Mark Thwaite After 1968, post-structuralism theorised multiplicity over Truth. This strategy had exhilarantly anti-authoritarian tendencies but its 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 involved public."
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 communist?
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 humanity.
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 thought."
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 Howard? Or is party politics and the democratic dance an avoidance of real politics? What are or should be real politics?
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 mood.
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 of Narcissism."
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 something quickly.
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 best!