Past Present Future is a new weekly podcast with David Runciman, host and creator of Talking Politics, exploring the history of ideas from politics to philosophy, culture to technology. David talks to historians, novelists, scientists and many others about where the most interesting ideas come from, what they mean, and why they matter.
Ideas from the past, questions about the present, shaping the future. Brought to you in partnership with the London Review of Books.
New episodes every Thursday.
Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy (https://acast.com/privacy) for more information.
Democracy Q&A w/ Lea Ypi
This week David and Lea answer your questions about democracy. When does democratic freedom shade over into anarchy? What’s the connection between democracy and human rights? Do the voters choose the government or does the government choose the voters? Plus: what makes Lea an optimist about socialism? Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
30/11/2023 • 56 minutes 40 seconds
History of Ideas: Ta-Nehisi Coates
In the penultimate episode in our series on the great essays, David talks about Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘The Case for Reparations’, published in the Atlantic in 2014. Black American life has been marked by injustice from the beginning: this essay explores what can – and what can’t – be done to remedy it, from slavery to the housing market, from Mississippi to Chicago. Plus, what has this story got to do with the origins of the state of Israel?Read the original essay here. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
23/11/2023 • 52 minutes 35 seconds
Democracy vs Nationalism w/ Lea Ypi
In the latest instalment of David’s ongoing conversation with Lea Ypi about the past, present and future of democracy they discuss whether democratic politics can ever break free from the stranglehold of the nation-state. When and why did nationalism take such a strong grip of the idea of democracy? What are the international or cosmopolitan alternatives? And can a democracy police its borders without having actual borders or actual police?Listen to the previous episodes in this series here. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
16/11/2023 • 51 minutes 59 seconds
Jill Lepore on Trump, Guns and the Red Mirage
This week David talks to the historian and essayist Jill Lepore about where the chaotic last decade of American politics fits into the longer history of the nation. When and how did gun rights become a matter of principle rather than of pragmatism? What makes insurrection so appealing to so many people? Is another civil war really a possibility? Plus, what did the January 6th Committee miss about January 6th?Jill Lepore’s new book is The American Beast: Essays 2012-2022Listen to Gary Gerstle on PPF discussing what happened to the Republican Party Hosted on Acast. See acast.com
09/11/2023 • 52 minutes 40 seconds
The Leviacene: Defining Our Times
This week David explores a different way of thinking about the current epoch: what if this isn’t the Anthropocene but the Leviacene? Who or what is really driving planetary destruction? Can human nature explain it? Or should we be looking at the political and economic superpowers that are leaving their marks all over the natural world?For more on these themes, David’s new book The Handover is available now, including as an audiobook. Listen to our earlier podcast with historian of science Meehan Crist on Malthus and Malthusianism. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy
02/11/2023 • 52 minutes 41 seconds
History of Ideas: Umberto Eco
This week’s episode in our series on the great essays and great essayists explores Umberto Eco’s ‘Thoughts on Wikileaks’ (2010). Eco writes about what makes a true scandal, what are real secrets, and what it would mean to expose the hidden workings of power. It is an essay that connects digital technology, medieval mystery and Dan Brown. Plus David talks about the hidden meaning of Julian Assange.More from the LRB:Andrew O’Hagan on Julian Assange‘I’d never been with a person who had such a good cause and such a poor ear.’Frank Kermode on the Name of the Rose‘This novel has so much in it that differs from any known kind of detective story that we must look to Eco’s pre-semiotic career for help.’
