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We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation - the custodians of the country in which we meet - and acknowledge their Elders, past and present.

Democracy is Not Worth Dying For

Masha Gessen [RUSSIA/USA], Paul Ham, David Runciman [UK]
Chaired by Geraldine Doogue
Sun 25 August 10:45am
Sun 25 August 10:45am
Perhaps the price of democracy is too steep.

Is democracy truly worth dying for? Using history and modern politics we dissect the ideal of ‘democracy’, challenging romanticised ideals and exposing inherent vulnerabilities. In an era of political turmoil, is it time for society to confront the sobering reality: perhaps the price of preserving democracy is too steep. 

Masha Gessen’s appearances at Festival of Dangerous Ideas have been made possible by the support of Bill Manos and the Manos Foundation. 
Stable democracies retain their extraordinary capacity to stave off the worst that can happen without tackling the problems that threatened disaster in the first place.
David Runciman

Masha Gessen [RUSSIA/USA]

Masha Gessen is an opinion columnist for The New York Times and a Distinguished Professor at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. They have written extensively on The Russian-Ukrainian war, Israel/Palestine, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump. They have won numerous awards, including the George Polk Award, the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thinking, and the National Book Award. Their books include Surviving Autocracy and The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia.


Paul Ham

Paul Ham is the author of 12 books, including Passchendaele: Requiem for Doomed Youth (2016), 1914: The Year the World Ended (2013), Hiroshima Nagasaki (2011), Vietnam: The Australian War (2007) and Kokoda (2004). Passchendaele won the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction. Hiroshima Nagasaki was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for History and is being made into a 6-part TV series by an American-British-Australian production team. Vietnam won the New South Wales Premier’s Prize for Australian History and was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award (2008). Kokoda was shortlisted for the Walkley Award for Non-Fiction and the New South Wales Premier’s Prize for Non-Fiction. Sandakan: The Untold Story of the Sandakan Death Marches, was published in 2012 and was also shortlisted for the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for History. A former Sunday Times correspondent, with a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics, Paul lives in Paris and devotes his time to writing history and (when possible) to teaching Narrative History at Sciences Po, France’s preeminent tertiary school for the humanities.

Photo: Mark Friezer


David Runciman [UK]

David Runciman is Professor of Politics at the University of Cambridge and was Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies from 2014-2018. He is the author of many books, including The Confidence Trap, How Democracy Ends, Confronting Leviathan and The Handover. His most recent book is The History of Ideas: Equality, Justice and Revolution, based on his popular podcast series Talking Politics. He currently hosts the podcast Past Present Future. He is a contributing editor at the London Review of Books, where he has written widely about contemporary politics. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society of Literature.


Geraldine Doogue

Geraldine Doogue has had a long career in various arms of Australian journalism. She is currently the co-presenter, with Hamish Macdonald, of the podcast/RN program Global Roaming, which focusses each week on international developments that influence Australia’s place in the world. For the previous 18 years Geraldine presented RN’s Saturday Extra, which specialised in foreign policy, regional issues, good books, good travel. Geraldine’s career highlights include setting up the influential social affairs programme Life Matters on Radio National (now RN) in 1993; hosting ABC TV’s Nationwide in the 1980s and presenting Australia’s long-standing religious affairs programme Compass, on ABC TV, for almost 20 years until 2019. Geraldine was awarded a Churchill Fellowship for social and cultural reporting in 2000. She co-authored Tomorrow’s Islam: Uniting Age-Old Beliefs and A Modern World (2005); in 2014 she released The Climb: Conversations with Australian Women In Power. She has received several Honorary Doctorates of Letters from Australian Universities and was awarded an Officer in the Order of Australia awards for distinguished service on ethics, values, religion and social change. Geraldine was admitted to the Australian Media Hall of Fame in 2018.

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25 August
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