298 episodes

Corbyn! Trump! Brexit! Politics has never been more unpredictable, more alarming or more interesting. TALKING POLITICS is the podcast that will try to make sense of it all. Each Thursday, in Cambridge, David Runciman will talk to the most interesting people around: novelists, comedians, historians, philosophers - and even a few politicians - and ask them what they think is going on... Democracy is feeling the strain everywhere. What might happen next? How bad could it get? As the crazy stuff happens, TALKING POLITICS will be on it. It’s the political conversation everyone is having: please join us.

TALKING POLITICS David Runciman and Catherine Carr

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    • 4.8, 474 Ratings

Corbyn! Trump! Brexit! Politics has never been more unpredictable, more alarming or more interesting. TALKING POLITICS is the podcast that will try to make sense of it all. Each Thursday, in Cambridge, David Runciman will talk to the most interesting people around: novelists, comedians, historians, philosophers - and even a few politicians - and ask them what they think is going on... Democracy is feeling the strain everywhere. What might happen next? How bad could it get? As the crazy stuff happens, TALKING POLITICS will be on it. It’s the political conversation everyone is having: please join us.

    Helen's History of Ideas

    Helen's History of Ideas

    David talks with Helen to get her take on the history of ideas - both what's there and what's missing. Why start with Hobbes? What can we learn from the Federalist Papers? Where's Nietzsche? Plus we talk about whether understanding where political ideas come from is
    liberating or limiting and we ask how many of them were just rationalisations for power.


    Talking Points: 


    Should we start the story of modern politics with Hobbes?
    - Hobbes poses a stark question: what is the worst thing that can happen in politics? Civil war or tyranny?
    - Is Hobbes’ answer utopian?
    - What are the consequences of the breakdown of political authority—and how do they compare to the consequences of empowering the state to do terrible things? 


    Who has the authority to decide is a fundamental question in politics.
    - But there are lots of ways of thinking about politics that avoid this question.
    - If you accept the notion that political authority is essential, what form should that authority take and how can it be made as bearable as possible for as many people as possible?


    Constant says that the worst thing that can happen isn’t civil war; it’s the tyranny of the state.
    - To him, the French Revolution showed that when people who hold the coercive power of the state also hold certain beliefs, the damage can be much worse.
    - Constant wants to say that the beliefs people have in the modern world are a constraint on political possibilities.
    - What does the pluralism of beliefs mean for politics? 
    - Constant is also more direct about the importance of debt and money.
     
    From the French revolution onwards, nationalism became the dominant idea by which the authority of states was justified to those over whom it exercised power.
    - Sieyès equated the state with its people.


    The idea of federalism as enshrined in the US constitution is also important: Hobbes did not think sovereignty could be divided.
    - How do you reconcile constitutional ideals with the horrors they justified?


    Nietzsche forces a reckoning with the religion question.
    - This blows up the distinction between pre-modern and modern.
    - He presents a genealogy not just of morality, but civilization, ideas of justice, religion.
    - For Nietzsche, Christianity is the manifestation of the will to power of the powerless.
    - Nietzsche tells us how we became the way we are—it didn’t have to go that way.
    - In exposing contingency, he forces us to engage with political questions we don’t really want to think about.


    What do ideas explain about human motivation in politics, and to what extent are they rationalizations of other motives?
    - Helen thinks that the history of ideas can make political action seem too straightforward. 
    - How should we think about the relationship between ideas and material constraints (or opportunities)?
    - Studying history more generally leads to at least some degree of cynicism about the relationship between ideas and power.


    Mentioned in this Episode: 
    - Talking Politics: the History of Ideas
    - The Federalist Papers
    - The Genealogy of Morality
    - Our episode on Weber’s ‘Politics as a Vocation’


    Further Learning: 
    - David on Abbé Sieyès for the LRB
    - How the U.S. constitution was pro-slavery
    - In our Time on The Genealogy of Morality


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
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    • 48 min
    James Meek on Healthcare: from WHO to NHS

    James Meek on Healthcare: from WHO to NHS

    David talks to the writer James Meek about what the Covid crisis has revealed about how we understand healthcare and how we think about the organisations tasked with delivering it. A conversation about hospitals and community care, about Trump's America and Johnson's Britain, and about WHO and NHS. James's writing on these themes is available on the LRB website https://www.lrb.co.uk/




    Amy Maxmen on Ebola, Covid and the WHO
    https://www.talkingpoliticspodcast.com/blog/2020/243-ebola-covid-and-the-who
     
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    • 37 min
    Brexit in the Age of Covid

    Brexit in the Age of Covid

    We have passed the deadline for any extension to the Brexit trade negotiations - now it's 31 December or bust. We catch up with three of our resident experts to explore what this means, what the chances are of getting a deal and where the sticking points might be. Plus we asses the impact of the Covid crisis on the fate of Brexit and its implications for what might happen later this year. With Anand Menon,
    Catherine Barnard and Helen Thompson.


