What happened to the future? The Academy 2023

29 & 30 July 2023, Wyboston Lakes, Bedfordshire


What happened to the confidence in a brighter future? Despite a widespread desire for political change, populist upheavals, and political realignments, political life often feels exhausted. Political parties across the West seem only to offer reheated, watered-down versions of previous programmes. Cultural life, too, is dominated by repeats and remakes. If in the past politics revolved around grand, inspiring visions of the future, today the future is seen as a place of doom and destruction with organisations like Extinction Rebellion fixated on the prospect of global annihilation. Instead of flying cars, we have electric cars. Instead of spending our time in the stars, we spend it on social media. No-one seems to know how to articulate the widespread desire for a different way of doing things.

This unease about the future co-exists with widespread amnesia or even hostility towards the past, with little historical awareness and a tendency to write off the achievements of previous generations as the product of racism. Bereft of a sense of the past, societies seem to have become cut-off from their future. But even many conservative aspirations have today a make-believe quality, ‘trads’ merely play-acting a world long passed.

How can we challenge the pessimism and fatalism that rules over the current political moment? How does our current unease about time contrast with previous visions of man’s place within history? What social forces underpinned utopian politics in previous eras? Why does culture seem to have run out of steam? And how does the unease about the future relate to our disquiet with our past?

Summary programme and speakers

Read a short explanation of the programme here.

The full programme is available here.

Plenary lectures

Utopia and Fatalism (Saturday)
Professor Frank Furedi, executive director, MCC Brussels
Without Utopia, are we left unable to imagine a truly different future? Without genuinely transformative ideals, what is there to fight for – merely a marginally better version of today … read more

Cultural Exhaustion? Remakes and originality (Saturday)
Dr Maren Thom, co-host, Performance Anxiety Podcast
Ours is the era of endless remakes, repeats, reboots, franchises, cinematic universes and multiverses. What happened to creativity? Today many allege that the entire notion of representation– the master concept of film and art more generally – is under attack … read more

Is Progress a Thing of the Past? (Saturday)
Sherelle Jacobs, columnist, Daily Telegraph
What happened to progress? For a long time, progress was assumed as a given. But these assumptions have increasingly been called into question in an era of both ever-expanding victimhood politics and economic stagnation. Perhaps the issue is that Western societies have lost their sense of mission… read more

Contemporary Dystopia: The return of apocalyptic thinking (Sunday)
Dr Tim Black, columnist, Spiked
End-thinking seems to abound today. Politicians and activists alike warn daily of the ever-impending climate catastrophe. Others talk excitedly of the next pandemic or of the world-ending threat posed by AI. What’s driving the prevalence of apocalypticism today? And how does it relate to the long tradition of eschatological thinking? read more

The New Elite: Future Proof? (Sunday)
Professor Matthew Goodwin, University of Kent; author, Values, Voice and Virtue: The New British Politics
Lots of recent commentary from both progressives and conservatives has focused on the question of who the ‘elite’ are, and how, if at all, the make-up of the ruling elite has changed. But few would deny that our current crop of elites seem singularly unprepared for the challenges and crises of the 21st Century. Why is this? read more

Reclaiming the Future from the War on the Past (Sunday)
Dr Tiffany Jenkins, writer and commentator; author, Strangers & Intimates: The Rise & Fall of Private Life
Today, we seem hostile to the past, more likely to hide it, as in the shutting of galleries in the Wellcome Collection, or try and remove it, as we see in the pulling down of statues. The demand for reparations for historical wrongs also seems to reflect a widespread fatalistic sense that the present is so determined by past events that all we can do is mourn … read more


The First Transhumanist? Haldane’s Daedalus 100 Years On (Saturday)
Sandy Starr, deputy director, Progress Educational Trust 
2023 marks the centenary of Daedalus, a landmark lecture – subsequently a book – by the geneticist, polymath and public intellectual JBS Haldane. The lecture surveyed humanity’s relationship to technology in the wake of WW1 … read more

Forecasting failure: A short history of the future (Sunday)
Professor James Woudhuysen, visiting professor, forecasting and innovation, London South Bank University
From the exuberance of Jules Verne to the forebodings of HG Wells, visions of the future are well known to say more about their own times than they do about the future itself. At the height of the Cold War, for instance, some still had faith in the future … read more


Bronze Age Mindset: Body-building the future? (Saturday)
Nikos Sotirakopoulos, visiting fellow, Ayn Rand Institute
In 2018, a strange book appeared, propelling its author, an anonymous twitter account by the name of Bronze Age Pervert, to the centre of public conversation. The book was said to be a manual for Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, and has come to define the reactionary Right. Is the book, or its author, just another voice wanting to preach to a disaffected youth … read more

Dune: Science fiction and the end of the future (Sunday)
JJ Charlesworth, art critic; editor, ArtReview
Frank Herbert’s 1964 sci-fi masterpiece Dune remains a pivotal work in the history of science fiction, heralding the beginnings of a more quizzical and sceptical idea of the future in Western science fiction. Whereas the works of the earlier twentieth century trumpeted the infinite possibilities of humanity’s future, driven by technology, science fiction since Dune has been more preoccupied with the imminent eclipse of humanity. When much of today’s science-fiction can barely bring itself to imagine human beings even a few years into the future, how might science fiction recentre the human today?


You can choose to buy day tickets without accommodation, or tickets that include accommodation at Wyboston Lakes Resort.

Day tickets only include lunch

Tickets with accommodation include:
 Brilliant food: a quality breakfast (including continental and cooked options), an extensive lunch, and a three course dinner
 Excellent facilities: access to the Wyboston Lakes gym, swimming pool and other amenities during your stay
 Social opportunities: staying the night means you’ll experience the full, collegiate atmosphere of the event and get the chance to carry on discussions over dinner and in the bar.

Have a friend who is also interested? You can save up to £50 each by doubling up with a friend. Select ‘double occupancy’ and let us know you’d like a twin room.

Weekend Tickets with Accommodation

 One night, single occupancy £240 Buy tickets

 One night, double occupancy £400 Buy tickets

 Two nights, single occupancy £340 Buy tickets

 Two nights, double occupancy £540 Buy tickets

Day rate (charge per day, no accommodation)

 Saturday and Sunday £125 Buy tickets

 Saturday only £65 Buy tickets

 Sunday only £65 Buy tickets

If you would like to pay a concession rate (for full time students, senior citizens and unwaged), or pay in instalments, please email geoff@ideasmatter.org.uk for further details. 

Reading list


  • Aristotle, Poetics (esp. sections I, II. IV, XXV)
  • Arthur C Clarke, Profiles of the Future
  • Matthew Goodwin, Values, Voice and Virtue: The New British Politics
  • Martin Hägglund, This Life: Why mortality makes us free
  • Stuart Hall, Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation
  • Christopher Lasch, True and Only Heaven: Progress and its critics
  • Russell Jacoby, The end of utopia
  • Joel Mokyr, A Culture of Growth
  • Bronze Age Pervert, Bronze Age Mindset
  • Harmut Rosa, Social Acceleration: A new theory of modernity
  • Matthias Schmelzer, The Future is Degrowth
  • Samanth Subramanian, A Dominant Character: The Radical Science and Restless Politics of JBS Haldane
  • John Torpey, Making Whole What Has Been Smashed: On Reparations Politics