26/10/2023 • 48 minutes 13 seconds
Rethinking Democracy w/ Lea Ypi
This week David and Lea resume their conversation – and their differences of opinion – about how to understand politics in the modern world. What is it reasonable to expect of democracy? Are its failures because of bad design or bad faith? And why don’t we have more democracy at the international level where it’s really needed? This is the start of a series of monthly conversations between David and Lea about rethinking the ideas that made the modern world. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
19/10/2023 • 51 minutes 35 seconds
Mary Beard on Caesar, Augustus & Zuckerberg
This week David asks Mary Beard what the Roman Empire can tell us about the nature of unaccountable power, then and now. How did Roman emperors rule when they had so little knowledge of the lives of their subjects? Can absolute personal power ever escape the limits of biology, from sex to death? And who are the modern-day equivalent of the Caesars: democratic populists or tech titans?Mary Beard’s new book is Emperor of Rome Read or listen to Mary Beard’s LRB lecture on Women in Power Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
12/10/2023 • 49 minutes 34 seconds
Zadie Smith on Dickens, Hypocrisy & Justice
This week David talks to the novelist Zadie Smith about Charles Dickens: what he means to her, why we still read him, and what’s missing from the Dickensian view of the world. It’s a conversation about other writers as well – Turgenev, George Orwell and Toni Morrison – and about whether fiction shows us how to live or rather helps us to see the ways in which the truth about how we live is hidden from view.Zadie Smith’s new novel is The Fraud, available now. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
05/10/2023 • 46 minutes 44 seconds
History of Ideas: David Foster Wallace
This week’s episode in our series on the great political essays is about David Foster Wallace’s ‘Up, Simba!’, which describes his experiences following the doomed campaign of John McCain for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. Wallace believed that McCain’s distinctive political style revealed some hard truths about American democracy. Was he right? What did he miss? And how do those truths look now in the age of Trump?More on David Foster Wallace from the LRB:Jenny Turner on Wallace and his moment‘The risk Wallace takes is to guess he is not the only "obscenely well-educated", curiously lost and empty white boy out there; that his sadness is also the experience of a whole historical moment.’Patricia Lockwood on Wallace and his influence‘It was the essayists
28/09/2023 • 53 minutes 27 seconds
Animal Farm and Other Allegories
This week David talks to novelists Adam Biles and John Lanchester about the timeless appeal of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Why has it retained its hold far longer than other political allegories? Do readers need to know about the Russian history it describes? What makes the animals so relatable? Plus we discuss other favourite political allegories, from The Wizard of Oz to WALL-E.Adam Biles’s new novel – inspired by Animal Farm – is Beasts of England, available now.Read John Lanchester in the current issue of the LRB. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
21/09/2023 • 50 minutes 12 seconds
The Other 9/11: Chile & Allende
This week is the fiftieth anniversary of the coup in Chile that ended the life of Salvador Allende and marked the temporary death of Chilean democracy. We talk to the politician and economist Andrés Verlasco and the writer and translator Lorna Scott Fox about their memories of the coup and their understanding of its significance today. What does it say about the unfulfilled promise and ongoing fragility of democratic politics, in Chile and beyond?More from the LRB:Lorna Scott Fox on the feminisation of Chile:‘I doubt any of the men in a cabinet meeting are worrying about whether there is loo paper at home, as I do.’Greg Grandin on Allende in power:‘Allende was a pacifist, a democrat and a socialist by conviction not convenience.’<a href="https://bit.ly/462TY7P" rel="noopen
14/09/2023 • 1 hour 2 minutes 59 seconds
This week Lea Ypi joins David to talk about some of the ideas in his new book, The Handover: How We Gave Control of Our Lives to Corporations, States and AIs. They discuss how to think about the power of the state in the modern world: Can it be changed? Can it be controlled? Can it be anything other than capitalist? Plus, how will AI alter the relationship between human beings and the corporate machines that rule our world?To order the Handover and support independent bookshops, please use the code HANDOVER at checkout here. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
07/09/2023 • 51 minutes 32 seconds
The Great Essays: Q & A
In this bonus episode David answers some of your questions about our series on the great political essays and essayists, from Montaigne to Joan Didion. Can great political thinkers also be committed members of political parties? Which of these writers would make a good prime minister? And where are the great essays being written today? With PPF producer Ben Walker posing the questions. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
