Reprinted from 2012
The Battle of Ideas festival, initiated by the Institute of Ideas and supported by a wide range of partners, now has a new home. For our ninth year we are delighted to be at the Barbican, one of the world’s leading arts centres. While the festival venue has changed, the purpose remains to make virtues of free-thinking and dissent, and spark public conversations on the key issues facing society. We aim to foster an atmosphere of intellectual freedom, and the open-ended exploration of the ideas that are shaping policy and culture.
How does the pursuit of new ideas go beyond the shallow rhetoric about finding the next ‘Big Idea’, so fashionable in research, policy and think-tank circles? Many seem to believe blue-skies thinking is conjured up in brainstorming sessions; that new ideas lurk in laboratories. What about the wealth of ideas at our fingertips in our shared intellectual legacy? Unfortunately, marshalling these intellectual resources to give important ‘old’ ideas meaning in the twenty-first century is seen as futile, even dangerous. Society seems estranged from the important intellectual legacy that has helped secure human progress to date. Certainly many of the insights that have guided human development in the past can no longer be taken as self-evident. Some of the most precious ideas that emerged with the rise of the Enlightenment - liberty, equality, solidarity - now appear emptied of their critical and subversive content, little more than barren slogans.
No doubt many of the ideas expressed at the festival will be contentious; no doubt sensibilities will be offended. But let’s hold our nerve. After all, as the name suggests, the Battle of Ideas is not afraid of dissenting opinions and encourages people to speak their minds. Above all, tolerating dissent is an essential precondition for any commitment to developing ideas beyond soundbites. The festival’s slogan is FREE SPEECH ALLOWED, and we mean it.
Claire Fox, director, Institute of Ideas and on behalf of the Battle of Ideas Committee 2013
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"I was impressed by the intensity of the debate and the high level of intellectual engagement, not least by the audience. It was an invigorating, even exhilarating experience to be part of a festival based on the conviction that disagreement is good. The Battle of Ideas is a fantastic concept, may it spread epidemically to the rest of the world. I am already looking forward to next year's event."
Thomas Hylland Eriksen, professor of social anthropology, University of Oslo; novelist