THURSDAY 30 JUNE
18:30 – 20:00 OPENING LECTURE
Past, present, future: freedom and the revenge of History
Three decades ago, the end of the Cold War and ‘triumph of liberal democracy’ was said to herald the ‘end of history’ and the dawn of a new post-political world. But in recent years, we have seen the populist political upheavals of Brexit and Trump and a global pandemic that gave rise to the notion of a ‘new normal’. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the return of war to Europe has fuelled claims that a new era is emerging, one where long-buried historical disputes resurface and long-standing questions of sovereignty, democracy and freedom are returning.
What are the trends behind this emerging era? What does it mean for our relationship with history and with the future? And what are the implications for questions of liberty, autonomy and reclaiming agency?
Professor Frank Furedi sociologist and social commentator; author, 100 Years of Identity Crisis
FRIDAY 1 JULY
09:00 – 10:00 LECTURE
War on words: George Orwell and the battle over language
The issue of language is becoming ever more acrimonious and controversial. From disquiet over ‘toxic’ speech to battles over pronouns, universities and institutions regularly issue guidelines on appropriate language and avoiding causing offence. Meanwhile, the use of hyperbolic terms such as ‘fascists’ or ‘traitors’ suggests political substance has been displaced by bombastic rhetoric, further fuelling crusades for policing language.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell created a fictional world of censorship, memory holes and Newspeak, suggesting how manipulation of language exerts controls over what we’re allowed to think and what is considered truth. Yet Orwell, whose essay Politics and the English Language is a manifesto of plainspoken common sense that sets out rules for a style of writing, has himself been criticised in some quarters as a bigot who sought to impose his own Big Brother authoritarianism on the use of the English language.
Why have words become so contentious today and what can we learn from Orwell about the importance of language? What are the implications of today’s attempts to exercise linguistic control and how should we respond?
Bruno Waterfield Brussels correspondent, The Times
10:30 – 11:45 SHORT TALKS
Conversion controversies: Conversion Therapy Bill and implications for freedom
In May, the Queen’s Speech reiterated the government’s intention to proceed with its controversial Conversion Therapy Bill. The Bill will ban homosexual conversion therapy, stopping attempts to induce young people and ‘vulnerable adults’ to switch their sexual orientation. Critics argue the legislation does not go far enough, because it introduces a ‘consent loophole’ allowing adults to consent to the practice in some circumstances. This, critics argue, disregards the rights of transgender people and those questioning their gender identity.
According to the government, its Bill will ‘protect people’s personal liberty to love who they want to love’. But some groups, and NHS England, insist that all forms of conversion therapy are ‘unethical and potentially harmful’ – and should be banned entirely. Should we seek to protect LGBT people from such therapies, or should adults be allowed to make their own decisions? Does the very existence of
such therapies undermine and disrespect gender fluid, gender questioning, or other LGBT people?
Others worry freedom of speech will be undermined for medical professionals, teachers or religious groups– who often find themselves offering advice on sex and gender. What is the line separating discussing someone’s life choices and options with attempts to ‘convert’ them? Can freedom of conscience interfere with the rights of some groups to live free from intimidation? How should we proceed when matters of conscience come into conflict with external pressures and expectations?
Dolan Cummings writer and editor; author, Gehenna: a novel of Hell and Earth
James Esses co-founder, Thoughtful Therapists; volunteer children’s counsellor
12:00 – 13:00 SHORT TALKS FOLLOWED BY GROUP SEMINARS
REVISITING CLASSICS OPTION 1: Grossman – Life and Fate
Vasily Grossman’s masterpiece, Life and Fate, is often spoken in the same breath as Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The book captures the world-changing defeat of Nazi Germany at the Russian city of Stalingrad, but it also illustrates, like Tolstoy’s, a particular vision of history and man’s place within it. Grossman, a Russian-speaking Jew born in Ukraine, vividly illustrates how individuals, even if they may be caught up in events so momentous that they might seem like mere cogs in an enormous machine, nonetheless shape history and fate through their own deeply individual actions.
With war raging today in Grossman’s homeland, and a similarly heroic resistance taking place, what can the novel tell us about how individuals shape history?
Jacob Reynolds convenor, The Academy; external affairs manager, boi charity
REVISISTING CLASSICS OPTION 2: The Classical Era – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven
For much of the past 250 years, string quartets, operas and concertos composed by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were regarded by many as a high point of Western civilisation. Long before music could be recorded, they became sensations across Europe and beyond, marked by their ambition to convey meaning beyond music itself and for capturing a more elevated idea of what we mean by art and the artist.
