Principles of the Aspen Institute
Adopted by the Board of Trustees on April 8, 2022
As the Aspen Institute pursues its mission of promoting a free, just, and equitable society, our founding vision continues to animate us. Seven decades ago, the Institute’s founders were inspired by the unique challenges of their day: the Holocaust, a World War, and the enormous geopolitical uncertainty of the Cold War. Even as the challenges have changed, the essential elements of the founders’ vision have remained sharply relevant and provide the undergirding for the Principles that follow.
Our founding commitment to a humanistic outlook remains at our core and reflects our belief that the dignity of every person is paramount, that social progress is imperative and attainable, that we can achieve breakthroughs by engaging with humanity’s accumulated wisdom, and that the inner life and values-based leadership require nurturing. As we have gained new insights and understanding over the years, our conception of these points has changed. But our commitment to this humanistic outlook endures.
Our programs today reflect our foundational belief that dialogue among diverse people and across diverse perspectives is essential both to improving our understanding and to finding solutions to modern challenges. This enduring commitment has enabled the Institute to make unique contributions in the search for understanding and solutions. We seek to engage people of integrity and outstanding character from an ever more diverse cross-section of society.
Throughout the Institute’s history, humanism and dialogue have been not our ends but our tools: we rely on them to enrich our understanding of our own cherished ideals and to facilitate the building of relationships across our differences. At the same time, our understanding of the “Good Society” continues to evolve. Just as our founders saw their task as tackling the great challenges of their own era, we continue to tackle the challenges of today – from racial injustice to our fractured politics to the perils of rapid technological advance – and to prepare new leaders to face the challenges of tomorrow. And we continue to foster the values-based leadership that is essential for a free, just, and equitable society.
The principles that follow constitute the official position of the Aspen Institute, adopted by a vote of the Board of Trustees, who are the fiduciaries of the organization. The principles are intended to guide all programs and constituencies of the Aspen Institute.
Principle 1: We are committed to dialogue.
Our convictions must always arise from understanding and should therefore be amenable to the testing and criticism that arises from dialogue. All activities of the Aspen Institute rest upon the proposition that the path to truth is paved with dialogue and disagreement.
Principle 2: We are committed to civility.
All Aspen Institute programs and activities are conducted in an atmosphere of civility and mutual respect. Personal attacks are unacceptable.
Principle 3: We are committed to the diversity of thought.
The search for knowledge, understanding, self-awareness and mutual respect requires diversity of thought and perspective. Because we cannot know where the best ideas will come from, we must seek the widest possible spectrum of speakers and viewpoints.
All Aspen Institute programs and activities deliberately and proactively seek participants from a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds, even those some might find objectionable on political, ideological, or moral grounds. Participants in all activities of the Institute should welcome challenges to and critiques of their ideas. We welcome groups that have been historically marginalized, not as “representatives” but because their background and experiences will enable a richer dialogue.
Principle 4: We are committed to broad freedom of expression.
Diversity of thought requires that participants across all Institute programs have a broad freedom of expression. We do not attempt to shield participants, audiences, staff, or others from ideas they might find disagreeable, erroneous, or offensive. All participants should be accorded equal respect.
We believe that transparency, and the open confrontation of ideas and their messengers, not their exclusion, is the surest path to truth and understanding. Freedom of expression includes the freedom of listeners—at the appropriate time in an appropriate manner—to express vigorous disagreement. Neither participants, audience, nor Institute staff may seek, directly or indirectly, to suppress speech or expression in programs or activities of the Aspen Institute. Also, they may not suggest, directly or indirectly, that their own objections to a guest’s ideas represent the official position of the Institute.
Although the Aspen Institute is firm in its belief that knowledge and understanding emerge from conversation and dialogue, the freedom granted to those we invite is not unlimited. The Institute does not permit expression that violates the law, that defames specific individuals, that invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise incompatible with the functioning of the Institute.