Rory Stewart investigates The Long History Of Argument for BBC Radio 4

rory stewart the history of argument bbc radio 4

In BBC Radio 4’s The Long History of Argument, former MP Rory Stewart is set to explore the strange human phenomenon of arguing and why it matters so deeply to our lives.

History of argument

For millennia, argument has been the way in which we have answered the deepest questions of philosophy, established scientific rules, and made legal decisions. 

It is the foundation of our democracies and the way in which we choose the policies for our state.

But what can we learn from the history of argument? How can we have better arguments? And what does our culture of arguing in the social media age tell us about ourselves now?

Rory Stewart – a former Conservative MP and leadership candidate – grew up believing that the way to reach the truth was through argument. 

He was trained to argue in school, briefly taught classical rhetoric and he became a member of parliament. But the experience of being a politician also showed him how dangerous arguments can be, and how bad arguments can threaten our democracies, provoke division and hide the truth.

In The Long History Of Argument, Stewart will start in the ancient world and explore why speaking and arguing well was seen as the key to a good education and the cornerstone to civilisation. 

He will learn why modern Europe turned against argument and why rhetoric became a dirty word. And he will argue that our democracy and humanity depends on rediscovering how to argue well.

Featuring academics, politicians, commentators and students from across the political and ideological spectrum, including George Osborne, Nadia Whittome, Ash Sarkar, Sam Leith and Kirsty Brimelow QC, Rory discovers how our history of arguing has shaped who we are.

“We live in a time when argument defines us and divides us”, Stewart said. “I saw this so intimately and directly as a member of parliament. 

“We all feel it through the intensity of arguments on social media. But for all its dangers, I still passionately believe in the value of argument. 

“In this program I try to show the long, often beautiful history of argument and why arguing well and truthfully matters so much to our democracies and our lives.”

Daniel Clarke, Commissioner for Radio 4, said: “In our often polarised world it can feel like we have forgotten how to disagree with one another in constructive and civil ways. 

“This brilliantly clear-thinking series places argument centre stage when it comes to trying to understand our history and culture – and makes a powerful case for just how important the art of disagreeing well is to a healthy and empathetic society.”

The Long History Of Argument (3 x 30’) is a new series hosted by Rory Stewart. It is a BBC Audio North production for BBC Radio 4. Dan Tierney is the Producer. 

The Editor is Tim Pemberton. It was commissioned for Radio 4 by Daniel Clarke.

It will be broadcast weekly at 9am on Radio 4 from Tuesday 19 July, and it will be available on BBC Sounds.