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Durham University

School of Government & International Affairs


Centre for Political Thought Workshop

4th December 2019, 14:30 to 5th December 2019, 18:00, Durham University

‘200 Years of Modern Liberty: Bicentenary Celebration of Benjamin Constant’s Lecture on Ancient and Modern Liberty’

Workshop times and venues:

4th December: 2:30pm to 6:30pm, Town Hall, Burleson Gallery

5th December, 9:00am to 5:00pm, Hatfield College, Birley Room

Keynote speakers:

Helena Rosenblatt, CUNY

Alan Kahan, Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines University

Jeremy Jennings, King’s College London

Colin Tyler, University of Hull

Maria Dimova-Cookson, University of Durham

This workshop will celebrate the bicentenary of Benjamin Constant’s famous lecture, ‘The liberty of the ancients compared to that of the moderns’, which he gave in Paris on 2 December 1819. This lecture was a seminal moment in political theory, and Constant’s ideas have reverberated down the generations ever since. Behind the scenes, Constant’s powerful distinction between ancient and modern liberty continues to influence the political thinking of today’s democrats, dictators and demagogues – whether they realise it or not.

Nowadays in the UK, in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, amidst resurgent populism and social media disinformation, we have to address again the tensions between representative and direct democracy, between the need to embrace pluralism but also to offer a robust protection of liberty and the values of toleration and inclusivity associated with it. Questions about the exact nature of liberty and in what fashion democracy generates legitimate political authority are again highly relevant. Constant’s lecture anticipated some of the most significant developments of liberal political thought in Britain and demonstrates the deep unity of the European values and ideas.

The workshop is sponsored by the Centre for Political Thought (Durham University), the PSA Modern Liberty specialist group and the PSA British idealism specialist group.

Contact for more information about this event.

Contact Details

T: +44 (0) 191 334 5742

F: +44 (0) 191 334 5661