An interview with Frank Furedi
Mark Thwaite Zero, began with Punk, helped puncture cultural
elitism. After 1968, post-structuralism theorised multiplicity over
Truth. Both these strategies had exhilarantly anti-authoritarian
tendencies but their excesses have now become anti-intellectualism.
How do you prevent your call for an intellectuals revival avoiding
the opposite distinctly authoritarian tendencies?
Frank Furedi "Intellectual and cultural movements always
contain the potential for both opening up and closing down discussion.
This was something that I learnt through my engagement with the
sixties experience. I suppose as individuals we find it difficult
to maintain a consistent free-thinking and questioning stance. That
is why in the end we can not rely on the energy and creativity of
the individual but on the maturity, confidence and involvement of
the wider public. The best antidote to the emergence of illiberal
and authoritarian intellectual trends is a questioning and critically
MT You were a founding member of the RCP back in the early
70s and a key figure subsequently in their political journal Living
Marxism and later LM. Are you politics still revolutionary and/or
FF "I find it difficult these days to give myself a
publicly defined political/ideological label. Why? First because
many of the 19th century labels have lost much of their meaning
in our era. Secondly, and more importantly, I find the conventional
terms quite confusing. Many of the ideas associated with contemporary
leftism - worship of the state, its addiction to conspiracy theories,
its dislike of experimentation, its instrumental approach towards
free speech and knowledge, its ambivalence towards the ideas of
progress and development, its paternalistic orientation towards
the public - are ones that one classically associates with conservatism.
So being leftwing today is often associated with the absence of
a transformative impulse and on the history making potential of
Whether we like it or not, we are living through a pre-political
era. As a result if one wants to be relevant one can have political
sensibilities but not clearly defined world-views. For a variety
of reasons, communism has little content today - so I would not
call myself one. Even in the old days I never called myself a revolutionary
- that's always for history decide.
My main political project is to do what I can to promote the ideas
associated with the enlightenment and to try to give humanism a
contemporary and future oriented meaning. In contrast to previous
times, one needs to give great consideration to the question of
individual subjectivity - the development of a more robust sense
of self is the precondition for creating an environment hospitable
to radical thought."
MT Where does Marx figure in your thinking now?
FF "Marx continues to exercise an important influence
on my thinking. I regard him as the most systematic exponent of
Enlightenment thinking. In particular his emphasis on a human-centred
view of history and the transformative potential of subjectivity
represent a significant contribution to development of humanist
MT Is the call for intellectuals to stand up and be counted
a call for the return of a kind of vanguard?
FF "Not at all. We need intellectuals to take themselves
more seriously, to explore new ways of interacting with a wider
audience and adopt a more intelligent relationship to the future.
The last thing we need is for intellectuals to transform themselves
into a distinct group. We need a genuine clash of views about the
key questions facing our time and we need to do that in public."
MT Blair or Meacher? Or is party politics and the democratic
dance an avoidance of real politics? What are or should be real
FF "This is a very difficult question and the fact
that I can not give you a clear answer is a source of immense frustration
to me. At least provisionally I approach politics with a degree
of hesitancy and ambivalence. Despite my reservation about the contemporary
state of politics, I am very concerned with the all-pervasive anti-political
Cynicism and cheap-jibes at political life are symptoms of a defeatist
climate of disengagement. If we take our ideas seriously we need
to interact with formal politics. However, that alone will make
very little difference. In our pre-political time, the most important
contribution that can be made is to try to influence the public
agenda, try to reformulate the issues of our time and genuinely
question everything. For me, real politics today is inseparable
from involvement in a battle of ideas. It is only when we begin
to take ideas a bit more seriously, that we can move towards a more
democratic and genuinely participatory situation."
MT What are you working on now? What is coming next?
FF "I am working on a project, which is tentatively
titled the Politics of Fear or maybe The Fear Market. The aim of
this work is to look at the way that fear has become institutionalised
and politicised and its impact oncontemporary subjectivity.
MT How do you write? Longhand, straight onto the computer?
FF "I always work on 2-3 projects at the same time
so I need a notebook to write down 'insights' and unexpected thoughts.
But I am a real computer person and when I write it is straight
unto the computer.
MT What is your favourite book/who is your favourite writer?
FF "My favourite novel of all times is JT Farrell's
Studs Lonigan. I love all of Farrell's Chicago novels, which are
now sadly out of print. I am not sure if 'favourite' is the best
adjective to use - but when I feel in need of intellectual stimulation
- I sometime re-read something by Gyorgy Lukacs."
MT What book do you wish you had written?
FF "Without a doubt Christopher Lasch's The Culture
MT What are your favourite web sites Frank?
FF I am a website junkie. Every morning I look at Arts and
Letters Daily. I often contribute to my favourite web site, which
is spiked online. I also use Powerreporting when I need to find
MT Do you have any tips for for the aspiring writer!?
FF "Don't worry about the writing - spend a lot of
time on working out what it is you are trying to say."
MT Anything else you'd like to say?
FF "Thanks so much!"
MT Thank you very much for your time Frank - all the very
published on the ReadySteadyBook website, 22 October 2004