There were on the campuses once again friends of freedom and they had the courage to speak their minds. Collectivism was challenged by individualism. […] There are overcautious skeptics who admonish us not to attach too much importance to these academic affairs. I think these critics are wrong. The fact that, out of the midst of the college youth, a new movement in favor of the great old ideals of individualism and freedom originated, is certainly of paramount importance. The spell of the dreadful conformity that threatened to convert our country into a spiritual desert is broken.
--Ludwig von Mises, Statement at Young Americans for Freedom Rally, Madison Square Garden, March 7, 1962. From Economic Freedom and Interventionism, p. 200.
In this pep-rally speech in 1962, Mises lays out the two competing ideologies, namely, collectivism with conformity versus individualism with freedom. Reading over his entire statement reveals the optimistic hope that Mises had for the future. He went so far as to speak of the birth of a new “young generation of liberators.” If Mises were alive today, he would be so proud to see our current young generation of liberators spreading the ideas of liberty on school campuses, on Facebook, on Twitter, on YouTube, and even on the website of the Institute built to honor his teachings and his legacy. Mises would also be pleased to see that his message is being listened to not only by Americans but also by people from all over the world. Today, liberty is making a comeback not only in America but also globally. People are waking up to the problems inherent in fractional reserve banking. They see the strings behind the system. They are beginning to realize that the government is not always right; Big Brother does not know best. People are starting to see the insanity of perpetual wars, crushing government debts, and interminable business bailouts. People are starting to ask questions; they are starting to watch alternative news sources. Conformity has certainly taken a beating.
But why should anyone support freedom and liberty? Are there any logical reasons to justify the substitution of liberty for conformity? Or is this just simply a debate over political opinions, i.e., a debate where some people like liberty while others prefer conformity?
Dictionary.com defines conformity as: “Agreement between an individual's behavior and a group's standards or expectations.” It then defines a conformist as: “A conformist is one who follows the majority's desires or standards.” These definitions imply sameness—a society of conformists would act alike, talk alike, and think alike. The problem, then, is that, humans are not all alike. There is no innate equality. “The fact that human beings are born unequal in regard to physical and mental capacities is not denied by any reasonable man, certainly also not by pediatrists” (The Elite Under Capitalism, p. 21).
Conformity, then, goes against nature. Conformity tries to transform inherently unequal people into equal people. This is counterproductive for society; everybody loses under this scenario. To increase the amount of goods produced, society turns to the division of labor or specialization. By specializing, each person can produce more than he or she could by trying to be self-sufficient. Specialization is simply playing to each person’s natural strengths. It is leveraging the fact that people are born unequal. If Bob is physically weak then he will not specialize in an area that depends on physical strength. If Mary is weak at math then she will not specialize in an area that depends upon mathematics. If Bob is strong at math then he will specialize in that area. If Mary is physically strong then she will specialize in a position that requires lots of muscles. In summary, specialization will dictate that Mary will work in a position requiring physical strength, and Bob will specialize in a position that requires math. Mary and Bob will be able to produce more goods and services by specializing therefore making both of them better off. By letting Mary be what Mary is naturally and by letting Bob be what Bob is naturally, everyone is ultimately better off, assuming of course that Bob and Mary are allowed to exchange goods and services voluntarily.
In conclusion, conformity is against nature. It forces people to be something that they are not. It undermines the division of labor (actually, conformity is the opposite of the division of labor), and so impoverishes a nation. It forces people to do things that they are not naturally very good at doing. Liberty, on the other hand lets people be what they were born to be. Bob can now spend his days doing what he loves, namely, solving math equations. Mary can now spend here days doing what she enjoys, namely, using her physical strength to rescue people from burning homes. By letting everyone specialize in the area that they are best at, more goods can be produced, and the standard of living of society will then go up. Liberty in this sense means: "do not use coercion to force people to be something they do not want to be."