June 17, 2006

Weekend Reading

I'll have more original material from Lebanon on Monday, material that got put into deep freeze for too long. In the meantime, Alan Johnson interviewed Paul Berman for Democratiya. It's loooooong, but it's the weekend, so read the whole thing.

People with views like mine tried to say, 'OK, Bush is screwing things up, and we must warn against what might be the results. But, meanwhile, we want to propose actions of our own. We don't want to just say "no."' In Terror and Liberalism I tried to revive the idea of Leon Blum, the French socialist, from the 1940s. He proposed what in the US would be called cold-war liberalism, but was in his case cold war socialism - my grandfather's position, by the way. Blum wanted to resist the Communists but he wanted to do it from the left not the right, in the belief that a leftwing opposition was bound to be more effective. Therefore he supported the socialists, and the social democrats, and the trade unionists, and he opposed Communism by being in favour of democratic reforms. My effort in Terror and Liberalism was to revive that sort of idea, in regard to the Ba'athism and Islamism of our own time. People who criticised this idea described it as a 'liberalism for Bush,' but that was never the idea.

In our version of the Third Force we recognised that the Bush administration was not going about things correctly, and so we called for an alternative. Totalitarian movements are fundamentally ideological movements – they are driven by ideas. The ideas they are driven by are modern ideas, even if they are presented as exotic and are clothed in seventh century Muslim robes. If the ideas are modern we can argue against them, just as we could argue against fascists and communists. Winning the argument is actually the only victory that can be obtained. We are facing a mass movement with a huge number of adherents. There is no way we can defeat such a movement with Police or Military force. The only way to defeat such a movement is to convince its adherents and sympathisers, and potential sympathisers, that the ideas of that movement are wrong and ought to be abandoned in favour of better ideas. Now this sounds preposterous to some people who can't imagine that anything can be won by force of persuasion. But what finally caused Communism to collapse was that the Communists themselves recognised that they were wrong and that their own ideas were not worth defending.

In the present case it's more difficult still because these movements are not dependent on states, and the ideas can be held by people in civil society. The possibility of crushing these movements by force does not exist. We have to win by persuasion. That means the central thing that should be going on is a war of ideas - even if, at times, there is also a need for a war of weapons.

The left and the intellectuals in the Western countries ought to throw themselves into these debates and criticisms. But look what has happened. The left, in its great majority, has remained unengaged. It conducts itself as if the only struggle is between Bush and his enemies. You can see this in the last couple of months in the rise of tensions over the Iranian nuclear programme. The more Ahmadinejad threatened to obliterate Israel and build nuclear weapons the more people around the world wrote about…Bush! 'Oh, no! What is Bush going to do?' As if the problem here was Bush! Bush may well be a problem, but the first problem has surely got to be Ahmadinejad. A great campaign should arise to persuade the Iranians and their supporters not to think along these lines. And this is what should have been done with the Islamists and the Ba'athists. But it has not been done.

The crucial place for this war of ideas, by the way, is Europe. In so much of the Arab world, and Iran, it is very difficult to have a serious debate because the conditions don't exist. In Europe they do. And in Europe there is a vast Arab and Muslim population. In fact many of the deep underlying ideas of radical Islamism, Ba'athism, and radical Pan-Arabism were European ideas to begin with. Not all of the ideas, but some of the crucial ones. So the debate should be taking place in London and Paris and Berlin and Madrid. It should be a very forceful debate. We see a right-wing version of it in which there is prejudice and racism against Muslims and against an ancient and noble religion, Islam - which only bolsters the Ba'athist and Islamist arguments. But the left-wing antitotalitarian contribution to this debate we hardly see. It's like a unilateral disarmament on the part of the liberal left and the intellectuals has taken place.

Bush isn't going to do it. He does not want to do it and even if he did, he does not have the talent. It should be done on the left. It should be done by us engaging our fellow thinkers in the Arab and Muslim world (who are becoming ever more visible) and by arguing against the various champions of what I call the Muslim totalitarian idea in its different forms. A Third Force should put its greatest emphasis on that. Military actions and police actions may well be necessary. But they should be put in their place. They are ultimately less important than this battle of ideas.

