Reviews of Where Have All the Intellectuals
Continuum Press, September 2004
publisher's page about this book
Journal of Music in Ireland, May-June 2005
'Every musician I know feels frustrated that they can’t reach
wider audiences and feels as though something is wrong that they
can’t put their finger on. Sociologist Frank Furedi, author
of Where Have all the Intellectuals Gone? – confronting 21st
century philistinism, has the aerial view and it’s just as
disturbing as atmospheric pollution. This article lays out Furedi's
arguments and places some of the issues raised in the context of
read the full article,
'Philistinism... an aerial view' [pdf format]
11 December 2004
Future generations will look back on this decade as a period of
far-reaching and hotly debated changes at all levels of the British
education system. What their verdict will be, however, is far from
certain. According to those in the current Labour government, they
will regard these changes as having ushered in a golden age of educational
opportunity for all. According to others, our grandchildren will
curse us for having deprived them of all contact with the best that
has been thought and said in the world. Or they will simply wallow
in ignorance, unaware of their cultural poverty.
Frank Furedi is definitely in the latter camp. In his provocative
new book, Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?, Furedi argues
that the expansion of higher education in the UK has occurred side
by side with a widespread erosion of educational standards and a
steady rise in cultural illiteracy. The explanation for this paradoxical
state of affairs lies, according to Furedi, in the rise of an instrumentalist
ethos that treats knowledge and culture as means for achieving economic
and political objectives rather than as ends in themselves. The
pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is now regarded by the political
elite as a bit dodgy (to quote Charles Clarke, the secretary of
state for education); instead, education must now justify itself
in terms of the economic benefits it provides to stakeholders.
Furedi bemoans the bureaucratic procedures that the government
has imposed on universities and colleges which measure performance
according to criteria that satisfy the demands of external auditors
for numerical data, but which have little to do with genuine learning.
And he skilfully identifies the central problem with this audit
culture - namely, that it does not merely measure, but also radically
transforms how educational institutions operate in ways that are
Furedi is not the only one to decry the dumbing down of contemporary
culture, and nor is the philistinism he condemns limited to the
UK. Over the past few years, a growing number of critics both at
home and abroad have made similar observations. Such criticisms
are usually dismissed by politicians as elitist, but Furedi makes
a powerful case that it is the politicians themselves who are guilty
of elitism. Their willingness to lower standards in the name of
"widening access" and "public participation"
betrays an implicit pessimism about the intellectual potential of
the general public.
By contrast, Furedi is unashamedly optimistic about the capacity
of ordinary people to benefit from demanding forms of cultural and
educational experience. He castigates woolly educationalists for
treating students as fragile creatures whose self-esteem will be
irreparably damaged if they are ever allowed to fail, arguing that
such low expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies. Instead,
he proposes an inspiring vision of hungry minds that need solid
food, not bite-sized nuggets that offer no real nourishment.
Furedi's confidence in the desire of ordinary people to engage
with demanding forms of cultural experience, and in their capacity
to benefit from such engagement, is touching but rather starry-eyed.
People with a genuine thirst for culture are always in the minority
- they are never ordinary people, but always extraordinary. When
it comes to the acquistion of culture, there is no such thing as
democracy. The philistines will always be with us.
The title of the book is somewhat misleading, as it deals not so
much with intellectuals - with people - as with the general climate
of anti-intellectualism that currently predominates in our educational
and cultural institutions. So Furedi's thesis cannot be rebutted
simply by claiming that there are plenty of intellectuals around
today, nor by pointing to the list of "the top 100 British
public intellectuals" that the magazine Prospect recently published.
Furedi would probably argue that many of those in Prospect's list
do not deserve to be included, since he believes that being an intellectual
implies social engagement. Scientific or artistic achievement by
itself is not enough. For Furedi, an intellectual is not a mere
specialist, but someone whose interests are wide-ranging and who
grapples with the important social issues of their time. This last
qualification struck me as rather restrictive. Some of the greatest
intellectuals have taken very little interest in politics. Great
scientists and great artists are often precisely those who rise
above such vulgar matters and seek something greater - truth in
the one case, beauty in the other.
