• Frank Furedi
  • Frank Furedi
  • Sociologist, commentator and author
Article

Review by Edward King

Voltaire summarised the Enlightenment notion of tolerance when he proclaimed: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” The sociologist Frank Furedi argues in his new book that we have lost sight of this original idea, the essence of which was later enshrined in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. Whereas tolerance for Voltaire and Mill required “conviction and judgment”, Furedi claims, the modern multiculturalist version “frequently conveys the idea of respectful indifference”. While tolerance was once a way of engaging with differing opinions, today it has become a way of not taking other views seriously.

Furedi rails against a culture that treats the individual as “vulnerable”, in need of constant guidance, and argues that people are more robust than we give them credit for, and capable of making moral decisions. He decries any obstacles to this process of individual decision-making as a sinister species of New Intolerance. He accuses the writer George Monbiot of encouraging a modern-day witch hunt for not allowing climate-change “sceptics” to air their opinions, and argues that all state intervention into private life underestimates individuals’ capacity to make independent decisions.

Furedi has a knack for pointing up contradictions in public discourse and capturing social shifts with pithy labels such as “therapy culture” and “recognition politics”. However, he fails to practise what he preaches when he doesn’t fully address the main philosophical and scientific traditions that contradict his world view, hastily dismissing, for instance, neuroscience research that has highlighted the degree to which actions bypass rational decision-making.

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