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45 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 05 July 2010

Start The Week pits rational optimism against humane pessimism as Andrew Marr brings together the philosopher Roger Scruton, who argues against the dangers of false hope, and the former chairman of Northern Rock, Matt Ridley, who views the world in a much more rosy light. The historian Peter Hennessy delves behind the country's national security strategy to explore the Secret State, while Linda Colley asks when did Britain's constitution become unwritten.
Producer: Katy Hickman.


    The stringent cuts promised in last month’s budget, the continuing fallout from the economic crisis, war, terrorism and the devastating impact of climate change – read a newspaper and it often appears the world is on the brink. But science writer Matt Ridley argues in his latest book, The Rational Optimist, that not only is life better now for the human race than it has ever been before, but globally both the rich and the poor have benefited from rising living standards. The former Chairman of Northern Rock insists that despite blips, like the recent economic downturn, the overall pattern is one of progress and prosperity, and we have never had it so good.

    The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves is published by Fourth Estate.

    The Rational Optimist

    In The Uses of Pessimism and the Danger of False Hope, Roger Scruton argues that modern society has been greatly harmed by ‘unscrupulous optimism’. He explores the optimistic belief that human society is perfectable – or at least greatly improvable – and suggests that this thinking has led not to Utopia, but to gulags, Nazism and fundamentalism. He attacks the idealism of the left and the Enlightenment vision of progress, but Scruton argues that pessimism, far from denigrating humanity, encourages respect and stability because it recognises mankind’s fundamental fallibility and weakness.

    The Uses of Pessimism and the Danger of False Hope is published by Atlantic Books.

    Roger Scruton

    Somewhere deep beneath the ocean, one of Britain’s four nuclear submarines is out there. In a locked safe on board is a handwritten “last resort” letter from the Prime Minister with instructions for the captain in the case of World War III. Drawing on declassified documents, historian Peter Hennessy’s new edition of The Secret State reveals the full extent of Britain’s Cold War preparations for the brink of destruction. Peter Hennessy talks about life in the age of uranium and how the lessons of the Cold War have shaped our modern security services and the international approach to the War on Terror.

    The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst 1945–2010 is published by Penguin Books.

    The Secret State

    The Magna Carta may have enshrined certain basic rights, but Britain is the only modern democracy with an “unwritten” constitution. The historian Linda Colley argues that the British may have failed to write down their own rights and political principles, but they have a long history of drafting constitutions for the rest of the world. She examines this anomaly and discusses whether the new coalition government would benefit or suffer from a written constitution.

    Linda Colley will take part in the discussion When did the British Constitution Become Unwritten? at the Institute for Government in London on 7 July.

    When did the British Constitution Become Unwritten?


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    Start the Week

    Start The Week sets the cultural agenda for the week ahead, with high-profile guests discussing the…

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