Boris van der Ham, writer, humanist and former lawmaker was invited by the European studies section of Harvard to talk about the dilemmas of the permissive society. In his book 'De Vrije Moraal' ('The Morality of Freedom') he wrote about the history of the moral debates in the Netherlands. In his lecture at Harvard University he also talked about the American debates on issues of morality.
Mr. Van der Ham: “A society that has free choice and self-determination as its moral compass, it also has the responsibility to actively tell people about their right to change their minds. Even in the darkest corners of the free choice, there has to be a well-lit exit sign. The way out has to be clear at all times and a helping hand available.”
The Discussant was Jorrit De Jong of the Harvard Kennedy School
The 2th Discussant was Linda Kaboolian of the Harvard Law School
"The Netherlands has a reputation for liberal policies on drugs, alcohol and sex. These policies often make an appearance in the American political debate: liberals endorse them, while conservatives strongly reject them. While the policies in the Netherlands have demonstrated results in reducing social problems and enjoy broad political consensus, they have become detached from the principles they once were rooted in. There is a thin line between freedom and indifference when it comes to society's response to moral dilemmas. In his ten years of service as a lawmaker in the Dutch parliament, Boris van der Ham drafted legislation on many moral issues. Reflecting on the changing political, cultural and religious landscape, Van der Ham situates contemporary radicalism and apathy in a long history of moral deliberation. He re-interprets old dilemmas in new contexts and explores ways in which new dilemmas can be dealt with more conscientiously. Drawing comparisons between Dutch, British and American policy history, Van der Ham, a 'critical liberal' offers the thought provoking perspective of an engaged, reflective practitioner. Mr. Van der Ham is a prominent member of the D66 political party ('liberal democrats'). He is the author of legislation about the ban on blasphemy, the 2005 referendum about the European Constitution, and equal treatment for handicapped gays and lesbians. He is also the author of a book in Dutch on the subject of this talk ("De Vrije Moraal") and a frequently invited international speaker."