Sunday, January 21, 2007

A call to move beyond left and right

I'm now knuckling down for my journalism exams and so I will be putting my posts on hold until February 9. Although I would far rather provide all of you with entertainment, memorising phrases from law-books verbatim, the nitty-gritty of local and central government, and short-hand tapes will take up much of my time from now on.

To bid you adieu, I recommend the extracts from Nick Cohen's book. While the majority of you will disagree and be offended by his rather crude characterisation of the protests against the war in Iraq as vast swathes of people taking to the streets to defend a fascist state; I reckon some of you may find his criticism of the prosetylising "left" is spot-on. Obviously actively marching for a dictator is plain stupidity, yet the protesters were questioning a war that was sold as a pre-emptive strike. As has become plain the war was a case naked imperialism and furthermore poorly planned. I do however think Cohen is right to emphasise that given we've made things even worse for the people in Iraq, we shouldn't cut and run but instead do our utmost to help them build a decent democratic state. How this will be possible is anyone's guess, but I'd still say we have a responsibility to provide order from the chaos our leaders have created.

Yet I find Cohen's criticism of stereotypical "leftist" viewpoints convincing even if I hope that few people are committed to holding such extreme points of view. To me it seems clear people who support Islamic terrorism as a means of counteracting the power of capitalism and American imperialism clearly have some form of death-wish. Yet how many people really believe Al Qaeda are fellow travellers? We might try and understand the motives of an average Jihadi, but despite the crudity of the Western world's foreign policy the murder of innocents should still strike all reasonable human beings as wrong and also deeply worrying as a trend. Also, blind support for the Palestinians against the Israelis seems to be the wrong way of addressing the situation and I think there are definitely those who take sides over such an issue. Yet surely there can be a middle path: namely open support of a settlement to provide peace and fairness, instead of taking a partisan stance in favour of either side.

These issues are clearly too complicated to sum up in a paragraph, yet I think Cohen has tapped in to a rich seam of thought for a book: the attempt to move beyond left and right. To this topic a sensible addition would be a call for a modern humanism. The debates between left and right have become jaded and we must focus on an attempt to attain fundamental freedoms for all people in the world, encouraging them to use these responsibly and to encourage a dialogue about how to maintain peace, stability and the survival of our race whilst finding some way of co-existing with our surroundings and environment. Can we cease to be destructive?

46 comments:

lavenderblue said...

Toby.
Good Luck !
Look forward to your triumphant return.

anticant said...

Yes Toby, I heartily agree. But most people - especially on the Left - are firmly entrenched in the Ostrich position. My hunch is that they find alternative, more realistic, scenarios too frightening to contemplate. The point about all these situations is that what people THINK is going to happen is irrelevant - what actually does happen is all that really counts in the end. We should all be reading up the history of the Weimar Republic, and the way in which Hitler was allowed to bully and elbow his way into power.

Hope that idea doesn't disturb your concentration on your exams!

Toby Lewis said...

Thanks Lavender.

Anticant - We do need to think though, to be able to affect what actually happens. Clearly the fall of the Weimar Republic is a key historical to be conscious of, yet hopefully the attitude of "never again" will continue to prevail as it has up till now.

Toby Lewis said...

Read "period" after historical.

Merkin said...

Nick Cohen is trying some major contortions to justify his support for the invasion of Iraq - a country which posed no threat to us here in Britain.
He neglects to mention the support given to Saddam Hussein by Britain and America.
He attempts to link Islamo-fascism and the Hussein regime. A lie.
He suggests that anyone who is against the war is a 'cheese eating surrender monkey'. Nonsense.
Quite clearly he has some issues from his childhood which he hasn't dealt with properly, but that does not give him the right to disparage the millions of people who marched against the war.
At one point he even provides a snapshot of neo-con intensity with his statement about some long lost family friends : '...and in all likelihood the Baathists murdered her friends years ago and dumped their bodies in unmarked graves.'
What tripe. Apart from jumping to a false conclusion this completely neglects to mention the American support for such a policy of killing communists.
Cohen's invoking of the name of Kanan Makiya as being a man of virtue is another complete travesty by neglecting to mention that this 'brave Iraqi exile' was making a pile of money from all sides in the struggle. Plenty of blood on his hands.
An horrendous article from an odious man who clearly writes as an apologist for the PNAC faction of Nu-Lab.