Totalitarian movements have regularly been greeted by the blindness to which liberalism is prone, and even by apologetics. Hitler, and not just Stalin, had his apologists. Without these apologists neither one of those dictators would have been able to get as far as he did. And what we are seeing now is something exactly parallel. There are only a few screwballs defending Al Qaeda, or Zarqawi in Iraq, or applauding Saddam. But the people who really matter are those (many more numerous) who find some way to say either that these totalitarian movements are normal, natural, rational, or, in any case, that they should be ignored because we should focus our attention on defeating Bush. In these ways, the adherents of the totalitarian movements are not given much opposition and sometimes are even given a back-handed support. So, naturally, the movements prosper.

Alan Johnson : In the meantime, the Muslin democrats who desperately need our support are often ignored. There are very few solidarity movements with the beleaguered Muslim democrats.

Paul Berman: Exactly. And you and I both know that there is nothing more fashionable than to look at some Iraqi liberal democrat and sneer.
UPDATE: Nouri, the Moor Next Door, adds in the comments:
That bottom exchange is so true. I have observed this many times. For instance, I live about 5 minutes away form Yale University by foot, and most book stores in town are frequented by Yalis. I was at the Yale Barnes and Noble one day and overheard a discussion about Islam and democracy and women between several students, one was wearing a keffiyeh the others were average looking college students. The keffiyeh wearing one went and on about how Arabs are mad because they're not united (ha!) and the other nodded noting that Muslim women are not oppressed at all and how culture is relative. I approached them and asked where they got this drivel (more like "Who told you this?") and they said it was obvious from how Arabs have flocked to Iraq, and that pan Arabism is alive and well, blah, and how they heard it (gasp!) from their professor. I said that I, as an "Arab" did not agree and they basically began to yell at me, "no" "no" "no". The one in the keffiyeh called me a "fake Arab" because I was not some semi-totalitarian Baathist. I challenged the idea that Arabs "don't want democracy" using classic liberal arguments, to which they responded were "right wing junk". I told them that Saddam was a prick, that he was a thug, a creton, and that he disrespected minority and majority rights. They wouldn't have it, because you know, Saddam's regime handed out PhDs like there was no tomorrow. I have an aunt (in law) that works at the State Department who tells me that this attitude is really prevelent among diplomats and analists because they deal mainly with elites that are hostile to any sort of democratization. It's a real bougie type of attitude, that I still don't fully understand.
Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 17, 2006 02:47 AM
Comments

Thanks for that link Michael. Berman is one of the leading thinkers on the left. He's right about Europe. I live there, and it is here that the debate should be carried out, because many of the tired ideas adopted by the islamists were developed there and killed millions of people. As he points out, however, the left has failed to take up this gauntlet.

This is an important supplement to Terror and Liberalism.

Posted by: Anonym at June 17, 2006 06:30 AM

Totalitarian movements have regularly been greeted by the blindness to which liberalism is prone, and even by apologetics.

Isn't this the fundamental problem of the Left? It's not a bug, it's a feature! It isn't blindness, it is part of the fabric of left liberalism that I think traces way back to Robespierre. Whether its roots are psychological or philosophical is hard to say, but as an phenomenon it is an inseparable companion and it is one of the main reasons I have never considered myself left. The other main reasons were the pervasive lying, sloganeering, and just plain foolishness about human nature and economics.

I think Berman's further point about the origins of the current Islamist ideas in Europe is correct. The Islamic movement is part of the toxic outflow of romantic left totalitarian ideas that so shattered Europe last century. And the ideas aren't dead yet, even in Europe. I think the intellectual core of these ideas is the emphasis on groups, group rights and social justice, as opposed to individual rights, equality before the law, and liberty. Give up the former and take up the latter and you become a neocon.

