Battle Cry: Cathy Young on the rise of the alt-right

September 20, 2017

Cathy Young, contributing editor at Reason magazine and columnist for Newsday, talks to Max Sanderson about the recent political phenomenon of the alt-right. Who are they? Where did they come from? Why has the alt-right become popular and what does it stand for?


Who do you think you are? Autonomy, authenticity and the emergence of identity politics

September 1, 2017

A lecture by Dr Tim Black at the Institute of Ideas event The Academy 2017.

Authenticity has become one of the defining ideals of the modern world. It is the quality we are meant to demand in that which we consume; a value to be opposed to all that is ‘fake’, or ‘phoney’, or ‘artificial’. Above all, it is what an individual is meant to aspire to be - true to one’s self, self-actualising, self-expressing. Authenticity today has an almost ethical force. It underpins identity politics, legitimises transgenderism, and informs the ubiquitous demand for often legal recognition and informal respect. But what does its elevation say about the condition of modernity? What is its historical and conceptual relationship to ideas of freedom and autonomy? And to what extent is it really possible or even desirable, as Shakespeare’s Polonius insisted it was, to be true to thine own self?


From Islamic State to Oxford: a monumental war on the past?

August 18, 2017

With the furores this week over statues, we are republishing this debate from Battle of Ideas 2015.

The Islamic State’s attacks on antiquities in Iraq and Syria have caused outrage worldwide. The systematic destruction of ancient archaeological ruins at Nimrud and Palmyra, artefacts at the museum of Mosul, early Christian churches and sacred Shia sites has raised almost as much ire internationally as IS’s barbaric execution of prisoners. Some have even suggested that attacks on cultural artefacts justify increased Western military intervention.

The phenomenon has been widely attributed to IS’s strict Islamist doctrine and broad interpretation of what constitutes idolatry. Many have drawn parallels with similar acts of destruction by other Islamic fundamentalists, like the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001 and the torching of large collections of fifteenth century manuscripts by Malian Islamists in Timbuktu in 2013. 

Others have compared IS’s actions to the Christian destruction of idolatry in the Byzantine and Reformation periods, but IS’s war on the culture of the past seems driven by more than religious iconoclasm. Like the brutal beheadings and immolation of prisoners, the destruction of antiquities is designed to shock the West’s sensibilities while proving IS’s barbaric credentials. Destroying the vestiges of past cultures is a way of making a statement about the world IS would like forge. 

Understandably, the destruction of irreplaceable relics from early civilizations inspires a special kind of indignation. Yet when contemporary societies try to expunge the past of things of which they disapprove, they face less criticism. This year, South Africa has seen campaigns and vandalism aimed at ridding the country of public symbols of its colonial past, notably statues of Cecil Rhodes and Queen Victoria. The campaign spread to Oxford University in the UK with students demanding the removal of a statues and portraits of Rhodes and former slave holders like Christopher Codrington. Elsewhere in the UK, there is increasing reticence about museum collections acquired during colonial adventures, notably that of the British Museum. While in Ukraine, the Kiev government has ordered the destruction of all Soviet-era statues.

Is it a distortion to compare efforts in other countries to rid themselves of icons of colonialism, prejudice and unhealthy habits with IS’s war on civilisation itself? Or do we need to take a stand for preserving the relics of humanity’s past culture in all contexts, whether it makes us uncomfortable or not? Is it problematic that some seem more upset by the destruction of inanimate objects than murders carried out by the ISIS regime?  Does IS’s actions warrant military intervention or the formation of a transnational organisation to protect ancient cultural relics from destruction? What should be done?

Julian Baggini
founding editor, the Philosophers' Magazine; author, Freedom Regained: the possibility of free will and The Ego Trick
Robert Bevan
writer; heritage consultant; architecture critic for the London Evening Standard; author, The Destruction of Memory: architecture at war
Dr Tiffany Jenkins
academic, columnist, author, Keeping Their Marbles: how treasures of the past ended up in museums and why they should stay there
Dr Sean Lang
senior lecturer in history, Anglia Ruskin University; director, Better History Forum
Rossa Minogue
resources editor, Institute of Ideas

Narcissism and identity-determinism

August 11, 2017

A lecture by Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas, at The Academy 2017.

Narcissism is now - according to the New York Times - 'the go-to diagnosis' for commentators. Why has cultural narcissism become so deeply woven into the fabric of contemporary society? Why has individualistic self-preoccupation with identity become dominant at the very time when individual autonomy and agency are so weak? Are there any positive aspects in constructing Brand Me and a ‘Narrative of Self’ in terms of reclaiming subjective selfhood? Is narcissism too clichéd a concept to help us understand today’s crisis of identity?


Podcast of Ideas - 3 August 2017

August 3, 2017

Adam Rawcliffe is joined by Claire Fox, Izzy Lyons and Rob Lyons to discuss the news of the past two weeks.

As Anthony Scaramucci leaves the White House after just 10 days, what on earth is going on inside the Trump administration? What are the pros and cons of Justine Greening's proposals on self-determination of gender identity? What should we make of the row over pay at the BBC? With public disagreements on what leaving the EU should mean and how long any transitional phase should last, is Brexit itself under threat?


The emergence of the self in history

July 28, 2017

A lecture from The Academy 2017 by Professor Frank Furedi.

This lecture will focus on the gradual development of sensibility towards the self. It will focus on the emergence of self-consciousness during the Renaissance and on the way that the distinction that Luther drew between the inner and external life of the individual opened up the space for the authorisation of the self. The lecture will conclude with reflections on the relationship of the self to the modern conception of subjectivity.


Liberty of conscience, freedom of speech

July 23, 2017

A lecture by Dr Teresa Bejan, associate professor of political theory at the University of Oxford, recorded at The Academy 2017.

Today, many take for granted that the familiar slate of individual rights and liberties—of religion, speech, and association—belonging to citizens of modern liberal democracies go hand-in-hand.  And indeed, since John Stuart Mill, many liberals have assumed that the freedom of speech, in particular, is logically and historically inseparable from the liberty of conscience, the so-called ‘first freedom’ of early modernity from which all other modern liberties developed.  In this lecture, Teresa Bejan challenges this assumption and shows that the connection between the liberty of conscience and freedom of speech is more tenuous, both historically and philosophically, then we might assume—or hope.


Podcast of Ideas - 7 July 2017

July 7, 2017

Rob Lyons is joined by Alastair Donald and Claire Fox to discuss the week's news, including the row over public-sector pay, the current state of play in British politics, Donald Trump vs CNN and the aloof behaviour of Emmanuel Macron.


Podcast of Ideas - 20 June 2017

June 20, 2017

Adam Rawcliffe is joined by Alastair Donald, Geoff Kidder and Pauline Hadaway to talk the events of the past week.

Is the public discussion to the Grenfell Tower fire helpful or will it divert attention from some important underlying issues? Why were ministers so quick to label the attack on Muslims in Finsbury Parks as 'terrorism'? What do the Brexit talks and the potential Conservative deal with the DUP mean for Northern Ireland?


Podcast of Ideas: further reflections on Election 2017

June 12, 2017

Adam Rawcliffe is joined by Dolan Cummings, Alastair Donald and Claire Fox to discuss the fallout from the General Election.

Can Theresa May survive without an overall majority? Is the strong reaction to a post-election deal with the DUP justified? Has class made a comeback at this election? And how should we view the apparent sharp rise in the youth vote?