CEI in Europe: Travelblog 1–Porto, Portugal

On the plane to Lisbon—on our way to our first Language of Liberty camp—I watched the first half of the unwatchable Prince of Persia. Alfred Molina has a small role as an outlaw who runs an ancient gambling house/bar/brothel. As usual, Molina is too clever for the film he’s in. In one scene, he explains that he’s crafted his reputation as a cold-blooded killer in order to escape “the most insidious evil lurking in this forsaken country of ours—taxes.”

Half a day and a train ride later, Drew Tidwell and I sit in a planetarium in seaside Porto as Glenn Cripe—the founder of Language of Liberty—explains Ayn Rand’s argument against taxation to a group of young Portuguese men and women. Glenn has been running programs like this for five years. He works with local organizations around the world to host week-long seminars for students and young professionals interested in learning about classical liberal ideas. He’s recently held seminars in Slovakia, Ghana, and Kyrgyzstan. This trip, he’s going to Portugal and Poland.

Here in Porto, the students are mostly active members of Portugal’s Republican Youth group. They are politically ambitious and curious. Some are lawyers, a few are studying economics, and one is an urban planner.

Many of them are having trouble accepting the libertarian and Objectivist arguments put forth by the teachers. Today is the first day of the camp. Before the Ayn Rand lecture, we had a welcome speech by the deputy mayor of Porto; an introduction to political philosophy taught by a young American; a lecture on the history of classical liberalism by a businessman from Luxembourg; and a viewing of John Stossel’s “Is There Anything Government Can’t Do?,” which provoked an animated discussion among the students about the value of social programs in Portugal.

After Glenn’s lecture, Drew and I step outside to have a cigarette with one of the students, a young lawyer from Porto who speaks in near-perfect English. He says we and the other teachers are far too libertarian for Portugal.

“It’s our tradition,” he explains. He says the Portuguese government has long provided goods and services for the people, ever since the government first started sending tall ships around the world and bringing back foreign goods for the Portuguese market. “For us, the government is like a father,” he says with an apologetic shrug.

But he recognizes some of the faults of a paternalistic government system. Public universities are crowding out private universities in Portugal. All of the medical schools are public. Many Portuguese students go to Spain or elsewhere to study medicine at private universities.

“I think it makes sense that if the government invests in your education, you work for the public health system,” the lawyer says. “But it’s not right that you don’t have a choice.”