Toby Lewis said...

Surely the Hussein regime was straightforward fascism?

He does mention the Western support for Saddam in the 1980s although he specifically focuses on the UK. I thought he portrayed convincingly in this part of his article what a partisan mindset could be like.

I couldn't find anything about the money that Makiya was making. Or do you mean that he gained money as a potential figure in the new Iraqi administration?

Cohen should obviously be criticised for believing you can overthrow countries and impose democracy. Yet before this Iraq war the flawed idea had been mooted by many that we should be more interventionist after the Rwandan genocide and Yugoslavia. The Iraqi war has clearly shown this to be stupidity but you can understand how people were naive enough to believe it.

anticant said...

Toby, don't you know that it's naughty to use the term 'fascism' to describe any regime or belief-system, however totalitarian, tyrannical or cruel, because it sends these knee-jerk Lefties bananas. With their self-assumed monopoly of PC language, they reserve it as the ultimate insult for their pet hate - Bush's capitalist USA and all its wicked works.

I wasn't as impressed with the Cohen article as you seem to be, but I agree that it's a useful starting point for deconstructing the puerile fantasies of the Left who choose to regard Islam as a harmless, misunderstood creed and Muslims as global Victims. Why they are so incapable of calling a spade a spade, and denouncing all anti-pluralist intolerance from whatever quarter it comes, beats me. They were at the same game in the 1930s, when they ceaselessly banged on about the iniquities of Hitler while at the same time opposing rearmament and telling us what a beacon of light and liberty Stalin's Russia was. These quisling Leftie leopards never change their spots, I'm afraid.

The Iraq war was indeed illegal and immoral, because "pre-emptive strikes" should only ever be undertaken at the behest of the United Nations, and then in rare and exceptional circumstances. My main objection to it, though, was that it was not in this country's interests because it was bound to fail. Anyone with the most superficial knowledge of the Middle East over the past half-century should have foreseen the chaos and 'fraternal' bloodletting that has ensued. The notion of imposing American-style 'democracy' on other nations, if necessary by force, is crazy, but it is deeply ingrained in the American political psyche. Until this country comes to its senses, and grasps that the only 'special relationship' we have with the USA is that of being dragged along like a tin can tied to a dog's tail, things will go from bad to worse. Unfortunately, the noises emanating from the 'prime minister in waiting' indicate that he, as well as Blair, regards the American alliance as a cornerstone of British policy.

What a crazy world we live in!

Merkin said...

You may be correct, Toby, that the regime was a 'fascist' regime.
I dunno.
Makiya?.
The guy was Saddam's architect for a while, later getting paid by the Yankees for his work with the 'Iraq National Congress'.
Swag will tell you about the 'flyboys' who populate Poland - making a living off those who don't speak the language. Everyone of those guys has a horror story to tell which can't be confirmed.
Same was/is the case in Iraq in spades - except some of these guys have plundered millions.
One of the posters talks about the appeasement of the thirties as being relevant. Unfortunately, the victims of the carpet bombing would prefer, I am sure, to be bombed by the Brits the last time they used gas and early cluster bombs in the early part of last century.
Toby you are a good free thinker (even though I often don't agree) and you have 'put up' an easily shot down Duck by even suggesting an affinity with Cohen.
You are far better than that.
Be yourself.

anticant said...

How often do I have to say that I was against the Iraq war long before it started, and still am, not just because it is immoral and wicked - as all war and killing is - but because it is futile and has lastingly damaged the best interests of this country and our standing in the world - which I, unlike some of the "bleeding heart" posters here and on CiF, care about.

I am not interested in the interminable feuds and ad hominem attacks of the groupuscules of the Left. Contrary to what they imagine, they are not the stuff of politics. I couldn't care less whether Cohen has "issues from his childhood which he hasn't dealt with properly". Don't we all? Debating ploys like this are sheer red herrings [pun intended].

