events archive

Battle of Ideas 2015

Two days of high-profile, thought-provoking public debate.

9:30am, Saturday 17 October 2015, The Barbican, Silk St, London EC2Y 8DS

The annual Battle of Ideas festival, a weekend of debate initiated by the Institute of Ideas and organised with partners from the arts, academia, business, science and media, is embarking on its second decade.

Every year, hundreds of speakers from home and abroad, from all disciplines and viewpoints, along with over 2,500 vocal attendees, gather to ‘shape the future through debate’.  No topics are off limits; this year the programme will debate everything from War & Peace to Life & Death; modernising Shakespeare to the Sharing Economy; ‘rape culture’ to racism on film; from free-range kids to free-speech wars. 

Battle of Ideas 2015 is being held in the same year as the terrible events in Paris, in which free expression came under murderous attack. But beyond violent assaults on our freedoms from barbaric Islamic extremists and their ilk, throughout the Western world there’s increasing concern about restrictions on thought: thinking the unthinkable, let alone saying the unsayable, is now too offensive, too provocative, too damaging to people’s feelings.  Too many young people, who we might expect be at the vanguard of taking on contemporary challenges, instead seem paralysed by identity politics, too quick to take offence to deal robustly with today’s key issues.  Student unions label more and more topics as heretical, demanding that universities are ‘safe spaces’, that academic texts feature trigger warnings.  Feminism, once a movement associated with women’s liberation, now leads the charge in policing dissent and speech.  The witch-hunt against Nobel Prize-winning scientist Tim Hunt is just one high-profile example of the immoderate, censorious clamour to demonise and silence those who don’t conform to a strict code of acceptable opinions. 

This all comes at a time when Labour’s electoral wipeout in Scotland, the rise of UKIP and the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn seem to reveal a desire for something more than the principle-lite managerialism that dominates mainstream politics, even if there is little content to these apparent challenges to the status quo.

The Battle of Ideas aims to be an antidote to this thin-skinned climate.  The festival proudly promises not to be a safe place, but a forum for dangerous ideas and intellectual rigour. And where better to create a buzz around ideas than at The Barbican, which proclaims that it is ‘never less than brave, and sometimes provocative’?

The festival’s key ingredient is to ask difficult questions rather than provide easy answers. If you’re willing to challenge and to be challenged, then see you at The Barbican on 17 and 18 October.

Claire Fox, Director, Institute of Ideas