Frank Furedi

Professor of Sociology at University of Kent, and author of Politics of Fear, Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?, Therapy Culture, Paranoid Parenting and Culture of Fear.

Reviews of Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?
Continuum Press, September 2004
See publisher's page about this book

Roger Doyle
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 Irish radio.'

read the full article, 'Philistinism... an aerial view' [pdf format]

Dylan Evans
Guardian, 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 mostly negative.

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.

Dennis Glover
The 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 trade skills.

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 - "intellectuals".

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 claim.

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 deserve better.

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
The 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 bites.

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 Said.

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 elitists.

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.

Theodore Dalrymple
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 don’t know, I wasn’t 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 Furedi’s view, the relentless drive to ‘inclusiveness’ in institutions such as universities and museums arises from the loss of the traditional cultural elite’s 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 don’t 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 everyone’s intrinsic worth.

Furedi’s 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.

Terry Eagleton
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 be left-wingers.

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 as "book".

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.

Roger Scuton
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 Furedi’s 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 Furedi’s 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 Foucault’s or as empty as Rorty’s — 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 conservative) man.