Today, however, the classical era is considered controversial. Experts fret that musical notation is ‘colonialist’, opera ‘susceptible to racialised representations’ and classical repertoires are complicit in ‘neoliberal systems of power’. Cambridge University wants students to ‘decolonise their ears’ and now places trigger warnings on masterworks conceived in the age of Enlightenment.
What defines the Classical Era? What inspired these composers and what can their works tell us about the intellectual, social and cultural upheavals of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries? Why should anyone with an already-lengthy Spotify playlist bother adding these particular dead, white, European males?
Stephen Johnson music writer, broadcaster and composer; author, The Classical Era
14:00 – 15:00 LECTURE ON LIBERTY
Sexual freedom today
In his Letter on Liberty – Unshackling Intimacy – writer and journalist Ralph Leonard champions sexual freedom as reflective of a more general individual and social freedom. He argues that while taboos around sex and intimacy have shifted over time, prejudices still abound relating to ‘free love’. While risk aversion, evident recently in the Covid lockdowns, might have had an extreme impact on our ability to be intimate, Leonard argues that it would be a mistake to see the pandemic as the sole threat to sexual freedom. Others, such as writer Louise Perry, say that in the face of a post-1960s amoral libertinism and hypersexualised culture, we need a new sexual culture built around dignity, virtue and restraint.
Has the culture of safetyism finally killed off our wild side? Do we need to drop our remaining prejudices about love in order for sexual expression to transcend its current fetters? Or should we be wary of the orthodoxies of our ultra-liberal era? How do we rediscover love and intimacy in a world that often seems hostile to risk?
Ralph Leonard writer; author, Unshackling Intimacy: Letters on Liberty; contributor, Areo
Zoe Strimpel historian; columnist; author, Seeking Love in Modern Britain
15:15 – 16:15 FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM
OPTION 1. Free speech on campus: what, where, how?
Today, threats to freedom on campus come from multiple directions. Students campaign to have lecturers sacked or speakers no-platformed; diversity officers and administrators encourage anonymous reporting of alleged microaggressions; and a vocal minority of academics are openly hostile to free speech. Given encouraging signs in some quarters of a willingness to fight back, what should the priorities be for securing free speech on campus? How best can students, academics and universities make the case for academic freedom and free speech on campus?
Jan Macvarish education and events director, Free Speech Union
IN CONVERSATION WITH
Julie Bindel journalist; author, Feminism for Women: the real route to liberation
Ellie Lee professor of family and parenting research, University of Kent, Canterbury
Dr Neil Thin University of Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF)
OPTION 2. How to fight cancel culture and win
There is, perhaps, a growing fightback against cancel culture. There seem to be more and more campaigns to defend civil liberties, resist cancel culture and protect rights to free speech. What can we learn from those who have been publicly shamed for their views or beliefs, or had their words scrutinised by an employment tribunal or even by the police? What inspires some to stand their ground and make their struggle public? And how can we successfully defend individual speech rights, campaign for greater legislative protection and try to turn the tide on the wave of intolerance sweeping through our institutions?
Niall Crowley campaigner, Free Our Streets; independent candidate, London council elections 2022
IN CONVERSATION WITH
Maya Forstater executive director, Sex Matters
Harry Miller writer and campaigner; founder, Fair Cop; strategic adviser, Bad Law Project
16:30 – 17:30 SHORT TALKS
Is ‘cancel culture’ killing literature?
One hundred years ago, the publication of Ulysses by James Joyce scandalised many in the literary world. But the novel defied the censors and came to be regarded as outstanding, profoundly influencing the development of twentieth-century literature.
Today, twentieth-century literary giants are again under attack as works by Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, John Updike, Harper Lee and more are struck from publishers’ lists or removed from school and university courses. Where bans on ‘obscene’ books once came from the censor’s office, today the literary and publishing worlds themselves often lead the way, challenging ‘pale, male and stale’ industry traditions, frowning upon the private lives or personal opinions of authors, and utilising sensitivity readers to weed out culturally insensitive work. Yet arguably it’s never been easier to get a publishing deal and a changing cultural climate provides both creative challenges and diverse opportunities, often for writers previously side-lined due to their background or lack of connections.
