For readers who have lost touch with academia, or never were in touch with it, or are living on a different planet, this book comes as something of a revelation. Frank Furedi, for all his impeccable Marxist-Leninist credentials as founder of the Revolutionary Communist Party, comes across as an Eighteenth Century enlightened rationalist who, taking form as the shade of his philosophical mentor, John Locke, escorts the reader sorrowfully through the intellectual inferno that is the modern canon of sociology. His main theme, which he reiterates several times, is that the idea of toleration espoused by liberal thinkers since the Enlightenment, namely that the truth emerges in the heat and dust of uninhibited debate, has been transformed into an absolute prohibition on passing judgement on anything that could cause offence or loss of self-esteem to anyone who might be listening. Furedi examines various aspects of this new morality before returning in the final chapter to a defence of toleration in its original sense. However, he never makes clear the distinction between courtesy in debate and intellectual freedom, almost as if "rudeness is good" serves to purge inhibitions in philosophy, in the way that "greed is good" is supposed to purge one's inhibitions in economics. But that is where the worship of reason gets you: it closes your eyes to the fact that fundamental human relations are not based on reason, but on contradictory emotions, such as love and hatred, the desire to be together, and the desire to be apart. Professor Furedi is the sociologist. Maybe his philosophy embraces the limits to rationality, only he does not have space to mention it in the book.
One hopes this book will be the first in a series. What Professor Furedi has identified is a pathology of the language. As a rationalist, he is outraged by what people say. But that is only the start. We want to know who they are that use this language of offended rights, why they say what they say, and how this affects their social and productive relationships. Is this linguistic pathology confined to the English language or is it a manifestation of one of Noam Chomsky's absolutes? What have Chinese or Japanese philosphers got to say on the subject, or maybe the bushmen of South-West Africa? Meandering round departments of sociology in England and North America, as they sink into Spenglerian twilight, is hardly the basis for an universal theory. Furedi needs to answer Lenin's question "who, whom?" Moreover, he should face the question of whether or not the New Toleration is the negation of the earlier bourgeois Toleration, dating from the time of the Enlightenment, and, if so, what is going to emerge when the negation is itself negated. In other words, we need a bit of Marxist analysis.
So I strongly urge all readers to buy Professor Furedi's book, ponder it and encourage him to further efforts. How those efforts could best be applied is another matter. According to his biographical details, Frank Furedi was born in Budapest, so he has already drawn a winning ticket in the lottery of life. He might feel he could do more good by introducing the Enlightenment to the countrymen of his birth, who have never known it, rather than trying to resurrect it among the academics of his adoptive culture, who discovered the Enlightenment, and then lost it. Perhaps he has already started.