Posted by: chuck at June 17, 2006 07:01 AM

The Left is sitting this one out because it isn't "anti-totalitarian" as its core, it's anti-status quo. In the past that may have entailed being "anti-totalitarian," but only because that was the status quo, so they were defined by being against it. Today too the Left defines itself by what it is against-- conservatives, Bush, Western culture, christianity, i.e., the status quo. These are all things that are (in the minds of Leftists) in control, dominant, and not of the "other." The "other" being defined by everything else on the planet that is purportedly afflicted by the status quo. It does not matter how vile and despicable the "other" might be; if it's in whitey's gunsights the Left will rise to it's defense. For any man or woman who takes to the hills, gun in hand, must be fighting for a good cause, and bringing about a better and more just world. Yes, we've seen the "better world" they've wrought throughout the 20th century.

Chuck says Robespierre. Interesting. I hadn't traced them further back than the Bolsheviks. That's not to say that modern day Liberals are Bolsheviks, only that they are the inheritors of that spirit of destruction and anti-status quo that defined Bolshevism. Being anti-status quo is not creative, it's destructive by its very nature. The USSR collapsed because Bolshevism found itself unable to actually BUILD anything. They could only destroy.

The fact is we never won the Cold War as decisively as we should have. Yes, the military threat is gone, but hear we are almost a generation later discovering that the rhetoric of the marxists and their thinking has penetrated every single sphere of our society. You see, Islamo-fascism is explained as the result of "poverty" and "oppression" and "marginalization"-- a classic Marxist interpretation. Leftist ideas about Multiculturalism and de-facto open borders have achieved hegemony in public discourse, their critics vilified and demonized.

So while the "hard" Marxism of the USSR may have collapsed, the "soft" Marxism of the Western Left has actually grown stronger, in part because we deemed it to be less threatening. But their goal of overthrowing the evil, capitalist West (the STATUS QUO) remains the same. That's why the Left is sitting this one out. It isn't anti-totalitarian at it's core-- it's anti-status quo.

Posted by: Carlos at June 17, 2006 08:07 AM

Chuck says Robespierre. Interesting. I hadn't traced them further back than the Bolsheviks.

I thought it curious that Berman stopped tracing the historical precedents of modern totalitarianism at King Leopold and the Belgian slaughter of the Congolese. Yet he does mention its philosophical roots in the late 1700's and early 1800's. Robespierre and The Committee of Public Safety (and doesn't that name have modern resonance) were, I think, the first to put the philosophy into practice. Apart from some 17,000 sent to the guillotine during the Terror, they murdered some 200,000 recalcitrants living in the Vendee in the modern way: shooting some in front of trenches where the bodies would conveniently fall and packing others into barges that were sunk in the Loire. Like other moderns they didn't discriminate between men, women, and children. And shades of the Holocaust, they had plans to eliminate all the German speakers in Alsace-Lorraine. It was also at this time that the left launched the anti-Christian crusade that continues to this day.

Don't blame Canada, blame France.

Posted by: chuck at June 17, 2006 09:11 AM

Carlos: Being anti-status quo is not creative, it's destructive by its very nature.

See, this is the problem with the right. Sometimes the status quo is destructive. You have to take these things case by case.

You surely didn't complain about the left-liberals in Lebanon who opposed Syrian occupation and Hezbollah. (The Maronite right opposed these things too.) The problem is that a few Western leftists I met who actually live in Lebanon wouldn't support these people and chose to sneer at the March 14 movement as the "Gucci revolution."

Most leftists I met there didn't do this, but some did. And lots more in the West did.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 17, 2006 10:08 AM

Also, Carlos, anti-war lefties argue that the neocon opposition to the status quo in Iraq three years ago was destructive. They defended the status quo in that case. So it all just depends.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 17, 2006 10:13 AM

Sometimes the status quo is destructive.

Sometimes the status quo is evil and perverse. But by the very nature of it being "status quo" it cannot be destructive. The status quo seeks to maintain, not destroy.

You surely didn't complain about the left-liberals in Lebanon who opposed Syrian occupation and Hezbollah.

Of course not. Sometimes the status quo requires destroying. Call in the Lefties by all means!

But beware, for once they've destroyed the villain they will set their sights on new "villains" ad infinitum. Because being a "progressive" means never-ending "progress". There's no getting off that train. And if you do get off at a point where you feel comfortable, you're no longer a Leftist-- you're status quo. And now YOU'RE the villain.

