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Talking Politics Guides

Over the summer, our esteemed podcast partner will be airing a series of guides to political subjects that are constantly talked about but never explained. Find the latest below, along with a list of forthcoming episodes, links to previous episodes, and the usual reading lists of relevant writing from the LRB archive; or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Acast or your preferred player.

And while you’re here, why not take advantage of our summer sale of two cities, and subscribe to both the LRB and The Paris Review for one low price? Offer must end at midnight on Friday 31 August.

16 August: Machine Learning

‘AlphaZero didn’t just prove its point. It made a point that it alone was able to reckon with.’
– David Runciman attends the 2017 Neural Information Processing Systems conference (January 2018)

‘It says a lot about the current moment that as we stand facing a future which might resemble either a hyper-capitalist dystopia or a socialist paradise, the second option doesn’t get a mention.’
– John Lanchester on the new generation of robots (March 2015)

‘In the 1980s, debates in artificial intelligence centred on the question of whether machines could “really” be intelligent. Now debates about relational and sociable machines are not about the machines’ capabilities but about our own vulnerabilities.’
– Sherry Turkle on Tamagotchi love (April 2006)

‘In 2011 Demis Hassabis founded DeepMind with, he has said, a two-step plan to “solve intelligence, and then use that to solve everything else”.’
– Paul Taylor on machine learning (August 2016)

‘Technology will be embedded in the world around us – from wearable tech to smart houses. We got a taste of what this could mean when someone exploited a flaw in TRENDnet’s security cameras in 2012.’
– Ben Jackson on the Internet of Things (April 2015)

‘If hours and years of time spent at home in front of a computer screen haven’t corroded your sense of privacy, they have probably changed your sense of time.’
– Stephanie Burt on Facebook (June 2010)


Forthcoming episodes

23 August: Turkey

29 August: Nuclear deterrents


Previous episodes


26 July: The 1970s

‘Like most such years, “1968” began a few months early.’
– Christopher Hitchens on a revolutionary moment (June 1998)

‘What was the most significant year of the 20th century? There are three plausible candidates.’
– David Runciman on Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century (September 2013)

‘The worldwide search for new sources of energy, which started immediately after the 1973 embargo, mobilised much scientific enthusiasm as well as an abundance of technical resources.’
– Edward Luttwak on the price of oil (October 2000)

‘To the student of revolution, the Iranian revolution of 1978-79 must appear both strange and strangely familiar.’
– Nikki Keddie on the reign of the Ayatollahs (March 1985)

‘The received wisdom of the 1970s as Britain’s nightmare decade is little more than a politically convenient libel which suits a narrative of redemption. We must never go back to the 1970s? Perhaps we should be lucky. There are worse places, as we may shortly see.’
– Ian Jack on history as wine gums (August 2009)

‘It transpires that Watergate was not Nixon’s first major cover-up.’
– Colin Kidd on The Nixon Tapes: 1971-72 (November 2015)

‘Deng Xiaoping, an uneven, explosive and complex figure, at once more radical and more traditional than the now standard images of him, awaits his biographer. That book will not be written as another page in US self-satisfaction.’
– Perry Anderson on Sino-Americana (February 2012)

‘1976, the year of IMF intervention, together with the winter of 1978-79, represents in purest form what was for most people (insofar as they have any memory of the Seventies) characteristic of that decade: persistent economic failure and social disintegration at home, humiliation abroad. It is a memory that has also had profound political consequences.’
– Ross McKibbin on the IMF Crisis (April 1992)

‘A Polish journalist has remarked that only Stalin had more public statues erected to him in his lifetime than John Paul.’
– Terry Eagleton on Pope John Paul II (February 2005)

‘Most of those who voted for her in 1979, and many in her own Parliamentary party, can have had very little glimmering of what she would eventually strive to do.’
– Linda Colley on Thatcher’s rise (September 2000)


2 August: American Foreign Policy

‘When the nation stepped onto the world stage as an imperial power in the Spanish-American War of 1898, President William McKinley insisted that ours was a benevolent imperialism, that the conquest of Puerto Rico and the Philippines ought not to be compared to the despotic actions of European powers.’
– Eric Foner on the history of the American empire (May 2005)

‘US imperialism goes by other names: Manifest Destiny, Greater America, the American Century, the Free World, Internationalism.’
– Thomas Meaney on Perry Anderson on American foreign policy (July 2016)

‘The United States now has an Israeli-style foreign policy and America’s liberal intellectuals overwhelmingly support it.’
– Tony Judt on the strange death of liberal America (September 2006)

‘Foreign policy is where American presidents go to take out their frustrations when they can’t get things done at home. That was not Obama’s way.’
– David Runciman on Obama’s White House (August 2018)

‘Members of the fundamentalist right continue, despite (but perhaps in part because of) the assaults of recent years, to define America as a bastion of traditional values and traditional faith in an increasingly godless age, as a citadel of righteousness, as the world’s only truly Christian nation.’
– Alan Brinkley on religion and politics in the US (May 1985)

‘US quasi-imperial supremacy is a bubble, a semblance that may have overawed the globe during a period of disoriented transition, but which never derived from American military or economic power alone.’
– Tom Nairn on America’s last stand (June 1998)


5 August: Technocracy

‘People who have announced that Europe’s current experiments with technocracy are a fundamental betrayal of democratic principles are being premature: it could work. But here’s the bad news: there is no guarantee that it will work.’
– David Runciman on whether it will be all right in the end (January 2012)

‘In as much as they are unelected experts who exist at arm’s length from any parliament, independent central bankers might be described as “technocrats”. But to compare them to other technocrats (energy regulators, say) would be a gross mistake.’
– William Davies on central banks and banking (February 2017)

‘Four years of Eurocrisis have left us with technocracy on the one hand and populism on the other. The two positions seem completely opposed, but in fact they have one attitude in common.’
– Jan-Werner Müller on the hollowing of western democracy (May 2014)

‘Greece is one of the main testing grounds for a new socio-economic model of potentially unlimited application: a depoliticised technocracy in which bankers and other experts are allowed to demolish democracy.’
– Slavoj Žižek on Europe and the Greeks (June 2012)


12 August: Distributive Justice

‘Samuel Moyn wants to reinstate socialism – which was, after all, the “central language of justice” globally before it was supplanted by human rights – as an ethical ideal and political objective.’
– Pankaj Mishra on the wrong human rights (June 2018)

‘Distributive justice assumes, as Hume noted, relative scarcity: if everybody had as much as anyone could desire, the question of justice wouldn’t arise.’
– Glen Newey on Amartya Sen (January 2010)

‘In a number of the essays collected here he sounds a lot like John Rawls, who emphasised the importance of distributive justice and the need for social policies that improve the lot of the least well-off: a far cry from Friedman’s market liberalism, and from the neoliberalism of today. This was a road not taken.’
– Katrina Forrester on Karl Popper (April 2012)

‘His theoretical reach fumbles where his statistical grasp is sure, and he leaves intact the questions of economic value, distributive justice and capitalist dynamics that he raises.’
– Benjamin Kunkel on Thomas Piketty (July 2014)

‘Tony Blair thought well of Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy, while misreading it. He was all for the meritocracy, and the author was not.’
– Karl Miller on the 1950s (July 2013)