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About Us

The Sekyra Foundation was established by Czech businessman Ludek Sekyra in 2018 to support moral universalism, liberal values and civil society.

The foundation also aids the development of critical and philosophical thought and supports academic institutions and educational projects, including the publication of works by significant thinkers. Its mission also includes the defense of political freedom, human rights, and cultural and religious diversity.

Founder

Luděk Sekyra

Luděk Sekyra is a leading Czech businessman, chairman of The Sekyra Foundation and owner of the Sekyra Group.

The Governors and Supervisors

Projects

Philosophy and intellectual dialogue

Liberal and civil society

Education and critical thinking

Video

Interview with Jiří Přibáň

Interview with Martin Palouš

Interview with Jiřina Šiklová

Interview with Jiří Dědeček

Interview with Michael Žantovský

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Oxford, UK

Oxford university

http://www.ox.ac.uk/

Oxford university
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Cambridge, USA

Harvard University

https://ethics.harvard.edu

Harvard University
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Prague, CZ

Centre for Philosophy, Ethics and Religion

https://cspf.ff.cuni.cz/cs/

Centre for Philosophy, Ethics and Religion
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New York, USA

Athens Democracy Forum

https://www.athensdemocracyforum.com/

Athens Democracy Forum
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Prague, CZ

Pen Club

https://www.penklub.net/

Pen Club
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Prague, CZ

Václav Havel Library

https://www.vaclavhavel.cz/

Václav Havel Library
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Warsaw, PL

Kultura Liberalna

https://kulturaliberalna.pl/

Kultura Liberalna
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Notre Dame, USA

University of Notre Dame

https://www.nd.edu/

University of Notre Dame
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Prague, CZ

Freedom Festival

https://www.festivalsvobody.cz/

Freedom Festival
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Prague, CZ

Concert for the Future

https://www.festivalsvobody.cz

Concert for the Future
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Oxford, UK

Europaeum

https://europaeum.org/

Europaeum
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Vienna, AT

The Institute for Human Sciences

http://www.iwm.at/

The Institute for Human Sciences
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Vienna, AT

Vienna Circle Society

https://www.univie.ac.at/ivc/

Vienna Circle Society
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Washington DC, USA

International Crisis Group

https://www.crisisgroup.org/

International Crisis Group
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Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, BE

Foyer

http://www.foyer.be

Foyer
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Bratislava, SK

Central European Forum

https://ceeforum.eu/en/

Central European Forum
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Prague, CZ

Klasika plus

https://www.klasikaplus.cz/

Klasika plus
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Prague, CZ

The Czechoslovak Documentation Centre

http://csds.cz/

The Czechoslovak Documentation Centre
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London, UK

Association of European Journalists

https://www.aej.org/

Association of European Journalists
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Prague, CZ

The Czech Christian Academy

http://www.krestanskaakademie.cz/

The Czech Christian Academy
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Prague, CZ

Liberal Institute

https://libinst.cz/

Liberal Institute
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London, UK

The Rimbaud and Verlaine Foundation

https://www.rimbaudverlaine.org

The Rimbaud and Verlaine Foundation
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Prague, CZ

Salve

https://salve.op.cz/

Salve
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Broumov, CZ

Monastery Broumov

https://www.broumovskediskuse.cz/

Monastery Broumov
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Chairman

Luděk Sekyra

Luděk Sekyra is a leading Czech businessman, chairman of The Sekyra Foundation and owner of the Sekyra Group.

The Sekyra Group is one of the largest real estate development companies in Central Europe. The company focuses primarily on investments in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.

Luděk Sekyra graduated from the Faculty of Law at Charles University in Prague, where he studied and taught legal philosophy. His interests include moral and political philosophy, as well as support of liberal values and civil society. In the academic sphere, he works on the problem of reciprocity, justice and moral autonomy. Through his foundation, The Sekyra Foundation, he supports the University of Oxford and Harvard University and a number of activities in civil society, including interfaith dialogue. He also co-founded the Centre for Philosophy, Ethics and Religion, later the Centre for Philosophy, Ethics and Religion at Charles University in Prague, with whom he is an active collaborator.

Luděk Sekyra is a member of the Vice Chancellor’s Circle at the University of Oxford and a Foundation Fellow of Harris Manchester College. He is also a member of the Aristotelian Society and the American Political Science Association and a long-term partner of the Athens Democracy Forum organized by the New York Times.

Luděk Sekyra Luděk
Sekyra
Chairman
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The member of the Board of Governors

Tomáš Halík

Mons. prof. PhDr. Tomáš Halík, Th.D., dr.h.c. (mult) is a professor at the Faculty of Arts as Charles University (teaching philosophy and sociology of religion). Since 1990 he has been the president of the Czech Christian Academy, and since 2015, the vice president of the Council for Research in Values ​​and Philosophy in Washington.

Pope John Paul II appointed him as an advisor to the Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Unbelievers (1990), while Benedict XVI named him an Honorary Prelate (2008). He is a member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts and a number of other institutions and has received numerous literary and other awards at home and abroad, including the Cardinal König Prize (2003), the Romano Guardini Prize “for outstanding merit in interpreting our time” (2010), the Best European Book of the Year in theology (2011), the honorary title “Man of Reconciliation” for merit in Christian–Jewish dialogue (2011) and the Knight's Cross of Merit awarded by the President of Poland (2012).

During the communist regime he was active in the religious and cultural dissent; after 1989 he travelled across all continents lecturing and studying, including periods as a visiting professor at Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. His books have been published in 19 languages.

Tomáš Halík Tomáš
Halík
The member of the Board of Governors
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The member of the Board of Governors

Michael Žantovský

Mgr. Michael Žantovský studied psychology at Charles University and McGill University in Montreal and worked as a researcher at the Psychiatric Research Institute in Prague. In the 1980s he worked as an independent translator, publicist and lyricist. He has translated more than fifty works of modern Anglo-American prose, poetry and drama into Czech. He contributed to the samizdat press, and since 1988 he has been a Prague correspondent for Reuters. He also wrote a book on the life and work of Woody Allen. He is the author of an extensive biography of the late President HAVEL, which was published in Czech, English and other languages ​​in November 2014.

In November 1989 he co-founded the Civic Forum and in December 1989 he became its press secretary. In January 1990, he became press secretary and spokesman for President Václav Havel, as well as the political coordinator of the President's office. In 1996–2002 he was a senator of the Parliament of the Czech Republic and chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Security. In 1997 and 2001–2 he was Chairman of the Civic Democratic Alliance. He has served as ambassador of the Czech Republic in the United States of America, Israel and the United Kingdom. Since 2015 he has been the director of the Václav Havel Library.

Michael Žantovský Michael
Žantovský
The member of the Board of Governors
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The member of the Board of Governors

Jiřina Šiklová

PhDr. Jiřina Šiklová, CSc. studied history and philosophy at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University. In 1965 she was involved in the founding of the Department of Sociology at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University.

She was dismissed from the Faculty of Arts because of her political activity in the years 1968–1969. She published under various names, especially abroad. During the 1970s, she participated in the distribution of prohibited books (including texts by Czechoslovak authors for readers abroad and books printed abroad banned in Czechoslovakia) and was imprisoned in 1981–1982 for unofficially sending texts by Czechoslovak authors abroad. After the revolution in 1989, she was invited to teach sociology again, but taking after the model of foreign universities, she initiated the establishment of a department of social work at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University, which she led until 2000. She also founded the Gender Studies Center and Library in Prague. She is a member of many foundations’ boards and editorial boards of professional journals.

In 1995, for her contribution to European integration, she was awarded the Woman of Europe Award. In 1999, she was awarded the Medal of Merit in the First Degree by President of the Czech Republic Václav Havel. In February 2000, for merit in the Development of Social Work in the Czech Republic, she was awarded the Alice Masaryk Medal.

Jiřina Šiklová Jiřina
Šiklová
The member of the Board of Governors
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The member of the Board of Governors

Jiří Pehe

Jiři Pehe is a Global Professor at New York University’s Center for European and Mediterranean Studies and Director of NYU Prague. From September 1997 to May 1999 he was Director of the Political Department of Czech President Václav Havel and later served as President Havel’s adviser. Previously he served as Director of Central European Research at the Research Institute of RFE/RL in Munich, Germany. He is a political analyst and the author of six books on politics as well as four novels. He has written extensively on developments in Eastern Europe for American, Czech and German periodicals and academic journals.

Jiří Pehe Jiří
Pehe
The member of the Board of Governors
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The member of the Board of Governors

Martin Palouš

Martin Palouš studied natural science, philosophy and international law. In 1974 he received a Doctorate of Natural Sciences (RNDr), and in 2001 he earned a higher doctorate in political science/philosophy (Associate Professorship) at Charles University. In 2007 he got a PhD in public international law.

Since January of 2011, Martin Palouš has been a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Václav Havel Program for Human Rights and Diplomacy at Florida International University’s School of International and Public Affairs. He is also the President of the Václav Havel Library Foundation and the International Platform for Human Rights in Cuba.

He was one of the original signatories of Charter 77, served as its spokesperson in 1986 and participated in the creation of Civic Forum during the Velvet Revolution (November 1989). Since the fall of communism he has served as a Member of Parliament (1990), Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs (1990–1992, 1998–2001), Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United States (2001-2005) and Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the United Nations (2006-2011).

Martin Palouš Martin
Palouš
The member of the Board of Governors
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The member of the Board of Governors

Daniel Kroupa

Mgr. Daniel Kroupa, Ph.D. is a philosopher, politician and university teacher. He is a scholar of Professor Jan Patočka and a signatory to Charter 77. During communism he worked mostly in blue-collar professions: window cleaner, machinist and stoker. He also worked for several years as a promotional editor and hospital technician. After the Velvet Revolution, in which he was actively involved from the beginning, he entered politics. He co-founded the ODA political party and was one of the founders of the democratic right wing in Czechoslovakia. He was elected a member of the House of Deputies of the Federal Assembly. He participated in the creation of several laws, such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, the Constitution of the Czech Republic and the Higher Education Act. In the 1990s he was a member of the Chamber of Deputies and a six-year senator of the Czech Parliament. He chaired the ODA between 1998–2001. Kroupa has lectured political philosophy at several universities: the University of Economics, Prague; Charles University and the University of West Bohemia. For ten years he led the Department of Political Science and Philosophy at Faculty of Arts of Jan Evangelista Purkyně University in Ústí nad Labem, where he still works.

Daniel Kroupa Daniel
Kroupa
The member of the Board of Governors
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The member of the Board of Supervisors

Jiří Přibáň

Jiří Přibáň is a professor of law and the founding director of the Centre of Law and Society at Cardiff University. He has also been a visiting professor or scholar at the European University Institute in Florence, IWM in Vienna, New York University, UC Berkeley, the University of San Francisco, the University of Pretoria, the Flemish Academy, and the University of New South Wales. Jiří Přibáň has published extensively in the areas of social theory and sociology of law, legal philosophy, constitutional and European comparative law and theory of human rights. He is an editor of the Journal of Law and Society and a regular contributor to Czech and international media.

