Reigniting Radicalism

The Liverpool Salon and Ullet Road Unitarians invite you to join them to debate the nature of radical politics today in the historical light of ideas of ‘spiritual freedom’, freethinking and tolerance for dissent. We ask, who are today’s political radicals, how do they connect to the history of radicalism and what are the challenges for reigniting radicalism in the contemporary world? When Parliament abolished the Court of Star Chamber in 1640, it established the principle of defending individual liberties and freedom of conscience against the arbitrary power of governments to silence political opposition and religious dissent. In the words of John Milton, freedom of conscience meant that ‘no man ought to be punished or molested by any outward force on earth whatsoever because of a belief or practice in religion according to conscientious belief’. Religious dissent and radical politics often went hand in hand; as people like eighteenth-century Unitarian radical John Cartwright argued, it was not enough to hope and pray for a ‘better world’ to come, but that ‘we should mend the world we are in’. The concept of ‘spiritual freedom’ became key to Enlightenment understandings of tolerance and freethinking, which advocated robust engagement with others over matters of principle, opening the door to radical political movements that advanced the cause of universal suffrage, equality and individual and collective freedoms. From ‘counter extremism’ legislation, to fears of ‘radicalisation’, censorship and speech codes that restrict what we can say, Britain appears to be straying a long way from Enlightenment principles of tolerance and freethinking. What are the links between radical politics, political freedoms and tolerance for dissent? Are these historical concepts still relevant today? Or are some forms of radicalism simply beyond the limits of tolerance? If there are limits ontolerance, where do we draw the line and what are the implications for reigniting radicalism today?

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