The totalitarian moment: Europe in the ‘30S to ‘50S

August 26, 2016

Podcast: lecture by Bruno Waterfield recorded at the Battle of ideas 2016

Across Europe in the 1930s a battle opened as totalitarians of the right and left sought power over man’s soul. This was not merely an exercise in traditional tyranny or authoritarianism but an attempt to break down informal relationships, to assault sovereignty and independence at the level of the nation and the individual. To destroy those boundaries of freedom that make us human, even to attack the mind itself. In Orwell’s 1984, O’Brien, the sinister party intellectual sets out the totalitarian project. “The real power, the power we have to fight for night and day, is not power over things but over men,” he tells Winston Smith. “Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together in new shapes of your own choosing.”



August 19, 2016

Plenary lecture delivered by Josie Appleton at the Academy 2016

At the end of the Cold War many predicted that the end of political divides would lead to conflicts on cultural issues. Now young Europeans have attacked European cities in the name of Islam and Islamic state: what does this suggest about the divisions and tensions within European societies? What kind of ‘culture war’ are we witnessing?



August 12, 2016

Professor  Frank Furedi's plenary lecture at last month's Institute of Ideas Academy.

From its inception, the project of European Unification associated the problem of nationalism, military conflict and totalitarianism with the unstable character of mass politics. Consequently the worthy objective of economic unity and continent wide co-operation and co-ordination was depoliticised and recast instrumentally as matters for technocrats and experts. The launching of the EU consolidated this process and, with the acquiescence of national governments, helped encourage the technocratic turn of public life. This session discusses the uneasy relationship of the project with no name with democracy and provides a background to Brexit.


Brexit: a democratic awakening?

August 5, 2016

Podcast: Invoke Democracy Now's Rob Killick speaks to Rob Lyons

Since the vote to leave the European Union in June, the government has equivocated about when it will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, initiating the two-year process to exit the EU. Meanwhile, a host of individuals and organisations, from law firms and business tycoons to high-profile politicians and rock stars, are doing everything in their power to overturn the referendum result. In this week’s Podcast of Ideas, Rob Lyons talks to Rob Killick, a founder of Invoke Democracy Now, a group campaigning for Britain to leave the EU without delay, about the urgency of triggering Article 50 and how Brexit has reinvigorated the democratic spirit while giving an aloof political establishment the shock of a lifetime in the process.

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The UK economy after Brexit

July 29, 2016

Podcast of Rob Lyons' opening remarks from this week's Institute of Ideas Economy Forum

The vote to leave the European Union has left the world’s economic experts, politicians and economic officials stunned. Voters were told that leaving the EU would hit the UK economy hard, with the only question being over what future arrangements might be made with the EU. If the UK negotiates membership of the European Economic Area, the so-called ‘Norway option’, then trade would be largely unaffected. But such a deal would almost certainly require the UK continuing to allow free movement of EU citizens into the UK, something that is currently regarded as politically contentious. The alternatives, from a Swiss-style bespoke arrangement to a situation with no deal at all, with trade governed by World Trade Organization rules, seem to offer a sliding scale from ‘very negative’ to ‘disastrous’.

A minority, particularly the Economists for Brexit group, argue that leaving the EU will allow the UK to trade freely with the rest of the world and ditch pointless EU regulations, with the prospect of a revival in economic growth as a result.

But when it comes to future prosperity, is there too much focus on the UK’s status within Europe? A week after the vote, the government reported another damning set of current account statistics, confirming how much more Britain imports than exports. The government finances still look weak and there is an ongoing and anguished debate about the poor productivity of the economy. George Osborne’s declared aim of ‘rebalancing’ the economy, both between North and South, and towards manufacturing, seem to have come to nought. And the economies of the Eurozone hardly seem in the best of health, either, with the only question seemingly where the next crisis will hit. Greece? Italy? Perhaps even France?

So what does the future hold? What kind of deal should the UK aim to strike with the EU? While we fret about Europe, should we really be worrying about problems closer to home?


Jean-Jacques Rousseau, founder of the sciences of man

July 22, 2016

Ahead of this weekend's Institute of Ideas Academy in Bedfordshire listen to this plenary lecture on Jean-Jacques Rousseau from our 2013 lecture archive.


Podcast of Ideas: China’s cities

July 15, 2016

Rob Lyons speaks to architect Austin Williams.

In this week’s Podcast of Ideas architect Austin Williams speaks to Rob Lyons about China’s remarkably rapid urbanisation in recent years, and the tension between individual freedom and progress.


JS Mill, On Liberty

July 8, 2016

Few texts have sustained such extensive reference and quotation in Anglo-American politics as JS Mill’s classic.

Mill’s famous ‘Harm Principle’ – that government power may only be justifiably used to prevent harm to others, not to improve one’s own good – still provides the ground on which numerous debates around civil liberties, lifestyle choices, and more recently ‘nudge theory’ are fought. Moreover, Mill’s rousing defence of the liberty of the press never ceases to be relevant. Yet it is imperative to understand the aims and context of On Liberty if Mill’s arguments around press liberty and the Harm Principle are to be properly understood – as the endless argumentation about what ‘harm’ means shows.

Attending to the whole of On Liberty, in the spirit of pursuing knowledge for its own sake, shows these familiar ideas in a new light. By tackling this canonical work as a whole we gain valuable insights into Mill’s inspiring defence of personal autonomy, and see quite how at odds Mill would have been with contemporary political rhetoric – just as he was in his own time.

large.gifGeorgios Varouxakis

professor of the history of political thought, Queen Mary University of London; author, Mill on Nationality


Brexit: the battle for democracy starts here

July 1, 2016

listen to this week's public event in London.

Seventeen million people voted to leave the EU last Thursday, an historically important democratic moment. Yet there are already attempts to thwart or row back from this decision. Many have signed a petition urging a second referendum so that voters can give the ‘right answer’; others threaten the vote with lawyers and bureaucratic challenges. There is contempt for voters who effectively revolted against an establishment that told them they should vote Remain. There seems to be a special brand of bigotry aimed at white working-class voters, with talk of ‘sewers’, and sections of the electorate being castigated for their ignorance and xenophobia. Others seek to stir up a distasteful generational revolt, prompting some younger Remain voters to turn on anyone over 60 with vicious accusations of selfishness and betrayal.

This should be a moment that feels pregnant with possibilities, opening up chances for shaping the future. And yet many feel scared — genuinely scared. Uncertainty and change can be disconcerting. Democracy has been revealed as more than a paper exercise: people now know it has very real consequences.

How should we interpret the vote for Brexit? What should democrats do to ensure that popular sovereignty is not squandered? How can we best shape positive developments in future months, and ensure that this democratic moment is not neutralised?

At this meeting held earlier this week, organised by the Institute of Ideas and spiked, Professor Frank Furedi, author of Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right and Authority: A Sociological History, gives an opening talk and Claire Fox, Director of the Institute of Ideas responds. Tom Slater, deputy editor of spiked, introduces and chairs.


Podcast of Ideas: post-referendum special

June 28, 2016

Rob Lyons, Claire Fox and David Bowden discuss the fallout from the Brexit vote.

In a historic week where the British public voted to leave the European Union, sparking one of the most tumultuous political upheavals in living memory and causing hysteria across the political establishment and the media, Rob Lyons, Claire Fox and David Bowden offer some much needed sane analysis and give their visions of where we should go from here to ensure we build a more democratic, more prosperous and freer Britain.