Jiří Přibáň Jiří
Přibáň
The member of the Board of Supervisors
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The member of the Board of Supervisors

Jakub Jirsa

Jakub Jirsa (born 1978) is an assistant professor at the Department of Philosophy and Religious studies at Charles University. Since 2017 he has been Vice-Chair of the Center for Philosophy, Ethics and Religion. His specialization is ancient philosophy and ethics. He has held scholarships at the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge and the Institut Für Wissenschaften vom Menschen (Vienna). Jakub Jirsa studied philosophy at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University and Central European University in Budapest.

Jakub Jirsa Jakub
Jirsa
The member of the Board of Supervisors
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The member of the Board of Supervisors

Václav Štětka

Václav Štětka received his Ph.D. in sociology from Masaryk University in Brno, the Czech Republic, where he then worked as Assistant Professor in the Department of Media Studies and Journalism at the Faculty of Social Studies. Between 2009 and 2013 he was a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford, working on an ERC-funded project titled “Media and Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe”. He moved to Prague in 2013, having been appointed a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Communication Studies and Journalism, Charles University. There, he established the Political Communication Research Group, which focuses on the role of social media in political communication and civic participation. In 2016 he joined the Department of Social Studies, Loughborough University, becoming a Lecturer and member of the new Centre for Research in Communication and Culture (CRCC).

Václav Štětka was a member of the Executive Board of ECREA (European Communication Research and Education Association) between 2015 and 2016, and since 2016 he has been Vice-Chair of ECREA’s Political Communication Section.

He has been an active member of the recent COST network on Populist Political Communication (2014–2018), a participant in the Oxford-based Digital News Report project and a contributor to the Media Pluralism Monitor project led by the European University Institute in Florence. He has been regularly invited as an expert to collaborate with various media organizations, NGOs and policy actors around the issues of media freedom and quality of democracy; recently, he has been involved in the organization of the Athens Democracy Forum, hosted by the New York Times, with Loughborough University’s CRCC as one of the Knowledge Partners. Since 2018 he has been a member of the Network of European Political Communication Scholars (NEPOCS).

Václav Štětka Václav
Štětka
The member of the Board of Supervisors
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About Us

About the Foundation

The Sekyra Foundation was established by Czech businessman Ludek Sekyra in 2018 to support moral universalism, liberal values and civil society. The foundation also aids the development of critical and philosophical thought and supports academic institutions and educational projects, including the publication of works by significant thinkers. Its mission also includes the defense of political freedom, human rights, and cultural and religious diversity.

The foundation cooperates with Harvard University, the University of Oxford and the Centre for Philosophy, Ethics and Religion at Charles University in Prague. Together with the New York Times, it sponsors the Athens Democracy Forum. It is also a supporter of the Václav Havel Library; the Czech Christian Academy; the Festival of Freedom; Foyer, an integration center in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels; as well as students in foreign universities. The foundation is a general partner of the Czech Centre of the International PEN Club.

The foundation’s board members are significant figures in Czech public life.

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Why I support

Philosophy, autonomy and critical thinking

Liberal society founded on moral universalism, a free public sphere, and respect for the dignity of every individual is not a sure thing. The importance of these principles is evident when brought face-to-face with the polarization of modern society, which threatens their stability. At the center of attention are not just questions of inequality, xenophobia, or populism, but also the topic of the environment and climate change, which are the focal points of our responsibility towards future generations.

The cohesion of pluralistic societies is a great challenge for both societal and academic dialogue. In an era of deep conflicts of ideas, migration, and doubt cast on political authorities, it is necessary to strengthen cohesion not just through traditional pillars like the principles of justice and the rule of law, but also on the basis of generally acceptable consensual foundations that prioritize the shared human constants of our existence, such as moral reciprocity and the autonomy of identity. What is decisive is the moral value of our behavior, the purposeful nature of instrumental reason directed towards individual benefit.

The traditional connection between democracy and Christian values, which served as the foundation for Western civilization, has been forced to confront the fact of pluralism in politics, values, and religion. It is ever more difficult for people to find an anchoring for their ideas in a globally connected world of competing ideological and social models. A liberal identity founded on tolerance, the possibility of freely identifying with liberal ideals, is a privilege that we must defend.

Society, just like the behavior of an individual in the world, must be based on universal principles. The study of these principles’ philosophical origins is the focus of my intellectual interest. At the center of my attention is the moral core of concepts like reciprocity, autonomy, justice, and altruism – for their application fulfills an age-old ambition to make moral stances the foundation of both human and political behavior. The effort at hand is to identify the rules and models of behavior that contribute to societal balance and form an environment founded on mutual respect not just with those with whom we have a certain relationship, but with all members of society.

Philosophical and intellectual dialogue

In many respects, we today do not have any normative reflection of our rapidly changing world. We need to reinterpret terms like freedom, equality, justice, and reciprocity, concepts into which we must integrate new facts and events. Their current meaning obscures an absence of analytical thought, the loss of concentration on an essence hidden in a confusing deluge of information with neither author nor addressee. The rebirth of moral universalism can show us the way; its principles go beyond the horizons of our existence and, in this, provide it with meaning brought face-to-face with the transitory nature of our existence. These are significant impulses for philosophical and intellectual dialogue in our era.

We support this philosophical discourse on many levels. One example is the conference “Inequality, Religion, and Society: John Rawls and After” – devoted to the philosophical legacy of John Rawls, the most significant political philosopher of the 20th century – which took place in early 2019 at Harvard University. Also in preparation is a series of conferences devoted to probably the greatest philosophical genius of the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein, the first of which will take place in 2019 at Oxford, the next in 2020 in Prague, and the last in 2021 in Vienna. Our foundation will also prepare a project together with Warsaw University in the form of several colloquia devoted to leading Central European intellectuals of the 20th century such as Isaiah Berlin, Leszek Kolakowski, Jan Patočka, and Karl Popper.

At the same time, there is no replacement for the role of public intellectuals, the community of ideas that has the ability to interpret the world in original and critical ways, pose fundamental questions for democracy such as whether we have power or power has us, and hold a mirror up to democracy. From history we know that many of them have not just remained in the world of ideas and surface-level criticism; in decisive moments, they have also been capable of sacrifice, an act that surpasses them and is the greatest expression of human responsibility. In this respect, we cannot forget their powerful weapon: the written word, the foundation of the Western cultural tradition. We contribute to the development of this tradition by supporting the publication of the works of important thinkers. One activity of ours that is symbolic of this is our strategic partnership with the Czech Centre of the International PEN Club, whose activity I have always admired and which has influenced the history of our country on multiple occasions.

Autonomy, reciprocity and civil society

When we speak of changing the political culture, such a change is unimaginable without a liberal transformation of civil society to make it a sphere of autonomy and universal values in the context of many-layered traditions. The public sphere, which is where ideas, cultural movements, and ambitions of power collide, forms at the intersection of civil and political society. The character of the fight over the public sphere, as well as the values that emerge victorious, is of formative importance for the nature of society as a whole. The ideal is reciprocal autonomy, which includes respect for the opinions of others, for their secular stances, and also for their religious conviction – and which, at the same time, contributes to societal cohesion.

I assume that a necessary precondition for social cohesion and individual autonomy is the principle of reciprocity, which is the moral basis of justice; that is, the crucial regulatory principle of the institutions of liberal society. Reciprocity is also a tool for alleviating inequality and the foundation of intergenerational responsibility, both in its symmetric form – for example, participation in the public life of an open and inclusive society, where the members of the society repay the society for providing them with education or offering them other forms of social integration – and in its asymmetric form, in the shape of care for future generations who currently cannot repay that care, but who, it is assumed, will do so in the future, once they adopt a reciprocal stance that always respects the claims of others and future generations. It is a permanent effort to find an agreement between one’s own viewpoint and the positions of others.

In looking for the balance between moral reciprocity and political justice, the paradigm of social inequality resonates strongly. In Rawls’s classical conception, everyone should have the same access to the basic collection of rights and freedoms, while inequality is acceptable only if it is remedied to the benefit of the most disadvantaged, those who are on the lowest rung of society. To put it concisely, improving the position of the poorest is the responsibility of those who are better off.

Wherever we see the middle classes growing poorer, becoming disillusioned, and facing destruction, people are radicalizing and turning towards populist negativism. What are – wrongly – proclaimed as the cause of inequality and enemies of the nation are migrants, minorities, globalization, and liberal politics. We often, from many sides, hear a sharp critique of capitalism; for example, Thomas Piketty’s recent appeal, calling for regulation, redistribution, and global forms of taxation, has resonated widely. Arguments calling for greater distribution of assets cannot be overlooked, of course, and deserve respect. We must always keep in mind, though, that the market environment is not just one of the causes of economic inequality, but also the primary source of societal wealth.

In the troubled history of Central Europe in the 20th century, civil society played an extraordinary role, serving as the home of brave individuals directed only by their conscience. From their moral autonomy grew a civil resistance, an ideal of resistance of antipolitical generations of the “shaken”, who repeatedly faced brutal suppression from those in power.

As early as the mid-20th century, Hungarian intellectual István Bibó called Central Europeans “phony realists” who had driven away Western-style idealists. These people grew powerful on a wave of existential fear, superficial nationalism, and political hysteria, and their activity had fatal consequences, the most tragic of which was, in the words of Polish poet Czesław Miłosz, the “captive mind”. In order to affirm their return to the civilizational tradition, countries in this region have to be, as Jan Patočka noted, “more Western that the West itself”, because they are more threatened and must fundamentally protect their brittle liberal identity, sometimes even from betrayal by its own elites.

The development of information technology and artificial intelligence creates an enormous space for authoritarian control of information on the one hand and manipulative political methods and populist enticement on the other. The tragedies of the previous century were quite often decisive moments when the masses were enchanted with utopias. We must make an effort for this century to belong not to leaders of mobs, but to an educated public, to rule by critical intellect. In other words, we must ensure that it be in the hands of those who wish to bring the political order into harmony with a moral order.

In a certain sense, Central Europe is a laboratory of the West, a self-contradictory area with great diversity in a small space, and its civil society is once again in confrontation with those who, through power-hungry egotism and often by invoking the most selfish human emotion – fear of the strange and unknown – are trying to hold onto power at the expense of the entire community.

For these reasons, too, the foundation will continue to support the Festival of Freedom, the Václav Havel Library, and the Czech Christian Academy.

Education and critical thinking

Given the development of biotechnology and artificial intelligence and the impact of the modern way of life on climate change, we can have a significantly greater influence on the fate of future generations than past generations could have on ours. It is our responsibility not just to stave off substantial climate change, but also to hand over to future generations just institutions and respect for the autonomy of individuals in the digital age. The path towards this goal leads through support for education as the complete formation of the character. At the forefront of my interests is the idea of the university and its irreplaceable role as the paramount institution of liberal education – one that does not merely produce specialists, but is also, at the same time, a place for cultivating critical discussion, Socratic dialogue, and refining ethical stances. Directed towards this end is our support of the University of Oxford, the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, the Centre for Political Philosophy, Ethics and Religion at Charles University, and also the provision of stipends to selected students in the humanities.

