This guest post, a report of the 2015 Brewster Debate ‘This house believes freedom is more important than security’ – is written by Grace Carroll (HSPS 2011).

The 2015 Brewster Debate was an evening of passionate, intellectual debate which engaged speakers, judges and audience alike. The motion explored the relationship between security and freedom, issues of particular relevance in the wake of recent events in Paris. The speakers provided creative analyses of the two, challenging the more apparent definitions of both ‘freedom’ and ‘security’.

There was an entertaining and thorough mix of intellectual approaches and debating style, drawing upon powerful quotes (including one famous Hogwarts headmaster’s), rhetorical situations, complex theories and the odd suave compliments on the audience’s dress sense. The first speaker for the proposition, Sandamini Chandrasekara-Mudiyanselage, set out the terms of the debate, drawing upon examples of recent events which show the dark side of security at the expense of freedom, such as the Edward Snowden files and pointing to the precarious trajectory society faces if security becomes prioritized over liberty. This saw Sandamini awarded one of the speaker’s prizes. The first opposition speaker, Connor Michigan, then gave a thorough retort with comedic flair, challenging the binary presentation of the two concepts and positing instead that, rather than being independent from freedom, security is a necessary prerequisite for true freedom to exist.

Matteo Mirolo, as second proposition speaker, went on to examine the passionate reactions to the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the Australian Lindt café hostage situation, citing the solidarity shown across communities though campaigns such as #illridewithyou as indicators that humans innately pride themselves in defending the liberty and unity of others, rather than valuing security in a more reactionary manner. It was at this point that the term debate took a new turn when the opposition’s Juan Bradley cleverly pointed that the definition of security so far discussed, whilst significant, did not emphasize the importance of less obvious forms outside of physical protection, discussing social, psychological and economic security as significant aspect of the debate in an almost Marxist approach. This creative approach saw Bradley win the second speaker prize.

Closing the debate for both sides were Sarah Collins and Junaid Hussein. Collins provided a comprehensive look at case studies of Guantanamo Bay, pointing out that often in the discussion of whether to surrender freedom for security, those making the decision are not the groups ever likely to themselves lose the said liberties. The Hobbesian emphasis of increased assured security as synonymous with risk of abused power was a powerful point for the debate to end upon. Hussein too made an equally powerful conclusion; drawing attention again to the non-binary relationship of the concepts, and that considering one of ‘more importance’ does not necessarily entail the total surrender of the other. The motion was defeated by a narrow margin.

The floor debate also provided some interesting insights, with the prize for best speaker from the floor eventually being split due to the quality of comments. One winner was first year undergraduate Viv Stott Morrison, who brought a social anthropological perspective to the debate, and the other was postgraduate Chinedu Ugwu who challenged the assumptions made on both sides, asking if we are ever truly ‘free’? All prizes for the evening were courtesy of valued alumnus and benefactor of the college, Lester Brewster, who matriculated in Fitzwilliam House in 1948 reading history. He was a founder director of the Fitzwilliam Society Trust Ltd in 1974, having been President of the Society in 1972-3 and died on 21 March 1996, and the Brewster debate is just one part of the legacy he left the College.

Debating at Fitzwilliam has seen a renewed emphasis this year with the establishment of the Fitzwilliam College Debating Society, of which Tobias Haefele and myself are founders. The society strives to make debating at Cambridge more accessible to those without previous experience; awarding prizes and using edited formats to achieve this end. It was a privilege for the society to host the Brewster Debate for the first time this year with College and the quality of the speakers and audience engagement indicates that the debating community at Fitzwilliam will thrive in the future owing to our incredibly hard working committee and committed student following.

Any of those interested in joining the Fitzwilliam debating society to take part of keep up with future events join our Facebook page www.facebook.com/groups/fitzdebate or email debate.president@fitz.cam.ac.uk

Nicola Padfield

About Nicola Padfield

Nicola Padfield MA, Dip Crim, DES became Master of Fitzwilliam College in October 2013. She is a Reader in Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991.

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