Living Freedom Summer School 2021

Thursday 16 – Saturday 18 September 2021
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.   


Living Freedom 2021 is an opportunity to explore contemporary issues related to liberty and individual autonomy, using both the insights of ‘the best that is known and thought’ and the provocations of contemporary intellectuals, to get to grips with the complexities and contradictions of freedom in the twenty-first century.

A robust sense of the individual has given way to a more fragile sense of Self as expressed in numerous ways in the context of the culture wars and the rise of more politicised sense of individual identity.  Join us for talks, workshops and debates that explore the dimensions of moral autonomy and freedom of conscience, assess new orthodoxies curtailing freedom around issues ranging from art to the internet and engage with and have your say in debates on hot topics for the future of freedom, whether the environmental imperative to the fight for equality  to the contemporary challenges for women’s liberation.

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.

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


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



18:30 – 20.00

The concept of identity crisis came into usage in the 1940s and has continued to dominate the cultural zeitgeist ever since. Today, fraught issues of race, gender and sexual orientation are to the fore in cultural discourse and conflicts surrounding the socialisation of young people provide a terrain on which the culture wars and the politicisation of identity flourishes.

Few would deny that identity is important in helping to define us and give our lives a sense of meaning. But critics argue that politicised forms of identity represent the antithesis of liberal ideals and operate as a divisive force in society. What lies behind the crisis of identity?  Are contemporary claims to identity necessarily hostile to more universal political ideals such as freedom, democracy and equality? And how can we move beyond the limits of the culture wars to construct both a free society and a meaningful sense of ourselves?



09.00 – 10.00 Lecture on Liberty

Conscience has been a source of dissent throughout history. But in his recent Letters on Liberty pamphlet, Dolan Cummings argues that we’ve stopped taking conscience seriously as an important factor in conversations about freedom.  While conscience has often been understood in narrowly religious terms, today, in the secular West, declaring ‘That’s just my belief’ can operate as a means to declare a view untouchable by debate. At the same time, moral questions of conscience are less likely to be seen as separate from politics. Whether it is rows over baking cakes to mark same-sex marriages, submitting to or delivering forms of medical treatment from vaccines to abortions, or expressing religious-based belief for conversion therapy in the face of plans to ban it, matters of conscience regularly come into conflict with external pressures and expectations.

What is ‘freedom of conscience’, how did it emerge and how has it evolved?

How should we resolve tensions between private feeling and public duty? Are there important issues today that could benefit from the moral language of conscience?


Taking conscience seriously, Dolan Cummings, Letter on Liberty, April 2021

10.15 – 11.15 Lecture

Two and a half thousand years ago, Aristotle suggested happiness should be the ultimate goal for humanity.  John Locke in his 1689 Essay Concerning Human Understanding declared that ‘the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness’. Today, happiness has risen up the social-policy agenda and we’re all encouraged to seek well-being. Yet surveys regularly suggest that we are increasingly anxious and lonely, and social ills, particularly of Gen Z, are now assessed less in terms of poverty or deprivation and more via measures of stress, mental well-being and resilience. Consequently, from universities to business corporations, boosting self-esteem and cultivating well-being through affirmation and emotional sharing has become all the rage.

What does today’s dedication to emotional well-being mean for the pursuit of liberty and living free lives? After all, free speech is an ideal that often necessitates difficult conversations, engaging in conflictual debates and grappling with contentious or even ‘dangerous’ ideas. JS Mill famously warned that it is ‘better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied’. But is it trite to say that we should put up with unpleasant emotions such as misery, guilt and fury because they can be spurs to improvement, despite being upsetting or traumatic? Given the emotional turn, how best can we make the case for exposure to challenging ideas, texts or works of art that open our minds and fuel debate? What are the arguments we need to ensure that fears over upsetting others’ feelings and avoiding expressing disagreements do not become the norm?

11.30-12.30  Short talks

  1. The Long March

From rainbow-coloured police cars to decolonising universities, major institutions are eager to engage in political and moral questions. Museums and art galleries seem as interested in promoting diversity as displaying classic paintings. The National Trust wants to address issues of colonialism and slavery. Some NHS trusts have removed the terms ‘women’ or ‘mothers’ from literature about pregnancy. Some see this as left-leaning activists marching through institutions, reshaping them from the inside as vehicles for social change. Others see a new generation, interested in social-justice issues, keen to challenge prejudice in workplaces and rectify historical oppression. Are institutions playing a driving role in the culture wars, or simply changing with the times? What fresh arguments for freedom do we need to make in the face of new, politically driven institutions?