Despite my quibbles, I warmly recommend Furedi's new book to the
politicians, civil servants, vice-chancellors and headteachers who
control educational policy in Britain today. But if the cultural
mandarins ignore this book, as they probably will, then I hope that
it may at least inspire rank-and-file professionals - lecturers,
teachers, researchers - to resist the philistine agenda that they
are urged to implement, and to offer their students a grander and
bolder vision of the life of the mind.
Age , 4 December 2004
The most disappointing moment in the last election campaign was
the triumph of anti-intellectualism contained in John Howard's claim
that the Labor Party cares more about university education than
There is, of course, nothing wrong with acknowledging the importance
of trade skills - in reality both parties did (the conservatives
merely delivered their message better) - but that wasn't the Prime
Minister's real point. Who actually believes the Brahmins of Sydney's
North Shore lie awake at night worrying about the people they ask
to come in through the tradesman's entrance? No, it wasn't praise
for tradesmen, it was code for attacking that insidious tribe -
As Frank Furedi argues in his new book, Where Have all the
Intellectuals Gone?, it was always going to work because anti-intellectualism
is now all-pervasive. Bashing intellectuals, those out-of-touch
elites, is now a default argument for politicians of all shades
and lies at the heart of what's wrong with our political system.
We probably say this after every election, but never have Australians
been so uninterested in a political campaign, so sickened by the
negativity and lack of new ideas. "Give us something inspiring"
was a constant lament in the letters pages. Furedi's passion is
to make us understand why so many are so sickened that they turn
off. His answer is that anti-intellectualism is robbing our democracy
of its integrity and vitality. His argument is compelling and important;
a rallying call against the growing philistinism of modern democracy.
Two of the key objects of intellectual inquiry are the disinterested
search for the truth and determining what constitutes a good society.
As Furedi reminds us, ridiculing these endeavours has serious consequences
for everyone, not just political philosophers. Once the truth loses
its importance, we cease to care when our leaders lie and, once
we accept that they do so, regularly, we lose our respect for them.
Once we stop caring about what a good society is, ideals cease to
matter, and instead of being a clash of competing ideas about what
sort of nation we should be, democracy becomes technocratic and
dull, and electioneering becomes a series of appeals to our xenophobia,
fear and greed.
Voting comes to have little meaning and people disengage or vote
for candidates such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom Furedi shrewdly
calls a symbol of "the inexorable decline of the authority
of ideals". Assuming that no one cares because the issues are
too complex, politicians make the problem worse by dumbing their
messages down further in an attempt to connect. We end up with two
competing visions: someone wearing L plates and someone saying "ease
the squeeze". Is it any wonder so many are so uninspired?
Furedi sees the decline of politics as only the most public feature
of the universal blight of "dumbing down". Assuming people
lack the capacity to aspire to better, those in charge of our culture
have turned our museums into amusement parks, libraries into community
centres and universities into TAFE colleges. Anyone who has visited
the National Museum of Australia in Canberra will nod at Furedi's
The controversy at the museum has been over ideology, but its real
failure is that it treats its visitors like children and fails to
inspire or inform. How many children will be turned into historians
by a visit to the museum, compared with those who visit the far
more elevated and dignified War Memorial?
Although professor of sociology at England's University of Kent,
Furedi has drawn attention to one of Australia's big problems -
a depressing dumbing down when we should be wisening up, and a loss
of confidence on the part of our cultural and intellectual leaders.
