The idea of European/American seminar on the „free society“ arose when three people - American scholar Michael Novak, Italian professor Rocco Buttiglione and Josef Seifert, the president of the International Academy of Philosophy - met at the luncheon meeting in Interlaken, Switzerland in 1991. Influenced by the fresh publication of the encyclical Centisimus Annus, they discussed “the desirability of forming an international study group for European/American dialogue on the intellectual questions that lie ahead of modern societies.“ (Free Society reader, p. xiv.)
They developed a month-long program for twenty students from East and Central Europe and 10 students from the US. The aim of the seminar was to stop "growing cultural and intellectual gap between continents, especially among Catholics." (p. xiv) Most Europeans were not familiarized with the key figures behind American democracy such as Lord Acton, Tocqueville, federalists and American founders, among others. On the other hand, Americans had a little knowledge of “continental experience and tradition.” (p. xiv) The seminar’s purpose was to increase and intensify European/American relations among students.
First two years of the seminar were held in the International Academy of Philosophy in Liechtenstein in 1992 and 1993. For years to come, after the suggestion of Pope John Paul II that a post-communist transforming country might be a needed location for new ideas, the institution moved to Kraków, Poland where it had been meeting every July since 1993. (p. xvi) In 2001, the first year of the third millennium, the institution expanded to Slovakia, where it established the minor branch of Kraków seminar in Bratislava and Spišská Kapitula.