Living Freedom 2020

Thursday 2 – Saturday 4 April 2020
CIEE Global Institute, London

Explore the past, present and future of freedom at this three-day school for 18- to 25-year-olds.

About Living Freedom

Living Freedom is our annual residential school aimed at 18- to 25-year-olds interested in exploring ideas as they relate to the past, present and future of freedom.

The three-day school is hosted at the CIEE Global Institute in central London providing a stimulating forum for around 40 young advocates of freedom who will attend expert talks and participate in meaningful debates. As well as the chance to get to grips with key thinkers and engage in a series of intellectual challenges, the school provides a social forum, offering a chance to meet and socialise with peers from throughout the UK and beyond.   


To live and think freely has always meant challenging orthodoxies. Traditionally, when free thinkers, such as philosophers and scientists, experimented and explored new ideas, they were branded heretics and could face persecution for deviating from received wisdom.

Today, Western societies see themselves as open and tolerant. But is heretic-hunting making a comeback? After all, from the campus to the workplace, whether our sincerely held views or the words we use, dissenting from the norm can be perilous. 

What are today’s orthodoxies and why do they so rapidly take root? What is heresy and who are the heretics of today? For those seeking to live freely today, could the figure of the heretic be something to aspire to?

View the outline provisional programme below.

How the school works

Delivered by a series of experts, thinkers and campaigners, this school challenges all attendees to develop their critical faculties and take the intellectual risks required to achieve the ambition of making a fresh response to contemporary constraints on freedom. Alongside specialist lectures on the philosophy and history of freedom, there will panel debates, workshops, seminars and group-based tutorials.  Social events will provide plenty of opportunities for networking.

Who can apply

The school is open to anyone between 18 and 25 years of age, regardless as to whether they are currently studying or in employment.

Application process

To apply to attend the school please submit a short statement of between 300 and 500 words on:

  • What is currently the main constraint on our liberty and the key opportunity for making the case for freedom today and
  • Why you would like to attend the school and how you will potentially benefit from it

Applications must be submitted no later than close of Wednesday 4 March 2020. Attendance will be at the discretion of the organisers. Successful applicants will be notified no later than Wednesday 11 March.



All those selected to attend will be deemed to have committed to attending all lectures and workshops for the entire duration of the London-based school starting at 6pm on Thursday 2 April until the close at 7pm on Saturday 4 April; and to residing overnight on Thursday 2 and Friday 3 April in the accommodation provided.


Attendees pay a nominal fee of £50 which is payable in advance of attendance upon confirmation of acceptance. This fee covers hostel accommodation for two nights in central London, an evening meal on 3 April and sandwich lunches on 3 and 4 April.


CIEE Global Institute, 46-47 Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 4JP


Should you need further information please contact Living Freedom convenor Alastair Donald by emailing or calling +44 (0)20 7269 9233.



Registration, welcomes & introduction

18.30–20.00 Introductory lecture
From the origins of heresy to the new inquisitions
Many people now think twice before deviating from today’s cultural orthodoxies. They fear they will be censured, sacked or even arrested for cracking off-colour jokes, doubting #MeToo, questioning if there really is a ‘climate emergency’ or asking if trans women are in fact men. The old Inquisition now stands discredited and the Catholic Church is more likely to be in the dock than dictating what we can say or think. Yet from offence archaeology and academic mobbing to cancel culture, modern witch-hunts suggest new illiberal influences at play. In the past, those who challenged dogma and questioned orthodoxy were labelled morally subversive and hunted down as heretics. But heresy can be understood as embodying a commitment to making individual choices and following our own ideas. If a heretic is one who asserts the right to choose and exemplifies sceptical inquiry and freethinking, then in the face of the new inquisitions, do we need heretics for the twenty-first century?



09.00–10.00 Lecture
Demonology: a short history
In the late Middle Ages, tracts such as Directorium Inquisitorum and Malleus Maleficarum acted as guidebooks on recognising witches and dealing with witchcraft. In the eyes of demonologists – and indeed, many intellectuals and scientists of the age – to even question the existence of witchcraft amounted to a form of heresy that needed to be silenced. Thankfully, we no longer burn witches at the stake. But is demonology alive and kicking in the twenty-first century? The outbreaks of uproar over those labelled ‘deniers’ – for example, when the BBC gives airtime to anyone who questions the Holocaust or climate change – suggest that those who express disagreement with contemporary shibboleths can easily become hate figures. Those who question the assumption that football fans are racist, the latest edicts on healthy living or the existence of establishment paedophile rings risk being cast out of polite society. What is demonology, how did it arise and what does the new secular demonology say about the prospects for freedom today?

10.15-11.30 Lecture shorts and seminars
1. The Alchemists
2. The Inquisitions
3. The Dissidents

Interrogating historical practices, rituals, institutions and intellectual trends helps reveal the social and cultural factors that have underpinned cultural orthodoxies and encouraged dissenters and heretical thinking. These three short lectures explore: the experiments of alchemists and their search for truth; the origins, intellectual underpinnings and techniques of the Inquisition; and the response of dissidents to conform to twentieth-century totalitarianism.