  • What is McCarthyism?

Like ‘Orwellian’, ‘McCarthyism’ is one of the lexicon of terms regularly deployed to describe 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 associated with today’s culture wars, the period is associated with an intense demand for conformity, craving for official jurisdiction over the attitudes of citizens and a recourse to conspiratorial thinking. What is McCarthyism, does it still exist and what is its impact on the battle for freedom today?

12.30 -13.30 LUNCH              

13:30 – 14:30 Lecture on Liberty

While art was once shaped by the needs of the church, royalty or rich patrons, after the Renaissance it increasingly embodied a quest for universal truths and the idea of the artist’s freedom to discover them. Rejecting the orthodoxies of official culture and the academy, artists sought to transcend quotidian demands and fickle fashions. In recent years, however, cultural institutions have rushed to take high-profile stances on a litany of ethical issues from climate change to arms manufacturing. Meanwhile, ‘difficult’ or controversial works, from paintings to plays, are being decommissioned or de-platformed. Institutions driven by ‘decolonising’ their galleries or removing sexist painters in the wake of #MeToo seem increasingly intolerant of moral grey areas. Today, some artworks are seen as harmful to vulnerable groups and certain kinds of creative expression are held to beyond the pale.

In his Letters on Liberty pamphlet, ‘Art Against Orthodoxy’, art critic JJ Charlesworth argues that art and culture is now stifled by these anti-creative orthodoxies. Yet some would say art has always been a struggle against the material and moral constraints of the day. Are boundaries – moral or political – an anathema to the free creative space needed for great art, or a spur to the creative imagination? Should be more mindful of others before asserting that anything be allowed in art? If art affects people, what if that effect turns out to be negative? Either way, how best can we make the case for art and the institutions of modern culture, from galleries to publishers, to be arenas for creative artistic expression and of the freedom not only of the artist, but of ourselves?


Art against orthodoxy, JJ Charlesworth, Letter on Liberty, February 2021

15:00 – 16:15  Lectures

Moral autonomy is the idea that you should be able to live according to your own understanding of what’s right and wrong, rather than it being decided for you by others. An idea associated with philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill, it stresses that people only truly act morally when they do so for their own reasons. If you’re only following the law to avoid punishment, rather than because you agree it with, then your moral autonomy is restricted.

Moral autonomy is central to a variety of discussions today, and it throws up many tricky questions. For example, some feminists argue that having a child should be a positive moral choice made by a woman, not something forced on her by circumstance. It follows that women should have the right to choose to have an abortion, even if that clashes with the moral views of others. In the debate about assisted dying, some say legalising assisted suicide would allow officialdom to override ill or disabled individuals’ moral autonomy. But where does that leave the moral autonomy of those keen to end their lives early? 

Meanwhile in the discussion is about vaccines, many oppose vaccine passports, or mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers, because they feel that taking a vaccine should be a choice. Does that mean moral autonomy is compromised when people are forced, or strongly incentivised, to take a vaccine rather than taking it because they see the benefits for themselves? On the other hand, many argue that this reveals the limits of moral autonomy, because society has to be able to mandate certain behaviours for the common good.

What then, is the scope of moral autonomy? When is the value of individual choice outweighed by other values? Is moral autonomy perhaps even an illusion, as many scientists now insist?

16:30– 17:30 Lectures

The government’s Online Safety Bill is currently making its way through parliament and aims to make the UK ‘the safest place in the world to

go online’. However, according to the Free Speech Union, the plans will restrict online free speech to a degree almost unprecedented in any democracy and, as drafted, will result in the censorship of legal speech. This session explores two aspects of the planned measures.

  1. Hate speech & harassment: do we need a duty of care?

It is a crime in the UK to say anything ‘grossly offensive’ on the internet. Under the Communications Act 2003, this offence carries up to six months in prison. Now the government wants to impose a duty of care on internet companies so that they ‘take responsibility for the safety of their users’ and prevent harms resulting from other people’s conduct – in effect making companies responsible for how members of the public treat each other. Many of the so-called ‘harms’ the government describes seem dangerously vague, and this duty will mean internet companies are obliged to remove ‘harmful content’, including that which risks ‘significant adverse… psychological impact on individuals’ – which could mean almost anything. Yet few would deny that hate speech and harassment online can be deeply unpleasant and even traumatic for those targeted.  How should we respond to plans for a duty of care – and associated moves to empower Ofcom, the state broadcast regulator, to regulate online companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram?