What are the consequences when we judge works by the author’s views and behaviour? Is this literary ‘cancel culture’ merely censorship under a new guise? Does the new outlook of the publishing world stimulate or crush the creative spirit of writers? Do ‘sensitivity readers’ play a valuable role or are publishers and readers now overly sensitive when faced with challenging content? What impact will new attitudes have on contemporary authors and the future of literature?
Dr Philip Kiszely lecturer, University of Leeds; senior fellow, New Culture Forum; author, Hollywood through Private Eyes
Dr Joanna Williams director, Cieo; columnist, spiked, author, How Woke Won
17:45 – 19:00 PANEL DISCUSSION
Big Tech and online censorship: how can we solve a problem like misinformation?
With all major news stories, whether elections, wars, new technologies or global pandemics now accompanied by heightened concerns over misinformation, a handful of Big Tech companies increasingly control what we can hear or read. Spotify and YouTube cleanse their platforms of alleged Covid ‘misinformation’, Facebook blocks sharing of ‘fake’ reports about Hunter Biden’s emails while its parent company, Meta, has de-platformed Russia Today (RT). The EU backlash against Elon Musk’s proposal to create a freer Twitter reminds us that institutions too are increasingly interventionist. The UK government Online Safety Bill will empower regulator Ofcom to further control and punish online companies.
While many worry over the consequences for free speech, there’s little doubt that misinformation has important consequences. Some point to attacks on wireless towers and telecom engineers that followed 5G conspiracy stories. Others question why Big Tech is free to set algorithms which showcase misinformed content and net them billions of dollars while also fuelling distrust in civil society and democracy.
How can we solve the problem of misinformation? Does the online world of anonymity, falsehoods and harms now justify new controls? Where do the boundaries lie between disinformation and genuine disagreement? At a time when even fact checkers are thought to be biased, how do we create a basis for genuine debate when the quest for truth is disfigured by an atmosphere of mistrust?
Mark Johnson Legal and Policy Officer, Big Brother Watch
Jordan Tyldesley writer and journalist
Toby Young general secretary, Free Speech Union; associate editor, Spectator
SATURDAY 2 JULY
09:30 – 10:30 LECTURE
A Lecture Concerning Toleration
In the seventeenth century, as religious conflicts tore European societies apart, the English thinker John Locke penned his famous Letter Concerning Toleration, making the case that different beliefs should be tolerated. Later, John Stuart Mill argued that people should not only have freedom of belief but also freedom of speech. Freedom of conscience he said would mean nothing unless we tolerate people communicating their ideas.
Today, the idea of tolerance is a familiar one and is supported by many. But its meaning is less clearcut. People and institutions regularly find reasons as to why we shouldn’t listen to those we dislike or disagree with. Indeed, the notion of tolerance is regularly deployed to argue that we suspend freedom of speech and criticism of views – lest we come across as intolerant of certain minority beliefs. The notion of ‘respect’ is often now presented as a more useful concept than tolerance because it implies listening, empathy and support rather than expressing judgement.
In this lecture, we explore the origins and evolving meaning of toleration, ask if tolerance is worth pursuing today and, if so, how can we best make the case.
Arif Ahmed reader in philosophy, University of Cambridge
11:00 – 12:00 LECTURE
Sovereignty after Covid
The concept of sovereignty has its roots in the Middle Ages, but it was during the Enlightenment that the idea gained currency as both a moral and legal force. Today, there are many challenges to ensuring that sovereignty is taken seriously, and that self-rule and moral autonomy can prevail. As evidenced, for example, by the massive resort to executive orders under covid, one of the biggest threats is the naturalisation of executive power and the expanded role of state as a body that sees its mission as responding to threats rather than representing the public.
How do we defend sovereignty today? How can we defend our autonomous status as social beings? How do we retain the social contract between ourselves as well as our elected representatives?
Josie Appleton director, Manifesto Club; author, Officious: Rise of the Busybody State
What the papers say
From football fans booing the national anthem to fears of Elon Musk liberalising Twitter, and whether the silencing of gender critical feminists by Trans activists or the curtailing of legal but harmful speech online, the daily news is awash with an enormous range of stories that raise vital questions on the future of freedom. Having spent lunch perusing the papers for newsworthy freedom-related stories, each group – led by guest reviewers – will consider the moral questions raised as regards to freedom and liberty.
