dictionary Review. [↩]
- For my legal publications, see KinsellaLaw.com/publications; libertarian-related lectures and publications are at www.StephanKinsella.com/publications. [↩]
- 25 St. Mary’s Law Journal 1419 (1994). [↩]
- The panel was Military and Police–Public or Private? committee; my paper was “The Nature and Sources of Law under Anarcho-Capitalism.” [↩]
- See my “Bodrum Days and Nights: The Fifth Annual Meeting of the Property and Freedom Society: A Partial Report; and other reports here, such as Jeff Tucker on PFS 2012: The Center of the Conspiracy.” [↩]
- “Locke’s Big Mistake: How the Labor Theory of Property Ruined Economics and Political Theory,” Liberty in the Pines conference, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas (March 23, 2013) [KOL037] [↩]
- “Intellectual Freedom and Learning versus Patent and Copyright,” 2010 Students For Liberty Texas Regional Conference, University of Texas, Austin (Nov. 6, 2010). [↩]
- Oct. 5, 2013. [↩]
- (Sep. 19–24, 2013) [KOL100]. [↩]
- (March 23, 2013) . [↩]
- Ticket Me, Goddamnit! [↩]
- (Nov. 2, 2014). [↩]
- (Brooklyn, NY, October 11, 2014). [↩]
- (“The Politic Presents” lecture series, Yale University, New Haven, CT, Oct. 2, 2014). [↩]
- KOL190 | On Life without Patents and Copyright: Or, But Who Would Pick the Cotton? (PFS 2015). [↩]
- Belle of Baton Rouge Casino and Hotel (April 16, 2016) (event page) . [↩]
- Cato Institute (Washington, DC, Feb. 10, 2016) [↩]