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How Can Everyday Life Build Democracy? Marc Stears and John Harris

Festival of Ideas
Marc Stears

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Marc Stears looks at how both Left and Right lost their faith in ordinary people and how they learnt to find it again.

This is an age of polarisation. It’s Us versus Them. The battle lines are clear, and compromise is surrender. This is not a new problem. Marc Stears argues that from the 1920s to the 1950s, in a world transformed by revolution and war, extreme ideologies of Left and Right fuelled utopian hopes and dystopian fears.

In response to this, Stears explains, a group of British writers, artists, photographers, and filmmakers showed a way out. These men and women (including J B Priestley, George Orwell, Barbara Jones, Dylan Thomas, Laurie Lee, and Bill Brandt) had no formal connection to one another. But they each worked to forge a politics that resisted the empty idealisms and totalising abstractions of their time. Instead, they were convinced that people going about their daily lives possess all the insight, virtue, and determination required to build a good society. It was this humble vision that animated the great Festival of Britain in 1951 and put everyday citizens at the heart of a new vision of national regeneration.

These apostles of the ordinary helped Britain through an age of crisis. Their ideas might do so again, in the UK and beyond.

Stears is in discussion with Guardian writer John Harris.

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Book cover of Out of the Ordinary by Marc Stears

Marc Stears’ Out of the Ordinary: How Everyday Life Inspired a Nation and How It Can Again is published by Harvard University Press. Buy a copy from Waterstones, our bookselling partners.

Marc Stears

Marc Stears is author of Demanding Democracy and Progressives, Pluralists, and the Problems of the State. He was a senior advisor and chief speechwriter to Ed Miliband, the former leader of the British Labour Party, and now directs the Sydney Policy Lab at the University of Sydney. His latest book is Out of the Ordinary: How Everyday Life Inspired a Nation and How It Can Again. Follow him on Twitter @mds49

John Harris

John Harris is a Guardian columnist. He writes on subjects including politics, popular culture and music. Follow him on Twitter @johnharris1969

 

Image credit: the Guardian

Democracy and Freedom of Expression

This event is part of our 2021 series on democracy and freedom of expression. We’re committed to looking at solutions to the great challenges that face us – what individuals, leaders, mayors, councils, governments, cities, communities, nations and others can do to support, strengthen and extend democracy and freedom of expression.

The series includes: programmes on the future of democracy, May elections, the monarchy, constitutions, English devolution, House of Lords reform, votes at 16; work exploring freedom of expression through the year; and a focus on democracy and cities in Festival of the Future City (20-21 October).

Our project partners include English PEN, Prospect Magazine, the Institute for Policy Research, University of Bath and the Observer. More events will be launched soon. Join the conversation on social media using the hashtags #FOIDemocracy and #CommonCurrency

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It’s important to us that ideas and debate are affordable to everyone. It’s also important that our commentators, artists, writers, poets and thinkers are paid. This is a Pay What You Can event. You are invited to choose your own contribution to the event. A free option is available. All proceeds go towards supporting our speakers and sustaining Bristol Ideas.

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