11:45-12:45 Lecture
McCarthyism: then and now
Like ‘Orwellian’, ‘McCarthyism’ is one of the lexicon of terms regularly to describe worrying constraints on freedom and democracy. But what were the factors behind the rapid rise to prominence of Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s? If the aim was to silence political dissent in the ideological context of Cold War anti-communism, why was the domain of culture so prominent? What explains the war on the intellectual classes of artists and filmmakers? As well as prefiguring the coming battles over morality and values that are identified with the culture wars, the period is associated with an intense demand for conformity, the craving for official jurisdiction over attitudes of citizens and a recourse to conspiratorial thinking. What is McCarthyism and does it mean for the battle for freedom today?

13:45–15:00 Lecture and workshop
From vegans to trans: should our beliefs be legally protected?
Philosophical belief is a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act 2010, making it unlawful to discriminate against individuals on account of their holding or not holding such beliefs. In one recent employment tribunal case, a judge ruled that ‘ethical veganism’ should be protected as a ‘philosophical belief’. In another case, a tribunal found that the belief of a researcher, Maya Forstater, that transgender people cannot change their biological sex did not constitute a ‘philosophical belief’ – so her sacking did not constitute discrimination.

Moreover, under the Equality Act, those with ‘protected characteristics’ are ‘disadvantaged groups’, including those who identify on the basis of gender reassignment, sex, sexual orientation, race or religion. As a result, those who question moral and political views associated with the politics of identity may not receive employment and other protections.

What is a ‘philosophical belief’ and what views or beliefs should be ascribed such a status? What role should the law play in protecting beliefs? How should conflicts be navigated and freedom of expression protected?

15:15-16:15 Lecture
Moral purity: cultural orthodoxies and the arts
The ethics of arts funding is big news. Cultural institutions have rushed to ditch dodgy donors and take high-profile stances on a litany of ethical issues, from diversity and postcolonialism to arms manufacturing. ‘Difficult’ or controversial works, from paintings to plays, are being decommissioned or de-platformed. But if the arts world is increasingly intolerant of moral grey areas, the character of any new system of values and artistic ideas is less clear. Art was once shaped by the needs of the church, royalty or rich patrons. After the Renaissance, art embodied a quest for universal truths and was supported by the new institutions and galleries, helping artists to transcend quotidian demands and fickle fashions. In today’s post-ideological, post-moral times, what informs today’s new orthodoxies and cultural values? Why is the arts world evermore keen to police the work, language and thinking of artists and their audiences?

16:30–17:30 Lecture with respondents
The perils of self-censorship
A recent UK survey found that nearly 80 per cent of arts and cultural-sector workers agreed that ‘workers in the arts who share controversial opinions risk being professionally ostracised’. Another survey found just four in 10 Brexit-supporting students felt comfortable saying so in class. While many worry about the dangers of ‘no platforming’, is a bigger problem our willingness to self-censor?

Some say we limit our speech for reasons of civility. But where is the boundary between good etiquette and giving offence? Others say artistic intolerance is a consequence of public funding. Is the answer to free artistic production from overbearing bodies like Arts Council England, or is it only fair that public money comes with strings? For others, the problem is that gatekeepers in television, radio and live promotion are too willing to capitulate to conservative currents or demands from the irredeemably ‘woke’. How do we cultivate a climate that encourages creative risk-taking, and in which missteps are not punished in the kangaroo courts of social media?

17:45-18:45 Roundtable
The great ‘un-wokening’: where next?
The term ‘woke’ originated in the black civil-rights movement. But in recent years it has been associated with the ‘social justice’ movement and become a weapon in the culture wars. However, just as woke orthodoxies multiplied and infiltrated institutions, business and public life, seemingly beyond criticism, opponents seem to have found their voices. One critic captured this emerging sentiment when castigating woke culture for its ‘self-righteous belief and suppression of contrary systems of thought’. Even Barack Obama has objected to the prevalence of ‘call-out culture’ and ‘wokeness’.

Yet to defenders of ‘woke’ culture, the term has been weaponised. As with ‘politically correct’ before it, they say ‘woke’ is being used as a stick with which to beat people who are attentive to important issues. In the process, these attacks trivialise important causes such as racism, gender equality and rights for sexual minorities. Is claiming to be oppressed by woke culture now just another form of victim status? How should defenders of liberal values respond?

Freedom Dinner


What is scepticism?
Whether the Holocaust, climate change or vaccinations, those questioning ‘official’ narratives or ‘The Science’ are viewed suspiciously and often labelled ‘deniers’. Historically, when sceptics questioned received wisdom or religious dogma, they were condemned for heresy. However, a philosophical tradition of scepticism has existed at least since ancient Greeks embraced the notion of inquiry as the means to discover truth. The development of science and more broadly democracy thrived on the casting aside of doctrines handed down and instead embracing doubt and pursuit of truth.