Posted by: Carlos at June 17, 2006 11:03 AM

Also, Carlos, anti-war lefties argue that the neocon opposition to the status quo in Iraq three years ago was destructive. They defended the status quo in that case.>

Michael,

because the "status quo" in the minds of the Western Left is western culture, capitalism, whitey, christianity, conservativism, etc. To sum it up in one word-- whitey.

Little brown third-worlders in whitey's gunsights can NEVER be considered status quo. They are fellow resisters of the status quo. That's all they need to have in common. And that PROVES that they are anti-status quo, not anti-totalitarian.

Posted by: Carlos at June 17, 2006 11:33 AM

It strikes me that when we look at thelefties to destroy the status quo, we need to look at how then sto stop them. Cast your mind back to 1968 and the mess that caused. We ended up with the Red Brigade, etc. That is where we need the right to balance the stop the left and that, I think, is what is happening right now. What we see is the left and its failures all over Europe. Right now we really can't afford to let them get in power until the mess left over from their last time being in power gets cleared up.

Posted by: dick at June 17, 2006 01:02 PM

Also, Carlos, anti-war lefties argue that the neocon opposition to the status quo in Iraq three years ago was destructive. They defended the status quo in that case.

Say what? Sorry, I call bullshit here. Are we still using the line that those who opposed the invasion for good, honorable, and prescient reasons were objectively supporting Hussein?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 17, 2006 02:34 PM

.... oooor maybe I misread you. Sorry about that.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 17, 2006 02:37 PM

So while the "hard" Marxism of the USSR may have collapsed, the "soft" Marxism of the Western Left has actually grown stronger, in part because we deemed it to be less threatening.

Uh, what "soft" Marxism? Other than a few intellectuals and academics, and the fringe cultists that are pretty much marginalized, I can't think of anyone who would describe themselves as Marxist.

But beware, for once they've destroyed the villain they will set their sights on new "villains" ad infinitum. Because being a "progressive" means never-ending "progress".

Only if you're a literalist to the point of being institutionalized. Just because some people label a movement "progressive" doesn't mean that they have to continually rack their brains looking for things to be progressive about. Maybe concentrating on the actual ideology would be more productive.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 17, 2006 02:54 PM

You don't have to call yourself a Marxist in order to act like one.

Posted by: Rommel at June 17, 2006 04:10 PM

DPU: maybe I misread you.

I think so.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 17, 2006 04:16 PM

Most politics is not decided intellectually but emotionally. "Emotivism," in philosophical terms. And for many of us, emotionally our sympathies are always with the underdog. This is our first response, or default position.

This means, of course, that the overdog is always wrong.

Posted by: Todd Grimson at June 17, 2006 04:17 PM

For what it's worth, during the Thatcher and Blair governments, the British left have mostly supported the status quo - by opposing: privatisation, changes to the health service, school reform, pension reform, changes to benefits, the criminal justice system etc.

Posted by: Daniel at June 17, 2006 05:25 PM

Chuck,

I did some reading of Spengler from the Asia Times today before I got to Michael's assignment (a good one).

Spengler is a provocative read and points out the case of French hegemonic meddling and perfidy starting with the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) see Sacred Heart of Darkness

I'm pretty sure Cardinal Richelieu wasn't a totalitarian leftist, though the long and bloody wars in Europe he helped propagate and their successors may have provided the some of the anti-religious seed for this ideological development. I'm not saying the TYW was entirely a religious war, but many facets of it were. It started as a German Protestant rebellion against the Hapsburg empire's Catholic dictates.

I think you can draw a partial line of cause and effect from the Thirty Years war which killed half of the German speaking population of Europe thru Bonaparte, the 1870 Franco-Prussian war, and thru WWI and II and find a French skunk (Pepe LePew?) in the works each time. This is a truly long and bloody pedigree.

I'm still playing catchup on learning history and would appreciate any links on how the French Revolution and Marxist-Leninist thought relate.

