The BBC Radio 4 Reith lecturer for this year has been revealed as Ben Ansell, who holds the position of Professor of Comparative Democratic Institutions at Nuffield College, University of Oxford. His series of four lectures, titled “Our Democratic Future,” will delve into the task of constructing political systems that are inclusive and robust enough to confront the diverse challenges of the twenty-first century.
With crucial elections on the horizon in 2024 for both the United Kingdom and the United States, Ben will follow in the footsteps of past lecturers such as Robert Oppenheimer, Hilary Mantel, Edward Said, Onora O’Neill, Michael Sandel, Margaret MacMillan, Stephen Hawking, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. He will explore how our democracies can effectively navigate the onslaught of polarization, climate change, global security, artificial intelligence, and the myriad other trials that will confront the incoming administrations on both sides of the Atlantic.
The lectures for 2023 will be recorded in front of live audiences in London, Berlin, Sunderland, and Atlanta this autumn before airing on BBC Radio 4 later in the year. They will also be available for streaming on BBC Sounds.
The four lectures in “Our Democratic Future” each centre on a specific objective: democracy, security, solidarity, and prosperity. Each lecture will evaluate our current position and progress in achieving these aspirations, scrutinize future challenges, and conclude with a forward-looking perspective, pondering what we can collectively do to accomplish our shared objectives:
The inaugural lecture, ‘The Future of Democracy,’ questions whether we are witnessing a ‘democratic recession,’ wherein established democracies face the risk of breakdown and authoritarianism is on the rise.
The second lecture, ‘The Future of Security,’ probes whether citizens in affluent nations have become complacent regarding threats both domestically and from overseas.
The third lecture, ‘The Future of Solidarity,’ delves into the possibility of nurturing a shared sense of belonging in today’s divided societies.
The final lecture, ‘The Future of Prosperity,’ grapples with a pivotal query: can we sustain economic growth without harming the environment?
Mohit Bakaya, Director of Speech Audio and Controller of BBC Radio 4 and 4 Extra, says: “The Reith Lectures have always sought to showcase the most interesting thinking around, and Ben Ansell is an exciting emerging voice in the world of political science, with a distinctive take on what the challenges we face are, and what we might do about them. As we head into a big political year, I hope these lectures will allow us to take a moment to consider what the political future might look like for the UK, as well as internationally, and think collectively about how we can work better together to cope with the pressures that lie ahead.”
Ben Ansell says: “I am deeply honoured to have been chosen as this year’s Reith lecturer. We live in a time of great political turmoil and stand at the cusp of profound technological and ecological changes. Now is a crucial moment to think about whether our political institutions are fit to face these challenges and what we can do as a community to ensure our democratic future. My lectures will draw on big political ideas and cutting-edge research in the social sciences to suggest how we can collectively address these existential questions.”
Ben completed his PhD in Government at Harvard University in 2006 and conducts research in various areas of comparative politics and political economy. Before joining Oxford and Nuffield College, he held the position of Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. Ben is also an award-winning author, and his Reith Lectures will build on his most recent book, “Why Politics Fails,” which was published earlier this year.
The lectures and question-and-answer sessions will be moderated by presenter, journalist, and author Anita Anand.
Audiences can apply for complimentary tickets to the recordings starting from Wednesday 20th September through the BBC website.