What is the price of freedom?

Thursday 3 October, 7.00pm until 8.30pm, Free Thinking Zone, Skoufa 64 str & Grivaion, 10680 Athens, Greece International Satellite Events 2013

This debate will be in English

TICKETS: FREE AND UNTICKETED. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION EMAIL [email protected]


To be a liberal, historically, was to be tolerant of the lifestyles, beliefs, opinions and prejudices of others. A commitment to tolerance was considered a cornerstone of a civilised society: in fact, without tolerance, society might not even be possible since it risked self-destruction in civil war. So long as one did not do actual harm to other members of society, individuals were to be left – at least such was the argument of thinkers like John Locke, Voltaire, Kant and JS Mill – free to think, act and speak as they themselves saw fit. Tolerance in this understanding was valuable precisely because it was extended to objectionable opinions. After all, how better to make sure one’s own opinions did not harden into dogmatic prejudice?

For many today, however, tolerance can seem a naïve indulgence if not a dangerous license for those who seek to attack modern open societies in the name of a closed intolerant nationalism or totalitarianism. Is it not reasonable for a democracy to limit the freedoms of those committed to the destruction of democracy? Is it not madness to extend tolerance to the intolerant? To those who advocate, for example, terrorism or religious or racial hatred? Should we not place limits on free speech, say, by recognising the point at which it tips into offense?

In Greece some commentators feel hate speech has become an accepted norm of both left and right. The cases of Geron Pastitios and Voula Papahristou in 2012, together with the proposed ‘anti-racist and hate-speech’ law of 2013 signify a general feeling by the political elites that ‘enough is enough’. It is interesting that in different cases, all aspects of political spectrum seem eager to police language. Do they confuse real tolerance with respect and approval? Can we uphold the idea of tolerance while maintaining the right to criticize and judge rather than succumbing to an ‘anything goes’ moral relativism? Is tolerating the vulgar, the offensive, the shocking, not, in part, the price of liberty? Or are such concepts vain and dangerous in today’s very uncertain world?

Speakers
Nicos C Alivizatos
professor of law, University of Law; author, What Kind of Democracy After the Crisis?

Geoff Kidder
director, membership and events, Institute of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters

Dr Theodoros Skylakakis
MEP; member, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe; president, Drasi

Dr Nikos Sotirakopoulos
lecturer in sociology, University of Loughborough; author, The Rise of Lifestyle Activism: From New Left to Occupy

Dr George Sotiropoulos
lecturer, Department of Political Science, Democritean University of Thrace

Augustine Zenakos
chief editor, UNFOLLOW magazine

Chair:
Claire Fox
director, Institute of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive

Produced by
Areti Georgili founder, Free Thinking Zone
Geoff Kidder director, membership and events, Institute of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters
Dr Nikos Sotirakopoulos lecturer in sociology, University of Loughborough; author, The Rise of Lifestyle Activism: From New Left to Occupy
Session partners