He attempts an answer, which has some potency, even if it has little
chance of being adopted. Instead of flattering the public and appealing
to the lowest common denominator, we should be challenging them
to aspire to better, for themselves and their nation. We think it
is more "democratic" if we simplify every issue and by
weakening the authority of so-called elites who insist that people
But as Furedi says, this is at heart an elitist project of the
worst sort. It assumes the average person lacks all capacity for
discernment. As many writers on the left, notably Christopher Hitchens,
have said, the attack on tertiary-educated, cultural elites is invariably
the cynical affectation of a manipulative and exclusivist economic
elite. Have a good look at some of those promoting the cult of "the
tradie"; they're often well-heeled commercial lawyers, whose
children have followed them into commercial practice, sometimes
in New York. Their children tend to marry other commercial lawyers
too and ask the plumber to use the back gate.
All of this is easy to say for those who don't have to read the
reports of opinion pollsters and market researchers telling us that
people have switched off. But as Furedi points out, the dumbing
down, the gimmicks and the bashing up of intellectuals aren't succeeding
in engaging people in our political system or solving our nation's
long-term economic, environmental and social problems. It certainly
isn't increasing the primary vote of the left.
Furedi believes it's time for intellectuals to engage with the
public's desire to be taken more seriously. Whether it's in the
area of culture, economics, education or politics, engaging with
more people doesn't require a fall in standards. A leader with the
courage to reject philistinism and gimmickry and raise the tone
of politics just enough to not commit political suicide might just
capture the hearts and minds of the people.
Kelly Jane Torrance
American Enterprise Online, November 2004
The intellectual was once seen as a solitary, driven being, searching
passionately and single-mindedly for the truth. But what happens
when there is no truth? Or, at least, when nobody believes that
there is any such thing as "one truth"?
The intellectual disappears. Or so a spate of books in recent years
has it. One of the most famous--and controversial--of these was
Richard Posner's biting Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline,
in which he explored why intellectuals have so little influence
on public affairs these days. Posner's rankings of thinkers by media
mentions and scholarly citations got more publicity than his ideas--another
example of celebrity- and rankings-driven culture, perhaps.
American intellectuals are particularly good at navel-gazing. But
the latest entry in this debate comes from across the pond. Frank
Furedi's Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone? Confronting 21st
Century Philistinism (Continuum) is a short (barely more than 150
pages), sharp look at why thoughtful, serious men of letters have
been replaced by well-groomed pundits who can only speak in sound
Furedi easily makes the case that the reason intellectuals are
a dying breed is that their traditional aspiration is no longer
valued. Postmodernism, which became the dominant philosophy in the
academy, holds that there is no such thing as truth. It is elitist
to value one type of experience over any other--and what has been
called "truth" over the years is just the white European
male's idea of truth. The idea that there is a single reality that
intellectuals aim to discover is outdated. Furedi furnishes example
after outrageous example: "'A bit dodgy' is how Charles Clarke,
the British Secretary of State for Education, has described the
idea of education for its own sake, while asserting that his government
has no interest in supporting 'the medieval concept of a community
of scholars seeking truth.'"
One cannot even rely on the supposed guardians of culture to, well,
guard it any longer. "There is a new breed of university managers,
museum and gallery directors, and 'knowledge' entrepreneurs who
regard the content of culture and ideas with indifference,"
Furedi notes. "Their concern is to use culture to achieve an
objective that is quite separate from its inner content."
These managers do not value art for art's sake. Rather, they constantly
ask what art can do for people. Will participating in culture make
people more employable? Healthier? Raise self-esteem? Furedi says
it may seem "mean-spirited" to write about what he calls
"the rise of philistinism" when new cultural events are
popping up everywhere in Britain and America. But these events are
put on strictly to serve a purpose, and a rather mercenary one at
that. Studying a language for the pure enjoyment of learning is
suspect; learning, say, Japanese to be a better businessman is not.
Capitalism and postmodernism only seem like enemies. They actually
have worked together to promote the idea that knowledge is a mere
instrument to other ends.
"The age-old tension between economic calculation, and a commitment
to impersonal and non-instrumental values such as the advancement
of knowledge and science, has meant that the intellectual and the
artist were historically in a state of creative conflict with the
rest of society," Furedi writes. How different things are now.
