The University of Texas at Austin - Civitas Institute

The Society of Fellows Undergraduate Symposium on “Liberty and its Critics”

The conference features scholars and public intellectuals who discuss the problems and prospects of liberal democracy today.

Aug 25
Aug 26
8:00 AM - 10:00 PM Camp Lucy, Dripping Springs, TX RSVP
Society of Fellows poster

Society of Fellows Summer Symposium from Civitas Institute on Vimeo.

The fellowship kicks off with an early semester conference at Camp Lucy, a Hill Country luxury resort known for its heritage buildings.

“Human liberty,” Tocqueville wrote, is “the source of all moral greatness.” When we think, speak, and act “without constraints, under the sole government of God and the laws,” we cultivate our humanity and discover what it truly means, and what it truly takes, to be happy. In the spirit of these reflections, still timely for us, the Civitas Institute introduces the Society of Fellows, an undergraduate fellowship program dedicated to the study of liberty and its moral conditions.

A key dimension of liberty is freedom of speech. Nowhere is the freedom to think, write, and speak more critical to uphold than in the university, an institution which helps to shape the minds of young adults and future citizens. A university’s most essential function in a democracy is to equip students with the intellectual resources to become decent, productive, and independent-minded members of society. To the degree that the university fails to fulfill its mission, democracy suffers because the level of government in a democracy, by its nature, reflects the level of its citizens. The genuine search for truth in our times, in the humanities as well as in public policy, requires a culture of free speech.

How can we protect freedom of speech? Tocqueville invites “those who see freedom of the mind as a holy thing” to join him in rejecting not just the old kind of intellectual despotism—that of unaccountable elites who prohibit certain books or speeches, but also the kind characteristic of democratic times. This modern kind of intellectual despotism is enforced not by elites at the level of law but by the majority at the level of civil society. It is a kind of despotism that, as Tocqueville knew, “leaves the body alone and goes right to the soul.” It constricts thought within narrow bounds imposed by public opinion. Its enforcement mechanism is the implicit threat of social ostracism. The result is a loss of clarity in our thought and of frankness in our speech. Vigorous discussion and independence of mind cannot survive, let alone flourish, in such an environment.

The Society of Fellows upholds the sacred right of freedom of the mind by gathering a cohort of students who, whatever their political opinions, remain steadfast friends of freedom of speech. Through the Society of Fellows, the Civitas Institute aims to model a culture of intellectual freedom.

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