03/09/2023 • 53 minutes 42 seconds
History of Ideas: Joan Didion
For the last episode in our summer season on the great twentieth-century essays and essayists, David discusses Joan Didion's 'The White Album' (1979), her haunting, impressionistic account of the fracturing of America in the late 1960s. From Jim Morrison to the Manson murders, Didion offers a series of snapshots of a society coming apart in ways no one seemed to understand. But what was true, what was imagined, and where did the real sickness lie?More on Joan Didion from the LRB archive:Thomas Powers on Didion and California:'The thing that California taught her to fear most was snakes, especially rattlesnakes...This gets close to Didion's core anxiety: watching for something that could be anywhere, was easily overlooked, could kill you or a child playing in the garden – just like that.'<a href="https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-pap
31/08/2023 • 51 minutes 49 seconds
History of Ideas: Susan Sontag
This episode in our history of the great essays and great essayists is about Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’ (1963). What was interpretation and why was Sontag so against it? David explores how an argument about art, criticism and the avant-garde can be applied to contemporary politics and can even explain the monstrous appeal of Donald Trump.Sontag in the LRB:Terry Castle on Sontag and friendship ‘At its best, our relationship was rather like the one between Dame Edna and her feeble sidekick Madge – or possibly Stalin and Malenkov.’James Wolcott on Sontag and polemics‘The upside of Sontag’s downside was that her ire was generated by the same power supply that electrified her battle for principles that others only espoused.’<a href="https://bit.ly/3Ot0vAX" rel
24/08/2023 • 54 minutes 31 seconds
History of Ideas: James Baldwin
This week David discusses James Baldwin’s ‘Notes of a Native Son’ (1955), an essay that combines autobiography with a searing indictment of America’s racial politics. At its heart it tells the story of Baldwin’s relationship with his father, but it is also about fear, cruelty, violence and the terrible compromises of a country at war. What happens when North and South collide?More on Baldwin from the LRB:Michael Wood on Baldwin and power ‘James Baldwin’s thinking recalls Virginia Woolf’s view of the way that women have been used as mirrors by men.’Colm Toibin on reading Baldwin‘James Baldwin’s legacy is both powerful and fluid, allowing it to fit whatever category each reader requires, allowing it to influence each reader in a way that tells us as much about the reader as it
17/08/2023 • 50 minutes 29 seconds
History of Ideas: Simone Weil
This week’s episode in our series on the great essays and great essayists is about Simone Weil’s ‘Human Personality’ (1943). Written shortly before her death aged just 34, it is an uncompromising repudiation of the building blocks of modern life: democracy, rights, personal identity, scientific progress – all these are rejected. What does Weil have to put in their place? The answer is radical and surprising.Read ‘Human Personality’ hereFor more on Weil from the LRB archive:Toril Moi on living like Weil ‘If we take Weil as seriously as she took herself, our nice lives will fall apart.’Alan Bennett on Kafka and Weil‘Many parents, one imagines, would echo the words of Madame Weil, the mot
10/08/2023 • 52 minutes 38 seconds
History of Ideas: George Orwell
This week David discusses George Orwell’s ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ (1941), his great wartime essay about what it does – and doesn’t – mean to be English. How did the English manage to resist fascism? How are the English going to defeat fascism? These were two different questions with two very different answers: hypocrisy and socialism. David takes the story from there to Brexit and back again.For more on Orwell from the LRB:Samuel Hynes on Orwell and politics‘He was not, in fact, really a political thinker at all: he had no ideology, he proposed no plan of political action, and he was never able to relate himself comfortably to any political party.’Julian Symons on Orwell and fame‘If George Orwell had died in 1939 he would be recorded in literary histories of the peri
03/08/2023 • 52 minutes 11 seconds
History of Ideas: Virginia Woolf
This week our history of the great essays and great essayists reaches the twentieth century and Virginia Woolf’s masterpiece ‘A Room of One’s Own’ (1929). David discusses how an essay on the conditions for women writing fiction ends up being about so much else besides: anger, power, sex, modernity, independence and transcendence. And how, despite all that, it still manages to be as fresh and funny as anything written since.Read more on Virginia Woolf in the LRB:Jacqueline Rose on Woolf and madness‘It is, one might say, a central paradox of modern family life that its members are required to mould themselves in each other’s image and yet to know, as separate individuals or egos, exactly who they are.’Gillian Beer on Woolf and reality‘The “real world” for Virginia Woolf was not sol
27/07/2023 • 52 minutes 9 seconds
From Lincoln to Trump: What Happened to the Republican Party?