In any case, I don't subscribe to a cohesive left-as-enemy meme (though I have some suspicions about what projects the Bolsheviks/Stalinists and their successors may have unleashed on America beginning as early as the 1920's - is it possible any of this is still bearing fruit even after the dead hand has fallen away).

I am beginning to suspect a more organic nature to the left - to wit,

I read Paul Berman as:

1) defining liberalism as the compartmentalizing of rational and mystical/religious thought in both an individuals mind and in the state - which I really applauded, because the word liberal gets thrown around alot and you wonder what people mean when they use it. I like Paul's definition. I see this as the human revolution that struck down the Holy Roman Empire and divine right of kings and such.

The 'rationalist naiveté' is built into liberal civilisation and the liberal idea. It's a very deep thing. Liberalism proposes that people should act rationally and that we want to act rationally. Liberalism's first step is to agree that we want to make a division in our own minds and imaginations between the rational and the theological. (/i>

2) completely astounding me with the premise that liberalism as defined above somehow is bound up with totalitarianism and its attendant terrorism.

Totalitarianism, of which terror is an expression, is a rebellion against liberal civilisation and the liberal idea. It is an anti-liberal rebellion which is generated by liberalism itself.

Suppose Carlos is kinda on to something - leftism (or whatever the label) is a reaction. Only not to the Western Civ status quo, so much, but to the dissonance raised by suppressing the normal human magical thought process. That is, the stress induced by trying to map out utopia whilst denying God.

Ow, my head hurts.

Posted by: jdwill at June 17, 2006 05:47 PM

You don't have to call yourself a Marxist in order to act like one.

One doesn't "act" like a Marxist. Marxism is a theory of class and capital. One thinks like a Marxist, and those that do call themselves Marxists.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 17, 2006 05:56 PM

DPU: maybe I misread you.

MJT: I think so.

Then I reiterate my apology. Reading too fast before having coffee.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 17, 2006 05:57 PM

In reading this thread, it seems that a lot of people are equating totalitarianism with the left. Could I point out that they are not one and the same? In Berman's interview, for example, he mentions that his political philospohy derives from an anarchist background, and that anarchism is both socialist and anti-authoritarian as well? Social democracy is another branch of the democractic left, and that even Marxism and Marxist-Leninisim strove for a society without authority?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at June 17, 2006 06:03 PM

it seems that a lot of people are equating totalitarianism with the left.

I may have slipped into that in my writing, but it was not intended. What I am thinking, though, is that many manifestatations of leftist ideology have been either very authoritarian or totalitarian, i.e., USSR, Cuba, China, Cambodia. Maybe these are accidents of history, but probably not. I suspect that anytime someone tries to quickly re-engineer society the game gets rough. The question is, where are the success stories?

I have a rudimentary understanding of the terms Socialist/Marxist/Leninist/Communist but to use a shorthand - by leftist I mean any of these permutations with a distinct animus towards republican/democratic based capitalism.

Posted by: jdwill at June 17, 2006 06:39 PM

jdwill,

The "left" is bigger than Socialists/Marxists/Leninists/Communists. It also includes social democrats (which is how Paul Berman describes himself) anarchists, Greens, and - arguably - conventional liberals.

I have argued before that conventional liberals are in their own category. Hillary Clinton has nothing meaningful in common with Lenin, Stalin, or even Chomsky. But the shorthand phrase "left" in the U.S. pretty much refers to everything left of the moderate center, useless as such a reductionist category may be.

The Jeffersonian school of thought (see Walter Russell Meade) in the US is arguably left, and it definitely pre-dates Marx and is stridently anti-authoritarian.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at June 17, 2006 07:38 PM

Michael,

1) Congrats on the great journalism work

2) The definition thingy is tough

How about ... (long attempt at definitions deleted) ...

Also, my take is that you and others such as Berman are trying to rehabilitate "the left". I am not sure what this new left will have as its ideological roots, though. Like you said, the tent is so big as to not mean much.

Posted by: jdwill at June 17, 2006 08:16 PM

The Jeffersonian school of thought (see Walter Russell Meade) in the US is arguably left, and it definitely pre-dates Marx and is stridently anti-authoritarian.

