Free with Lea Ypi

David talks with Lea Ypi about her astonishing new memoir Free: Coming of Age at the End of History, which tells the story of her childhood in Stalinist Albania and what came after. It’s a tale of family secrets, political oppression and the promise of liberation - and a profound meditation on what it really means to be free. From Marxism to liberalism and back again, this is a conversation that brings political ideas to life. Lea Ypi is Professor of Political Theory at the LSE and Free has been shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize

Talking Points: 

Albania was a socialist country that went through various alliances.

  • By the time that Lea was born, it was largely isolated.
  • The dominant narrative was that Albania was a country surrounded by empires, which stood on the moral high-ground.
  • In other words, it was socialist and anti-imperialist but also fiercely nationalist. 

For Albania, the key year was not 1989 but 1990.

  • Initially, dissidents were described as ‘hooligans.’
  • In December 1990, protesters requested political pluralism.

How do we conceptualize freedom? 

  • People in Western countries often relate to non-liberal societies by conceptualizing themselves as liberators.
  • What does freedom mean in a limit-case like Albania? 
  • There is a risk of paternalism in the dominant liberal conceptions of freedom. There are always margins of dissidence.
  • What does it feel like to suddenly gain freedom in the liberal sense? How does this affect relations between generations?

For Lea, freedom is about being the author of your own fate, even when it seems overdetermined.

  • Studying political ideas can make one a nihilist, or you can choose to believe that there is something about humans that is inherently moral.
  • In other words, freedom is moral agency.

Mentioned in this Episode: 

Further Learning: 

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