Leadership Program


Leadership Program

The Aspen Seminar

The Aspen Seminar is an exceptional leadership program promoting values-based leadership and enabling substantial dialog about challenging political and social topics.

Hidden away from the demands of the daily routine and in a confidential setting, small groups of highly accomplished leaders are given the space to address fundamental aspects of human existence, including the role of the individual, societal order, and the limits of power. Based on classical and modern texts of renowned philosophers and thinkers, and guided by two highly skilled moderators, participants reflect on timeless ideas and values and their continued relevance in today’s world. Read more...

The Seminar was launched in the United States more than sixty years ago and has since attracted an impressive array of leaders from across society. In 2011, the Aspen Institute Germany began offering this unparalleled Seminar in Germany. Unlike university lectures or literature analyses, in which experts offer instructions on how to read or understand classical writings, the Seminar encourages participants to interpret the materials in their own way.

The purpose of the seminar is not to identify similar responses or to build consensus, but to encourage participants to think more deeply about their own beliefs and values, enhance their understanding of competing viewpoints, and highlight the complexity of our societies. While the Seminar offers no ready-made solutions, it creates a space for dialog and exchange, which is vital in a world of conflicting interests, opposing views, and cultural frictions.

The target group consists of high-level decision makers from business, politics, the public sector, academia, civil society, the arts and culture, and health care. The number of participants is limited and participation is by invitation only. To learn more, please contact Carina Kempf.


The Aspen Idea goes back to 1945, when Chicago businessman and philanthropist Walter Paepcke (1896-1960), son of German immigrants from Mecklenburg, arrived in Aspen, a sleepy town in the mountains of Colorado. Against the background of the human and moral catastrophe of World War II, Paepcke dreamed of “a place where the human spirit can flourish.”

Paepcke was a trustee of the University of Chicago and close friends with its president, Robert Hutchins, as well as with philosopher Mortimer Adler. They had a shared vision: To create a dialog platform for leaders, thinkers, and artists from around the globe, allowing them to step away from their daily routines and reflect on what makes good leaders and a good society. Read more...

Their dream came true in 1949 when Paepcke made Aspen the site for a 200th birthday celebration of German poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The celebration also commemorated the philosophical ties that Germany had, and continued to have, with America and the rest of the world, despite the aberration of Hitler and World War II. The twenty-day gathering attracted such prominent intellectuals and artists as Albert Schweitzer, Jose Ortega y Gasset, Thornton Wilder, and Arthur Rubinstein, along with members of the international press and more than 2,000 other attendees.

With that celebration, Paepcke laid the cornerstone of what ultimately became the Aspen Institute. The first Leadership Seminar was conducted in 1951, bringing together decision-makers from business, politics, academia, the arts, and civil society. Away from every-day life and with sufficient time for reflection, participants were encouraged to discover their own answers to questions posed by great thinkers and engage in an often highly controversial exchange with each other.

The Seminar was inspired by the Great Books Seminar held by Mortimer Adler at the University of Chicago. According to Adler, philosophy is everybody’s business and essential to what makes us human. The idea was for the seminar to improve American society by fostering humanistic thought among important decision-makers. In the early days of Aspen, it was also perceived as an intellectual weapon in the Cold War.

The Aspen Seminar has been convening leaders from across society since then. By way of the Socratic method, they reflect on fundamental questions of the human condition to clarify their own values, become more aware of the diversity of views, and improve leadership on a personal level as well as for the greater good of society.