    Talking Points: 


    The formal legal position is that it’s not possible to seek an extension of the Brexit transition period.
    - Perhaps the most likely thing is that—if there is a trade deal before the end of the year—it has a longer transition period built into the front of it.


    A second COVID spike in the autumn could make no deal more likely.
    - Are there things in the law that politics can’t fix?
    - The COVID crisis has made the gulf between the two sides over the issue of state aid bigger than it already was, which reduces the space for fudging. 
    - You also have to deal with the Northern Ireland protocol.


    The UK doesn’t have a constitutional regime that protects things like workers rights and environmental standards in the way that treaty law effectively does in the EU.
    - It’s hard to imagine that any UK government would agree constitutional rules about these matters as part of a trade agreement with the EU or any individual state.
    - At the heart of Brexit lies a claim to reassert the more traditional UK constitution against the constitutional constraints that EU membership generated.


    The Johnson government is not prepared to accept the EU’s argument about it’s economic sphere of influence.
    - This is a question for the EU as much as it is for the UK.
    - Both sides are starting from competing premises; would more time be enough to sort this out? 
    - This begs a larger question about the EU’s relationship to its immediate neighborhood.


    The German constitutional court decision was a blow to the ECB and ECJ.
    - This gives the green light to those disaffected in Hungary and Poland.
    - Do EU divisions make it more or less likely that they will fallout over Brexit? 
    - Macron’s position seems harder than it was towards the end of last year. There is no evidence he wants to move on the question of state aid.
    - It seems unlikely that all 27 member states will have the same attitude towards a sovereign UK. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Britain can play them off each other.


    Couching the debate as deal vs. no deal instead of good deal vs. bad deal may give the Johnson government some wiggle room.
    - Even if the UK winds up making significant concessions on trade, for example.


    Mentioned in this Episode: 
    - Talking with Adam Tooze about the German constitutional court ruling
    - The UK in a Changing Europe
    - The Merkel interview from June 


    Further Learning:
    - George Peretz on the Northern Irish Protocol
    - More on state aid as a stumbling block
    - What is the level playing field? 
    - Catherine on extending the Brexit transition period
    - Catherine on Brexit and COVID


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
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    • 44 min
    Burma's Hidden History

    Burma's Hidden History

    In this extra episode David talks to Thant Myint-U about the fraught recent history of Burma (Myanmar) and asks what it can teach us about twenty-first century politics. Why did the West have so many illusions about Aung San Suu Kyi? Can democracy really rescue the country? What model of development might work in the age of Covid and climate change? A wide-ranging conversation about the forces shaping our world.


    Thant's website: https://www.thantmyintu.com/


    Thant's book: https://www.waterstones.com/book/9781786497871
     
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    • 47 min
    Britain Wrestles with its Past

    Britain Wrestles with its Past

    We talk with the writer and political commentator Fintan O'Toole about how British politics can and should deal with its imperial past in the age of Brexit. From battles over statues to fights over nationalism we explore whether history has become the new democratic divide. Why does Churchill loom so large over our politics? Can Labour reclaim the mantle of patriotism? Will the Union survive the history wars? Plus we ask whether there has been a generational shift in attitudes to race and identity. With Helen Thompson.


    Talking Points: 


    Debates over statues and monuments are really more about the present than the past.
    - They don’t necessarily lead you to a real engagement with either your history or your contemporary identity.
    - Britain has a long history of questioning how the past is thought about in the public sphere. 


    Is it possible to have a serious political argument about Churchill’s legacy anymore?
    - In the age of Johnson, is everything a proxy? 
    - Churchill can’t be separated from the Second World War in British historical memory.
    - The Churchill question goes deep into the Union question. If you take away the experience of the two world wars, it’s not clear what keeps the Union together.