Pamela Dow, executive director, government skills and curriculum unit, Cabinet Office; Oli Foster, producer, GB News; Aaron Gonzalez, producer, Talk TV; Paddy Hannam, researcher, House of Commons; Candice Holdsworth, writer and editor; Iona Italia, editor in chief, Areo; Mo Lovatt, radio and TV commentator, Times Radio and Sky News; Thomas Prosser, political economist; Jordan Tyldesley writer and journalist
Adam Rawcliffe, head of partnerships, Spectator; Kevin Rooney, editor, irishborderpoll.com; Austin Williams, director, Future Cities Project.
14:30 – 15:30 FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM 2
OPTION 1. Winning the arguments in the public square and the media
Whether defending free speech and sex-based rights, resisting limits to civil liberties through emergency powers, or challenging new orthodoxies from diversity quotas to speech codes, we need to work out new ways of fighting for freedom in the 21st century. What are the ingredients of a successful campaign? How can we master the media? How can we capture the public imagination?
Mo Lovatt radio and TV commentator; national coordinator, Debating Matters
Caroline Ffiske writer and campaigner; lead organiser, Woman Uniting
Aaron Gonzalez, producer, Talk TV
Alan Miller, co-founder, #Together
OPTION 2. Activism dilemmas: When is a demo a threat to freedom?
Contemporary protests raise tricky dilemmas for those committed to free speech. Insulate Britain protests cause traffic mayhem, Islamists picket cinemas and schools, ‘buffer zones’ outside abortion clinics restrict pro-life protests, and pro-choice protesters have picketed the homes of US judges. In each case, the right to protest seems to conflict with other rights. When does a demo become a threat to freedom? And with the UK government keen to place stringent new conditions on protests, how should we respond?
Claire Fox director, Academy of Ideas; independent peer, House of Lords
Marc Glendening head of cultural affairs, Institute of Economic Affairs.
Lois McLatchie communications officer, ADF UK
Austin Williams, director, Future Cities Project; commentator on Chinese affairs
16:00- 17:00 LECTURE
Can duty set us free?
It is often assumed that freedom lies in overcoming boundaries and removing yourself from attachments. Adults, for example, become freer as they leave the childhood world of their parent’s constraints behind. But some critics suggest that, in rushing to cast off boundaries and question obligations, we lose a large part of what makes freedom valuable. Today, they argue, many seek to escape commitments in search of an illusory kind of freedom: many couples, for example, seem to put off having children almost indefinitely, because they fear, or do not feel ready for, the commitments that come with being a parent and value the freedom and flexibility to travel, party and live lives for themselves.
Jacob Phillips, author of a new book provocatively titled Obedience is Freedom, argues that fear of commitment holds us back from being truly free. True freedom is found in taking on responsibility and fulfilling the duties, such as loyalty, fidelity and trustworthiness, that make life rich and valuable. What is the relationship between freedom and responsibility? Are people scared today of the latter? Or should we celebrate the youthful freedom from duties?
Jacob Philips author, Obedience is Freedom; director, Institute of Theology and Liberal Arts, St Mary’s University
17:30 – 18:45 PANEL DEBATE
Can the Bill of Rights save free speech?
When the justice secretary, Dominic Raab, announced proposals for a British Bill of Rights to replace the 1998 Human Rights Act, he argued a benefit will be that it will enable the principle of free speech to become a legal ‘trump card’ in a range of areas at a time when freedoms are being whittled away by actions to protect privacy and by ‘wokery and political correctness’.
The Bill has reignited debate over the boundaries between law and politics. Whether enshrined in international treaties or national law, a commitment to a universal set of human rights has been a basic feature of politics. But a few years ago, the historian and former Supreme Court justice, Lord Sumption, warned that ‘law’s expanding empire’ is taking over the space once occupied by politics. And with recent or proposed legislation providing for Covid-inspired restrictions on civil liberties, crackdowns on protest and constraints on what can be said or read online, sweeping new powers appear to call into question many so-called human rights.
Historically, the likes of the 1689 English Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the United States of America were considered progressive moments in furthering the cause of liberty. Could a new British Bill of Rights provide a similar leap forward? What would a British Bill of Rights look like and who would – and should – get to define British rights? Is this a moment for brave new ambitions, or for protecting rights that we already have?
Luke Gittos criminal lawyer; director, Freedom Law Clinic; author, Human Rights – Illusory Freedom
Karolien Celie universities coordinator, Free Speech Champions, Legal Officer, Free Speech Union
Ryan Christopher director, ADF UK