On Liberal Institutions, Protecting Pluralism & Free Debate

Media + Information, 2024, Democracy, Engage in Global Challenges

When considering what 2024 has in store, author and The New Yorker contributor Adam Gopnik, felt compelled to share a political message that isn’t about politics. Rather, it was about how this year, the institutions of liberal democracy are threatened in ways that they have never been before. Gopnik felt (and still feels) terrified by what he saw as a lack of understanding among voters —younger and older alike—of the unique nature of our institutions and democracy within the wider context of human history. And how these institutions that we take for granted—the ones that guarantee everything from free debate to the protection of marginalized people—are in fact very fragile to assault. 

In his book A Thousand Small Sanities, Gopnik explored the urgent need to realize that pursuing political projects we favor is meaningless without the foundations of liberal democracy that guarantee free debate. He felt it essential—this year particularly—to re-articulate these themes with urgency and to share them with every group who will listen.

For the 2024 Babcock Lecture, Adam Gopnik considered ways to protect the possibility of politics through arguments of history, logic, and conscience.

Fri, 22 Mar 2024

This event took place in-person at the Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema and broadcasted live to an online audience.

About the Speaker

Adam Gopnik, international bestselling author and beloved writer for the New Yorker, has—in his three decades with the magazine— written fiction, humor, memoirs, critical essays, and reported pieces from at home and abroad. He was the magazine’s art critic from 1987 to 1995, and the Paris correspondent from 1995 to 2000. Gopnik has received three National Magazine awards for essays and for criticism, the George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting, and the Canadian National Magazine Award Gold Medal for arts writing. In March of 2013, he was awarded the medal of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. His latest books include The Real Work: On the Mystery of Mastery (2023) and A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventures of Liberalism (2019).

About the Moderator

Am Johal is Director of SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement. He is the author of Ecological Metapolitics: Badiou and the Anthropocene (2015) and co-author with Matt Hern O My Friends, There is No Friend: The Politics of Friendship at the End of Ecology (2024). 

Event Partners

Thank you to the Babcock family for their generous donation and support of Liberal Studies.


Admission Ticket Pricing

This event had an admission fee for attendance. We offered limited complementary tickets for individuals facing financial barriers in accessing paid programming.

A few questions that helped guide attendees:

  • Are you and your family home/landowners?
  • Have you obtained an advanced degree or attended private education?
  • Can you easily access and afford healthcare services?
  • Do you have debt and/or disposable income?
  • Do you have citizenship in the country you live?

If you answered yes to most or all of these questions, we suggested the paid ticket. 

Thank you to Indian Summer Festival and Meenakshi Das of Data is for Everyone for this sliding scale framework.

In-Person Accessibility

This event took place at the Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema (SFU Vancouver — Woodward's Building), located at 149 W Hastings St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1H7

The building is accessible at street level on the Hastings side or via a ramp on the Cordova Street Courtyard side (across from JJ Bean Coffee). There are 2 ramp entry points, one is located against the building, near the entrance to the Woodward’s Westbank Atrium (which houses London Drugs and Nesters) and one is located against the building, beside the alley. Both the Hastings doors and the Cordova Courtyard doors can be operated by accessibility buttons located beside the doorways. 

Public washrooms are available on the B2, 2, 3 and 4 levels. All public washrooms are equipped with wheelchair accessible stalls. A gender-neutral washroom is available on the third floor.

Several EasyPark lots are located near the event venue. Click here to learn more about them. Note that other parking options are available, including street parking and other nearby parking lots.

The building is accessible by multiple bus routes. Plan your trip with TransLink’s Trip Planner. The Centre is also walking distance from the Waterfront and Stadium-Chinatown Skytrain Stations.

Public bike racks are located near the Cordova entrance.

If you have any questions about this event’s accessibility, technology requirements or privacy, please connect with us at