Rethinking Freedom in an Illiberal Age: securing rights or celebrating liberty?

Saturday 31 October, 3.30pm until 5.00pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery Keynote Controversies

Earlier this year, the Convention on Modern Liberty brought together over a thousand campaigners, activists and thinkers in London to discuss how best to stand up for freedom in an increasingly illiberal political climate. Should we see liberty primarily as a legal or cultural question, and which issues define freedom for our time? Is it the campaign against detention without trial, or against the ban on smoking in pubs? The introduction of identity cards, or compulsory parenting lessons? The right to protest, or the right to take pictures in public places?

No doubt all of the above are important. But how we challenge attacks on freedom depends a lot on what we understand freedom to be. Is it fundamentally about formal rights, or lived experience? Is there any more to freedom than the right to be left alone? Why does freedom matter anyway? Should we be more concerned with building a fairer and more equitable society than obsessing over individual liberties? Is it self-indulgent to campaign around ‘freedom’ in the West, when we enjoy liberties that are only dreamt of in other parts of the world, from China to Zimbabwe? Campaigners often invoke the spectre of fascism or Orwell’s Big Brother to highlight the need for vigilance, but what about less dramatic, more insidious curbs on freedom? Are we neglecting Britain’s unique contribution to unfreedom in the form of ‘antisocial behaviour orders’, for example, or CRB checks for anyone who goes near children? How important is the idea of freedom to politics in our time?

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Anthony Barnett
founder, openDemocracy; co-editor, OurKingdom

Jo Glanville
director, English PEN

Mick Hume
editor-at-large, online magazine spiked; author, Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech?

Wendy Kaminer
US-based writer on law, liberty, feminism, religion, and popular culture; author, Worst Instincts: cowardice, conformity and the ACLU

Dolan Cummings
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story (forthcoming from Zero Books)

Produced by
Dolan Cummings associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story (forthcoming from Zero Books)
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