Today's artists live in Hollywood and think of almost nothing but
economic calculation. Movies, which have become our dominant art
form, are mostly produced based on what executives believes the
public wants, so as to make as much money as possible.
But capitalism is not the real enemy here, and that is one reason
why Furedi's book, despite being repetitive and, at times, a rehash
of ideas said many times by many people over the last couple of
decades, is so refreshing. Furedi is a sociologist who helped found,
in 1981, the Revolutionary Communist Party. He often quotes leftist
darlings Edward Said and Pierre Bourdieu, and not in a bad way.
So one is surprised that Furedi doesn't reflexively blame the market
alone for the dumbing down of culture. In fact, he blames the movement
against elitism, which is filled with sociologists who quote Edward
Promoting the greater participation of the masses in education
and culture "without the maintenance of standards represents
a fraud inflicted on millions of people," he declares. It is
a hollow culture that these leftists want more people to share when
culture can be anything you like. And such a view is really rather
self-serving: "Without meaning, knowledge becomes less the
property of the public than of the specialist, the disciplinarian
and the expert." It turns out the anti-elitists are the real
Who could have imagined a founder of a Communist party with an
understanding of how those who claim to speak for the masses actually
despise them? "Despite its populist rhetoric, the social exclusion
agenda is deeply hostile to genuine popular culture," Furedi
writes. "Genuine popular culture is self-generated rather than
the product of policies that aim to engage the public. Social exclusion
policies, by contrast, aim to shape public taste, standardize it
and ultimately control it."
Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone? has been hailed in Britain
by thoughtful commentators of all stripes--Terry Eagleton on the
left and Roger Scruton on the right. It was just published in this
country and has just as much to say to us. (The book is also filled
with plenty of American examples. A discussion of how dumbed down
Presidential debates have become--Lincoln and Douglas spoke at about
a twelfth-grade level, while Bush and Gore debated at a seventh-grade
level--is just one of many. And he is clearly a Brit who understands
America: "The view that the public is too stupid to grasp the
high-minded and sophisticated ideals of American liberals expresses
a profound sense of contempt for human beings.")
Furedi's call for a "culture war against the philistines"
and a "project of developing society's intellectual and cultural
life through the development of an educated public" may seem
almost naive. But it is also inspiring.
The Spectator, 2 October 2004
When asked to name a British prime minister other than the present
one or Mrs Thatcher, my young adult patients are inclined to reply,
I dont know, I wasnt born then. Such an
answer would not surprise Frank Furedi, the author of this attack
on cultural populism; it is the natural consequence of an educational
theory that makes relevance to pupils pre-existing personal
experience the touchstone of the curriculum. That this theory serves
to enclose pupils permanently in whatever little (and unpleasant)
world they might find themselves so little bothers the educational
theorists that one might easily conclude that the consequence is
an intended one. That is to say, it is a conspiracy by middle-class
theorists against the working class, designed to keep the latter,
individually and collectively, in its place at
the bottom of the social pile.
In Professor Furedis view, the relentless drive to inclusiveness
in institutions such as universities and museums arises from the
loss of the traditional cultural elites belief in its philosophical
right or duty to remain an elite, coupled with a desire nevertheless
to do so. Populism is the means of squaring this particular circle:
while the elite maintains its hold on the levers of power, it pretends
that it is in the process of delivering power to the people, by
means of flattery of the banal, the ordinary, the stupid, the easily
grasped. In the process, of course, culture itself suffers. It becomes
trivial, undemanding and, above all, unimportant.
Professor Furedi laments the passing of the public intellectuals
of real stature: a thousand sound-bites dont make one Bertrand
Russell. I think, however, that he underestimates the extent to
which the ideas of public intellectuals themselves undermined their
own authority by means of the repetitious propagation of mistaken
ideas, not least amongst which was a
false historiography that saw the history of this country (and other
countries) as nothing but a heroic struggle against privilege and
oppression. Since most of them were themselves the product of privilege,
either earned or inherited, it was only natural that they should
turn their criticism on themselves, even if in doing so they were
not entirely sincere.
