Talking Politics: HISTORY OF IDEAS

Talking Politics: HISTORY OF IDEAS

By Talking Politics

A new series of talks by David Runciman, in which he explores some of the most important thinkers and prominent ideas lying behind modern politics – from Hobbes to Gandhi, from democracy to patriarchy, from revolution to lock down. Plus, he talks about the crises – revolutions, wars, depressions, pandemics – that generated these new ways of political thinking. From the team that brought you Talking Politics: a history of ideas to help make sense of what’s happening today.

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History of Ideas Q and A

A special episode in which David answers some of the audience's questions about the second series of History of Ideas. From how he chooses which writers and works to talk about, to whether Boris Johnson is the ultimate Benthamite and whether the idea of a pleasure machine isn't - in fact - totally rational. We really enjoyed making these podcasts for people to enjoy during lockdown. To support History of Ideas and Talking Politics, you can become a member by clicking here. For £3 a month, you can enjoy Talking Politics without adverts in the middle of the discussions. Thank you for listening! Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
08/05/2139m 48s

Shklar on Hypocrisy

Judith Shklar’s Ordinary Vices (1984) made the case that the worst of all the vices is cruelty. But that meant we needed to be more tolerant of some other common human failings, including snobbery, betrayal and hypocrisy. David explores what she had to say about some of the other authors in this series – including Bentham and Nietzsche – and asks what price we should be willing to pay for putting cruelty first among the vices.Recommended version to buyGoing Deeper:David Runciman, Political Hypocrisy (2008)Katrina Forrester, ‘Hope and Memory in the thought of Judith Shklar’, Modern Intellectual History (2011)Samantha Ashenden and Andreas Hess, 'The Theorist of Belonging', Aeon (2020)[Audio]: 'The Moral Philosophy of the Good Place,' Vox Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
20/04/2146m 11s

Nozick on Utopia

Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974) was designed as a rebuttal to Rawls but it was so much more than that. It offered a defence of the minimal state that appealed to the writers of The Sopranos and a vision of utopia that appealed to the founders of Silicon Valley. David explores what Nozick wanted to achieve and identifies the surprising radicalism behind his political minimalism.Recommended version to buy Going Deeper:Robert Nozick, The Examined Life (1989)Jonathan Wolff, Robert Nozick: Property, Justice and the Minimal State (1991)Stephen Metcalf, ‘The Liberty Scam’, Slate (2011)[Video] Shelly Kagan, 'Hedonism and Nozick's Experience Machine' (from Open Yale Courses) Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
13/04/2145m 58s

Rawls on Justice

John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice (1971) changed the face of modern political philosophy by reinventing the question of what constitutes fairness. From ‘the veil of ignorance’ to ‘reflective equilibrium’ it introduced new ways of thinking about the problem of justice along with new problems for thinking about politics. David discusses Rawls’s influence on what happened next.Recommended version to buyMichael Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (1982, 1998) Susan Moller Okin, Justice, Gender, and the Family (1989)Katrina Forrester, In the Shadow of Justice: Postwar Liberalism and the Remaking of Political Philosophy (2019)[Audio]: 'John Rawls' A Theory of Justice,' BBC Radio 3, Arts & Ideas  Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
06/04/2148m 0s

De Beauvoir on the Other

Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949) is one of the founding texts of modern feminism and one of the most important books of the twentieth century. It covers everything from ancient myth to modern psychoanalysis to ask what the relations between men and women have in common with other kinds of oppression, from slavery to colonialism. It also offers some radical suggestions for how both women and men can be liberated from their condition.Recommended version to buyGoing Deeper: Madeline Gobeil, ‘Simone de Beauvoir, The Art of Fiction No. 35,’ The Paris Review (1965)Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails (2016) Kate Kirkpatrick, Becoming Beauvoir (2019) [Audio]: Simone de Beauvoir, In Our Time  Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
30/03/2147m 54s