Independent media serve as a guarantee of a free public sphere, and the foundation contributes to its defense in its collaboration with the New York Times on the Athens Democracy Forum and its support of the Association of European Journalists.

Luděk Sekyra
Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Sekyra Foundation

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The Sekyra Foundation

Video

close
The Sekyra Foundation

Education and critical thinking

Given the development of biotechnology and artificial intelligence and the impact of the modern way of life on climate change, we can have a significantly greater influence on the fate of future generations than past generations could have on ours. It is our responsibility not just to prevent substantial climate change, but also to hand over to future generations just institutions and respect for the autonomy of individuals in the digital age. The path towards this goal leads through support for education as the complete formation of character. At the forefront of my interests is the idea of the university and its irreplaceable role as the paramount institution of liberal education – one that does not merely produce specialists, but is also, at the same time, a place for cultivating critical discussion, Socratic dialogue, and refining ethical stances. Directed towards this end is our support of the University of Oxford, the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, the Centre for Political Philosophy, Ethics and Religion at Charles University, and also the provision of stipends to selected students in the humanities.

Independent media serve as a guarantee of a free public sphere, and the foundation contributes to its defense in its collaboration with the New York Times on the Athens Democracy Forum.

close
The Sekyra Foundation

Philosophy and intellectual dialogue

In many respects, our rapidly changing world is not reflected in our norms. We need to reinterpret terms like freedom, equality, justice, and reciprocity, concepts into which we must integrate new facts and events. Their current meaning obscures an absence of analytical thought, the loss of concentration on an essence hidden in a confusing deluge of information with neither author nor addressee. The rebirth of moral universalism can show us the way; its principles go beyond the horizons of our existence and, in this, provide it with meaning brought face-to-face with the transitory nature of our existence. These are significant impulses for philosophical and intellectual dialogue in the present era.

At the same time, there is no replacement for the role of public intellectuals, the community of ideas that has the ability to interpret the world in original and critical ways, pose fundamental questions for democracy such as whether we have  power or power has  us, and   a mirror up to democracy. In collaboration with the world’s leading universities, the foundation develops the legacy of key philosophers of the 20th century like John Rawls and Ludwig Wittgenstein, as well as intellectuals connected with our part of Europe, including Isaiah Berlin, Leszek Kolakowski, Jan Patočka, and Karl Popper.

Also important is our strategic partnership with the Czech Centre of the International PEN Club, which has influenced the history of our country on multiple occasions.

 

close
The Sekyra Foundation

Liberal and civil society

Liberal society founded on a free public sphere and respect for the dignity of every individual is not a sure thing. The importance of these principles is evident when brought face-to-face with the polarization of modern society, which threatens their stability. At the center of attention are not just questions of inequality, xenophobia, and populism, but also the great topic of our responsibility towards future generations. When we speak of changing the political culture, such a change is unimaginable without a liberal transformation of civil society to make it a sphere of autonomy and universal values in the context of many-layered traditions. The ideal is reciprocal autonomy, which includes respect for the opinions of others, for their secular stances, and also for their religious conviction. Attempts to create such a society, emerging from the moral autonomy of brave individuals, played an extraordinary role in the troubled history of Central Europe in the 20th century.

For these reasons, too, the foundation will continue to support the Festival of Freedom, the Václav Havel Library, and the Czech Christian Academy.

close
The Sekyra Foundation

Why I support

Philosophy, autonomy and critical thinking

Liberal society founded on moral universalism, a free public sphere, and respect for the dignity of every individual is not a sure thing. The importance of these principles is evident when brought face-to-face with the polarization of modern society, which threatens their stability. At the center of attention are not just questions of inequality, xenophobia, or populism, but also the topic of the environment and climate change, which are the focal points of our responsibility towards future generations.

The cohesion of pluralistic societies is a great challenge for both societal and academic dialogue. In an era of deep conflicts of ideas, migration, and doubt cast on political authorities, it is necessary to strengthen cohesion not just through traditional pillars like the principles of justice and the rule of law, but also on the basis of generally acceptable consensual foundations that prioritize the shared human constants of our existence, such as moral reciprocity and the autonomy of identity. What is decisive is the moral value of our behavior, the purposeful nature of instrumental reason directed towards individual benefit.

The traditional connection between democracy and Christian values, which served as the foundation for Western civilization, has been forced to confront the fact of pluralism in politics, values, and religion. It is ever more difficult for people to find an anchoring for their ideas in a globally connected world of competing ideological and social models. A liberal identity founded on tolerance, the possibility of freely identifying with liberal ideals, is a privilege that we must defend.

Society, just like the behavior of an individual in the world, must be based on universal principles. The study of these principles’ philosophical origins is the focus of my intellectual interest. At the center of my attention is the moral core of concepts like reciprocity, autonomy, justice, and altruism – for their application fulfills an age-old ambition to make moral stances the foundation of both human and political behavior. The effort at hand is to identify the rules and models of behavior that contribute to societal balance and form an environment founded on mutual respect not just with those with whom we have a certain relationship, but with all members of society.

Philosophical and intellectual dialogue

In many respects, we today do not have any normative reflection of our rapidly changing world. We need to reinterpret terms like freedom, equality, justice, and reciprocity, concepts into which we must integrate new facts and events. Their current meaning obscures an absence of analytical thought, the loss of concentration on an essence hidden in a confusing deluge of information with neither author nor addressee. The rebirth of moral universalism can show us the way; its principles go beyond the horizons of our existence and, in this, provide it with meaning brought face-to-face with the transitory nature of our existence. These are significant impulses for philosophical and intellectual dialogue in our era.

We support this philosophical discourse on many levels. One example is the conference “Inequality, Religion, and Society: John Rawls and After” – devoted to the philosophical legacy of John Rawls, the most significant political philosopher of the 20th century – which took place in early 2019 at Harvard University. Also in preparation is a series of conferences devoted to probably the greatest philosophical genius of the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein, the first of which will take place in 2019 at Oxford, the next in 2020 in Prague, and the last in 2021 in Vienna. Our foundation will also prepare a project together with Warsaw University in the form of several colloquia devoted to leading Central European intellectuals of the 20th century such as Isaiah Berlin, Leszek Kolakowski, Jan Patočka, and Karl Popper.

At the same time, there is no replacement for the role of public intellectuals, the community of ideas that has the ability to interpret the world in original and critical ways, pose fundamental questions for democracy such as whether we have power or power has us, and hold a mirror up to democracy. From history we know that many of them have not just remained in the world of ideas and surface-level criticism; in decisive moments, they have also been capable of sacrifice, an act that surpasses them and is the greatest expression of human responsibility. In this respect, we cannot forget their powerful weapon: the written word, the foundation of the Western cultural tradition. We contribute to the development of this tradition by supporting the publication of the works of important thinkers. One activity of ours that is symbolic of this is our strategic partnership with the Czech Centre of the International PEN Club, whose activity I have always admired and which has influenced the history of our country on multiple occasions.

Autonomy, reciprocity and civil society

When we speak of changing the political culture, such a change is unimaginable without a liberal transformation of civil society to make it a sphere of autonomy and universal values in the context of many-layered traditions. The public sphere, which is where ideas, cultural movements, and ambitions of power collide, forms at the intersection of civil and political society. The character of the fight over the public sphere, as well as the values that emerge victorious, is of formative importance for the nature of society as a whole. The ideal is reciprocal autonomy, which includes respect for the opinions of others, for their secular stances, and also for their religious conviction – and which, at the same time, contributes to societal cohesion.

I assume that a necessary precondition for social cohesion and individual autonomy is the principle of reciprocity, which is the moral basis of justice; that is, the crucial regulatory principle of the institutions of liberal society. Reciprocity is also a tool for alleviating inequality and the foundation of intergenerational responsibility, both in its symmetric form – for example, participation in the public life of an open and inclusive society, where the members of the society repay the society for providing them with education or offering them other forms of social integration – and in its asymmetric form, in the shape of care for future generations who currently cannot repay that care, but who, it is assumed, will do so in the future, once they adopt a reciprocal stance that always respects the claims of others and future generations. It is a permanent effort to find an agreement between one’s own viewpoint and the positions of others.

In looking for the balance between moral reciprocity and political justice, the paradigm of social inequality resonates strongly. In Rawls’s classical conception, everyone should have the same access to the basic collection of rights and freedoms, while inequality is acceptable only if it is remedied to the benefit of the most disadvantaged, those who are on the lowest rung of society. To put it concisely, improving the position of the poorest is the responsibility of those who are better off.

Wherever we see the middle classes growing poorer, becoming disillusioned, and facing destruction, people are radicalizing and turning towards populist negativism. What are – wrongly – proclaimed as the cause of inequality and enemies of the nation are migrants, minorities, globalization, and liberal politics. We often, from many sides, hear a sharp critique of capitalism; for example, Thomas Piketty’s recent appeal, calling for regulation, redistribution, and global forms of taxation, has resonated widely. Arguments calling for greater distribution of assets cannot be overlooked, of course, and deserve respect. We must always keep in mind, though, that the market environment is not just one of the causes of economic inequality, but also the primary source of societal wealth.

In the troubled history of Central Europe in the 20th century, civil society played an extraordinary role, serving as the home of brave individuals directed only by their conscience. From their moral autonomy grew a civil resistance, an ideal of resistance of antipolitical generations of the “shaken”, who repeatedly faced brutal suppression from those in power.

As early as the mid-20th century, Hungarian intellectual István Bibó called Central Europeans “phony realists” who had driven away Western-style idealists. These people grew powerful on a wave of existential fear, superficial nationalism, and political hysteria, and their activity had fatal consequences, the most tragic of which was, in the words of Polish poet Czesław Miłosz, the “captive mind”. In order to affirm their return to the civilizational tradition, countries in this region have to be, as Jan Patočka noted, “more Western that the West itself”, because they are more threatened and must fundamentally protect their brittle liberal identity, sometimes even from betrayal by its own elites.

The development of information technology and artificial intelligence creates an enormous space for authoritarian control of information on the one hand and manipulative political methods and populist enticement on the other. The tragedies of the previous century were quite often decisive moments when the masses were enchanted with utopias. We must make an effort for this century to belong not to leaders of mobs, but to an educated public, to rule by critical intellect. In other words, we must ensure that it be in the hands of those who wish to bring the political order into harmony with a moral order.

In a certain sense, Central Europe is a laboratory of the West, a self-contradictory area with great diversity in a small space, and its civil society is once again in confrontation with those who, through power-hungry egotism and often by invoking the most selfish human emotion – fear of the strange and unknown – are trying to hold onto power at the expense of the entire community.

For these reasons, too, the foundation will continue to support the Festival of Freedom, the Václav Havel Library, and the Czech Christian Academy.

Education and critical thinking

Given the development of biotechnology and artificial intelligence and the impact of the modern way of life on climate change, we can have a significantly greater influence on the fate of future generations than past generations could have on ours. It is our responsibility not just to stave off substantial climate change, but also to hand over to future generations just institutions and respect for the autonomy of individuals in the digital age. The path towards this goal leads through support for education as the complete formation of the character. At the forefront of my interests is the idea of the university and its irreplaceable role as the paramount institution of liberal education – one that does not merely produce specialists, but is also, at the same time, a place for cultivating critical discussion, Socratic dialogue, and refining ethical stances. Directed towards this end is our support of the University of Oxford, the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, the Centre for Political Philosophy, Ethics and Religion at Charles University, and also the provision of stipends to selected students in the humanities.