Christianity is also arguably left and precedes the Marxist knockoff by quite a bit. The early American labor movement, Eugene Debs, Emma Goldman, et. al., was left but didn't have the love of totalitarianism common to the species. I think Berman would like to see that part of the left return and I can only wish him luck with that. One of the differences, as he points out, is that that version of the left arose from labor. What we have now is a pathetic academic and upper class left that is so distanced from reality that it constitutes some sort of freak show.

Posted by: chuck at June 17, 2006 08:33 PM

And not all leftists are liberals.

Marx's philosophy is liberal -- strange liberal, but his basic point is that the workers, as individuals, would be better off collaborating against the bosses. Fabianism is not liberal. The Fabians can be most easily understood as usurpers, asking for support from the Mob on the ground that they'll be nice when they gain power. They don't see the Mob as individuals, only as faceless shouters who support them or their opponents.

Lenin, and even more Trotsky, and the thinkers around them, advanced the concept of "cadre", a group of advanced and knowledgeable people who form the Vanguard of the Proletariat. In the process what is putatively a move toward a classless society becomes a division into two distinct and unequal classes, the Proletariat and the Vanguard. It is Fabianism with the serial numbers filed off. The Cadre becomes the new nobility, and the Proletariat is assigned the Mob role.

One of SF writer Lois McMaster Bujold's characters remarks that democrats can easily cope with a system of nobility, so long as they get to be the nobles. The deeper meaning here is that being "noble" is damned attractive. It more or less defines the noble as being a good guy -- we even use the word that way, e.g., "a noble cause". It's especially attractive to what one might call knowledge workers, specifically academics. They already see themselves as above the herd by reason of their education. It's only a small step to the assumption that they ought to be in charge. So academics have a strong incentive to accept the reasoning, the rationale, that places them in that position, as the Cadre, the teachers of the Proletariat who lead them to freedom.

The wealthy tend to come to a mutated version of Fabianism by another route. "If you're so smart, why ain't you rich?" goes the taunt. The corollary of that is that if you're rich, you must be smart -- and therefore capable of running things. And of course they have the track record of managing their own wealth. Clearly they are better than the common ruck, more apt to manage the society. The (non-rich) jerks doing it now aren't doing such a good job.

And what do we see on the Left today? -- academics and the wealthy. Labor unions? Pooh. It takes about a year for a newly-organized labor union to become a guild, an exclusionary organization dedicated to the aggrandizement of the members and their leaders. Modern labor unions are about as leftist (and about as liberal) as the Clothmaker's Guild of a medieval European city.

A vast number of people came to America, especially from Europe, because they didn't have the Somebody Else's Problem mindset. Like enriching uranium, that small but significant filter separates Europeans (general case, with many exceptions) from Americans (again general.) Americans tend to fall in the "I'll do it myself!" category. Europeans still have the nobility-concept in their minds as desirable; the nobles take care of running the country, and the common people can get on with their lives, with the only requirement being that the nobles be kind about it. The Leninist Cadre fits perfectly into that worldview. Thus socialism advanced in Europe much more than in the United States, where it was (and remains) endemic among the intelligentsia and academics, almost absent everywhere else.

The problem is that socialism doesn't work, doesn't provide the advantages it claims. Marx was wrong, in the special way his physician contemporaries were wrong -- diagnosis acceptable within the knowledge of the day; prognosis not bad, assuming available treatments; prescription scary, bleeding and leaches and arsenic-eating, tobacco smoking as a cure (!) for emphysema. All the theories built on Marx's work, which was pretty much a roundup of the available matters and thus underlies much modern thought, are flawed because built on erroneous material. They make the error the ancient Greeks did: assuming that their own minds contain enough data to "reason" to a conclusion. Can't happen. The Universe is bigger than that.

And that's too much of that. I probably shouldn't even hit "Post", but I'm just egocentric enough to do it. Feel free to delete it if you like, Michael.

Regards,
Ric

Posted by: Ric Locke at June 17, 2006 09:21 PM

Wouldn't mind seeing a Tottenesque version of this. Hopefully they will fall first, though.

Iran is good too!