Schumpeter on Democracy

Joseph Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) contains a famous, and minimal, definition of democracy as the competition between political elites to sell themselves to the electorate. Schumpeter wanted to debunk more elevated ideas of the common good and the popular will. Why then has his theory proved so influential for people who want to rescue democracy as much as those who want to diminish it?Recommended version to buyGoing Deeper:Ian Shapiro, The State of Democratic Theory (2006)Thomas K. McCraw, Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction (2007)Jill Lepore, ‘The Disruption Machine, New Yorker (2014)(Audio): Creative Destruction, BBC Radio 4 Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
23/03/2147m 47s

Schmitt on Friend vs Enemy

Carl Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political (1932) has been hugely influential on the left as well as the right of political debate despite the fact that its author joined the Nazi Party shortly after its publication. David explores the origins of Schmitt’s ideas in the debates about the Weimar Republic and examines his critique of liberal democracy. He asks what Schmitt’s distinction between friend and enemy has to teach us about democratic politics today.Recommended version to buyGoing Deeper: Jan-Werner Mueller, A Dangerous Mind: CarlSchmitt in Post-War European Thought (2003)Tamsin Shaw, ‘William Barr: The Carl Schmitt ofOur Time,’ New York Review of Books (2020)Chang Che, ‘The Nazi Inspiring China’s Communists,’ The Atlantic (2020)(Audio): Carl Schmitt on Liberalism  Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
16/03/2145m 44s

Luxemburg on Revolution

Rosa Luxemburg wrote ‘The Russian Revolution’ (1918) from a jail cell in Germany. In it she described how the Bolshevik revolution was going to change the world but also explained how and why it was already going badly wrong. David explores the origins of Luxemburg’s insights, from her experiences in Poland to her love/hate relationship with Lenin. Plus he tells the story of her terrible end.Free version to downloadRecommended version to buyGoing Deeper:Vladimir Lenin, ‘What Is to be Done?’ (1902)Hannah Arendt, ‘A Heroine of Revolution,’ The New York Review of Books (1966)Kate Evans, Red Rosa (2015)(Audio): In Our Time, 'Rosa Luxemburg' (2017) Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
09/03/2146m 0s

Nietzsche on Morality

Friedrich Nietzsche’s masterpiece The Genealogy of Morality (1887) sets out to explain where ideas of good and evil come from and why they have left human beings worse off. He traces their origins in what he calls the slave revolt in morality. David examines the ways Nietzsche’s story unsettles almost everything about modern social conventions and leaves us with the troubling question: what can possibly come next?Free versionRecommended version to buyGoing deeper:John Kaag, Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are (2018)Sue Prideaux, I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Friedrich Nietzsche (2018)Alex Ross, 'Nietzsche's Eternal Return,' The New Yorker (2019)(Audio): In Our Time, 'Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morality (2017) Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
02/03/2146m 57s

Butler on Machines

Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872) is a strange and unsettling book about a world turned upside down. Usually classified as utopian or dystopian fiction, it also contains an eerie prophecy about the coming of intelligent machines. David explores the origins of Butler’s ideas and asks what they have to teach us about the oddity of how we choose to organise our societies, both then and now.Free version of the textRecommended version to buyGoing Deeper:Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh (1903)Virginia Woolf, 'Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown' (1924)George Dyson, Darwin Among the Machines (1997)(Video) James Paradis, 'Naturalism and Utopia: Samuel Butler's Erewhon' Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
23/02/2147m 8s

Douglass on Slavery

My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) by the former slave Frederick Douglass was the second of his three autobiographies and the one that contained his most radical ideas. In this episode David explores how Douglass used his life story not only to expose the horror of slavery but to champion a new approach to abolishing it. The name for this approach: politics.Free version of the textRecommended version to buy Going deeper.....David Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (2018)Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (1997)Colum McCann, TransAtlantic (2013)(Audio): Jamelle Bouie, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Rebecca Onion, 'Who Should Tell the Story of American Slavery?' (2015)  Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
16/02/2146m 46s

