Classical Liberal and Libertarian Thought Examined in Multidisciplinary Approach

January 23, 2013

The first annual Freedom Project Wintersession Institute is in session this week at Wellesley College. Fifteen students were selected to participate in this intensive, five-day seminar featuring noted speakers from around the country who are leaders in the field of libertarian and classical liberal thought.  Among this year's speakers are:

  • Political scientist Christopher Baylor, Visiting Lecturer in Political Science at Wellesley College
  • Political philosopher Jason Brennan, Assistant Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at Georgetown University
  • Political theorist Jessica Flanigan, Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies and Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law at the University of Richmond
  • Ancient historian Guy MacLean Rogers, Mildred Lane Kemper Professor of History and Classical Studies at Wellesley College
  • Legal philosopher Fernando Tesón, Tobias Simon Eminent Scholar at Florida State University College of Law
  • Freelance journalist Cathy Young

Topics include classical liberal and libertarian theory and policy approaches, ancient and modern ideas of freedom, liberty and global justice, American voters, and feminist approaches to liberty. Participants read sophisticated texts, participate in seminars, eat and think together outside the seminar, and focus on one policy-oriented project in which they apply the insights from the seminar to a social, cultural, or political issue of their own choosing. Students will also present their work at the next Ruhlman Conference.

While the visiting scholars and experts have a libertarian focus, Freedom Project Director Thomas Cushman, Deffenbaugh de Hoyos Carlson Professor in the Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology, says the Institute and the Project are “against dogma” and intend to expand the range of students' reading and exposure to different and even uncomfortable ways of thinking. Cushman likes to call it “the radical juxtaposition of competing ideas,” a phrase his students have made into a motto they have playfully posted in his office. Students across the political spectrum are involved and encouraged to participate.

The Freedom Project is a larger, yearlong endeavor in which selected students, called Adam Smith Fellows, meet monthly to discuss texts or hear invited speakers, and debate the topics. An outgrowth of the Wellesley Debates, which Cushman also coordinates, the project has a goal, beyond examining the concept of freedom with a multidisciplinary approach, of training students to “debate without freaking out,” as Cushman bluntly puts it. “To consider wild ideas, even if you don’t adopt them,” he says, and to think through arguments and face opposition without taking offense.

The Wintersession Institute came into being thanks to a generous donation from George Records and Nancy Records ’56, who wanted to expand the scope of The Freedom Project at Wellesley.