Matthew Needham, a senior politics major at Michigan State University and Executive Board member at Students for Liberty, has enthusiastically reviewed Madmen. An astute reader and conversant (I had the good fortune of meeting him last weekend in Toronto), Matthew concisely summarizes our framework for understanding political change, and then he draws attention to its implications–namely the theme of Chapter 7, “Assembling the Wisdom: What is to be done?”
While their model emphasizes the role of academics and intellectuals in shaping the political landscape, they recognize that ideas become powerful only when political entrepreneurs form new methods of turning ideas into institutions. The authors attempt to create practical advice for anyone interested in using their model to identify opportunities for political change. These principles are focusing on comparative advantage, knowing the market for ideas, getting the greatest marginal return, and “getting lucky (sort of).” I think this advice is spot on, and I am thinking deeply about how I can apply it to my involvement with Students For Liberty.
In particular, Matthew emphasizes an important implication for people who seek to advance the ideas of liberty: you can find opportunities as an academic scribbler, among the intellectuals, alongside the madmen on the “front lines,” and within the vast gray areas that overlap these categories. Continuing from above:
If you are a pro-liberty student activist looking to better understand how you can change the world, I cannot recommend a book more highly than Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers. We at Students For Liberty recognize the power of great ideas. But ideas alone will not create a free society. To reach that goal, we at SFL are fostering young libertarian academics to fight statism in academia. We are developing young libertarian intellectuals to spread libertarian ideas. And we are young libertarian political entrepreneurs, working to build the first global community of libertarian students.
This reminds me of the words with which I like to conclude when presenting Madmen to young audiences: Understand Political Change. Be an Agent of Beneficial Change.