[Marxism] Furedi and the Therapeutic State
plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Sun Apr 4 20:50:41 MDT 2004
No doubt there are parts of Furedi's book which are true. He has for
the past decade or more pointed to real trends that exist in society and
which have negative effects on any serious project for human emancipation.
However, there are some rather serious problems with his analysis.
Gramsci pointed pout 70 years ago that the old (capitalism) is dying
while the new (socialism) cannot yet be bron, and that in the interrgnum
come the 'morbid symptoms'.
The fact that capitalism has staggered on past its use-by date and that
the 1980s and early 1990s sought the roll-back of much of the old labour
movement and left certaily resulted in the strengthening of the morbid
The first thing Furedi, unlike Gramsci, shies away from is locating the
morbid symptoms within the context of a decrepit social order. Furedi,
now that he's a professor, won't - to use Mike Yates' term - 'Name the
System'. Instead he just talks in general terms about a malaise in
society, as if this is any old society, not a specifically capitalist,
and specifically decrepit, moribund capitalist society.
Secondly, Furedi's books are now getting very dated. It was actually
useful to point to these trends 10-15 years ago when they were new, but
banigng on about them in the same terms years later has the effect of
actually reinforcing the trends and making it look as if nothing can be
done about them. Related to this is the fact that Furedi is now writing
the same book over and over again. The analysis and context is the same
as when he was writing similar books ten years ago. He just sticks down
the template and jargon, and changes the title and some of the examples.
Thirdly, he does not seem to realise that there is now a lot of
(justified) hostility to these trends and that workers in particular are
not dominated by the therapeutic state so much as by the spontaneous
workings of the market. Entirely removed from the world of the working
class and embedded in the world of the middle-aged, middle class
professional, Furedi is obsessed with the same things other middle-aged,
middle class professionals are - but just inverts the obsession - while
imagining, in that rather bizarre way the middle class does, that their
obsessions must be everyone else's. It reminds me of the mother of
the Duchess of York (Sarah Ferguson), when asked where Sarah and Prince
Andrew had met, saying, 'Oh, at polo of curse, where *everyone* meets",
as if the whole world met their spouses at polo matches.
Back in the days when Furedi was the main leader of the British RCP,
they actually had hundreds of members who worked ordinary jobs, plus
they regularly carried ut their own party surveys of opinion among the
masses. So they had some contact with workers' preoccupations.
Now that leadership are leader-writers for the London 'Times' and the
'Daily Telegraph' and events organisers with the Institute for
Contemporary Arts, right-wing institutes and think tanks, and isolated
academics. They haven't a clue where the working class is at, let alone
how it might be moved forward.
Fourthly, you cannot fight the morbid symptoms without being actively
engaged in some kind of political project for human liberation. The
fact that Furedi and his colleagues totally removed themselves from any
practical political activity means all they can do (at best) is harp on
and on and on about the most morbid aspects of the symptoms. They have
no solutions other than to repeat the same banality year in and year out
about the need to restore human subjectivity, while they themselves have
abandoned the field and abandoned any real attempt to encourage greater
political consciousness among workers - which is the core of developing
You can't hope for the restoration of the idea of the human subject as
the agent of social change just by belating on abut the evils of
capitalism and pretending nothing has changed since the collapse of the
Soviet bloc, but you also can't restore it if you abandon all struggle
against capitalism and just bleat on about how terrible the morbid
Ten years ago, Furedi's call for the restoration of human subjectivity
seemed woefully inadequate and rather trite; years later it is like a
parody of itself.
Someone needs to tell Furedi it's time for a new tune.
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