Furedi's arguments are not simply entertaining or mildly diverting but should be required reading for all those who even pretend to be concerned about the onset of philistinism.
In this succinct and sharply written book, Furedi attacks the "dumbing down" of culture much commented upon on both sides of the Atlantic. Many in higher education, like myself, will have noticed the diappearance of the critical polymath in favour of the "specialist" and bureaucratic manager. There are many other examples here of creeping philistinism throughout institutions that, in the past, prided themselves on high intellectual standards. Pundits and spin doctors have replaced true intellectuals.
Though this is by now a familiar lament, Furedi, who dislikes the term "dumbing down," uniquely points out the reasons why society is dumbing down (for want of a better term) and what we can all do about it. Thus, this book is certainly not another in a long line of empty if heartfelt pleas for a return to a "golden age" by grumpy old men.
Nor does it attack the easy targets of "the corporations" or the sort of people who eat at McDonalds. Instead, Furedi identifies a dominant impetus behind today's problems as the current mania with "inclusion," leading to inclusion for inclusion's sake rather than paying attention to just what people are being included in. A sense of inherent limitations and cultural self-doubt have sent the elite scrambling for legitimacy. Thus, they feel they must lower standards in order to get more people on board, and increasingly they abandon pretensions of universality or the ability of human beings to transform themselves. As Furedi shows, almost no one today will defend knowledge or art for its own sake. Instead, culture is increasingly justified in economic, therapeutic, or even health terms in order to sell it anew.
Furedi is a radical democrat and expresses an all-too-rare optimism about human capabilities, which instantly separates this book from conservative jeremiads. He does not attack the spreading of culture to the masses but the flattery of low standards in the name of "esteem." As Furedi points out, the elite's dim view of human potential belittles the people they purportedly wish to include.
This book not only cuts through stale left/right discussions, it is a call to arms for those who still believe in human potential, in excellence, and in the possibility of the transformation of oneself and one's surroundings. Praised across the spectrum by philosopher Roger Scruton and Marxist social critic Terry Eagleton, it contains, as Eagleton noted, an "explosive argument." Let us hope that it is the first foray in a cultural war against the new philistines. Read it.