At the root of our current cultural malaise if you accept
that cultural populism is disastrous from several points of view,
as I do is a failure to make a proper, and indeed vital,
distinction, namely that between elitism and social exclusivity.
While the intellectual and social elites, who owe their prominence
to different qualities, may overlap, they are by no means identical,
and have not been identical for hundreds of years. However,
populist intellectuals have deliberately attempted to conflate the
two in the popular imagination. A taste for what is best in art
and thought is now often misrepresented in the press and in broadcasting
as social snobbery. Such a conflation actually serves to reduce
social mobility, and turns classes into hereditary castes.
As Professor Furedi points out, cultural populists are not democrats.
They are responding to no impulse from below. There is no popular
agitation to demand that the National Gallery should be made accessible
to the partially sighted, to those totally uninterested in art,
or to Somali asylum-seekers. That it is free to all who wish to
enter should be enough: but for the cultural populists, who also
have the souls of bureaucrats, this is not enough; for it gives
them no role to play, and no lever by which they may control society.
Cultural populism is condescension to the population by self-appointed
philosopher-kings who, however, are rather weak on philosophy (they
are rather better at divine right). They believe that the average
man is not capable of appreciating high culture, and that therefore
high culture should be lowered to meet his capacities. Our current
cultural policies are
therefore a cross between infantilisation and psychotherapy: infantilisation
to ensure that nothing is beyond the grasp of anyone, and psychotherapy
to make everyone feel good about himself. The virtue of a museum,
therefore, is to be measured by the numbers who enter it, and by
the degree to which those who enter it represent the population
demographically. This is to assume that the population, while not
up to very much, is nevertheless the best possible. Education is
not learning, it is affirmation of everyones intrinsic worth.
Furedis prose, particularly in the first half of the book,
sometimes exhibits the vices of his discipline, sociology. Isms
and isations litter a page: one might call this the ismisation of
prose, or alternatively isationism. But this should not put readers
off; his little book deals, for the most part, bracingly and astringently
with a vitally important question.
New Statesman, 13 September 2004
The spooky music of Mastermind says it all. Intellectuals are weird,
creepy creatures, akin to aliens in their clinical detachment from
the everyday human world. Yet you can also see them as just the
opposite. If they are feared as sinisterly cerebral, they are also
pitied as bumbling figures who wear their underpants back to front,
harmless eccentrics who know the value of everything and the price
of nothing. Alternatively, you can reject both viewpoints and see
intellectuals as neither dispassionate nor ineffectual, denouncing
them instead as the kind of dangerously partisan ideologues who
were responsible for the French and Bolshevik revolutions. Their
problem is fanaticism, not frigidity. Whichever way they turn, the
intelligentsia get it in the neck.
Which may be why the classical intellectual, in the heroic mould
of Jean-Paul Sartre, Frantz Fanon and Hannah Arendt, seems to have
shut up shop. However, there are deeper reasons for this, as Frank
Furedi makes clear in this vitally important book. We inherit the
idea of the intellectual from the 18th-century Enlightenment, which
valued truth, universality and objectivity - all highly suspect
notions in a postmodern age. As Furedi points out, these ideas used
to be savaged by the political right, as they undercut appeals to
prejudice, hierarchy and custom. Nowadays, in a choice historical
irony, they are under assault from the cultural left.
In the age of Sontag, Said, Williams and Chomsky, whole sectors
of the left behave as though these men and women were no longer
possible. Soon, no doubt, they will take to imitating the nervous
tic by which the right ritually inserts the expression "so-called"
before the word "intellectual". Right-wingers do this
because they imagine that "intellectual" means "frightfully
clever", a compliment they are naturally reluctant to pay to
their opponents. In fact, there are dim-witted intellectuals just
as there are incompetent chefs. The word "intellectual"
is a job description, not a commendation.