Posted by: Yafawi at June 18, 2006 12:23 AM

2) completely astounding me with the premise that liberalism as defined above somehow is bound up with totalitarianism and its attendant terrorism.
-jdwill

A lot of liberals want to 'do good'.

The problem is not the desire to 'do good'.

The problem is that a lot of liberals have not spent enough time considering the matter of if the ends justify the means.

The Soviet Union was one of the better examples of where this can lead- a big part of the idea behind the comunist dictatorship was that if a sufficiently smart group of people had the power of the state with which to create the ideal society, a utopia would be achieved more quickly than by other means- basically, the ends (utopia) justified the means (brutal totalitarianism).

For this reason (among others), I am wary of leftists.

One doesn't "act" like a Marxist. Marxism is a theory of class and capital. One thinks like a Marxist, and those that do call themselves Marxists.
-DPU

Not reliably- marxism has been in such bad odor since the collapse of the Soviet Union that most of the people peddling marxist ideas these days call themselves something else.

Marxism didn't go away, it just changed it's name.

Posted by: rosignol at June 18, 2006 03:17 AM

The Jeffersonian school of thought (see Walter Russell Meade) in the US is arguably left, and it definitely pre-dates Marx and is stridently anti-authoritarian.
-MJT

Arguably left? Dunno about that, but I agree about the 'stridently anti-authoritarian part.

From wikipedia:

Jeffersonian political philosophy

Jeffersonians, so named after Thomas Jefferson, support a federal government with greatly constrained powers, as would follow the strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution that Jefferson followed. [...]

Is there a left political party in the US calling for the Federal government to have greatly constrained powers and abide by a strict interpetation of the US Constitution?

Bonus points if you can present evidence of them doing this when the President was from their own party.

Then there's this-

Jeffersonian Democracy

[...] In its core ideals it is characterized by the following key elements:

Government is a necessary evil to be instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation or community.

[...]

Most left-liberal types seem to think of the government as a great and mighty tool that can be used to Do Good™, Right Wrongs™, and Make the World a Better Place™.

I could go on, but it's not my blog.

Posted by: rosignol at June 18, 2006 03:48 AM

That bottom exchange is so true. I have observed this many times. For instance, I live about 5 minutes away form Yale University by foot, and most book stores in town are frequented by Yalis. I was at the Yale Barnes and Noble one day and overheard a discussion about Islam and democracy and women between several students, one was wearing a keffiyeh the others were average looking college students. The keffiyeh wearing one went and on about how Arabs are mad because they're not united (ha!) and the other nodded noting that Muslim women are not oppressed at all and how culture is relative. I approached them and asked where they got this drivel (more like "Who told you this?") and they said it was obvious from how Arabs have flocked to Iraq, and that pan Arabism is alive and well, blah, and how they heard it (gasp!) from their professor. I said that I, as an "Arab" did not agree and they basically began to yell at me, "no" "no" "no". The one in the keffiyeh called me a "fake Arab" because I was not some semi-totalitarian Baathist. I challenged the idea that Arabs "don't want democracy" using classic liberal arguments, to which they responded were "right wing junk". I told them that Saddam was a prick, that he was a thug, a creton, and that he disrespected minority and majority rights. They wouldn't have it, because you know, Saddam's regime handed out PhDs like there was no tomorrow. I have an aunt (in law) that works at the State Department who tells me that this attitude is really prevelent among diplomats and analists because they deal mainly with elites that are hostile to any sort of democratization. It's a real bougie type of attitude, that I still don't fully understand.

Nouri

Posted by: Nouri at June 18, 2006 10:55 AM

"It's like a unilateral disarmament on the part of the liberal left and the intellectuals has taken place."

That's been their standard approach for a long time now.

Posted by: ralph phelan at June 18, 2006 12:55 PM

Interesting read! (OK, I'm a day late with the assignment!)
The thing that bothers me most about the whole right vs. left thing is the refusal to admit the either side MIGHT even have a good idea to build on. Are we so concerned about our own little turf wars that we can't look at the bigger picture and come to some good ideas that we could build on? Would that the Left would take some action and actually talk civilly with the Right, and MAYBE come up with something to build on and progress with!

