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The Ashby Lecture – archive

Clare Hall hosts the Ashby Lecture each year within the Obert C. Tanner Lecture series.

This page houses the College’s Ashby Lecture archive.

Why the Left is not Woke

Photo: Ian Olsson

In April 2022, philosopher and writer Professor Susan Neiman gave the Ashby Lecture at Robinson Auditorium, followed by responses from Dr Christopher Brooke (Senior Lecturer in Political Theory; Fellow and Director of Studies in Politics at Homerton College, University of Cambridge); Dr Emma Mackinnon (University Lecturer in History; Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge); Professor Richard Bourke (Professor of the History of Political Thought; Fellow of King’s College, University of Cambridge); Dr Lars Vinx (Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge); Dr Rebecca Buxton (Assistant Professor and Lecturer in Political Theory at the University of Cambridge); and Dr Samuel Zeitlin (Hong Kong Link Early Career Research Fellow and College Lecturer in Politics, Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge).

‘I will discuss the ways in which contemporary voices who consider themselves leftist have abandoned philosophical ideas which are crucial to any left-wing standpoint: a commitment to universalism, a belief in the possibility of progress, and a firm distinction between power and justice. All these ideas are connected, as I’ll try to show, and have their roots in the much-maligned Enlightenment. Though I’ll be criticising positions on much of today’s left, I’m well aware that today’s right is far more dangerous. Nevertheless I fear that today’s left has deprived itself of concepts which are crucial for resisting the right-wing lurch. I’ll discuss the notions of power in some of the works of Carl Schmitt and Michel Foucault, and argue that they need to be abandoned. In discussing what are now common criticisms of the Enlightenment, I will show that the Enlightenment invented the critique of Eurocentrism as well as the critique of colonialism. I’ll also try to show how the mistaken view of the Enlightenment as racist, Eurocentrist and colonialist could arise by looking not only at philosophical texts but some of the histories in which they were written. Showing that the Enlightenment fought for human liberation and dignity allows us to uphold the genuine universalism they championed, and to show how to reconcile human dignity and human difference.’

Full archive


2018: Oiling the Wheels of Nations? Religion and Politics, Then and Now – Professor George Van Kooten, Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity, Fellow of Clare Hall.
Read the full Lecture transcript.

2017: How much is the free market compatible with a ‘decent’ society? – Dr Ha-Joon Chang, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge. 

2016: Imagining universities: new worlds, old ideas? – Professor Stefan Collini, Professor Emeritus of Intellectual History and English Literature, University of Cambridge; Emeritus Fellow of Clare Hall. 
Read the full Lecture transcript.

2015: Liberty, Equality. What Happened to Fraternity [Human Solidarity]? – Albie Sachs, South African lawyer, activist, writer, and former judge.

2014: The Impact of the First World War on Strategy – Sir Hew Strachen, Chichele Professor of the History of War at All Souls College, Oxford.

2013: Energy, water, food and the nine billion – Lord Oxburgh, Former Chairman of Shell UK and former Rector of Imperial College.

2012: In the Eye of the Storm: Journalists under Fire – John Fisher Burns, London Bureau Chief for the New York Times and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

2011: Lessons from America: The Impact of Universities on their Region and the World – Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor, University of Oxford.

2010: How and Why Did Hitler’s Germany Fight On to the Bitter End? – Professor Sir Ian Kershaw, Emeritus Professor of Modern History, University of Sheffield.


2009: Perverting Trust – Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve, President of the British Academy; Chair of the Nuffield Foundation; Professor of Philosophy.

2008: The Business of Climate Change – Sir David King, Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford.

2007: Happiness and Values – Richard Layard, Emeritus Professor of Economics, London School of Economics,

2006: The Case for an Emergency Constitution – Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law, Yale University.

2005  From Alola to Helena: A Tribute to the Women and Children of East Timor, 1999-2005 – Kirsty Sword-Gusmao, First Lady to the President of the independent nation of East Timor.

2004: Trans-civilisational Perspective on Global Issues – Professor Yasuaki Onuma, University of Tokyo.

2003: Muslims and Modernity – Guy Sorman, contributing editor, publisher and CEO of France-Ámerique.

2002: Dancing Beneath the Red Banners: Chairman Mao’s Red Guard Movement During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) – Dr Aiping Mu, one of the earliest Red Guards and author of Vermilion Gate.

2001: Storytelling – Isabel Allende, Chilean novelist.

2000: In Search of a Common Language – What does Chinese Traditional Medicine Have in Common with Modern Physics? – Dr Kenneth Hsu, Chinese scientist, geologist, paleoclimatologist, oceanographer.


1999: Universities and the Magic Fountain: African Literature into the 21st Century – Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Kenyan writer and academic.

1997: From Penitentiary to Palace of Art: Uncovering the History of the Tate Gallery – Professor Frances Spalding, art historian, critic and biographer.

1996: The State of Our Prisons – Sir Stephen Tumim, English judge; Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons.

1995: Some Reflections on Multinationalism: the Example of Former Empires in East Asia – Professor Herbert Franke, Austrian scientist and writer.

1994: Understanding and Justification of Other Cultures – Professor Eero Loone, Estonian philosopher.

1993: The Education of a ‘British’ Protected Child – Chinua Achebe, Nigerian novelist, poet, and critic.

1992: When was Modernism in Indian Art? – Geeta Kapur, critic and curator.

1991: After Marx – the Prospects for Post-Communism – Svetozar Stojanović, Serbian philosopher and political theorist.

1990: Into Inequality Born – a Tale of the Health of Women in South Asia – Professor Vulimiri Ramalingaswami, Indian medical scientist, pathologist and medical writer.


1989: The Fusion of the Great and Little Traditions of Indian in Salman Rushdie’s Work – Anita Desai, Indian novelist; Emerita John E. Burchard Professor of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

1988: Models of the Mind – Professor Christopher Longuet-Higgins, British scholar and teacher, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Cambridge.

1987: The Nature of (Literary) Naturalism – Professor David Baguley, Emeritus Professor of French at Durham University.

1986: Narrative Verse – Alec Hope, Australian poet and essayist.

1985: Genes and Disease – Opportunities and Reservation – Dr Paul Berg, American biochemist; Professor Emeritus at Stanford University

For any queries about this archive, please contact our College Archivist.

Return to the main webpage on Clare Hall’s lectures.