Opposition to 'Contemporary Universalism', a text by Andreas Faludi

Frank Furedi, By David Shankbone – Own work, CC BY 2.5.

My encounter with Frank Furedi (2018) came rather late in writing ‘The Poverty of Territorialism’ (Faludi 2018) when I noticed his defence of the position of what have once been ‘new member states’ and now a thorn in the flesh of such enthusiasts of European integration as still exist. New members have no wish to give up nationhood on the altar of a (West-)European liberal consensus insisting that ‘everything goes,’ hence ‘Culture Wars’ in the title of Furedi’s book.

A prolific author, well read, articulate and — unlike me — obviously still mastering Hungarian, he keeps abreast of the most articulate defences of the Hungarian positions. Anyway, in ‘The Poverty’ I merely recount his identifying borders as ‘…so far the only foundation that humanity has discovered for the institutionalization of democratic accountability … Without borders a citizen becomes a subject of power that cannot be held to account: and this is why — from a democratic perspective — it is important to counter the anti-populist crusade against national sovereignty.’ (Furedi 2018, 128) What I could – maybe should — have said is that to say that borders ensure accountability is an utter illusion. Instead, I jumped ahead to challenging the production of democratic legitimacy territory-by-territory.

Nobody’s fool, Furedi is widely published (see: but let the reader be his or her own judge. Anyhow, recently I came across another of his books published only recently: ‘Why Borders Matter’ (Furedi 2021). On the verge of reading it, I found a review by Teodor Gyelnik in the ‘Cross-Border Review‘ of the (Hungarian) Central European Service for Cross-Border Initiatives (CESCI). Having attended some of their meetings, I know and respect the people involved. Also, in an erudite essay in the penultimate Cross-Border Review, Gyelnik (2019) has reviewed my own book giving me much pause for thought.

Reviewing Furedi, Gyelnik keeps more closely to the text. He points out what is already evident from any perusal of his earlier publications that Furedi picks many fights with mainstream liberals and their believes. The target of his criticisms in this, as in other publication is what, to distinguish it from traditional cosmopolitanism with its universal and moral outlook, he calls ‘contemporary universalism’. Gyelnik (2020, 147) summarises it as being ‘…characterized by anti-community dogmatic character with aggressive rejection of nation, national borders, the relating institutions and political categories, like sovereignty, citizenship and even democracy itself. Simply, it [contemporary universalism – AF) has turned itself into a negative and destructive ideology. Instead of controllable national democratic frames and sovereignty, the ideology calls for global sovereignty with global demos.’ Gyelnik also notes Furedi invoking the moral authority of Hannah Arendt warning of the establishment of an unbounded world government being ‘…the literal end of world politics itself’.

Should I rush to check up on Arendt’s, no doubt deep thoughts on the matter? Maybe, but I plead not guilty of wishing for world government. My point in ‘The Poverty’ has been — and I stick to it — that (if they ever have been) ‘…controllable national democratic frames and sovereignty’ can no longer be sustained. In a networked world, they can no longer ensure accountability.

Gyelnik does not engage him on this, nor on any other point. He merely points out that Furedi breaks ‘…from the academic mainstream…’ and that his book ‘…represents and articulates a rather rare conservative approach…’ (2020, 148) He recommends the book to an academic readership interested in such topics. Am I going to learn more than what I know already from Furedi’s previous book which I quoted?