One mark of the classical intellectual (more recently dubbed a
"theorist") was that he or she refused to be pinned to
a single discipline. Instead, the idea was to bring ideas critically
to bear on social life as a whole. In this sense, Polly Toynbee
is an intellectual but most Oxbridge dons are not. In fact, a snap
definition of an intellectual would be "more or less the opposite
of an academic". Once society is considered too complex to
be known as a whole, however, the idea of truth yields to both specialism
and relativism. Because you can now know only your own neck of the
woods, the general critique as launched by the conventional intellectual
collapses. There is no longer any big picture, a fact for which
our rulers are profoundly grateful. And given that anyone's view
is now as good as anyone else's, the authority which underpinned
that critique is downsized along with it. To suggest that your anti-racist
convictions are somehow superior to my anti-Semitic ones comes to
sound intolerably elitist. To claim that institutions of culture
and learning should enjoy a degree of autonomy is derided as ivory-towerism.
Yet autonomy means space for criticism as well as space for irresponsibility.
A privileged distance from everyday life can also be a productive
one. Literary academics are more likely than insurance brokers to
A society obsessed with the knowledge economy, Furedi argues, is
oddly wary of knowledge. This is because truth is no longer precious
for its own sake. Indeed, the idea of doing something just for the
hell of it has always put the wind up philistine utilitarians, from
Charles Dickens's Mr Gradgrind to our own Mr Blair. At an earlier
stage of capitalism, knowledge was not so vital for economic production;
once it becomes so, it turns into a commodity, while critical intellectuals
turn into submissive social engineers. Now, knowledge is valuable
only when it can be used as an instrument for something else: social
cohesion, political control, economic production. In a brilliant
insight, Furedi claims that this instrumental downgrading of knowledge
is just the flip side of postmodern irrationalism. The mystical
and the managerial are secretly in cahoots.
With the decline of the critical intellectual, the thinker gives
way to the expert, politics yields to technocracy, and culture and
education lapse into forms of social therapy. The promotion of ideas
plays second fiddle to the provision of services. Art and culture
become substitute forms of cohesion, participation and self-esteem
in a deeply divided society. Culture is deployed to make us feel
good about ourselves, rather than to tackle the causes of those
divisions, implying that social exclusion is simply a psychological
affair. That to feel bad about ourselves is the first step towards
transforming our situation is thus neatly sidestepped. What matters
is not the quality of the activity, but whether it gets people off
the streets. Extravagant justifications for culture are piously
touted: it can cure crime, promote social bonding, pump up self-assurance,
even tackle Aids. It helps to heal conflict and create community
- a case, ironically, dear to the heart of that bogeyman of the
anti-elitists, Matthew Arnold. As Furedi points out, art can indeed
have profound social effects; but it rarely does so when its value
as art is so airily set aside.
The feel-good factor flourishes in education as well. University
academics are discouraged from fostering adversarial debate, in
case it should hurt someone's feelings. Why indulge in it anyway,
if what matters is not truth but self-expression? "Student-centred
learning" assumes that the student's "personal experience"
is to be revered rather than challenged. People are to be comforted
rather than confronted. In what one American sociologist has termed
the McDonaldisation of the universities, students are redefined
as consumers of services rather than junior partners in a public
service. This phoney populism, as Furedi points out, is in fact
a thinly veiled paternalism, assuming as it does that ordinary men
and women aren't up to having their experience questioned. Rigorous
discriminations are branded as "elitist" - an elitist
attitude in itself, given that ordinary people have always fiercely
argued the toss over the relative merits of everything from films
to football clubs. Meanwhile, libraries try frantically not to look
like libraries, or to let slip intimidatingly elitist words such
Furedi, interestingly, does not see market forces or the growth
of professionalism as the chief villains in this sorry story. For
him, the main factor is the politics of inclusion, which in his
view belittles the capacities of the very people it purports to
serve. It implies in its pessimistic way that excellence and popular
participation are bound to be opposites. If Furedi's case is so
forceful, it is not least because he is no cross-dressed version
of Melanie Phillips. On the contrary, he is a radical democrat who
rejects cultural pessimism, decries the idea of a golden age, and
applauds the advances that contemporary culture has made. It is
just that he objects to slighting people's potential for self-transformation
under cover of flattering their current identities.
Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone? is a courageous intervention,
not least because it risks being mistaken for yet another right-wing
jeremiad. It packs a remarkable amount (politics, science, culture,
education, postmodernism) into its 150-odd pages and, true to its
Enlightenment loyalties, couches an explosive argument in admirably
temperate terms. Perhaps its very existence is testimony to the
fact that its own worst fears are yet to be realised.
The Times, 4 September 2004
Frank Furedi is unusual among academic sociologists in that he
has observed the society in which he lives. The result does not
please him, and in previous books he has made vivid criticisms of
our risk-averse, death-denying and generally pusillanimous culture.
He now returns to the fray with an indictment of our intellectual
life. He examines the life of the mind as this can be witnessed
in our universities, in our educational establishment, in political
debates and in popular culture, and in every area he concludes that
philistinism, dumbing down and a growing indifference to truth and
knowledge are the norm.
Nothing original in that, you will say. But the strength of this
book lies in Furedis ability to make new connections, and
to use one social phenomenon to cast light on another. Plenty of
people have lamented the decline in the humanities since Coleridge,
Arnold and von Humboldt advocated their study. But not so many have
connected this decline with the retreat from risk-taking and the
hostility to science. Plenty of people have acknowledged the dumbing
down of the school curriculum.
But not so many have studied the effect of this dumbing down on
debate and discussion, or the consequent casting adrift of democratic
politics from its anchor in rational argument.
For Furedi the growing contempt for objective truth and transmissible
knowledge is the sign of a deeper malaise within society
a loss of trust in rational thought and a flight towards social
inclusion, where this means, in effect, mob rule. The philistinism
of educational theory, the takeover of the humanities by the postmodern
charlatans, the loss of respect for science, and the growing tendency
to put relevance at the heart of the curriculum
all these are signs, for Furedi, of a fundamental repudiation of
knowledge. And this explains the vanishing of the intellectuals.
I had some reservations with Furedis argument. As an Englishman,
I am bothered by the term intellectual, which came late
to our language. Humane education was shaped in our country by Coleridge,
Ruskin, Arnold and in the political sphere Macaulay,
Gladstone and Disraeli, people who would have described themselves
as educated men, but not as intellectuals. The intellectual is a
synthesis of French bohemianism and Russian nihilism. Intellectuals
have an inveterate tendency to be on the Left and to turn on dissenters
with a venom that no educated person could comfortably endorse.
Much of the decline that Furedi is describing in this book could
be described in another way, as the gradual vanishing of the educated
person as the goal of education, and its replacement by the intellectual
instead. Intellectuals are critics of the established order; they
are on the side of the victim, and against the bourgeois normality;
they repudiate discipline, authority, family, tradition, and nothing
gets up their nose so much as the calm forgiving acceptance of human
imperfection. And, as we know from the cases of Marx, Lenin, Mao,
Sartre, Pol Pot and a thousand more, they are dangerous.
Moreover, intellectuals value their oppositional and transgressive
stance far more than they value truth, and have a vested interested
in undermining the practices such as rational argument, genuine
scholarship and open-minded discussion which have truth as
their goal. They will seize on the relativist arguments even
if they are as shoddy as Foucaults or as empty as Rortys
as they will seize on any kind of mumbo-jumbo that silences
the critic and furthers their subversive aims. And when they take
hold of institutions they form a confederacy of dunces
whose first aim is to exclude anyone who thinks out of line.
That is why university departments in the humanities and social
sciences are now such grim, bigoted places, and why Furedi, who
must have one hell of a time in the University of Kent, still tries
to claim the status of a left-wing intellectual, and to conceal
as best he can the truth, that he is a genuinely educated (and transparently