Frank Furedi, formerly leader and founder of the small socialist group the Revolutionary Communist Party (Furedi), has written "Politics of Fear" as a new (left) Enlightenment manifesto for our times. Railing against the familiar claim of "There Is No Alternative", he traces this much further than mere neoliberalism. Instead, he argues that the past few decades have seen an enormously widening gap between the ideas of the elite that rule our Western nations and the people they govern, causing the former to be in confusion and doubt over their own values and vision and lack thereof, and the latter to be disenchanted and to retreat from the political sphere.
This in turn leads to a gradual erosion of democracy, when substantial party politics led by ideological vision is replaced by interest group lobbying, lifestyle-based politics and fearmongering. Furedi brilliantly pillories the elitist notions underlying such nice sounding concepts as "social inclusiveness" (which means papering over all conflict and disagreement), "participation and 'having your say'" (which gives everyone a voice, but nobody any real influence) as well as the much trumpeted importance of NGOs and the 'civil society', most of whose leadership consist of professional lobbyists and upper middle class administrators with no incentive to be democratic. He attaches to this a tirade against the politics of fear and a modern "conservatism of fear", which is caused, according to Furedi, because the ruling class has rejected both history (as evil) and the future (as dangerous), and has become so enmeshed in a worldview of total administration of individuals without vision or control that it has totally rejected any possibility of risk or change being good. The exact connection of this to the 'democracy deficit' is not really established, but can be imagined.
Unfortunately, this strongly worded book is marred by the usual flaws of modern 'left Enlightenment' dissent, namely an excessive reliance on the power and greatness of technological discoveries, severed from their social and economic context (i.e., scientism), and an insipid and juvenile anti-environmentalism. Also, Furedi occasionally goes so far in his rejection of the manipulations of the disaffected elite that he starts sounding positively like a liberal conservative, Hayekian style; for example in his outright rejection of government intervention in children's health and child-raising, which in my view are important and legitimate subjects for government intervention. The problem in these cases, as with environmental issues, is not government intervention, but intervention by the wrong government and on the wrong basis. If these flaws could be overcome, the Furedian humanism is one I could definitely subscribe to. All readers interested in political culture should enjoy this book, in particular Will Podmore.