This week David talks to American historian Gary Gerstle about the shape-shifting journey of the US Republican Party, from the Civil War to the battles of today. How did the party of the North become the party of the South? When did the war party lose its appetite for war? Why does an organisation born out of anti-Catholicism now see its mission as to get Catholics onto the Supreme Court? And what could finally break the party apart?Gary Gerstle’s latest book is The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order.For more on the Great Abortion Switcheroo of the 1970s.Listen again to David’s episode on Hume and American default.Sign up to LRB Close Readings:Directly in Apple: <a href="https://lrb.me/ppfap
20/07/2023 • 57 minutes 48 seconds
History of Ideas: Thoreau
For the third episode in this series about the great political essays, David explores Thoreau’s ‘Civil Disobedience’ (1849), a ringing call to resistance against democratic idiocy. Thoreau wanted to resist slavery and unjust wars. How can one citizen turn the tide against majority opinion? Was Thoreau a visionary or a hypocrite? And what do his arguments say about environmental civil disobedience today?Read Thoreau’s essay hereFrom the LRB:Paul Laity on Thoreau and self-sufficiencyJeremy Harding on XR and civil disobedience Sign up to LRB Close Readings:Directly in Apple: https://apple.co/3pJoFPq
13/07/2023 • 55 minutes 57 seconds
Whose Space is it Anyway?
This week we talk to astrophysicist Chris Lintott and writer Tom Stevenson about the threat from outer space: is it the asteroids, is it the aliens, or is it us? What changed when space travel moved from a Cold War battleground to a billionaire’s playground? Are China and America about to re-start the space race? And what will happen if we do find evidence of extraterrestrial life - will anyone believe it? Read more from Chris and Tom about space in the LRB:Space SnookerWhere are the Space Arks?Flying Pancakes from Space Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/p
06/07/2023 • 51 minutes 58 seconds
Why J.S. Mill Matters w/ Tara Westover
This week David talks to Tara Westover and the philosopher Clare Chambers about the enduring legacy of John Stuart Mill. Reading Mill’s Essays on Religion changed Tara’s life: she explains what happened, and discusses how Mill speaks to contemporary concerns about identity, conviction and doubt. Plus we talk free speech, the marketplace of ideas, the subjection of women - and why Mill isn’t comfort reading (but Thomas Carlyle is!). Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
29/06/2023 • 59 minutes 44 seconds
Are There Too Many People?
This week David talks to science writer Meehan Crist about Thomas Malthus and the perennial question of overpopulation. Malthus wrote 225 years ago and was wrong about almost everything, yet his ideas still have a powerful hold on our imaginations and our fears. How many people is too many? What are the limits of population in the age of climate change? And why does Elon Musk think we should all be having more children?Thomas Malthus, ‘An Essay on the Principle of Overpopulation’ (1798) Meehan Crist’s 2020 LRB lecture, ‘Is it OK to Have a Child?’ Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
22/06/2023 • 57 minutes 7 seconds
History of Ideas: Hume
For the second episode in this season of History of Ideas, David discusses the Scottish philosopher David Hume and explores how eighteenth-century arguments about the national debt can help make sense of American politics today. When does public borrowing become a recipe for national disaster? Who is really in charge of the public finances: the government or the bankers, Washington, D.C. or Wall Street? And what has all this got to do with Hume’s arguments for the morality of suicide?Read Hume’s original essay ‘Of Public Credit’ here: https://davidhume.org/texts/pld/pcFor more on Hume from the archive of the LRB:Jonathan Rée on Hume’s voracious appetites: ‘“The Corpulence of his whole person was better fitted to communicate the Idea of the Turtle-Eating Alderman than of a refined Philosopher,” as a friend put it.’ <a href="https://bit
15/06/2023 • 58 minutes 54 seconds
Rawls, Capitalism & Justice
This week Daniel Chandler and Lea Ypi join David to talk about the legacy of the great American political philosopher John Rawls and his theory of justice. Did Rawls provide a prescription for the only fair way of doing capitalism? Or did he really show why capitalism and justice will never be reconciled? What can Rawls teach us about how to treat each other as equals? And does it even make sense to talk about justice in Britain or America when the world as a whole remains so fundamentally unequal?Daniel Chandler’s new book is Free and Equal: What Would a Fair Society Look Like? Lea Ypi’s Free: Coming of Age at the End of History is out now in paperback.You can hear David’s History of Ideas episode about Rawls
08/06/2023 • 57 minutes 50 seconds
Live Special: The American Century w/ David Miliband
This week’s episode was recorded live at the Hay Festival, where David was joined on stage by David Miliband and Helen Thompson to discuss the past, present and future of American power. What explains American global dominance? Can it be justified? How will it be replaced? They discuss the fall-out of the Ukraine war, the threat posed by China, the challenge of climate change and the possibility of a second Trump presidency and ask – is the American century over?David Miliband writes about the consequences of the Ukraine war in Foreign Affairs.Hear more from Helen Thompson on the These Times podcast from UnHerd. Follow Past Present Future on Twitter @PPFIdeas Hosted on
01/06/2023 • 53 minutes 48 seconds
AI: Can the Machines Really Think?