  • Controlling misinformation: protecting truth or proscribing free speech?

In recent years there has been much discussion of a ‘post-truth’ society. Throughout the recent pandemic, misinformation and disinformation have been at the forefront of concerns over an unregulated internet. But what do these rather vague terms mean? And how can we know and who is to judge what is true and false information.  After all, the Catholic church believed that the proposal by Copernicus and Galileo that the Earth orbited the Sun was misinformation. And as shown by the recent furore over whether Covid escaped from a lab in China, the rush to judgment and then retreat shows that it is nearly impossible to determine in advance what is true and what is false. Indeed, many would argue that is precisely why we have freedom of speech: to encourage debates about controversial issues, including the expression of unorthodox ideas that challenge what people currently believe to be true. At the same time, the spread of disinformation or conspiracy theories can have significant impacts, whether discouraging people to become vaccinated or curtailing our ability to build wireless networks for 5G phones.

In the face of fears over the internet as a space of anonymity, falsehoods and excess, how can we defend the online experience as a site of potential liberation, as it was once envisaged? 

17:45 – 18:45 In conversation

Ever since the eighteenth-century American and French revolutions, the fight for equality has been bound up with questions of liberty. In the twentieth century, movements for universal suffrage and against racial oppression argued for women’s liberation and civil rights. In the 1980s, the ‘equal opportunities revolution’ took the fight into the workplace and included the struggle against discrimination against lesbians and gay men, not least in opposing the constraints on freedom imposed by Clause 28 of the Local Government Act that prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’.

Today, discrimination laws have been harmonised under the Equality Act and protection to individuals expanded to cover grounds such as disability, transgender and religion or belief. But while discrimination in the workplace and in wider society is largely illegal and widely seen as morally repugnant, some have now started to see the fight for equality as detrimental to freedom. Yes, women may have been protected from sex discrimination and gained maternity leave rights and gay couples can challenge bed-and-breakfast owners who turn away unmarried guests. But controls over the treatment of certain ‘vulnerable groups’ on the grounds of ‘protected characteristics’ raise questions about the ability of citizens to speak freely, for example, to criticise religious beliefs or express gender-critical beliefs at work. In one recent employment tribunal case, a judge ruled that ‘ethical veganism’ should be protected as a ‘philosophical belief’.

Has the fight for equality and liberation been replaced by the demand for affirmation? Are those who question moral and political views associated with the politics of identity now victims of the fight for equality?  What role should the law play in the fight for equality and in protecting beliefs? How should conflicts be navigated and freedom of expression protected?

19.00       DRINKS AND FREEDOM DINNER            


09.30-10.30 Lecture

Thanks to the Enlightenment, and the development of scientific thought and technology, the sceptical mind has largely been at home during the modern era. But not anymore, it seems. Whether the Holocaust, climate change or vaccinations, those questioning ‘official’ narratives or ‘The Science’ are viewed suspiciously. They are often labelled ‘deniers’ or conspiracy theorists or charged with peddling misinformation.

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 the 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 embracing doubt and the pursuit of truth instead. 

What can history teach us about the value of scepticism and why has it come to be devalued today? How does scepticism differ from contrarianism? With scepticism increasingly stigmatised, how do we make the case for it today?

11:00 -12:30 Shorts lectures and seminars

  1. Aristotle and Virtue

For Aristotle, the central moral question was how to live virtuously. In his view there are a range of human actions whose objective could not be achieved by following prescribed formulas. But what are virtues? For many, the virtues – from courage to fidelity, temperance to modesty – seem more associated with an outdated morality than a key part of contemporary politics. Yet at some level, most people accept that virtues are important. Parents want to raise truthful children, we want faithful lovers, and we all wish our politicians were more moved by justice. What role should we accord virtue in the exercise of freedom? And without a framework to make sense of virtues – be it a religion, a tradition or some other authority – can they mean anything today?

  • Camus and Fate

‘We must imagine Sisyphus happy.’ Camus’s famous words – referring to the Greek myth where a man is condemned to push a rock up a hill for eternity – pose an important question about fate and freedom. If we are forced into action by circumstance, can we truly be free? Camus passionately believed so, using philosophy and literature to illustrate that life often requires shouldering the burden of circumstance, and transforming it into an opportunity to act freely. What is the relationship between fate and freedom? How do we accept the role of chance – and the role of circumstance – in our attempts to live freely?

