The Academy 2015

The Academy was founded by the Academy of Ideas in 2011 and came under the auspices of the Battle of Ideas charity in 2019.

The theme of the Academy in 2015 – which ran from Saturday 18 to Monday 20 July, with a special day for Scholars on Friday 17 July – was the public.

How has the idea of the public been conceptualised and given form through history – from its beginnings in the republics of Athens and Rome, via the city-states of Renaissance Italy, to the definitive emergence of public opinion as a force in its own right in the Enlightenment, through to the massively expanded and mobile global publics of today? Of particular interest is the relationship of the public sphere to that of the private and the question of the relationship of the individual to society as a whole. What kind of conflict is there between the individual and society and what kind of conflict is involved in the idea of a public itself?

The plenary lectures – on political philosophy this year – examined some foundational texts, including Aristotle’s Politics, Locke’s Two Treatises, Hegel’s path-breaking conception of the role of private property and the social in constructing the individual in his Philosophy of Right, and de Tocqueville’s classic, Democracy in America. The final lecture of the Academy asked if the liberal spirit has now retreated from Western public life.

In the history strand, the sessions began with the medieval city: how did its emergence and its forms shape the public that it made possible and to what extent was it shaped by the needs of that public? One of the aspects of the public that this Academy explored is the role that conflict plays in shaping a public: something that can be seen very clearly in civil war. One lecture looked at the European wars of religion that followed the Reformation and the demands they created for the tolerance necessary to allow publics of different faiths to live together. Another looked at the American Civil War: asking the question why a public that had so recently self-constituted should so soon be at war with itself. The final lecture examined the massive change in the public (quantitatively and qualitatively) represented by the expansion of the franchise to women following another conflict within society, this time the struggle by the Suffragettes to achieve equal public standing.

The series of lectures on literature covered the theatre, that most public of art forms, a space allowing private and public judgement on the representation of individuals in public. The series covered the expansion of theatre from its beginnings in medieval morality plays into the Elizabethan drama of Marlowe and Johnson before moving onto the roots of opera in public, often comic, entertainments. The final two lectures looked at the staging of ideas in public for the public (Ibsen, Shaw and Schiller) and the politicisation of theatre in the twentieth century (Brecht and Bond).

The classics lectures started with theatre too: the tragic trilogy that is Aeschylus’ Oresteia, an examination of the tension between private vengeance and public justice in ancient Greece. The next two lectures looked at the end of the Roman republic through the prism of two of its key protagonists. Cicero, statesman and theorist of the republic, and Julius Caesar, victor of one set of civil wars but the victim of a system that had no effective way to restrict the freedom of private individuals in the interests of society as a whole. The final lecture looked at the creation of new sorts of public space and architecture (alongside changing ideas of the citizen who inhabited them) in the city-states of the Italian Renaissance: themselves a conscious echo of what they imagined the Roman republic to have been.

Optional lecture shorts on the Sunday covered the Magna Carta 800 years on, the birth of the Enlightenment salon, changing conceptions of private space and the family, and more.

The long weekend as a whole was a unique opportunity to get to grips with some of the key ideas about the public in the Western intellectual tradition and to explore and discuss them with equally interested and interesting attendees.

Programme of lectures

Scholars’ Day

Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (Josie Appleton)

Foucault, Society Must Be Defended (Dr Vanessa Pupavac)

Arendt: public and private life and space (Penny Lewis)


Day one

Plenary: The emergence of the public (Professor Frank Furedi)


Classics: Aeschlyus, The Oresteia (Professor Edith Hall)

History: ‘The birth of the modern city (Alan Hudson)

Literature: English Medieval and Renaissance Drama – creating the audience

 – Part 1: Medieval morality plays – preaching to the masses? (Richard Swan)

 – Part 2: Grave Understanders: playing to The Groundlings (Patrick Spottiswoode)


Plenary: Locke, Two Treatises of Government (Dr Hannah Dawson)


Day two 

Classics: Cicero, de re publica (Angus Kennedy)

History: The Reformation, toleration, and partisan publics in early modern Europe (Dr Jacqueline Rose)

Literature: Comedy, satire and social critique in pre-revolutionary France (Dr John Leigh)


Plenary: Hegel, Philosophy of Right (Josie Appleton)

Sunday Shorts

Sex and the birth of the Salon (Professor Dennis Hayes)

Trivium 21st Century (Martin Robinson)

The Family Trap: the problem with the ‘private’? (Ann Furedi)


Plenary: de Tocqueville, <em>Democracy in America</em> (Professor Georgios Varouxakis)


Day three

Classics: The Fall of the Roman Republic (Professor Matthew Fox)

History: A House Divided: The American Civil War (Dr Adam Smith)

Literature: Realism on stage: the individual vs society (Claire Fox)


Classics: Machiavelli: between the Many and the Few (Professor Frank Furedi)

History: Suffragettes: women in public (Jennie Bristow)

Literature: Brecht and the need to Alienate the Public (Martin Robinson)


Plenary: The liberal retreat and the privatisation of the public (Professor Frank Furedi)