The Academy Online: psychology and democracy

Saturday 20 June 2020

The Academy is the boi charity’s annual, residential event where people from all walks of life gather together to cultivate themselves with lectures and seminars, based around good books, and in good company. Whilst the regular, collegiate atmosphere of The Academy was not possible this year, the boi charity still gathered curious minds together on the original date of the scheduled event, Saturday 20 June – for a special online event via zoom.

See below or click here for the audio podcasts from this event.


This was a free event via Zoom, with a suggested donation of £25 to the boi charity. Please visit our donations page to find out how to support us.

The Academy Online is an unprecedented opportunity for people from around the world to join for a day of lectures and discussion via Zoom. Next year, The Academy will return to its regular format and we look forward to the social interaction resuming.


This year, we will attempt to place contemporary events in a historical and philosophical context. At the moment, those in authority are concerned about how to ‘control the narrative’. They look to behavioural scientists and epidemiologists to understand and shape collective behaviour. We will be examining how psychological categories came to occupy such an important role in public life. We will look at why intellectuals and social planners become increasingly attracted by psychology as a way of explaining the decisions – and supposed deficiencies – of the general public.

We will look at the evolution of ‘crowd psychology’ from its origins in Gustave Le Bon’s influential writings. We will see how these ideas find expression in the works of Sigmund Freud, and their influence over postwar intellectuals such as the Frankfurt school. Our discussions will bring things up to the present day through the debates about the advertising industry’s attempts to use psychology to manipulate the masses and by examining modern-day ‘nudge’ theories. And we will also turn to literature to investigate how psychological theories inspired utopian dreams of social order and control, as well as exacerbating the division between ‘nature’ and ‘unnatural’ modern life.


10.30 – 10.45
Introduction and welcome
Dr James Panton
head of upper sixth and head of politics, Magdalen College School; associate professor of philosophy, Open University; co-editor, From Self to Selfie: a critique of contemporary forms of alienation; convenor, The Academy

10.45 – 12.00
Lecture one:
The frightful crowd: the psychology of ‘the masses’
Jacob Reynolds
external affairs manager, boi charity; writer and commentator

12.30 – 13.45
Book club discussions

Option A:
BF Skinner, Walden Two
Dr Helene Guldberg
lecturer in psychology, Open University; author, Reclaiming Childhood: freedom and play in an age of fear and Just Another Ape?

Option B:
DH Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Ella Whelan
co-convenor, Battle of Ideas festival; journalist and frequent commentator on TV and radio; author, What Women Want

Option C:
Vance Packard, The Hidden Persuaders
Professor James Woudhuysen
visiting professor, London South Bank University; co-author, Energise! A future for energy innovation; co-author, Why is construction so backward?

Option D:
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Luke Gittos
criminal lawyer; director, Freedom Law Clinic; legal editor, spiked; author, Human Rights – Illusory Freedom 

14.00 – 15.30
Lecture two:
Scientism and the Manufacture of Consent: then and now
Frank Furedi
sociologist; public intellectual; author, Why Borders Matter (forthcoming)


Gustave le Bon, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind
buy this book from Amazon here

Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and its Discontents
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Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics
read the original essay at Harper’s

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
buy this book from Amazon here

DH Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover
buy this book from Amazon here

Vance Packard, The Hidden Persuaders
buy this book from Amazon here

BF Skinner, Walden Two
buy this book from Amazon here