Gary Marcus and John Lanchester join David to discuss all things AI, from ChatGPT to the Turing test. Why is the Turing test such a bad judge of machine intelligence? If these machines aren’t thinking, what is it they are doing? And what are we doing giving them so much power to shape our lives? Plus we discuss self-driving cars, the coming jobs apocalypse, how children learn, and what it is that makes us truly human.Gary’s new podcast is Humans vs. Machines.Read Turing’s original paper here. Hosted on Acast. See ac
25/05/2023 • 52 minutes 16 seconds
History of Ideas: Montaigne
For the first episode in the new series of History of Ideas – on the great essays and the great essayists – David discusses Montaigne, the man who invented a whole new way of writing and being read. From the fear of death to the joys of life, from the perils of atheism to the pitfalls of faith, from sex to religion and back again, Montaigne wrote the book of himself, which was also a guide to what it means to be human. Elephants, civil war, gout, cosmology, torture, tennis balls, disease, diets, and politics too: all life is here. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
18/05/2023 • 52 minutes 3 seconds
Living Behind the Iron Curtain
This week David talks to Katja Hoyer and Lea Ypi about life under communism. East Germany was the most successful of the communist states of Eastern Europe, measured by economic prosperity and sporting success. Did the GDR ever really offer a model of how Soviet-style communism could give people what they wanted, including social mobility and consumerism? Why did it fall apart in the end? And how did the GDR experiment look from inside Albania, where Lea grew up? A conversation about freedom, dissent, paranoia and blue jeans.Katja Hoyer’s latest book is Beyond the Wall: East Germany 1949-1990.Lea Ypi’s prize-winning Free: Coming of Age at the End of History is available in paperback now.To hear more about Rosa Luxemburg, <a href="https://pl
11/05/2023 • 54 minutes 1 second
How Dallas Saw the Future
This week David talks to Helen Thompson about Dallas and the end of oil. How did the world’s most popular soap opera come to explain the energy crisis and the future of a world hooked on fossil fuels? Is the fate of the Ewing family – fire and ruin – going to be the fate of America? And did J.R. Ewing really pave the way for President Donald Trump? Plus David and Helen discuss ‘oil fictions’, from Isaac Asimov to Italo Calvino.Watch the moment when ‘Miss Ellie Saves the Day’.Helen Thompson on ’the cosmic stakes of the age of oil’.Isaac Asimov’s imaginary report on a world without oil.Italo Calvino’s short story, <a href="https://b
04/05/2023 • 50 minutes 34 seconds
The Novel that Unravels Democracy
David talks to Ian McEwan about Italo Calvino’s The Watcher (1963), one of the greatest of all works of political fiction. Challenging, disturbing, redemptive: this is a book about who gets to count and who doesn’t, and what identity politics really means. David and Ian also discuss how political fiction works - and why the climate change novel is so hard to write. Plus they argue about whether children should be allowed to vote. Next week: Helen Thompson on Dallas and the end of oil.Ian McEwan’s latest novel is Lessons, available now.To read more about Calvino, here is a recent appreciation of his later writings in the New Yorker.<p
27/04/2023 • 52 minutes 35 seconds
Introducing Past Present Future
Past Present Future is a new weekly podcast with David Runciman, host and creator of Talking Politics, exploring the history of ideas from politics to philosophy, culture to technology. David talks to historians, novelists, scientists and many others about where the most interesting ideas come from, what they mean, and why they matter. Ideas from the past, questions about the present, shaping the future. Brought to you in partnership with the London Review of Books.New episodes every Thursday. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.