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We are asking each applicant who has been invited to interview to read the letter carefully and watch the video in full.


Your academic journey starts now. Have fun!

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Dear applicant,

Please read this carefully before your interview

Many years ago, I traveled to the concentration camp at Dachau, where my great-grandfather, a Jew named Maximillian, was murdered. I saw the oven in which his corpse was incinerated. I also obtained the records of the location and date of his abduction by Nazi officials from his home in Vienna, as well as the date of his murder.

I am English - rather than Austrian - because, after my grandfather watched the Nazis take his father from their home, he made his way as a teenage refugee across continental Europe to Britain.

In 2022, Kanye West told the world that there was a lot he loved about Hitler and the Nazis. Admiration is a surprising feeling for someone to express about people who committed industrialized mass murder.

I wonder what I might have done if Kanye had made his declaration of love for Nazis in my living room; or, for that matter, in a seminar room at the John Locke Institute. No one would be surprised if I were to find his praise of Hitler offensive or even distressing. I could be forgiven for taking  it as an insult to my family and my heritage, a deprecation of Maximilian’s suffering and a denigration of the value of his life.

I hope, though, that instead of taking offence or being distressed, I would take advantage of the opportunity to find out what causes a person to arrive at Kanye’s view. I hope, also, that I would appreciate how fortunate I was to have the chance to delve into the mind of someone whose thoughts and whose experience of the world differ so completely from my own.

What about you? Are you easily riled up by “wrong” opinions about Nazis? Or about trans people, feminism, climate change, Russia, capitalism, reparations for slavery, Donald Trump, “rape culture”, or the the fact that I just put that last item in quotation marks?

I pick those examples only because, having conducted nearly two thousand admissions interviews in the past three years, I have noticed that these are some of the topics about which candidates find it difficult to think and speak coolly and carefully.

The John Locke Institute (probably) won’t be inviting Kanye West to give any talks at the course to which you have applied. However, we shall be hosting academics who are as important in their field as Mr. West is in his: that, indeed, is one of the things that sets the John Locke Institute apart. Many of those academics will handle potentially upsetting ideas, and may express opinions (and offer arguments in support of those opinions) that, on the face of it, could seem, at best, misguided and, at worst, reprehensible.

This is deliberate.

We think that handling difficult topics in a setting that is, at once, both argumentative and friendly, is excellent practice. It can help you acquire the skills and habits to listen generously, to think clearly and to express yourself precisely. We also think that, if done well, the process of disagreement about things that matter can nurture tolerance, open-mindedness and kindness, all of which are in short supply these days.

But such a course is not for everyone.

If you tend to respond to opinions with which you disagree by getting angry or by trying to ‘cancel’ the person who expresses them, then you may find that you don’t enjoy a John Locke event, and you may not get much benefit from attending. If this is the case, don’t feel embarrassed to tell my colleagues in admissions that you would prefer to cancel your interview.

On the other hand, if you can hear or read a sincerely-held opinion with which you profoundly disagree and remain calm and curious, if you can judge an idea without reviling the person who expresses it, and if you can welcome others’ courteous but robust criticism of your own views, then we are confident you will have an exciting and valuable experience at the John Locke Institute, beginning with your admissions interview.

The interview itself is quite a good indication of whether you would enjoy, and benefit from, participation in a John Locke programme. Our Director, Martin Cox, encourages all of us to be “tough with ideas and gentle with people” and “to disagree without being disagreeable”. So if I am combative, as often happens in an admissions interview, remember not to take it personally. And please feel free, of course, to challenge my arguments just as much as I challenge yours!

The world-renowned political economist, Professor Bryan Caplan, has said that John Locke students are the most motivated and the most curious students he has ever taught. “This is an environment,” he said, “where you can really ask any question. Everything’s on the table.”

If you are excited by an opportunity like this, then I’m excited by the opportunity to get to know you.

See you soon!

Robin Koerner

Academic Dean


Oxford +44 (0)1865 566166 Princeton +1 (609) 608-0543


If you are unable to open the video on your browser, try watching it by clicking here

Two things to reflect upon before your admissions interview: 


  • Can you think of a position that is probably incorrect, or maybe even immoral, which we should be willing, nevertheless, to think about and discuss?

  • Is there something which you believe might be true, which you feel you can't say out loud because of the way people might judge you?

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