Bentham on Pleasure

Jeremy Bentham’s Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation is a definitive early statement of the basis of utilitarianism: how do we achieve the greatest happiness of the greatest number? David looks at Bentham’s rationale for this approach and the many criticisms it has faced. Bentham has often been accused of reducing politics to mechanical calculation and missing what really matters. But given the time in which he was writing, wasn’t the prioritisation of pleasure the most radical idea of all?Free online version of textRecommended version to purchaseGoing deeper…Philip Lucas and Anne Sheeran, ‘Asperger’s Syndrome and the Eccentricity and Genius of Jeremy Bentham’ (2006)Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (1975) Thomas McMullan, ‘What does the panopticon mean in the age of digital surveillance?’, The Guardian (2015)(Audio) In Our Time, Utilitarianism Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
09/02/2147m 35s

Rousseau on Inequality

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality (also known as the Second Discourse) tells the story of all human history to answer one simple question: how did we end up in such an unequal world? David explores the steps Rousseau traces in the fall of humankind and asks whether this is a radical alternative to the vision offered by Hobbes or just a variant on it. Is Rousseau really such a nice philosopher?Free online version of textRecommended version to purchaseGoing deeper…Leo Damrosch, Jean Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius (2005)David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Rousseau’s Dog (2007)Pankaj Mishra, ‘How Rousseau predicted Trump’, The New Yorker (2016)(Audio) In Our Time, The Social Contract Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
02/02/2147m 55s

Q & A with David

We got lots and lots of excellent questions from listeners about the themes and ideas in this series of talks. In this extra episodeDavid will do his best to answer some of them, from Hobbes to Weber, and from Gandhi to feminism. Plus he talks about what's missing from this series and where we might start next time.Go to for the full collection of reading lists.Quentin Skinner on the state:(Video) Quentin Skinner, ‘What is the state? The question that will not go away’Orwell on Gandhi: Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
03/07/2048m 55s

Fukuyama on History

Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History (1992) became associated with the triumph of liberal democracy at the end of the twentieth century. But was Fukuyama really a triumphalist? David explores what Fukuyama had to say about the strengths and weaknesses of liberal democracy and asks whether his analysis still holds true today. What have we learned about the modern state from its history? And can it, and we, really change now?Recommended version to purchase: Deeper:Paul Hirst for the LRB on ‘Endism’Fukuyama at the 2020 Munich Security ConferenceFukuyama on the 2016 presidential electionLouis Menand, ‘Francis Fukuyama Postpones the End of History,’ The New Yorker.Talking Politics with Fukuyama  Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
25/05/2046m 36s

MacKinnon on Patriarchy

Catharine MacKinnon’s Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (1989) challenges two dominant ways of thinking about politics: liberalism, which wants to protect us from the power of the state, and Marxism, which wants to liberate us through the power of the state. What if neither is good enough to emancipate women? Mackinnon explains why patriarchal power permeates all forms of modern politics. Daviddiscusses what she thinks we can do about it.Recommended version to purchase: Catharine A. MacKinnon, Toward a feminist theory of the state (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989).Going Deeper:Lorna Finlayson in the LRB on Catharine MacKinnon, feminism, and the lawCatharine A. MacKinnon, Sexual harassment of working women: a case of sex discrimination (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979).Drucilla Cornell, ‘Sexual difference, the feminine, and equivalency: a critique of MacKinnon’s Toward a feminist theory of the state’, Yale Law Journal, vol. 100, no. 7, article 12.The NYTimes on Catharine MacKinnon and sexual harassmentCatharine Mackinnon for The Atlantic on #MeToo Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
22/05/2044m 52s

