with a stir in many camps
Deborah Hope interviews a campaigner against falling education
standards and inhibited parenting who is about to visit this country.
As a Trotskyist in the heady atmosphere of late 1970s London, Frank
Furedi founded the Revolutionary Communist Party, a splinter party
of the extreme Left. Three decades later the articulate, ubiquitous
University of Kent sociologist, prolific author and serial stirrer
is better known as a darling of the Right who has got up the collective
nose of everyone from environmentalists, animal rights activists,
regulators, the cultural elite, educators, parents and politicians.
Furedi's radical stance of questioning received wisdom - from the
ban on human cloning to blaming human behaviour for global warming
and what he calls the empty celebration of multicultural touchstones
such as diversity - has won him numerous enemies on Britain's Left.
George Monbiot, the prominent left-wing author and columnist for
London's The Guardian newspaper, has dubbed Furedi the godfather
of what he claims is a secretive, cult-like organisation with a
far Right, corporatist agenda and, according to the sociologist,
has tried to have him sacked from his academic post.
On the eve of a speaking tour to Australia, where he is a star
attraction at Brisbane's Ideas Festival, a Queensland Government-backed
talkfest, Furedi denies he can be described as "a person of
the Right", telling Inquirer: "I haven't really changed
but the world has changed a lot."
Suspicion of the state is the unifying theme of his work. But while
many of the ideas he extols in his books and articles point to a
strong streak of libertarianism, Furedi rebuffs suggestions he can
be characterised in this way, preferring the label humanist.
"There are different kinds of libertarianism," he says.
"There are libertarians who are obsessed with the free market
and think that's the high point of civilisation. I would see myself
as a libertarian who sees the importance of liberty and tolerance
and genuine liberalism, not the way it is understood today. I actually
think that as a humanist I would have been on the Left side of virtually
every major controversy of the past 300 years."
According to Furedi, the ideals of the Enlightenment, "daring
to know and a powerful humanist vision", are the inspiration
behind his belief in human potential to solve problems, from the
millennium bug to global warming and the root of his dismay at what
he sees as cultural pessimism, suspicion of science and technology
His is the key name behind the Manifesto Club, a new online forum
set up, its website says, to tackle the cultural pessimism "gripping
Western societies ... despite the significant achievements of the
past two centuries". Certain to raise eyebrows is the club's
second principle: support for "experimentation in all its forms
- scientific, social and personal".
Born in Budapest in 1947, a little more than a year after his mother
returned from a concentration camp, Furedi spent his childhood in
the Hungarian capital. His father and older sister were embroiled
in the country's 1956 revolt. When it was defeated the family fled
to Austria, ending up in Montreal, where Furedi discovered left-wing
politics as a student at McGill University.
Even in those days, Furedi says, he was regarded with suspicion
by fellow travellers and sometimes accused of being "a lackey
to fascists" for his insistence right-wing opponents be given
a voice in campus debates.
According to Furedi, he often finds himself in rows with right-wingers.
"They think the free market will solve all of our problems,"
he says. "No.1, there has never been a free market. No.2, it
is not going to solve all of our problems. I also happen to think
that governments have an important role to play in providing certain
No matter what his politics, Furedi's appeal lies in his ability
to diagnose and articulate the West's malaise.
His arguments against the dumbing down of education in Where Have
All the Intellectuals Gone and regarding the dangers of over-cautious
child-rearing in Paranoid Parenting ring as acutely in the Australian
context as in Britain or the US. In his latest book, Politics of
Fear, he argues that the disorientation and disenchantment of people
with the traditional Left-Right political divide has created a vacuum
that has been filled by "negative politics" and fear-mongering
on the part of politicians and what he calls "fear entrepreneurs".
"What you were left with by the end of the 1980s was a fairly
narrow, managerial rhetoric that had very little substance to it,"
he says. "In that situation governments and political parties
find it very difficult to project a positive view of the future
and feel much more comfortable with warning us about the dangers
ahead." They include terrorism, childhood obesity, avian flu,
climate change and genetic modification.
Furedi does not argue that we fear more than in the past but that
we fear very differently and that it has left people feeling helpless
and risk averse. "In previous times when we feared it often
brought us together, like in the Blitz in London," he says.
"Fears were very specific things you could do something about.
The fears we have today are mediated through CNN. They might be
things we hear about going on in Vietnam or Turkey or god knows
where and we see their impact on the imagination, but these are
fears we can do little about. Usually you can flee when you fear
something or fight it. But these things are simply suffered."
Furedi says the result of faceless, generalised fear can be seen
in diminished human relationships, in paranoid parenting and in
the delayed adolescence evident among young adults.
When it comes to identity, another red-hot theme in Australia,
Furedi is impatient to bypass hurrah words such as diversity to
get down to the "real values we sign up to, not the bullshit
ones like diversity, but the real ones that tell us what is right
published on The Australian, 25 March 2006