12.30 – 13.30 LUNCH        

13:30-14:30 Workshops

From the advent of sensitivity readers to the policing of Twitter, the rise of academic mobs to pressure for corporate boycotts, 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.

14:45-15:45 Lecture on Liberty

The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in August, proclaimed ‘a code red for humanity’, predicting more heatwaves, droughts and flooding in the future if we don’t change our ways. The report made many suggestions, but the headline ‘solution’ remains reducing anthropogenic carbon emissions, which are claimed to be the cause of many of our current and future troubles. The standard response is that CO2-generating activity should be reduced to net zero, consumption should be restricted and we should minimise our use of travel and resources. For some environmentalists in the developed world, that means giving up or severely restricting cheap travel, domestic boilers, eating meat and much more.

In the less-developed world, it means remaining less developed. In Western circles, the idea of ‘development’ is regularly portrayed as a negative concept. Writing in OpenDemocracy, the authors of ‘”Development”’ is colonialism in disguise’ say: ‘The South emulates the North, captivated by its dazzling lifestyles in a seemingly unstoppable course that brings ever more social and environmental problems. Seven decades after the concept of “development” erupted on to the scene, the entire world is mired in “maldevelopment”.’ For these authors, the West has developed and therefore we have to stop the developing world ‘making the same mistakes’. Many people conclude that not everyone can have the same level of development that we have in the West because the carbon emissions alone would be ruinous.

The UK is preparing for the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November – even though it is unsure whether it is environmentally-friendly or Covid-responsible to bring thousands of bureaucrats face-to-face. At the same time, the EU is about to bring out a stringent package of revised climate and energy laws for a climate-change-neutral Europe by 2050. What is the best way forward? What about China and India? Has Covid demonstrated that it’s not particularly healthy to restrict social life and travel opportunities? Or is restraint the only solution?


Greens: the new neo-colonialists, Austin Williams, Letter on Liberty, April 2021

16:15-17:15 Short talks

  1. Are we wired for tribalism?

Pick your tribe: are you pro-mask or anti-mask, Brexiteer or Remainer, Gender Critical or Trans Ally? But are we really hardwired for such tribal thinking? Or are the Culture Wars driving us to conform with one tribe or another?

Living freely means thinking for yourself and being able to explore and discuss ideas from a range of perspectives.  But today it seems that, even though we give voice to the idea of diversity of thought, the political and social issues we care about are increasingly dominated by tribal thinking. Are we losing the ability to see, and to discuss, the nuance in others’ thinking? Or do we simply feel safer ascribing to a certain worldview?  Is tribalism an enduring facet of political and social life? How can we transcend tribal thinking and rescue the autonomous individual?

  • How to debate better

Open debate was once regarded as the hallmark of a civilised society. From Ancient Greece to the European Salons of the Enlightenment, discussing ideas and issues in the public sphere was seen to promote ideas of tolerance and understanding and was a vital element for participating in a democratic society. However, in recent times, it seems our ability to debate things rationally and civilly is under strain. From the US presidential debates to the toxicity of the online world, we seem unable to debate in good faith, with the common goal of better understanding the world. How do we cultivate debate at a time when an open clash of views is often viewed anxiously – and even seen as dangerous? How do we debate better?

17:30-18:45 Panel debate

Contemporary feminism is seemingly in crisis. Women such as Joan Smith, former co-chair of London’s violence against women and girls (VAWG) board for eight years, are being sacked and silenced for voicing their opinions about single-sex spaces.

There seems to be a generational divide. A younger cohort of feminists cite the importance of intersectionality, arguing that trans women should be included in all discussions about women’s rights and freedoms. An older group of ‘gender critical’ feminists have objected to male-bodied individuals being allowed into spaces like refuges, or included in political discussions like abortion, that relate to women. At the moment, it is almost impossible to voice the latter opinion without being labelled a ‘terf’ and risking cancellation.

However, some argue that feminism’s problem with freedom of speech didn’t start with today’s gender wars. From calls for jail time for sexist tweeters to the move to make misogyny (including wolf whistling and cat calling) a hate crime, a core belief of contemporary feminism is to censor unattractive or offensive views. What are the implications for women’s freedom in the call to protect women from certain views? Does the current war over trans inclusion in single-sex spaces reflect an attack on women’s freedom and rights? Or is there more to unpick in how we view and value women’s freedom today?