Post Ideology
The moralising of society and the politics of behaviour
Sunday 28 October, 2.00pm until 3.30pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery Keynote Controversies

For much of the 20th century politics was defined by a clash between left and right – radicals versus conservatives, socialist versus capitalists, social welfare versus individual initiative. Politics in the 21st century has dumped these debates in favour of an apparently less divisive form of managerialism, symbolised by Gordon Brown’s apolitical ‘government of all the talents’ including unelected experts.

The collapse of outmoded ways of thinking about the world might provide us with the space and freedom to think more creatively about the kind of world we want to live in. But with the corrosion of old ideological disputes, have we also lost the vision and the inspiration that the world could really be a different place? In place of debates about social organisation, politicians and the state have instead come to be increasingly interested in the organisation and management of our individual and personal lives. Healthcare prioritises healthy living and healthy eating; education prioritises the explicit construction of good citizens who know their rights and their responsibilities; welfare legislation seeks to clamp down on problem neighbours, antisocial behaviour, and individual expressions of discrimination and prejudice. If society can no longer be transformed, it seems, the activities of citizens can at least be micro-managed to create pro-social individuals.

Where the old politics involved conflicts over the nature of the good life and the good society, the new managerialism is not open to question in the same way. It is taken for granted that smoking is bad and drinking should be moderate, that we should respect diversity and do our bit to combat climate change. Dissent on any of these issues is seen as irresponsible or even wicked rather than a political view to be engaged with. Is this a sensible response to the end of ideology and the emergence of new political priorities, or should we aspire to shake things up and think bigger about the prospects for change?


Dominic Lawson
columnist, Independent and Mail on Sunday; visiting fellow, Reuters Institute, University of Oxford; editor, Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations
Dr David Runciman
professor of politics, Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS), Cambridge University; author, The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War 1 to the Present
Matthew Taylor
chief executive, RSA; former chief advisor on strategy to prime minister, Tony Blair
Dr Michael Fitzpatrick
writer on medicine and politics; author, The Tyranny of Health

 Produced by

Post Ideology: New Labour and the politics of behaviour , Emily Turnbull and Michael Blomfield

Post Ideology: the moralising of society and the politics of behaviour, Russell Jacoby interviewed by Maria Grasso

 Recommended readings

The Day After Tomorrow – Making Progress on Climate Change
By making collective political action imperative, maybe global warming will prove socially useful
Mark Hoffman, Radical Philosophy, May/June 2007

The Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right
With traditional political alternatives to the present exhausted, the future appears as threat rather than promise
Frank Furedi, Continuum, 2004

The End of Utopia
Instead of championing a radical idea of a new society, the left has reconciled itself to society as it is
Russell Jacoby, Basic Books, 1999

Pro-Social Behaviour: The Future – It’s Up to Us
A call for citizens to act wisely and responsibly, and, in light of climate change, to voluntarily change aspects of behaviour and patterns of consumption
Matthew Taylor, Royal Society of Arts, January 2007

Warmer, Warmer
Are people really going to give things up in the present because computer models tell of catastrophe in 25 years?
John Lanchester, London Review of Books, 21 March 2007

We Must Face Up to the Flooding, Not Flee to the Sun
‘Isn't our failure to respond to climate change by changing our economy and lifestyles simply idiotic?’
Jackie Ashley, The Guardian, 22 July 2007

recommended by spiked

The ‘politics of behaviour’ with a Tory twist
Nathalie Rothschild, 23 April 2007

Save us from the politics of behaviour
Frank Furedi, 10 September 2006

A tyranny of ‘respect’
Stuart Waiton, 8 June 2006

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