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Freedom at the End of History

Max Weber Lecture

Add to calendar 2022-06-01 17:00 2022-06-01 18:30 Europe/Rome Freedom at the End of History Refectory Badia Fiesolana YYYY-MM-DD


01 June 2022

17:00 - 18:30 CEST



Badia Fiesolana

In this Max Weber lecture, Professor Lea Ypi will read from her award-winning book 'Free: Coming of Age at the End of History' (Penguin 2021) and discuss some of its themes, including: the meaning of freedom, how ideology shapes human lives and the legacies of the transition from state socialism to free-market liberalism at the end of the Cold War.

Ypi was born in Durrës, Albania in 1979, at a time when the country had dissociated from much of the communist world under long-time dictator Enver Hoxha. ‘We had split from the Yugoslavs, then split from the Soviets, and then the Chinese,’ she recounts in an interview. ‘When I was growing up, we were completely on our own. But we had this image of ourselves, as the only country in the world that was standing up to all these empires. For children, this was really empowering and grabbed our imagination. The whole world was off the rails and we were the only country in which things were working pretty well.’

In short, there was no reason for Ypi to believe they weren’t. Beyond her father’s idealising of historic revolutionaries, her parents avoided politics and protected Ypi from much of the oppression and censorship that afflicted communist Albania. Ypi – brought up mainly by her cosmopolitan, French-speaking, Ottoman-born grandmother – was left to pursue the life of a zealous young communist: she amassed accolades, certificates, and medals as a Young Pioneer (a communist youth organisation); she wowed an educational panel at the Central Party Committee by spotting the world 'collectivisation' in one of Hoxha’s works, despite mispronouncing it; on the occasion of 'Uncle Enver’s' funeral, Ypi was left bemused by her parents’ tearless faces. She was a true believer in the Albanian communist cause.

Nevertheless, the West still glimmered from behind the Iron Curtain. ‘In some ways we idealised what was going on in the West,’ she says. ‘The bubble gum, the sweets, the clothes – we saw these on western children who came to Durrës and they always had these funny things like flashing toys and sun cream. They definitely grabbed my imagination.’ In 1990, when socialism gave way to a multi-party state, a crestfallen and confused adolescent Ypi describes the so-called ‘freedom’ that was promised as a ‘dish served frozen’. In the second half of the book, Ypi writes arrestingly about the human cost of structural reform: the protests, shootings, civil war, mass emigration, and the widespread lay-offs her father reluctantly oversaw under the instruction of the World Bank. The ‘shock therapy’ that the capitalist consultants had administered to transform Albania’s economy was as traumatic as its name implies.

About the Speaker

Lea Ypi is Professor in Political Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Adjunct Professor in Philosophy at the Australian National University. A native of Albania, she has degrees in Philosophy and in Literature from the University of Rome La Sapienza, a PhD from the European University Institute and was a Post-doctoral Prize Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford University. Her work has been translated in many languages and recognised with several prizes such as the British Academy Prize for Excellence in Political Science and the Leverhulme Prize for Outstanding Research Achievement. She occasionally writes for the Guardian. Her book Free. Coming of Age at the End of History recently won the Ondaatje Literary Price.


Laura Martignoni


Prof. Lea Ypi (London School of Economics)

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