Fanon on Colonialism

Frantz Fanon was a psychiatrist who both experienced and analysed the impact of colonial violence. In The Wretched of the Earth (1961) he developed an account of politics that sought to channel violent resistance to colonialism as a force for change. It is a deliberately shocking book. David explores what Fanon’s argument says about the possibility of moving beyond the power of the modern state.Free online version of the text: version to purchase: Deeper:Megan Vaughan for the LRB on Fanon and psychiatry in North AfricaFrantz Fanon, Toward the African revolution: political essaysFrantz Fanon, Black skin, white masks (New York, NY: Grove Press, 2008).(Video) Gillo Pontecorvo, The Battle of Algiers [film] (1966)Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Preface’, in Frantz Fanon, The wretched of the earth (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 2001)Alice Cherki, Frantz Fanon: a portrait, Nadia Benabid, trans. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006). Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
18/05/2041m 3s

Arendt on Action

Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition (1958) is a remarkably prophetic book. At its heart is an analysis of the relationship between labour, work and action, set against a time of rapid technological change. Arendt worried about the power of computers, believed in the capacity of people to reinvent themselves through politics and despaired of the influence of Thomas Hobbes. Was she right?Recommended version to purchase: Deeper:James Miller in the LRB on Hannah ArendtHannah Arendt, The Origins of TotalitarianismHannah Arendt, Eichman in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of EvilIn Our Time on Hannah ArendtMatthew Beard for the Guardian, ‘With Robots, is a life without work one we’d want to live?’  Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
15/05/2044m 18s

Hayek on the Market

Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (1944) was written during the Second World War but Hayek was really worried about what would come next. He feared that wartime planning would spill over into the peacetime economy and destroy hard won freedoms. David explores where Hayek’s fears came from and asks why he worried that democracy would only make the problem worse. He also considers what makes Hayek such a politically influential and divisive figure to this day.Free online version of the text: version to purchase: Deeper: Geoffrey Hawthorn on Hayek and his overcoat for the LRB F.A. Hayek, ‘Individualism: True and False’ Andrew Gamble, Hayek: The iron cage of liberty (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996)Stephen Metcalf in The Guardian, ‘Neoliberalism: The Idea that Swallowed the World’ Hayek vs. KeynesMatt Ridley, The rational optimist: how prosperity evolves (London: Fourth Estate 2011) Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
11/05/2043m 45s

Weber on Leadership

Max Weber’s The Profession and Vocation of Politics (1919) was a lecture that became one of the defining texts of twentieth century political thought. In it, Weber explores the perils and paradoxes of leadership in a modern state. Is it possible to do bad in order to do good? Can violence ever be virtuous? Does political responsibility send politicians mad? David discusses the legacy of Weber’s ideas and asks: who is the true Weberian politician?Free online version of the text: version to purchase: Deeper:Geoffrey Hawthorn on Max Weber for the LRBJoachim Radkau, Max Weber (Polity, 2009)Talking Politics on ‘Politics as a Vocation’ with Jonathan PowellJan-Werner Müller, Contesting democracy: political ideas in twentieth century Europe (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013)David for the LRB on Weber, Tony Blair, and the politics of good intentions Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
08/05/2044m 13s

Gandhi on self-rule

Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj (1909) was a defining text of the movement for Indian independence from British colonial rule. It also articulated a radical new idea of politics in a modern context – peaceful protest or non-violent resistance. David explores the wider legacy of Gandhi’s ideas and asks what Gandhi’s withering attack on ‘machine’ politics means for the politics we have today.Free online version of the text: Recommended version to purchase: Deeper:Stephen Haggard on Gandhi for the LRBM.K. Gandhi, An autobiography: or the story with my experiments of truth (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2001).Ramachandra Guha, Gandhi: The Years that Changed the World 1915-1948Talking Politics with Ramachandra Guha on Gandhi’s politicsBhikhu Parekh, Gandhi: a very short introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).Martin Luther King, ‘My Trip to the Land of Gandhi’E.M. Forster, ‘The Machine Stops’ Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
04/05/2044m 34s