    How do you articulate a sense of British patriotism when the state is in decline and the history it’s wrapped up in is often disgraceful? 
    - For example, you could celebrate Britain’s move to outlaw the slave trade—but almost every historian would point out that this is shot through with hypocrisy.
    - There’s a profound problem around the history of Britishness. 


    Over the last 10 years, two different consensuses have broken down, and these interact with each other quite lethally. 
    - First there’s consent to Britain’s membership in the EU; this broke down more in England and in Wales.
    - Second is consent to the Anglo-Scottish union breaking down in Scotland.
    - And the fact that the referendum produced a Leave vote meant that the Northern Ireland question came back into play.


    Nationalisms always want to purify themselves into victimhood.
    - What this does is occlude the complexity of the history of the nation itself.
    - Nationalism involves telling a story about the past that often, though not always, involves trying to break away from some larger political authority, often an empire.
    - Part of the present moment’s attitude towards British history is not new: the sense that British history was delegitimated by Empire has been there before.


    Mentioned in this Episode: 
    - The FT reviews Andrew Adonis’ biography on Ernest Bevin


    Further Learning: 
    - Fintan’s book, Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain
    - Fintan on Boris Johnson
    - More on ‘The Lost Cause’
    - Fintan’s recent piece on Trump in the New York Review of Books
    -

    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
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    • 47 min
    American Fascism: Then and Now

    American Fascism: Then and Now

    David and Helen talk with historian Sarah Churchwell about the origins, uses and abuses of the idea of American fascism. Where does American fascism come from? Does it follow a European model or is it something exceptional? What role do white supremacy and anti-Semitism play in its development? How close has it got to power? Plus we ask the big question for now: Does it make sense to call Trump a fascist?


    Talking Points: 


    Trump’s decision to hold a rally in Tulsa on 19 June is an act of clear provocation to African Americans, especially at this moment. 
    - 19 June 1865 was the day the last slaves were emancipated, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
    - The symbolic deferral, the fact that white people were actively denying black people full rights and citizenship, is what Juneteenth came to represent. 
    - Tulsa is where the worst race riot in American history occurred in 1921. The white population of Tulsa descended on a thriving black community.
    - The Trump campaign was forced to move the rally a day. It will happen on 20 June.


    Is fascism the right word for what has happened—and is happening in America? 
    - The second Klan rose between 1915 and 1922.
    - The commentariat at the time pointed to Mussolini and fascism to explain the Klan’s resurgence.
    - Hitler looked at the US and took aspects, including the legal institutionalisation of white supremacy, especially in the South, as an inspiration. 
    - But there is something quite specific about European fascism in the 1920s that has to do with the fallout of the First World War.


    Fascism is ultra-nationalism. It has to be different in every country: it’s highly situational, highly historicized. 
    - It can be hard to pin down because each iteration takes its own form.
    - Is it historically accurate to call the present moment fascist? Is it useful?
    - Is calling Trump a fascist too comforting? Does it keep us from seeing the reasons why he won?
    - Is it useful to think about American nativist, conspiratorial, racist, xenophobic, anti-semitic gorups as being recognizably fascist going back in time? 


    Mentioned in this Episode: 
    - Sarah and TP American Histories on the 15th and the 19th amendment
    - Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism
    - Philip Roth, The Plot Against America
    - Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here
    - Jonathan Shanin on Tom Cotton’s op ed


    Further Learning: 
    - Sarah on TP: America First? 
    - Sarah on the dark history of America First
    - Sarah’s book, Behold America
    - More on Juneteenth
    - More on Tulsa 
    - Jason Stanley, How Fascism Works


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
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    • 47 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
474 Ratings

474 Ratings

HokieTechie ,

Just what I need every week

This is a key piece of how I escape the bubble of U.S. political media.

Bob from Illinois. ,

I can't wait to hear Helen and David every week.

David Rinciman does a fine job of putting this podcast up but I listen for a chance to hear Helen Thompson. Together they provide a calm and very well informed discussion of current issues. I started listening to try to make sense of Brexit. Those times seem quaint and simple now. But still Helen and David along with interesting guests provide the best discussion of these issues I've found.

Disgruntled BA traveller ,

The best politics podcast - compulsive listening

A rare combination of coherent, intelligent and knowledgeable discussion of the issues of the day with an interviewer who has a voice I could listen to all day.

Wonderful!

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