Today the BBC starts another episode in their Reith Lecture Series. The BBC has broadcasted the series since 1948. The Reith lecture series were initiated by Sir John Reith, the first director general of the BBC. He maintained that broadcasting should be a public service which enriches the intellectual and cultural life of the nation. In its long history the series have covered a wide range of topics in the sciences and social sciences. The first Reith lecturer was philosopher Bertrand Russel, speaking about the Authority and the Individual. In economics and the social sciences it has featured names like Arnold Toynbee, John Kenneth Galbraith and, more recently, Anthony Giddens on the Runaway World. Lectures are available online since 1999, but the BBC has also put some historic lectures online.
Lecture 1: Bursting at the Seams
The 21st century will be marked by severe natural resource limits, the rise of new economic powers and the threats of failed states. These are tectonic changes with the potential to unleash global-scale upheavals. Global cooperation of an unprecedented depth and scale will be needed but we are not yet prepared for such cooperation.
The biggest challenges that we face – climate change, alleviation of hunger, water stress, energy – are translated in the shadow of ignorance into “us versus them” problems, with only the weakest links to underlying scientific principles and technological options.
Power and America have seemed synonymous for the last fifty years. No longer. Power in the 21st Century is shifting to the East: to India and above all to China. Facing up to the end of centuries of North Atlantic dominance – first Europe then the U.S. – will pose huge challenges.
This lecture considers the challenges of extreme poverty and the extreme worry of the rest of the world which fears for its own prosperity. It spells out the limits of the free market to solve these problems and proposes a plan of action which presents choices to those listening.
The key political novelty of our age is mass political awareness and mobilization. Mass mobilization has brought the Age of Empire to an end, and accounts for the failures in Iraq. No society any longer tolerates being ruled by another. Social mobilization can be a dramatic force for positive change.