There are many variants of scepticism, so what should we understand by the term? How and why has the meaning of scepticism evolved? With scepticism increasingly stigmatised, how do we make the case for it today?

11:00-12:00 Lecture double header
The wars over words
• The Heretic-Hunter’s Dictionary
• Newspeak: George Orwell and policing language

Earlier this year, the University of Sheffield announced it was hiring 20 students to challenge offensive language on campus. The Royal College of Nursing issued guidelines advising nurses on appropriate language. For example, wards must be ‘staffed’, not ‘manned’, women should not be addressed as ‘ladies’ or old people as ‘pensioners’ to avoid causing offence. These initiatives followed the lead of many other major organisations.

All this might be dismissed as ‘PC gone mad’. But the use of the wrong phrase holds the possibility of being thrown off campus or arrested for hate speech. Industries and institutions are being reorganised around linguistic codes. Why are there now such determined attempts to control what the public sees, hears, thinks and says?

George Orwell wrote: ‘Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.’ Seventy years after his seminal book, Nineteen Eighty-Four, it seems his fictional world of censorship, memory holes and newspeak has become a reality. What is the role of language in society and what’s at stake in the battle over language?

Expert-led seminars
Group A: Individuals vs identities: how can we move beyond ‘tribal’ politics?
Just as politics is becoming increasingly lively and potentially more open, paradoxically the public sphere seems increasingly marked by a demand to conform with particular group identities and ‘tribal’ outlooks. Beyond Brexiteers vs Remainers, divisions over trans-rights, racism and free-speech prevail. In workplaces, universities and institutions, responses to a wide range of political and social issues seem less motivated by principles and reasoned debate and more by culture and identity.

How can we maintain democracy and a politics of solidarity in an age of ‘tribes’? Can we still celebrate people as autonomous individuals, rather than simply as members of their various groups and avatars of their identities? Are self-centred narcissism and tribalism antithetical, or two sides of the same coin? What is at the root of modern tribalist thinking and how do we move beyond it?

• Group B: Children: a moral shield against dissent?
During past panics and crusades, children often came to occupy an imaginary alter-ego, encouraging us to revere virtues felt to be lacking in wider society. Today, the appeal to ‘our children’s future’ is invoked to justify all manner of causes – from the climate emergency to sin taxes, from controls on internet freedom to NGO interference in developing-world affairs to alleviate ‘exploitation of children’. Some say political engagement by the likes of Greta Thunberg and young climate-change activists is to be commended, helping to drive solutions to problems that adult society ignores. Others are concerned children are being used as moral weapons by a society keen to shut down debate on certain issues.

Who are the ‘young people’? Do they speak with one voice, and how influential should that voice be? Are they dissenters, rebelling against the false orthodoxies of their parents’ generation, or are they tools used to promote a cause, delegitimise opponents, and entrench an orthodoxy?

13:45-14:45 Breakout workshops
What the Papers Say
From policing Twitter and the rise of academic mobs to banning advertising campaigns on the Tube, 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 will consider the moral questions raised as regards to freedom and liberty.

15:00-16:00 Lecture
Non-binary people to cultural appropriation: the significance of borders today
Traditional boundaries that separated adults from children, or men from women, or humans from animals, or citizens and non-citizens, or the private from the public sphere are often condemned as arbitrary, unnatural and even unjust. Paradoxically, the attempt to alter or abolish conventional boundaries coexists with the imperative of constructing new ones. No-Border campaigners call for safe spaces. Opponents of cultural appropriation demand the policing of language, and advocates of identity politics are busy building boundaries to keep out would-be encroachers on their identity. Are boundaries being ditched or simply re-imagined? What are the consequences of these changes?

16:15-17:30 Roundtable
Thoughtcrimes and punishment: challenging heretic-hunters
Inflicting punishment on those daring to deviate from orthodoxy has long been the hallmark of heretic-hunters. Today, from academic mobbing in universities and Twitter-mob denouncements to employers censuring, suspending or sacking their staff, the realm of speech and even thought is under attack from modern-day heretic-hunters. What are the main characteristics of these modern-day witch-hunts? How best can we fight back against today’s increasingly intolerant and illiberal culture? This panel features people who have been punished for challenging new orthodoxies and their stories will bring to life the difficulties of dealing with today’s clampdowns on dissent.

17:30-18:15 Closing Lecture
Thinking about the future: challenging conformism
At the heart of the new inquisition is the demand to conform: to observe the new cultural orthodoxies without question, ditch any deeply held convictions and instead self-censor. In the words of John Stuart Mill, we told to bow down to ‘the tyranny of custom’. On the other hand, over the course of history, it is heresy that has given us much of the liberty and autonomy that we enjoy today, whether the heretics who challenged religious dogma, the scientists and philosophers who made the world a more reasoned place or the political heretics who proposed that women are just as capable of political thought as men. For twenty-first-century heretics keen to challenge the new conformism, what do we need to do, practically, politically and personally? How best can we make a contemporary case for liberty and give freedom genuine meaning?

Closing drinks reception