Independent media serve as a guarantee of a free public sphere, and the foundation contributes to its defense in its collaboration with the New York Times on the Athens Democracy Forum and its support of the Association of European Journalists.

Luděk Sekyra
Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Sekyra Foundation

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The Sekyra Foundation

Luděk Sekyra

Luděk Sekyra is a leading Czech businessman, chairman of The Sekyra Foundation and owner of the Sekyra Group.

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The Sekyra Foundation

About Us

The Sekyra Foundation was established by Czech businessman Ludek Sekyra in 2018 to support moral universalism, liberal values and civil society.

The foundation also aids the development of critical and philosophical thought and supports academic institutions and educational projects, including the publication of works by significant thinkers. Its mission also includes the defense of political freedom, human rights, and cultural and religious diversity.

About the Foundation

The Sekyra Foundation was established by Czech businessman Ludek Sekyra in 2018 to support moral universalism, liberal values and civil society. The foundation also aids the development of critical and philosophical thought and supports academic institutions and educational projects, including the publication of works by significant thinkers. Its mission also includes the defense of political freedom, human rights, and cultural and religious diversity.

The foundation cooperates with Harvard University, the University of Oxford and the Centre for Philosophy, Ethics and Religion at Charles University in Prague. Together with the New York Times, it sponsors the Athens Democracy Forum. It is also a supporter of the Václav Havel Library; the Czech Christian Academy; the Festival of Freedom; Foyer, an integration center in the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels; as well as students in foreign universities. The foundation is a general partner of the Czech Centre of the International PEN Club.

The foundation’s board members are significant figures in Czech public life.

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23 Sep 2019

Journalism and democracy in the age of polarization

A debate with Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times 

Both journalism and democracy are in the process of transition – and many would say in crisis. Faced with the increasing dominance of digital platforms, majority of professional news media are fighting for economic survival as well as for regaining audience’s trust, while many countries are witnessing the rise of populism and growing polarization, threatening the very foundations of democracy. How do journalists and media organizations respond to these challenges, and what can they do to bridge the widening societal gaps that are often exploited by populists? How can they counter the influx of disinformation and “fake news” while still protecting free speech? What is the place and future of traditional journalistic norms such as objectivity, impartiality and balance in the allegedly post-truth age, and in an increasingly polarized media landscape?

Panellists: 

  • Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times and former Director-General of BBC
  • Jiří Hošek, journalist, SeznamTV
  • Emma Smetana, journalist, moderator of DVTV
  • Michael Žantovský, diplomat, Director of Václav Havel Library
  • Moderator:  Václav Štětka, media scholar, Loughborough University

 

Admission is free on the basis of registration until capacity has been met. Link for registration is here.

Václav Havel Library, 23 September 2019, 5:30pm

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26 Sep 2019

2019 Annual International Editors’ Roundtable

The Foundation has continued Luděk Sekyra’s long-term collaboration with the Institute for Human Sciences (Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen) in Vienna, an independent institute for advanced study in the humanities and social sciences. Since its foundation in 1982, it has promoted intellectual exchange between East and West, between academia and society, and among a variety of disciplines and schools of thought. The institute is considered an important center of intellectual life in Vienna.

The Foundation has provided support for the Annual International Editors’ Roundtable, which will bring editors together with freelance writers from the most prestigious non‐academic intellectual journals worldwide from across the spectrum of political orientations (among them The Point, The Economist, The Week, openDemocracy, Eurozine, Esprit, FAZ, and Süddeutsche Zeitung). This project is a part of the Vienna Humanities Festival, which is co-organized by the Institute. This year’s theme is “Hope and Despair” and will involve discussions focused on moving toward desirable futures in a time of interlinked global crises, in which longstanding principles of rational politics are giving way to ever-increasing emotionalism and democracies are weakened by authoritarian tendencies, fears of economic recession, and the effects of new technologies and automation.

Vienna, 26/9–29/9/2019

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19 Sep 2019

Cracking Borders, Rising Walls conference series, Kultura Liberalna

The Foundation initiated its cooperation with Kultura Liberalna, a Polish NGO and liberal think tank. Its mission is to create a better Europe by renewing liberalism and stressing the importance of the rule of law, pluralism, and freedom and dignity for every individual. Kultura Liberalna is a platform with a political and cultural weekly magazine and daily blog that hosts public events devoted to Polish and European politics and social affairs, as well as publishing books on liberalism and democracy. It also functions as an observer of public debate and documents and analyzes instances of radicalization in public discourse.

The Foundation supported a Conference titled “Two Visions of Europe: What Sources of Hope for the Future?”, part of the Cracking Borders, Rising Walls series, which brings together a set of panelists from the ranks of academia and international media and encouraging the broader public to participate in the discussions as well. This year’s panelists include Yascha Mounk from Johns Hopkins University and representatives of important international media including Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Zeit, Der Tagesspiegel, The Spectator, The New York Times, and Le Monde.

Warsaw, 19/9–20/9/2019

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29 Aug 2019

Wittgenstein conference, Oxford Univerzity

The Sekyra Foundation is the main partner for the conference called “Culture and Value after Wittgenstein” at The Queen’s College, Oxford.

The conference brought together an exceptionally large and diverse group of leading scholars in the study of Wittgenstein’s philosophy to share and discuss their latest research concerning the philosophy of culture and value, with a focus on contemporary issues of our modern global society.

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889–1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. Wittgenstein’s life and work reveal a deep concern with questions of art, morality, religion and society, which he considered from both anthropological and critical perspectives. These phenomena frequently figured in his writing and lectures, and even elements of his philosophy not directly concerned with such matters arguably have implications for them.

The precise nature and extent of Wittgenstein’s legacy for the philosophical study of culture and value has been intensively studied in recent years.

The central aim of the conference was to facilitate objective progress in this dynamic area of study, including both the historical study of this seminal author of twentieth-century philosophy and the philosophical study of some of the important issues that are confronting our modern global society today. For this purpose, the conference was designed to be an intense, workshop-style meeting of experts with plenty of opportunities for formal and informal discussion, and with only a small number of selected participants including twenty invited speakers as well as twenty invited respondents.

On the day following the conclusion of the meeting in Oxford, a group comprising approximately half of the participants went on an excursion to Trinity College, Cambridge, together, where the Wren Library had prepared a special display for them of some of Wittgenstein’s original manuscripts, and Professor Arthur Gibson gave a lecture in which he offered an exclusive preview of mathematical and philosophical manuscripts from his forthcoming edition of the hitherto unpublished Wittgenstein–Skinner Archive.

The conference was very successful.

‘Thanks to the generous support of the Sekyra Foundation, leading scholars from across the world were able to attend the ‘Culture and Value’ conference in Oxford, and it proved to be the most intellectually exciting conference devoted to Wittgenstein’s philosophy for many years.’
John Hyman, Grote Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic, UCL

‘I’m still in a state of euphoria from your spectacular conference. — Stimulating papers, insightful questions, wonderfully cooperative atmosphere, beautiful setting, impeccable hospitality, superb organization, every detail just right. I learned a lot, and enjoyed myself to boot. Well done! And thank you!’
Paul Horwich, Professor of Philosophy, New York University

‘With so many brilliant philosophers in one place, for more than three days, there was a strong sense of importance and momentum throughout the event. It really was an exceptionally productive, open-minded, diverse, and stimulating, conference—thanks to the vision of the organisers and the generous financial support of the Sekyra Foundation.’
Sandra Laugier, Professor of Philosophy, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

The Queen’s College, Oxford, 30/8/1/9/2019

Hans Sluga (University of California, Berkeley), Luděk Sekyra

Sebastian Sunday (University of Oxford), Luděk Sekyra

Hans-Johann Glock (University of Zurich), Luděk Sekyra

Luděk Sekyra, James Conant (University of Chicago, University of Leipzig)

Wittgenstein’s Rooms at Whewell’s Court, Trinity College, Cambridge

Ludwig Wittgenstein's pocket notebooks, Trinity College, Cambridge

Queens College, University of Oxford

Ascension Parish Burial Ground, Cambridge

Gravestone of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ascension Parish Burial Ground, Cambridge

Gravestone of Elizabeth Anscombe and Peter Thomas Geach, students of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ascension Parish Burial Ground, Cambridge

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17 Jun 2019

Václav Havel Human Rights Prize

The Foundation began to cooperate with the Václav Havel Library, which spreads and protects the intellectual, literary, and political legacy of one of the greatest figures“ figure of modern Czech history – writer, playwright, thinker, fighter for human rights, and Czechoslovak and Czech President Václav Havel. For the general public, the Václav Havel Library offers a number of seminars, author readings, debates, concerts, and theatre performances. The Library also organizes a conference in honor of the Laureate of the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, in which the Foundation will participate. The purpose of the conference is to highlight and reward the extraordinary achievement of human rights within and outside of Europe. Since 2013, the Prize has been awarded annually by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in cooperation with the Václav Havel Library and the Charta 77 Foundation.

The Václav Havel Library, 2019

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17 Jun 2019

Translation of the selected texts of Jan Patočka

In cooperation with The Rimbaud and Verlaine Foundation, the Foundation supported the translation of selected philosophical texts by Jan Patočka from Czech to English.

Jan Patočka (1907–1977) was a Czech philosopher. Thanks to his contributions to phenomenology and the philosophy of history he is regarded as one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century. He studied in Prague, Paris, Berlin, and Freiburg, and was one of the last pupils of the celebrated philosophers Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger.

The Rimbaud and Verlaine Foundation is one of the most significant arts organizations in the United Kingdom. The mission of the Foundation is to support the arts – not just poetry and literature, but also classical music, opera, jazz and rock music, theatre, visual art, and sculptures. It is a platform for many contemporary artists and producers, and it also offers educational internships.

The Rimbaud and Verlaine Foundation, Great Britain, 2019

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20 May 2019

Press conference to announce a general partnership with The Czech Centre of the International PEN Club, 15 April 2019

The Foundation held its first press conference to announce a strategic cooperation with The Czech Centre of the International PEN Club. One of the Foundation's main objectives is to support the publishing of major works, so this partnership was a logical result of the Foundation’s mission.

“It is a great honor for me that we are able to be the general partner of The PEN Club, whose activities I have always admired and which has had a significant influence on the country’s history. Figures such as Karel Čapek and T.G. Masaryk were present at its inception; people like Jaroslav Seifert, Václav Černý, and Václav Havel have been active in it; and its current members include Ivan Klíma and Jiří Stránský, who are rare examples of moral integrity and artistic originality,” added Luděk Sekyra, the founder of the Foundation.

“The PEN Club brings together writers who have committed themselves, to the greatest extent possible, to helping to eliminate racial, class, and national hatred, pursuing freedom of speech and respect for human rights, and promoting peace in the world. On the eve of World War II in 1938 at the Prague Congress, at a moment when these fundamental values were under threat, the PEN Club made its warning heard. If these values ​​are questioned in the present, too, it is important that writers can express their views in public debate so that they can be heard. The support provided by Luděk Sekyra’s Foundation to the PEN Club is an acknowledgment of the organization’s historical merits and a contribution to its current role,” said Daniel Kroupa, member of the Sekyra Foundation's Board of Trustees.

“I believe that the PEN Club will have a bright future. Surrounded by an intellectual elite represented on the board of directors of the Sekyra Foundation, one cannot help but feel hopeful. And as the new strategic partnership with the Foundation also leads us to the Werich Villa, for me this is like the triangle of my dreams, and in this environment I can work with my colleagues from PEN Club very well. The societal role of a writer will be strengthened by this cooperation and I look forward to it all,” said Jiří Dědeček, Chairman of the Czech Centre of International PEN Club.

“Jiří Dědeček informed me of everything in detail, and after almost 13 years of experience managing the PEN Club, I knew very well what it would mean. And I am also aware that the number of educated foundations is decreasing, and with it the willingness to have that rare virtue of participate in the growth (but also the stumble and fall) of the very culture that was originally led mostly by Václav Havel. I am not afraid to say publicly that, with your Foundation, things will be better for us,” said Jiří Stránský, former chairman of the Czech Centre of the International PEN Club.

Werich Villa, Prague, 15/4/2019

Petr Fischer (journalist), Jiří Dědeček (chairman of the Czech Pen Club), Daniel Kroupa (member of the Board of Governors)

Daniel Kroupa (member of the Board of Governors)

Tomáš Halík (member of the Board of Governors), Petr Fischer (journalist), Jiří Dědeček (chairman of the Czech Pen Club)

Tomáš Halík (member of the Board of Governors), Petr Fischer (journalist), Jiří Dědeček (chairman of the Czech Pen Club), Jiří Pospíšil (chairman of the Jan and Meda Mládek Foundation)

Irena Maňáková (National Library)

Ivan Klíma (writer)

Petr Fisher (journalist), Jiří Dědeček (chairman of the Czech Pen Club)

Jiří Dědeček (chairman of the Czech Pen Club)

Jiří Dědeček (chairman of the Czech Pen Club), Václav Štětka (member of the Board of Supervisors), Luděk Sekyra (chairman of the Sekyra Foundation)

Luděk Sekyra (chairman of the Sekyra Foundation), Tomáš Halík (member of the Board of Governors)

Václav Štětka (member of the Board of Supervisors), Luděk Sekyra (chairman of the Sekyra Foundation)

Jiří Dědeček (chairman of the Czech Pen Club)

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10 Jul 2019

6th Broumov Discussion Forum

The Foundation supported the 6th annual Broumov Discussion Forum, whose topic this year is “Trust and Understanding”. The conference takes place every year at the Benedictine monastery in Broumov. The Broumov Discussion Forum aims to inspire people to consider important issues in the present; they gather people who feel a sense of responsibility towards the world. High school and university students make up an important part of the Broumov Discussion Forum, as they have the opportunity to obtain scholarships, attend workshops, and participate in the organization of the event.

The themes of the previous conferences were European identity, Education, Heroism and Courage, and Peace and Democracy, and participants included Miloslav Vlk, Helena Illnerová, Petr Pavel, Václav Cílek, Daniel Kroupa, Pavel Bělobrádek, Vladimíra Dvořáková, Jiří Drahoš, Michal Horáček, Marek Hilšer, Pavel Fischer, Petr Robejšek, Marie Svatošová, Petr Kolář, Zdeněk Velíšek, Tomáš Sedláček, Aleš Chmelař, Karel Kovář – Kovy, Jiří Padevět, Alexandr Vondra, and other leading figures of public, spiritual, and academic life.

November 6th and 7th 2019, Broumov Monastery

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15 Apr 2019

A series of PEN Club author readings in the Werich Villa

A pilot project created from a strategic partnership between the Foundation and the PEN club.

The author readings are a part of the “Werich Villa has come to life!” project and will be launched in May 2019. The public will have the opportunity to meet interesting personalities in the literary world and participate in their readings. Unfortunately, the readings will be held in Czech only. News and more information can be found here.

Werich Villa, 2019

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Liberal and civil society

Journalism and democracy in the age of polarization

A debate with Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times 

Both journalism and democracy are in the process of transition – and many would say in crisis. Faced with the increasing dominance of digital platforms, majority of professional news media are fighting for economic survival as well as for regaining audience’s trust, while many countries are witnessing the rise of populism and growing polarization, threatening the very foundations of democracy. How do journalists and media organizations respond to these challenges, and what can they do to bridge the widening societal gaps that are often exploited by populists? How can they counter the influx of disinformation and “fake news” while still protecting free speech? What is the place and future of traditional journalistic norms such as objectivity, impartiality and balance in the allegedly post-truth age, and in an increasingly polarized media landscape?

Panellists: 

  • Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times and former Director-General of BBC
  • Jiří Hošek, journalist, SeznamTV
  • Emma Smetana, journalist, moderator of DVTV
  • Michael Žantovský, diplomat, Director of Václav Havel Library
  • Moderator:  Václav Štětka, media scholar, Loughborough University

 

Admission is free on the basis of registration until capacity has been met. Link for registration is here.

Václav Havel Library, 23 September 2019, 5:30pm

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Education and critical thinking

Association of European Journalists – 57th Annual Congress in Prague

The Foundation is supporting the 57th Annual Congress of Association of European Journalists, which will be held for the first time in Prague.

The event, whose main organizer is Lída Rakušanová from the Czech section of the Association, is titled “Europe without Borders: A Reality or a Transient Illusion?”. Under this framework, European journalists in the Association, founded in San Remo in 1962, will look back on the way their continent has grown together, the role of Euroregions and the outlook for the European Parliament elections.
Correspondents from leading European media companies, Euroregion representatives and politicians from Brussels will take part in panel discussions. They will discuss the role of state borders in today’s Europe, map contradictions between theory and practice in the proclaimed protection of the Schengen Area, search for a common denominator of national interests in opposition to national egoisms, and debate about the extent to which Euroregions can defend themselves against isolationist tendencies.

“Philanthropy as a private initiative that contributes to the public welfare has countless forms. Most of these, however, do not reach beyond a narrow horizon. The Sekyra Foundation is exceptional in that it promotes an open society globally, whether by pursuing interfaith dialogue or by developing journalistic ethics. Because, as Luděk Sekyra, the founder of the Foundation, has described the threat to democracy in the contemporary world, ‘freedom of speech and religion begins to divide, the public sphere becomes an “interspace” between the closed-off worlds, with differing values, of national and religious communities,’ said Lída Rakušanová.

Prague, 1/11–3/11/2019

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Philosophy and intellectual dialogue

2019 Annual International Editors’ Roundtable

The Foundation has continued Luděk Sekyra’s long-term collaboration with the Institute for Human Sciences (Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen) in Vienna, an independent institute for advanced study in the humanities and social sciences. Since its foundation in 1982, it has promoted intellectual exchange between East and West, between academia and society, and among a variety of disciplines and schools of thought. The institute is considered an important center of intellectual life in Vienna.

The Foundation has provided support for the Annual International Editors’ Roundtable, which will bring editors together with freelance writers from the most prestigious non‐academic intellectual journals worldwide from across the spectrum of political orientations (among them The Point, The Economist, The Week, openDemocracy, Eurozine, Esprit, FAZ, and Süddeutsche Zeitung). This project is a part of the Vienna Humanities Festival, which is co-organized by the Institute. This year’s theme is “Hope and Despair” and will involve discussions focused on moving toward desirable futures in a time of interlinked global crises, in which longstanding principles of rational politics are giving way to ever-increasing emotionalism and democracies are weakened by authoritarian tendencies, fears of economic recession, and the effects of new technologies and automation.

Vienna, 26/9–29/9/2019

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Philosophy and intellectual dialogue

Cracking Borders, Rising Walls conference series, Kultura Liberalna

The Foundation initiated its cooperation with Kultura Liberalna, a Polish NGO and liberal think tank. Its mission is to create a better Europe by renewing liberalism and stressing the importance of the rule of law, pluralism, and freedom and dignity for every individual. Kultura Liberalna is a platform with a political and cultural weekly magazine and daily blog that hosts public events devoted to Polish and European politics and social affairs, as well as publishing books on liberalism and democracy. It also functions as an observer of public debate and documents and analyzes instances of radicalization in public discourse.

The Foundation supported a Conference titled “Two Visions of Europe: What Sources of Hope for the Future?”, part of the Cracking Borders, Rising Walls series, which brings together a set of panelists from the ranks of academia and international media and encouraging the broader public to participate in the discussions as well. This year’s panelists include Yascha Mounk from Johns Hopkins University and representatives of important international media including Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Zeit, Der Tagesspiegel, The Spectator, The New York Times, and Le Monde.

Warsaw, 19/9–20/9/2019

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Philosophy and intellectual dialogue

Wittgenstein conference, Oxford Univerzity

The Sekyra Foundation is the main partner for the conference called “Culture and Value after Wittgenstein” at The Queen’s College, Oxford.

The conference brought together an exceptionally large and diverse group of leading scholars in the study of Wittgenstein’s philosophy to share and discuss their latest research concerning the philosophy of culture and value, with a focus on contemporary issues of our modern global society.

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889–1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. Wittgenstein’s life and work reveal a deep concern with questions of art, morality, religion and society, which he considered from both anthropological and critical perspectives. These phenomena frequently figured in his writing and lectures, and even elements of his philosophy not directly concerned with such matters arguably have implications for them.

The precise nature and extent of Wittgenstein’s legacy for the philosophical study of culture and value has been intensively studied in recent years.

The central aim of the conference was to facilitate objective progress in this dynamic area of study, including both the historical study of this seminal author of twentieth-century philosophy and the philosophical study of some of the important issues that are confronting our modern global society today. For this purpose, the conference was designed to be an intense, workshop-style meeting of experts with plenty of opportunities for formal and informal discussion, and with only a small number of selected participants including twenty invited speakers as well as twenty invited respondents.

On the day following the conclusion of the meeting in Oxford, a group comprising approximately half of the participants went on an excursion to Trinity College, Cambridge, together, where the Wren Library had prepared a special display for them of some of Wittgenstein’s original manuscripts, and Professor Arthur Gibson gave a lecture in which he offered an exclusive preview of mathematical and philosophical manuscripts from his forthcoming edition of the hitherto unpublished Wittgenstein–Skinner Archive.

The conference was very successful.

‘Thanks to the generous support of the Sekyra Foundation, leading scholars from across the world were able to attend the ‘Culture and Value’ conference in Oxford, and it proved to be the most intellectually exciting conference devoted to Wittgenstein’s philosophy for many years.’
John Hyman, Grote Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic, UCL

‘I’m still in a state of euphoria from your spectacular conference. — Stimulating papers, insightful questions, wonderfully cooperative atmosphere, beautiful setting, impeccable hospitality, superb organization, every detail just right. I learned a lot, and enjoyed myself to boot. Well done! And thank you!’
Paul Horwich, Professor of Philosophy, New York University

‘With so many brilliant philosophers in one place, for more than three days, there was a strong sense of importance and momentum throughout the event. It really was an exceptionally productive, open-minded, diverse, and stimulating, conference—thanks to the vision of the organisers and the generous financial support of the Sekyra Foundation.’
Sandra Laugier, Professor of Philosophy, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

The Queen’s College, Oxford, 30/8/1/9/2019

Hans Sluga (University of California, Berkeley), Luděk Sekyra

Sebastian Sunday (University of Oxford), Luděk Sekyra

Hans-Johann Glock (University of Zurich), Luděk Sekyra

Luděk Sekyra, James Conant (University of Chicago, University of Leipzig)

Wittgenstein’s Rooms at Whewell’s Court, Trinity College, Cambridge

Ludwig Wittgenstein's pocket notebooks, Trinity College, Cambridge

Queens College, University of Oxford

Ascension Parish Burial Ground, Cambridge

Gravestone of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ascension Parish Burial Ground, Cambridge

Gravestone of Elizabeth Anscombe and Peter Thomas Geach, students of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ascension Parish Burial Ground, Cambridge

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Liberal and civil society

Václav Havel Human Rights Prize

The Foundation began to cooperate with the Václav Havel Library, which spreads and protects the intellectual, literary, and political legacy of one of the greatest figures“ figure of modern Czech history – writer, playwright, thinker, fighter for human rights, and Czechoslovak and Czech President Václav Havel. For the general public, the Václav Havel Library offers a number of seminars, author readings, debates, concerts, and theatre performances. The Library also organizes a conference in honor of the Laureate of the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, in which the Foundation will participate. The purpose of the conference is to highlight and reward the extraordinary achievement of human rights within and outside of Europe. Since 2013, the Prize has been awarded annually by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in cooperation with the Václav Havel Library and the Charta 77 Foundation.

The Václav Havel Library, 2019

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Philosophy and intellectual dialogue

Translation of the selected texts of Jan Patočka

In cooperation with The Rimbaud and Verlaine Foundation, the Foundation supported the translation of selected philosophical texts by Jan Patočka from Czech to English.

Jan Patočka (1907–1977) was a Czech philosopher. Thanks to his contributions to phenomenology and the philosophy of history he is regarded as one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century. He studied in Prague, Paris, Berlin, and Freiburg, and was one of the last pupils of the celebrated philosophers Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger.

The Rimbaud and Verlaine Foundation is one of the most significant arts organizations in the United Kingdom. The mission of the Foundation is to support the arts – not just poetry and literature, but also classical music, opera, jazz and rock music, theatre, visual art, and sculptures. It is a platform for many contemporary artists and producers, and it also offers educational internships.

The Rimbaud and Verlaine Foundation, Great Britain, 2019

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Education and critical thinking

Press conference to announce a general partnership with The Czech Centre of the International PEN Club, 15 April 2019

The Foundation held its first press conference to announce a strategic cooperation with The Czech Centre of the International PEN Club. One of the Foundation's main objectives is to support the publishing of major works, so this partnership was a logical result of the Foundation’s mission.

“It is a great honor for me that we are able to be the general partner of The PEN Club, whose activities I have always admired and which has had a significant influence on the country’s history. Figures such as Karel Čapek and T.G. Masaryk were present at its inception; people like Jaroslav Seifert, Václav Černý, and Václav Havel have been active in it; and its current members include Ivan Klíma and Jiří Stránský, who are rare examples of moral integrity and artistic originality,” added Luděk Sekyra, the founder of the Foundation.

“The PEN Club brings together writers who have committed themselves, to the greatest extent possible, to helping to eliminate racial, class, and national hatred, pursuing freedom of speech and respect for human rights, and promoting peace in the world. On the eve of World War II in 1938 at the Prague Congress, at a moment when these fundamental values were under threat, the PEN Club made its warning heard. If these values ​​are questioned in the present, too, it is important that writers can express their views in public debate so that they can be heard. The support provided by Luděk Sekyra’s Foundation to the PEN Club is an acknowledgment of the organization’s historical merits and a contribution to its current role,” said Daniel Kroupa, member of the Sekyra Foundation's Board of Trustees.

“I believe that the PEN Club will have a bright future. Surrounded by an intellectual elite represented on the board of directors of the Sekyra Foundation, one cannot help but feel hopeful. And as the new strategic partnership with the Foundation also leads us to the Werich Villa, for me this is like the triangle of my dreams, and in this environment I can work with my colleagues from PEN Club very well. The societal role of a writer will be strengthened by this cooperation and I look forward to it all,” said Jiří Dědeček, Chairman of the Czech Centre of International PEN Club.

“Jiří Dědeček informed me of everything in detail, and after almost 13 years of experience managing the PEN Club, I knew very well what it would mean. And I am also aware that the number of educated foundations is decreasing, and with it the willingness to have that rare virtue of participate in the growth (but also the stumble and fall) of the very culture that was originally led mostly by Václav Havel. I am not afraid to say publicly that, with your Foundation, things will be better for us,” said Jiří Stránský, former chairman of the Czech Centre of the International PEN Club.

Werich Villa, Prague, 15/4/2019

Petr Fischer (journalist), Jiří Dědeček (chairman of the Czech Pen Club), Daniel Kroupa (member of the Board of Governors)

Daniel Kroupa (member of the Board of Governors)

Tomáš Halík (member of the Board of Governors), Petr Fischer (journalist), Jiří Dědeček (chairman of the Czech Pen Club)

Tomáš Halík (member of the Board of Governors), Petr Fischer (journalist), Jiří Dědeček (chairman of the Czech Pen Club), Jiří Pospíšil (chairman of the Jan and Meda Mládek Foundation)

Irena Maňáková (National Library)

Ivan Klíma (writer)

Petr Fisher (journalist), Jiří Dědeček (chairman of the Czech Pen Club)

Jiří Dědeček (chairman of the Czech Pen Club)

Jiří Dědeček (chairman of the Czech Pen Club), Václav Štětka (member of the Board of Supervisors), Luděk Sekyra (chairman of the Sekyra Foundation)

Luděk Sekyra (chairman of the Sekyra Foundation), Tomáš Halík (member of the Board of Governors)

Václav Štětka (member of the Board of Supervisors), Luděk Sekyra (chairman of the Sekyra Foundation)

Jiří Dědeček (chairman of the Czech Pen Club)

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Liberal and civil society

6th Broumov Discussion Forum

The Foundation supported the 6th annual Broumov Discussion Forum, whose topic this year is “Trust and Understanding”. The conference takes place every year at the Benedictine monastery in Broumov. The Broumov Discussion Forum aims to inspire people to consider important issues in the present; they gather people who feel a sense of responsibility towards the world. High school and university students make up an important part of the Broumov Discussion Forum, as they have the opportunity to obtain scholarships, attend workshops, and participate in the organization of the event.

The themes of the previous conferences were European identity, Education, Heroism and Courage, and Peace and Democracy, and participants included Miloslav Vlk, Helena Illnerová, Petr Pavel, Václav Cílek, Daniel Kroupa, Pavel Bělobrádek, Vladimíra Dvořáková, Jiří Drahoš, Michal Horáček, Marek Hilšer, Pavel Fischer, Petr Robejšek, Marie Svatošová, Petr Kolář, Zdeněk Velíšek, Tomáš Sedláček, Aleš Chmelař, Karel Kovář – Kovy, Jiří Padevět, Alexandr Vondra, and other leading figures of public, spiritual, and academic life.

November 6th and 7th 2019, Broumov Monastery

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Liberal and civil society

Athens Democracy Forum 2019

The Foundation is a partner of the Athens Democracy Forum, an independent non-profit organization that collaborates with The New York Times. This year’s Forum will be held on October 9–11, 2019, in Athens and the theme will be “Reinventing Democracy: New Models for our Changing World”. Respected speakers at the Forum will include E.U. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager; French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy; Ivan Krastev, political scientist and chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies; Syrian-Palestinian refugee Kassem Eid; Shiu Sin Por, the Executive Director of the New Paradigm Foundation; and many others. Learn more here.

Athens, Greece, 9/10-11/10/2019

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Philosophy and intellectual dialogue

The Challenges of Contemporary Liberalism, IHNED.cz

On April 26, 2019, Ludek Sekyra’s article was published on the website of the Czech newspaper "Economic News" (Hospodářské noviny), which focuses on economics and is published by Economia.

In the public sphere today there is no lack of discussion about the crisis of liberal democracy, the rise of populism, and the nature of freedom in authoritarian regimes making use of technology in a way that resembles Orwell’s iconic dystopia. These discussions have not just a political dimension, but also an important academic one.

In January, a conference took place at Harvard University devoted to the legacy of John Rawls, the most important political philosopher of the 20th century. It was organized by the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics in cooperation with the Sekyra Foundation. The list of attendees included some of the greatest names of moral and political philosophy, such as Danielle Allen, Christine Korsgaard, and Thomas Scanlon (Harvard); Stephen Darwall (Yale); Samuel Scheffler and Jeremy Waldron (New York University); Partha Dasgupta (Cambridge); and Rainer Forst (Goethe University Frankfurt).

The goal was to elucidate the most pressing questions of contemporary discourse in light of Rawls’s theory of justice and liberalism.

In 1971, John Rawls published A Theory of Justice, which changed the course of political thought in the twentieth century.

Rawls’s critique of utilitarianism and his return to the tradition of the social contract and Kant’s universalism resulted in an original transformation of moral doctrine into the political conception of justice, which remains today an unsurpassed philosophical reflection of liberal society. His efforts culminated in the 1993 book Political Liberalism, which is an attempt to delineate the conditions under which stable coexistence is possible in a society that is pluralistic in its values. According to Rawls, this can be guaranteed only by an “overlapping consensus”, which is the common point of intersection, the basis of coexistence in an otherwise divided society. This takes the form of generally acceptable political principles of justice, which arise from the fact that humans are moral beings that have their own sense of justice and a rational conception of a good life.

The prestigious conference at Harvard identified the themes that are at the core of today’s moral and political debates. The first is the issue of justice, which, in the classic Rawlsian conception, is “the first virtue of social institutions”. This is an important definition. With it, Rawls precisely limited the concept of justice to the institutional structure of society. The discussion showed that Rawls’s conception of justice, seen through the lens of the current era, is relatively narrow; that is, it is often not a sufficient foundation for social cohesion in a polarized society.

A number of participants shared the goal of making Rawls’s central concept more inclusive, to broaden it from distributional justice to justice in the context of climate change, as well as intergenerational justice, beyond the original framing of a purely institutional theory. It seems that this tendency reflects Aristotle’s conclusion that justice is the welfare of others, not just the principle of giving to each their own (suum cuique tribuere).

Inequality and the least advantaged

Although Rawls’s conception of political justice as the foundation of an acceptable liberal consensus is probably the most influential legacy of political philosophy in the previous century, we need other principles as well, because, despite the efforts mentioned in the previous paragraph, justice is often one-sided, and from a certain viewpoint, the emphasis on institutions may be advantageous only for those who have the greatest influence on them.

I believe that the moral basis of justice should be the principle of reciprocity, which is a necessary precondition of social cohesion, both in its symmetric form – for example, participation in the public life of an open and inclusive society, where the members of the society repay the society for providing them with education or offering them other forms of social integration – and in its asymmetric form, in the shape of care for future generations who currently cannot repay that care, but who, it is assumed, will do so in the future, once they adopt a reciprocal stance that always respects the claims of others and future generations as well. By doing so, after all, they will fulfill the age-old ambition of justice to make a moral stance the foundation of both human and political behavior.

Another great philosophical theme is the question of inequality. In Rawls’s conception, everyone should have the same access to the set of fundamental rights and freedoms, and inequality is acceptable only when to the benefit of the least advantaged, those who are on the bottom rung of society. To put it concisely, improving the station of the poorest is the responsibility of those who are better off.

Given the rising level of inequality in both the Western countries, especially those using the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism, and the developing world, seeking ways to reverse this trend is an ever more pressing issue.

Wherever we see the middle classes growing poorer, becoming disillusioned, and facing destruction, people are radicalizing and turning towards populist negativism, which has been described many times before (examples include Brexit and Trump). What are – wrongly – proclaimed as the cause of inequality and enemies of the nation are migrants, minorities, globalization, and liberal politics. In this context, Piketty’s critique of capitalism, his call for regulation, redistribution, and global forms of taxation, has resonated widely, as has Scheidel’s cautionary analysis concluding that inequality is significantly reduced primarily through wars, revolutions, and epidemics. Arguments calling for greater distribution of assets are, of course, important and deserve respect. We must always keep in mind, though, that the market environment is not just one of the causes of economic inequality, but also the primary source of societal wealth.

How to properly distribute wealth

At the Harvard conference, this question was addressed by one of the greatest living moral philosophers, Thomas Scanlon, who is convinced that we must distinguish between different forms of inequality (whether in terms of wealth, race, or gender).

Each of these domains requires its own solution; nonetheless, a societal guarantee of fair equality of opportunities, as well as a certain form of redistribution of wealth, appears to be a universal means of reducing inequality.

A radical right to compensation for inequality was also brought up by young Harvard philosopher Lucas Stanczyk, who pointed out the problem of the working poor, where certain professions are insufficiently compensated regardless of their work performance. In his opinion, the asymmetry benefitting the wealthy – that is, those who set the rules – cannot be solved within the capitalist market economy. On the left, the concept of “universal basic income”, which would guarantee a dignified existential minimum to all, is ever more popular.

At the same time, some participants criticized meritocracy, the principle stating that positions and functions should be distributed in accordance with capabilities, performance and competence – for example, because the financial demands of a high-quality education have made it inaccessible for aspirants from lower classes (current estimates from the United States indicate that 82 percent of young people from the highest income quartile attain a bachelor’s degree, compared to just eight percent from the lowest quartile.)

This weakens social mobility, and certain positions thus still cycle among the same closed-off elites. For example, Joseph Fishkin (University of Texas) named his book on this topic Bottleneck.

Fishkin analyzes the crucial points along an individual’s path to success, which are often set up to be restrictive, a way of limiting equality of opportunity.

Nonetheless, despite the overwhelming tendency towards various forms of egalitarianism, most philosophers accept the idea that natural talent and the circumstances of one’s birth are random, “morally arbitrary”, and cannot be offset completely. Inequality also has other implications, though: money is a threat to the democratic process, primarily by being a source of political influence for modern oligarchs – but they are usually a bad representative of the public interest, because their real, if often skillfully concealed, interest is the protection of their own wealth.

The problem of inequality has proven to be the greatest challenge for political economy not just in our era, but probably in the near future as well. One path may be to implement the principle of reciprocal contribution, where each person contributes to the common good in proportion with their abilities and opportunities; this is what society should demand of its members. A precondition of this demand is that society be prepared to support the development of individuals’ natural abilities.

Respect for the opinions of others pays off

The final great philosophical theme is our responsibility towards future generations. Given the development of biotechnology and artificial intelligence and the impact of the modern way of life on climate change, we can have a significantly greater influence on the life of future generations than past generations could have on ours. Intergenerational solidarity has many layers; according to Anja Karnein (Binghamton University), though, it is our moral obligation to prevent significant climate change and pass down just institutions to future generations – and, I would add, respect for individual autonomy in a free public sphere. In other words, what we are passing down is the ideal of reciprocal autonomy, which includes respect for the opinions of others, their human dignity, and the fact that they are different from us as well.

According to Samuel Scheffler, our relationship with future generations is asymmetrical, but nonetheless has a reciprocal nature. Danielle Allen made a similar point that “human development will generate reciprocity”, because the opinion of others, their viewpoint, becomes the source of our own morality. In a certain sense, care for future generations is repayment for what we received from previous generations. This conception is near and dear to me, for the essence of society appears as an infinite chain of reciprocity, and not just towards those who are able to engage in immediate reciprocal behavior of their own.

The principle of reciprocity is the permanent effort to reconcile one’s own viewpoint with the position of others. It serves as the starting point of justice, the foundation of intergenerational responsibility, and also a tool for reducing inequality, and in that sense, it is a symbol of liberal stability.

In many respects, we today do not have any normative reflection of a rapidly changing world.  We need to reinterpret old terms like freedom, equality, justice, and reciprocity, concepts into which we must integrate new facts and events. Their current meaning obscures an absence of analytical thought, the loss of concentration on an essence hidden in a confusing deluge of information with neither author nor addressee. The rebirth of an ethics founded on universal values can show us the way; its principles and norms reveal not just the close borders of our freedom, but also the distant horizons stretching beyond our existence and, in this, provide it with meaning when brought face-to-face with the transitory nature of our lives.

Luděk Sekyra

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Philosophy and intellectual dialogue

John Rawls conference, Harvard University

John Rawls was the most influential political philosopher of the twentieth century: modern political philosophy would be unthinkable without him.

The Sekyra Foundation was the main initiator and sponsor of this conference called “Inequality, Religion, and Society: John Rawls and After", enabling a range of distinguished participants to be brought together. Their diverse perspectives enhanced and shed light on one another in looking both at Rawls’ own thoughts and the problems of political theory that continue to confront his successors. As the location for such an important event, there was nowhere more appropriate than Harvard, where Rawls worked and taught for so long. Learn more.

The conference was very successful, and we are happy to share the lectures with you online. A link to the videos can be found here.

Photos are attributed to Melissa Blackall and Maggie Gates, the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University.

Harvard University, USA, 24/1/26/1/2019

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Education and critical thinking

The publication of An Introduction to the Study of Politics by Miroslav Novák

The Sekyra Foundation supported the publication of the book An Introduction to the Study of Politics by a team of authors led by Miroslav Novák.

The book is intended primarily for university students of social and human sciences. In the Czech context, it is unique in ts concept and scope. The book is divided into four parts. In the first part, politics is interpreted through various disciplines – from political science, philosophy, psychology, anthropology to law, geography, economics and history. The second part contains introductions to selected sub-disciplines of political science, such as comparative political science, international relations theory and administrative science. The third part is made up of introductions of quantitative and qualitative methods in political science. The fourth part addresses some major policy themes such as party and electoral systems, nations and nationalism and democracy and undemocratic regimes.

In Prague, 2019

Preface

The Challenges of Political Science

Political science and the study of politics affects us all – not just because man is, in the spirit of Aristotle’s famous observation, a political animal, but also because politics makes decisions about the allocation of shared resources and shapes the public sphere. Politics has been, and still is, the most civilized and acceptable way to resolve conflicts. We thus assume that it should embody crucial moral and social principles like freedom, equality, reciprocity, justice, and altruism. Only by doing so can it serve as the keystone of not just a political community, but also a community of values, and represent the legitimate public interest, not a mere aggregation of the economic and social priorities of individuals, nor a mere tangle of private conflicts that devastate both the political arena and the consensus within a community.

The founder of the modern conception of politics, Machiavelli, wanted to teach its creators “how not to be good” and thus separated politics from morality. Under the influence of his own experiences, among other things, he came to the conclusion that the subject of politics is power—the effort to gain and hold onto it. In this conception, politics is a performance, a dramatic art with motives of power. But does this vision of politics suffice when brought face-to-face with the new challenges which the liberal order is now encountering? Is this conception of politics not the cause of many of today’s woes? Politics cannot be identical with morality, as it is limited in definition by “care” for power and “care” for deeds, actions, and behavior. As Kant put it, it is a “difficult art”; nonetheless, “true politics can therefore not take a step without having already paid  homage to morals”.

There are, of course, many reasons why the liberal model founded on democratic legitimacy is endangered. Undoubtedly playing a role was the growth of the internet and social media as the most influential communication platforms of the present day, in which, unlike traditional media, there is no content control and the anonymity of false news often holds sway. Here, in a context beyond that of totalitarian regimes, we are confronted with the question of truth in public discourse, which has become an intricate complex with virtual offline and real online dimensions interwoven with one another, and a substantial effort will need to be expended to prevent truth from becoming a rare commodity in this environment. The prevailing atmosphere is one in which populism is becoming an ever more dominant form of political communication. Its proponents pose primarily as authentic representatives of the people and successfully attack and marginalize the often ossified strategies of parties with traditional values. These attacks are often inspired by authoritarian regimes that pass off monopolization and the preservation of power as exemplary stability, and the circulation of power as a manifestation of chaos.

At the same time, there is another warning sign: inequality in Western societies, the consequence of which is the destruction and disillusionment of the middle class, especially in countries practicing the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism. This manifests itself in radicalization and a tendency toward negativistic populism. Alarming inequality has also given rise to a modern oligarchy for whom inequality is a source of economic influence. Its true, though often artfully concealed, interest is the protection of its own riches. Subsequently, other entities are identified as the proclaimed cause of inequality and enemies of the nation: migrants, minorities, globalization, and liberal politics. The efforts of parts of the oligarchy and their political offshoots to take control of power brings us, with a burning urgency, back to the problem of how to control it democratically, to the question of whether we hold power or power holds us, a question that tormented even the old liberals, chiefly de Tocqueville. It has ultimately become apparent that even the liberal icon of meritocracy can be a double-edged sword if, rather than social mobility, it leads to the closed-off continuity of elites. One important topic is the role of new technologies, the genesis of the “surveillance society” that grants public authorities control over individual lives. At the same time, global waves of migration have become a permanent phenomenon and have brought to the center of both political and theoretical attention the problem of a tolerant cultural and religious identity in, which should be inclusive rather than divisive—that is, rather than excluding those who do not fully share it. This inclusive identity becomes a condition of cohesiveness in multicultural societies. The radical rise of women’s education levels have, among other things, placed their role in society as well as their many-layered gendered identity in a new context. And, last but not least, also relevant is the issue of our relationship to future generations, to whom we are morally bound to hand down just institutions and whose lives may be negatively affected by irresponsible environmental and biotechnological policies.

We live in an era of deep polarization; thus, political science and its philosophical branches should not just focus on empirical, exact analyses of facts, but, at the same time, also place emphasis on the normative interpretation of principles that will help a divided public discover the lost minimal consensus and anchor itself in civil society, which is the primary source of democratic legitimacy. A normative approach is important for the universal formulation of principles that have a uniting function and support social cohesion and the stability of institutions, for their authority is primarily founded on reciprocal justice, on the linking of moral reciprocity with political justice.

Clearly, the most influential legacy of the 20th century is Rawls’s political conception of justice as the foundation of an acceptable liberal consensus. Justice, however, is sometimes one-sided, and from a given viewpoint can set people apart and be divisive, advantageous only for those who hold the greatest influence over it. I have a feeling that the principle of reciprocity applied in all its dimensions is the cardinal factor of societal cohesion. And because reciprocity must be the moral foundation of justice: either in its symmetrical form, as for example participation in the public life of an open and inclusive society whose members repay it for providing them education or offering another kind of social integration; or taking an asymmetrical position in the form of responsibility for future generations, who cannot currently return the favor, but about who, it is assumed, will do so in the future once they themselves adopt the a reciprocal attitude, that always respects the claims of other people, as well as those of future generations.

This universal reciprocity is a manifestation of moral autonomy and respect for human dignity. Indeed, in politics it is a rarity to find autonomous stances, action in concord with one’s conscience, a strong desire for transcendence, or what Jan Patočka forcefully calledvzmach”: the ability to ascend above the struggle for everyday survival and live a more meaningful life.

This book is, in the Czech context, a praiseworthy achievement; its merit is so much the greater for being a textbook, and for this, its authors and editors deserve to be thanked. I hope that it will contribute to a more general awareness that politics should primarily be the subject of exact study, because although it is “a modest part of intellectual life”, it is a fundamental societal phenomenon that creates the space that we publicly share with others.

I am glad that my foundation was able to support the publishing of this work and I believe that readers and students, as well as active politicians, will find within it not just impulses for further thought, but also answers to the burning challenges of the present.

Luděk Sekyra

Book Launch Photos

Miroslav Novák (CEVRO Institut), Alena Miltová (SLON)

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Liberal and civil society

The Czechoslovak Documentation Centre

The Foundation has supported the work of the Czechoslovak Documentation Centre, which includes collection of resources, research activities and the final publication of results.

The Center seeks to popularize historical research and, at the same time, participate in the formation of society’s historical consciousness.

Prague, 2019

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Education and critical thinking

Stipendia for Oxford and Charles University, EUROPAEUM

The Foundation continues to support EUROPAEUM, which unites a dozen of Europe’s leading universities.

The association’s main aim is to bring together talented students and encourage academic mobility, especially in the humanities and social sciences in order to strengthen a “sense of Europe”. The Sekyra Foundation participates in this project and has provided funds for a student from Oxford to spend a month in Prague, and for a young research scholar from Charles University to spend a month in Oxford.

Prague, 2019

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Liberal and civil society

International Crisis Group, support for Europe and Central Asia

The Foundation provided support for the International Crisis Group (ICG), an NGO working to resolve crisis situations in a timely fashion and prevent. The ICG combines expert field research, analysis, and engagement with politicians across the world and includes all concerned parties in its discussions. The organization is helping in the formation of a peaceful and inclusive politics which creates the conditions for more creative and flexible international diplomacy. The Foundation gave support to the ICG’s program focused on Europe and Central Asia.

USA, 2019

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Liberal and civil society

The Czech Center of the International PEN Club

The Foundation has become a strategic partner of the Czech Center of the International PEN Club, which is a part of a union of independent PEN communities around the world with headquarters in London.

The aim of the association is mainly freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom for people to live their lives. The Czech Club operates in committees, the most important of which is the Committee for Imprisoned Writers, which publishes cases of writers in prison. The club awards two prizes, the Karel Čapek Award and the PEN Club Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Prague, March 2019

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Liberal and civil society

Integration Centre Foyer Brussels

The Foundation supports Foyer, a non-profit organization based in Belgium with a strong focus on social cohesion and the integration of immigrants.

In their second grant, the Foundation financed an installation for the exhibition “Visualization of Globalization & Migration Movements in Brussels 1950–2017: Multi-Cultural, Multi-Ethnic, Multi-Religious”. The goal of the exhibition is to inform visitors about the three phases of globalization and spreading of migrants in Brussels since World War II.  The three phases include Southern Europe and Morocco, Turkey and Global migration and Superdiversity.

Foyer, Molenbeek, Belgium, 2019

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Liberal and civil society

Central European Forum 2018

The Foundation supported the tenth annual Central European Forum, which takes place each year in Bratislava.

The Forum was attended by significant figures such as Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich journalist Misha Glenny, whose book McMafia served as the basis for a  BBC series; anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen; Bernhard Schlink, judge and author of the famous book The Reader; and young French writer Edouard Louis. More information.

Photos are attributed to the Central European Forum.

Bratislava, 16/11/19/11/2018

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Liberal and civil society

Festival of Freedom 2018

The Foundation supported the Festival of Freedom, which commemorates the anniversary celebrations of November 17, 1989.

The Festival includes events that recall the events of November 1989 and promote the values associated with the festival. The Foundation specifically supported the closing Concert for the Future. Learn more.

Prague, 2018

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Education and critical thinking

Junior Achievement 2019

The Foundation provided support to the Czech Junior Achievement project, part of an international non-profit educational organization. Its mission is to provide young people with practical economic education, develop their knowledge and skills, inspire and support them in an active approach to life, enabling them to successfully find employment and be well-prepared to enter the labor market. Additional value for the project derives from cooperation with companies. Managers give lectures to students and actively participate in teaching. The Foundation supported the Student Firm of the Year competition in 2019, specifically second place in the Financial Management category.

Martin Smrž (Executive Director of the Czech Junior Achievement)

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Education and critical thinking

KlasikaPlus.cz, a classical music website

The Foundation supported a cultural website which focuses on the classical music world.

The portal contains not only reviews and reporting, but also columns dedicated to significant personalities and their themes, a gallery for artists and their “musical” ideas, a creative space for and about young people and other educational historical and geographical materials.

Prague, 2019

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Education and critical thinking

A series of PEN Club author readings in the Werich Villa

A pilot project created from a strategic partnership between the Foundation and the PEN club.

The author readings are a part of the “Werich Villa has come to life!” project and will be launched in May 2019. The public will have the opportunity to meet interesting personalities in the literary world and participate in their readings. Unfortunately, the readings will be held in Czech only. News and more information can be found here.

Werich Villa, 2019

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Education and critical thinking

Cheb Grammar School history competition

The Gaudeamus Endowment Fund at the Cheb Grammar School organizes a history competition for high school students.

During the competition, which for many years has been the largest meeting of Czech and Slovak high school students, students display their knowledge, the depth of which continues to amaze the university professors in attendance. The Foundation donated funds to organize the final part of the competition and to provide awards for the 2019 winners.

Cheb, 2019

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Philosophy and intellectual dialogue

Conference on Public Life and Religious Diversity, Oxford Univerzity

The Foundation has continued Luděk Sekyra’s long-term collaboration with the University of Oxford. This conference was dedicated to public life and religious diversity, joining together perspectives from political theory, philosophy, and the history of political thought and raising political questions relevant to current times. The main speakers were Joseph Chan (Professor of Politics, University of Hong Kong), Cécile Laborde (Nuffield Chair of Political Theory, University of Oxford), and Pratap Bhanu Mehta (President and chief executive of the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi). Learn more.

Harris Manchester College, Oxford, 7–9/9/2017

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Liberal and civil society

Cultivating civil society, IHNED.cz

On November 29, 2018, Ludek Sekyra’s article was published on the website of the Czech newspaper "Economic News" (Hospodářské noviny), which focuses on economics and is published by Economia.

The Sekyra Foundation’s priorities include, on the one hand, support for academic institutions and projects, and on the other hand, cultivating civil society, which is the primary source of our moral as well as political identity.The Foundation focuses on the identification and development of ideas that bring society together, contribute to social cohesion, lessen polarizing inequality, and maintain the balance between our inner and outer freedom. One such idea is the concept of moral reciprocity, which gives rise to principles like justice, equality, freedom, and altruism as well. The identification and current interpretation of these ideas and principles in different traditions of thought and philosophy is one of the Foundation’s missions. Our subjects include figures like Jan Patočka, John Rawls, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Together with our partner, the Centre for Philosophy, Ethics and Religion at Charles University, we are supporting discussions focused on Patočka’s formative significance for Czech thought and the Czech public sphere, as well as translations and English editions of his work. Over the next year, we are organizing two large conferences on crucial figures of 20th century philosophy: the first in January at Harvard devoted to John Rawls, the other in August at Oxford on the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein. The Foundation’s other priority primarily emphasizes the relevance of the aforementioned principles of civil society. This is linked to our support of liberal democracy and interreligious dialogue, which is the core of our partnership with the Czech Christian Academy. We have long collaborated with the New York Times in organizing the Athens Democracy Forum, and in cooperation with Oxford University, we are also preparing another initiative focused on finding and preparing future leaders of civil society.

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Education and critical thinking

Academic cooperation and support for university students

Academic cooperation and support of university students belong to Foundation's main objectives.

Cooperation with Michal Staněk

"I have been cooperating with Mr. Sekyra on academic activities for more than 5 years. This cooperation has always been very inspiring, and through him I got into contact with the most inspiring speakers, both at Charles University and Oxford, Harris Mancherster Colledge. I also appreciate his other local activities, such as contributing to the installing of the Vaclav Havel bench.

Thanks to Mr. Sekyra, I have been fortunate to meet inspirational and stimulating speakers.”

Mgr. Michal Staněk

Cooperation with Ondřej Černý

My cooperation with Luděk Sekyra started in 2017, and was prompted by our common interest in Ethics and Political Philosophy, which we have been discussing ever since. I am grateful to him for supporting my doctoral studies at Oxford and my other philosophical activities, and indeed for his contribution to the development of the Humanities and Social Sciences in the Czech Republic and abroad; his work enables them to better fulfill their therapeutic role in the life of a liberal society. I personally appreciate Luděk Sekyra’s numerous initiatives that have been fostering the relationship between Oxford University and Czech intellectual life, especially in the domain of philosophical research. I came to recognize their positive impact on various occasions, and so did my Oxford friends. I am pleased that I can now take an active role in some of them, such as a series of conferences on the philosophy of Wittgenstein.

Ondřej Černý, BA, BPhil (University of Oxford)

Research support for Élise Rouméas

“I am thankful for the generous support I received from Luděk Sekyra for my research on religious diversity and public life. It allowed me to investigate the topic of religious claims arising in the workplace. I appreciate the special interest The Sekyra Foundation has in supporting academic endeavors, especially in political philosophy.”

Dr Élise Rouméas, University of Oxford

Martin Madej studying in Oxford

Studying in Oxford, as every student of law and legal philosophy knows, represents a huge opportunity to extend one’s knowledge where philosophers like H. L. A. Hart, Ronald Dworkin or Joseph Raz worked for years.. I'm very grateful to The Sekyra Foundation for making it possible for me. With its generous financial support I lived in the beautiful and intellectually stimulating Oxford environment, I acquired deeper understanding of law and I got to know many bright and interesting people from all over the world.

Martin Madej, University of Oxford

 

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