Exploratory CW essay pieces look at the broader trends in contemporary society, politics and culture.

A selection of the Battle of Ideas’ Battles in Print is also available here.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Beyond normality

Serbian art ten years after Milošević

The process of transition towards liberal democracy has been portrayed as a process of normalisation. The West, according to this reading of history, is the embodiment of the historical standard, and what is wrong with the institutions in the East is that they are not yet Western. Artists and curators in Serbia have been persistent in offering alternative readings of the recent political changes in their country.

Friday 8 October 2010

Character, education and the role of the state

Of Good Character: Exploration of Virtues and Values in 3-25 Year-Olds, by James Arthur (Imprint Academic, 2010)

For Arthur, character is ‘an interlocked set of personal values which normally guide conduct. Character is about who we are and who we become, which can result in good or bad conduct.’ If character is about values then it’s important where we get these values from. Surely teaching children good values in school is preferable to law of the jungle in terms of peer pressure and media messages?

Harry Hoare in • BooksEssays
Thursday 16 September 2010

Brought to book

What are libraries for?

Libraries are not only a public service but a fought-for part of our heritage. But is the provision of Catherine Cookson novels to pensioners something the state should fund? If people are not using libraries why should funding continue?

A return to beauty and civility?

Contemporary art may be embracing the long-unfashionable idea of beauty once more

In 2010, it is safe to say that a shift is occurring once again, this time, away from the vacuous and the obscene; an ever increasing sense of ‘de nouveau’ is now surging through the citadel of contemporary art.

Friday 3 September 2010

Grow your own?

Urban Farming: The future of food or Arcadia on the cheap?

Viewed in historic terms, this seems like an aristocratic attack on the bourgeoisie. Think I’m joking? Prince Charles is a big fan of urban agriculture, with good reason. He has large estates that he has every interest in keeping out of the reach of the masses.

Thursday 26 August 2010

‘The Big Society’ (or ‘Compulsory Voluntarism’)

A paper given to the Muslim Institute Summer Conference, Cardiff, 24 July 2010

‘The Compact Code of Good Practice on Volunteering’ continues: ‘The key element (of volunteering) that it is freely undertaken’ (my italics). Maybe the government thinks that this simply means ‘done for free’ but in fact it describes an activity ‘willingly, uncoercedly or generously’ given. As such, it is about the rights of the person who gives up his/her time.

Monday 19 July 2010

Big Two-Hearted Hemingway

Lost in the life of a dead writer we’ve never met but whom foolishly we think know well

Hemingway hasn’t been, not since the 1940s, a mere writer and man, but a preposterous piece of Americana, a living riposte to a 20th century that seemed to otherwise deplete opportunities for masculine privilege and duty as the years of industrialisation, commercialisation, domestication, and entertainment-media saturation rolled on.

Friday 11 June 2010


A short essay on the future of South Africa, and football.

South Africa is ready but there is a long way to go before they achieve their dream goal.

Thursday 20 May 2010

The politics of aspiration

What is politics for?

It is one thing to point out that individuals acting on their own cannot realistically hope to triumph over deeper social realities, quite another to suggest that the desire to do so is immoral or antisocial. Solidarity ought to mean shared aspirations for a better society, not mutual self-sacrifice in a zero sum game. Affirming individual aspirations and asking how they might be met collectively would cut against many assumptions and prejudices that are deeply entrenched in contemporary British politics.

Monday 3 May 2010

The taboo subject everyone’s talking about

Immigration and the election campaign

There is something charade-like about the whole business of talking tough on immigration. The ‘debate’ is fundamentally dishonest. The fact is that when politicians discuss immigration, they are not engaging in a political debate, but trying to pre-empt debate.

Thursday 25 March 2010

The Pull of Reality

Wasted: Why Education Isn't Educating, by Frank Furedi (Continuum 2009)

Humanity has accumulated its knowledge, through millennia of struggles and discoveries, with no regard whatsoever for the nature of the child. On the contrary, education is the process whereby the child acquires a culture that is by definition heterogeneous to his nature. There is nothing natural in learning the multiplication tables, the alphabet, musical notation or the correct movements of tennis. Even if the way in which these are learnt can be more or less humane to children, the acquisition of knowledge is a cultural, as opposed to natural process.

Thursday 11 March 2010

With some scraps, please

The Uses of Literacy, by Richard Hoggart (Penguin, 2009)

Can we construct a radical politics which takes into account the complexities and contradictions in contemporary culture and does not end up anti-humanist or with a thinly-veiled contempt for ‘the masses’?

Thursday 4 March 2010

‘You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain…’

On late modern heroism

The virtues the Rocky films portray have a long moral history in Western culture and yet for most of us the narrative which portrays them is one we struggle to take seriously. But contemporary cynicism helps, in a sense, bring about the reality it purports to reflect.

Saturday 27 February 2010

The Mayor who sets his sights low

Why Londoners should challenge the low horizons of Boris Johnson, and champion the building of skyscrapers

Boris Johnson has used his powers to galvanise the anti-high-rise sentiment into an object of policy. So far, he has gotten away with this unchallenged. But it is incumbent on us, those who welcome the prospect of transforming London’s skyline into an exciting scene that represents the city’s dynamism, to publicly challenge this short-sighted and un-ambitious policy.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Transparency works both ways

How public scrutiny of power is becoming the power to scrutinise the public..

If the public is treated as if mere information is required before the correct view of its significance can be arrived at, then attempts to engage the public with big ideas or really change their attitudes will fail

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Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Marxists Online
Marx, Engels, Lenin and beyond

New Left Review, international Leftist journal

Mute Magazine, culture and politics after the net

Red Pepper, influenced by socialism, feminisim and environmental politics

Dissent Magazine, US Leftist journal for the clashing of strong opinions

And its counterpart, Commentary, general, yet Jewish

Granta, magazine for new writing

Wikipedia, ze internet encyclopedia

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, all things philosophical