Deirdre McCloskey: ‘The pursuit of freedom has unleashed unprecedented innovation, prosperity, and social transformation’

Deirdre McCloskey, renowned economist and advocate for liberal values, delivered a stirring address at LibertyCon International, captivating attendees with her insights into the importance of liberty in fostering human flourishing and societal progress.

McCloskey’s talk centered on the transformative power of liberal ideas, drawing from her extensive scholarship in economics and social theory. She eloquently articulated how principles such as individual freedom, free markets, and open inquiry have propelled humanity forward, unleashing innovation, creativity, and prosperity on an unprecedented scale.

“From the Enlightenment to the present day, the pursuit of freedom has unleashed unprecedented innovation, prosperity, and social transformation.” — Deirdre McCloskey

One of the central themes of McCloskey’s address was the moral and ethical foundations of liberalism. She emphasized the inherent dignity and worth of every individual, arguing that a society built on respect for human rights and autonomy is not only more just but also more prosperous and harmonious.

McCloskey delved into the intricacies of liberalism and its implications for individual autonomy and societal progress. She provocatively questioned the tendency to equate the broader societal framework with the dynamics of a familial unit, cautioning against the pitfalls of perpetuating the infantilization of society. As McCloskey articulated:

“We take this institution which we all love and admire and should, and is necessary for any kind of society, the family, and we say, ‘Well now, let’s make the big society into a little family.’ 

Well, hey, we’ll just keep being a family for our whole lives. And what’s wrong with that? That sounds all right. Sounds like a great thing. No, it’s not because that means you’re a child all your life.”

Liberalism is adultism. That’s what it should be called. Because all the other political philosophies […] treat people as children.”

Throughout her speech, McCloskey challenged attendees to confront the prevailing narratives of pessimism and cynicism which often dominate public discourse. Instead, she urged them to embrace a mindset of optimism and possibility, recognizing the immense potential for positive change when individuals are empowered to pursue their dreams and aspirations freely.

McCloskey also addressed contemporary challenges facing liberal democracies, including the erosion of civil liberties, the rise of identity politics, and the growing polarization of public discourse. She cautioned against the dangers of authoritarianism and illiberalism, warning that the erosion of liberal values threatens to undermine the very foundations of democratic governance and individual freedom.

In addition to diagnosing the challenges of the present moment, McCloskey offered practical strategies for advancing the cause of liberty in today’s world. She stressed the importance of grassroots activism, intellectual engagement, and coalition-building, urging attendees to work together across ideological divides to promote liberal ideals and defend against encroachments on freedom.

“We’ve got the best set of cards. We’ve got the best arguments […] It’s happened before. The world became more liberal after the invention of liberalism in the 1700s, and it can happen again.”

In conclusion, Deirdre McCloskey’s address at LibertyCon International served as a powerful reminder of the enduring relevance and importance of liberal values in an ever-changing world. Her impassioned defense of freedom, reason, and human dignity inspired attendees to redouble their efforts in advancing the cause of liberty and justice for all.

If you’d like to watch Deirdre McCloskey’s talk in its entirety, be sure to check out the video below from LibertyCon International 2024.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.

Russell Coates

Editor-in-Chief, Learn Liberty Blog

Russell is the Editor-in-Chief of the Learn Liberty blog, having also served as Students For Liberty’s Global Content Marketing Specialist. He enjoys researching and reading about a wide variety of topics, including the history of liberalism, philosophy, politics and current events, emerging technologies, and conservationism. Russell obtained a B.A. in…

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