For many in the West and increasingly beyond, freedom and equality are the ultimate political values, good beyond dispute. However, scratch the surface of the official consensus and it quickly becomes clear that both are in tension with other powerful values.
Equality in some shape or form is commended almost everywhere. But nowhere is it even close to being absolutely upheld, in part because there is always a need for hierarchies of some sort, be they of age, expertise, military rank or knowledge. Freedom is also never absolute, in part because we value social harmony.
These tensions have led some to question whether freedom and equality really are universal values rather than distinctively Western ones. Given that people have gone to war in recent decades in the name of freedom and equality, it therefore of vital geopolitical importance that we understand better how these values relate to each other and if they may carry different weight at different times and in different places.
It was with issues like this in mind that the Bergruuen Institute for Philosophy and Culture convened a pair of two-day workshops in September at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University. Two dozen experts from around the world questionined received opinion about the relationship between freedom and harmony, equality and hierarchy.