Marx and Engels on Revolution

The Communist Manifesto (1848) remains the most famous revolutionary text of all. But what was the problem with politics that only a revolution could solve?  And why were the working class the only people who could solve it? David explores what Marx and Engels really had to say about capitalism, crisis and class and he asks what still resonates from that message today.Free online version of the text: Recommended version to purchase: Deeper:Karl Marx, ‘The eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte’Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German ideologyJonathan Wolff, Why read Marx today? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)Gareth Stedman Jones, Karl Marx: greatness and illusion (London: Allen Lane, 2016)In Our Time on Marx Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
01/05/2043m 45s

Tocqueville on Democracy

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1835/40) can claim to be the best book ever written about democracy and the best book ever written about America. David discusses what Tocqueville was expecting when he went to see American democracy for himself and what he actually found. Tocqueville was amazed and impressed by the American way of doing politics, but his fears about how its democracy might go wrong remain as prescient as ever.Free online version of the text: Volume 1 and Volume 2Recommended version to purchase: Deeper:In Our Time on Tocqueville’s Democracy in AmericaHarvey C. Mansfield, Jr, Tocqueville: a very short introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)Annette Gordon Reed, ‘America’s Original Sin: Slavery and the Legacy of White Supremacy’Hugh Brogan, Alexis de Tocqueville: prophet of democracy in the age of revolution (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007).Talking Politics American History series on the 15th and 19th amendment Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
30/04/2044m 52s

Constant on Liberty

Benjamin Constant’s ‘The Liberty of the Ancients Compared to the Liberty of the Moderns’ (1819) examines what it means to be free in the modern world. Are we at liberty to follow our hearts? Do we have an obligation to take an interest in politics? What happens if we don’t? David explores the lessons Constant drew from the failures of the French Revolution and his timeless message about the perils of political indifference.Free online version of the text: version to purchase: Deeper:Benjamin Constant, Adolphe William Doyle, The French Revolution: a very short introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)In Our Time on Germaine de StaelIsaiah Berlin, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
29/04/2046m 37s

Wollstonecraft on Sexual Politics

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) is one of the most remarkable books in the history of ideas. A classic of early feminism, it uses what’s wrong with the relationship between men and women to illustrate what’s gone wrong with politics. It’s a story of lust and power, education and revolution. David explores how Wollstonecraft’s radical challenge to the basic ideas of modern politics continues to resonate today.Free online version of the text: version to purchase: Going Deeper:In Our Time on Mary Wollstonecraft Wollstonecraft in the Stanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophySylvana Tomaselli, Wollstonecraft: Philosophy, Passion, and Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020)Virginia Woolf on Mary WollstonecraftEdmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in FranceJane Austen, Sense and Sensibility Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
28/04/2046m 49s

Hobbes on the State

Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651) reimagined how we could do politics. It redefined many of the ideas that continue to shape modern politics: representation, sovereignty, the state. But in Leviathan these ideas have a strange and puzzling power. David explores what Hobbes was trying to achieve and how a vision of politics that came out of the English civil war, can still illuminate the world we live in.Free online version of the text: version to purchase: Deeper:David Runciman, ‘The sovereign’ in The Oxford handbook of Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)Richard Tuck, Hobbes a Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)(Video) Quentin Skinner, ‘What is the state? The question that will not go away’(Video) Sophie Smith, ‘The nature of politics’, the 2017 Quentin Skinner lecture. Noel Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)David for The Guardian on Hobbes and the coronavirus Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
27/04/2059m 44s

Talking Politics: HISTORY OF IDEAS

A short trailer to introduce a new series of talks by David Runciman. In a series of twelve podcasts, he explores some of the most important thinkers and prominent ideas lying behind modern politics – from Hobbes to Gandhi, from democracy to patriarchy, from revolution to lock down. Plus he talks about the crises – revolutions, wars, depressions, pandemics – that generated these new ways of political thinking. From the team that brought you Talking Politics: a history of ideas to help make sense of what’s happening today. Hosted on Acast. See for more information.
20/04/202m 12s
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