Posted by: sally0 at June 19, 2006 12:31 PM

The international Left is indifferent to liberty in the Middle East because of the Left's historical emphasis on equality -- and equality can only be achieved by a State that micromanages culture, civil society, and the economy. Therefore Lefties don't have any major problem with dictatorships in the Middle East or anywhere else. There's much more criticism of Bush than of Dear Leader in North Korea, for example. During the 1930s and 1940s, the "progressives" of the period rang the alarm bell about fascism / Naziism, to their great credit. Although some Lefties drifted away from blind support of the Soviet Union, most remained fundamentally sympathetic -- unlike their unyielding opposition to the totalitarianisms of the Right. Even today, there's little interest on the Left in healing the wounds of former East Germany, or any other post-Communist society. Instead, bourgeois democratic capitalism and representative government receive incessent merciless criticism because --the horror, the horror! -- society isn't perfect. To a Lefty, imaginary perfection trumps any reality that is merely pretty good. In addition, the Left's multiculturalism makes it a faux pas to criticize the behavior of any non-white government. The automatic excuse is that the oppression is a justified reaction to Western colonialism and imperialism or whatever. For example, as far as the Left was concerned, the Palestinian Authority could be as corrupt and oppressive as it wanted and still maintain its aura of perfect political correctness. Poor Bush! He's actually interested in liberty for the Middle East, but the Left doesn't give him any credit and never will.

Posted by: Linda at June 19, 2006 05:20 PM

I for one, certainly hope this gets going. America needs a serious foreign policy left that stands for basic human rights and opposes evil. From Dr. Seuss to William J. Donovan, it is not like the tradition is lacking. Not only would such a movement help this nation stand for what is right, but it would no doubt improve the thinking of the right.

I know there are some who do this, but they are being drowned by the Bush-derangement-syndrome types. However, one demerit for setting back the cause by this counterproductive statement:

We see a right-wing version of it in which there is prejudice and racism against Muslims and against an ancient and noble religion, Islam...

Posted by: JBP at June 20, 2006 11:56 AM

I agree wholeheartedly with JBP that a recovery by the Left of the anti-communist, pro-labor, pro-democracy Left of days gone by would be a wonderful thing. Not that there aren't survivors, but they are marginalized and drowned out by the shrill voices of the false pacifists of the Sheehan-ANSWER anti-war crowd and the defeatists of the Murtha-Kerry camp.

A Left that shared the underlying convictions about human freedom and the spread of democracy stated by Bush in his 2004 inauguration speech, but disgreed strongly with the means chosen to accomplish them would be a powerful counterbalance to the right and (as JBP wisely says) would also benefit the right (as vigorous debate between those sharing core convictions tends to).

I hope this develops. Though the recent feeding frenzy against Hillary Clinton for daring to deviate from the anti-war bandwagon doesn't inspire me with confidence.

But, darn it, I want sane Democrats in charge of their party again!

Posted by: Dwight in IL at June 20, 2006 01:43 PM

But, darn it, I want sane Democrats in charge of their party again!

Ditto. There has to be a viable alternative to the party in power in order to keep them honest- if the 'alternative' is run by a bunch of loonies, the party in power can act with impunity, because most people prefer to be governed by people who are competent-but-sleazy to being governed by lunatics.

Posted by: rosignol at June 21, 2006 12:36 AM
Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Pajamas Media BlogRoll Member



Testimonials

"I'm flattered such an excellent writer links to my stuff"
Johann Hari
Author of God Save the Queen?

"Terrific"
Andrew Sullivan
Author of Virtually Normal

"Brisk, bracing, sharp and thoughtful"
James Lileks
Author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food

"A hard-headed liberal who thinks and writes superbly"
Roger L. Simon
Author of Director's Cut

"Lively, vivid, and smart"
James Howard Kunstler
Author of The Geography of Nowhere


Contact Me

Send email to michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com


News Feeds




toysforiraq.gif



Link to Michael J. Totten with the logo button

totten_button.jpg


Tip Jar





Essays

Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn