We all agree: Free­dom is fun­da­men­tal. With­out free­dom we die. It is like oxy­gen, like water; it is the spark of exis­tence, the essen­tial force of life.

With­out it we can­not think or speak, trav­el, learn, grow or love. With it we can stand tall and explore, become our­selves and become ful­ly human. So free­dom is … everything.

But what is free­dom? Do we mean inner free­dom or out­er free­dom? Free­dom from or free­dom to? Is free­dom per­son­al or is free­dom polit­i­cal? Does free­dom require us to act to pre­serve it? Or are we free to watch a cri­sis unfold, even if it threat­ens the free­dom of oth­ers – and per­haps free­dom itself? Do we still call it free­dom when we’re allowed to make choic­es – and those choic­es lat­er lead to addic­tion that then robs us of our freedom?

„Can free­dom from one become tyran­ny for others?”

What hap­pens when an act under­tak­en in the name of freedom:

  • over­throw­ing a tyrant and lib­er­at­ing the peo­ple of that nation
  • lat­er turns into an act that takes away oth­er people’s freedom
  • the swamp­ing of a small vil­lage by an over­whelm­ing num­ber of free­dom-seek­ing refugees?

Is it free­dom when a leader emerges on the world stage to car­ry his nation to its own lib­er­a­tion, and then comes out in favor of tak­ing away women’s repro­duc­tive rights and tak­ing away the polit­i­cal free­doms of gay and les­bian cit­i­zens of his new­ly freed nation?

Are there free­doms that, left unchecked and allowed to grow with­out restric­tion, have the capac­i­ty to destroy them­selves? Is that what we’re wit­ness­ing with free mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism? Could the free­dom to pol­lute the plan­et and cre­ate mas­sive cli­mate change trans­late into the free­dom to destroy the planet?

Does free­dom entail both rights and respon­si­bil­i­ties? Can you have one with­out the oth­er? We insist on our free­dom – but do we demand to be held respon­si­ble? What about the free­dom of the artist to write, com­pose, draw, paint, sculpt what he or she feels? Is that free­dom? Or does the tyran­ny of the com­mer­cial mar­ket mean that even art must answer to a mon­e­tary master?

Is there such thing as too much free­dom? Or free­dom car­ried too far? In poet­ic terms, is free­dom the right of the soul to breathe? Is that enough? Is that every­thing? So free­dom is… com­pli­cat­ed. Or is it?

On the side of the ACADEMIA SUPERIOR pen­cils there is writ­ten a say­ing: “The future begins with our thoughts.” We come to Gmunden to think about the future, to think dif­fer­ent­ly, to lis­ten and learn to be open to new thoughts – to chal­lenge our old assump­tions and to gen­er­ate fresh approach­es to old and dif­fi­cult prob­lems. Albert Ein­stein said, “We can­not solve our prob­lems with the same think­ing we used when we cre­at­ed them.”

We strug­gle to make sense of free­dom, to under­stand it. We strug­gle to deal with the chal­lenges of peo­ple who aren’t free and the chal­lenges of peo­ple who want to keep them­selves free in the face of com­pli­ca­tions. We get caught up in the com­pli­ca­tions of free­dom and not in the sim­plic­i­ty of freedom.

What if it is one sen­tence: “Free­dom is not about me, it is about you.” Ulti­mate­ly free­dom can­not be about “me” and “my free­dom.” Ulti­mate­ly free­dom has to be about ”you“ and ”your free­dom“. The refugee cri­sis is a chal­lenge to the free­dom of oth­ers, not of me. The eco­nom­ic melt­down of 2007–2008 was a fail­ure of “us” and a tri­umph of “me.”

Today we live in an Age of Dis­rup­tion. In busi­ness we see it in every sec­tor; but we don’t look for it in pol­i­tics and eco­nom­ics and social sys­tems. But it is there. When we look at the ques­tion of free­dom and refugees or free­dom and addic­tion, we see the dis­rup­tion of past agree­ments by new chal­lenges. Yet we are using the same soft­ware from the past to solve new challenges.

„We live free­dom to keep free­dom alive.”

The ques­tion for ACADEMIA SUPERIOR is, what are the new oper­at­ing sys­tems, the new hard­ware inven­tions, the new soft­ware and the new apps that will do more than tin­ker with small fix­es; that will gen­er­ate fun­da­men­tal­ly new answers? We know that we are in a time of great tran­si­tion; and we know that tran­si­tions present great oppor­tu­ni­ties and great per­il. Tran­si­tions require change. We are in the most dan­ger when we think we have won and stop chang­ing. Even free­dom needs to keep chang­ing, keep ques­tion­ing, keep adapt­ing. Free­dom can­not be put in a muse­um and vis­it­ed Tues­day through Sun­day. We live free­dom to keep free­dom alive.

To guide us through this time of change we need a com­pass, a tool that gives us our bear­ings and, in a time of change, iden­ti­fies those things that don’t change. Free­dom is a core val­ue. It may well be the core val­ue, the North star of our jour­ney into the future. But we must also trav­el with oth­er car­di­nal direc­tions: with respect for oth­ers, with a sense of pro­por­tion, with a great feel­ing of grat­i­tude and with an unflag­ging sense of purpose.

We know from the gath­er­ings of the ACADEMIA SUPERIOR each year that there are no absolute answers. But we also know that it is our unend­ing task to keep ask­ing ques­tions, to keep tap­ping into the deep curios­i­ty that dri­ves us and to keep search­ing for the fresh pos­si­bil­i­ties that we want going forward.