What the British did in Iraq in times past - which I don't condone either - is quite irrelevant to what is happening there now, and what needs to be done next. This type of "two wrongs make a right" criticism reminds me of W.S. Gilbert's "idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone, all centuries but this, and every country but his own".

zola said...

Wonderful is it not that the old guard asks for the end to left and right politics like the conservative fox Giddens.
yet. yet then the left is branded as this and that vis-a-vis the other. Holy shit.
This is just my kind of stuff.

Oh Merkin you have brought out a few home guard truths here.

I take the majority position of world folk today. I would rather be red than dead. ( check history).

Szwagier said...

"Obviously actively marching for a dictator is plain stupidity"

I'm not left, right or centre, I'm not getting into that discussion.

The above sentence struck me immediately, though. I don't care whether anyone thought that's what they were doing or not. I would like to know why it's obviously plain stupidity, though. Matters like this strike me as seldom being obvious, plain, or stupid.

You can do better than that, Toby.

zola said...

Maybe the "Right" can be branded too with the same brush ?

BTW : Anybody that even wants to think that the history of Empires and folk has nothing to do with the US-UK misadventures in Iraq and such is really living on a right cloud nine.

Even Ise Berlin would say that there is no one thing as a "left" ( or even as a Romantic or ideal). But this post is mainly happy to forget all that from Berlin !!!
Strange.

Toby Lewis said...

Merkin and Zola - I found the Cohen articles interesting because I have heard points of view from the "left" that refuse to condemn terrorism and take a partisan line towards the I/P conflict. That this criticism was being voiced in the Guardian struck me as an interesting arena for such views. It would be valuable for many of these people to have an Orwell, "Homage to Catalonia" moment, and realise that in fighting one evil it is extremely foolish to run headlong into the arms of another.

Szwag - Name me one dictator you would get out of bed for just to keep them in power? If it were the case one's self-interest would be served by supporting the regime, as were the accusations (smears?) against the French Government and Galloway, that's something different surely? I think it was fairly clear the message behind the marches had as a consequence the attempt to keep Saddam in power, yet to characterise the protesters (as Cohen basically does) as straightforwardly marching to lend solidarity to a fascist state is an insult to the motives of all involved.

Zola - I don't think my article was an attempt to smear the left, more an attempt to make clear that specified attitudes held by some on the left can be very troubling; like praise of Comrade Stalin back in the day. Obviously they are also a bit of a Straw Man and many of the prejudices of "the right" are just as bad. Which is exactly why I'd call for people to move beyond such camps, because the language of left and right nowadays fails to reflect what any of us believe. To support a more constructive form of democracy is not to give support to the current monster's enemies whoever they are. Orwell saw this very clearly after his Spanish adventure and I think it would be a valuable lesson for all of us.

If the terms were framed more along the lines of people's entitlement to wealth versus the need to redistribute that would be fine. Yet when either side thinks it sensible to use extreme violence to get what they want grave doubts should enter our minds.

zola said...

Yes. Orwell, in his own way, saw this kind of hassle. Difference was that he was struggling against a very "right-wing" orthodoxy.

Hemingway, in his journalism, did much the same in fact ("By Lines")and i am often amazed at how those two writers predicted so much that Guardian writers today ignore or even seem to understand.

Thanks for your response. I hope that I try to kick the right or the left or the middle ( ouch) when i see bullshit. But then i expect to be kicked back.
That is an old fashioned tradition but an Ok tradition for me.

anticant said...

OK Zola, so you'd rather be red than dead. Would you rather be forcibly converted to Islam, or a disadvantaged dhimmi, than dead? Do get real.

Toby: Unfortunately, the use of violence often does make sense in this sad world we live in.

How can we change that?

Szwagier said...

I'm thinking of the 30s. Would I have supoorted Stalin against Hitler, to the extent of demonstrating against a government which was soft on Hitler? Damn right I would!

zola said...

Szwagi : This was one dilemma for Finland and one I have slowly learnt to respect.
Perhaps the major issue is that both Blair and Bush and a few others are feeling no dilemma.
No left wing anymore?
According to the mainstream in this thread there is no good in the left wing way(s).

So much UK stuff has lost any kind of appreciation of the variable left wing debates.
Shame.

zola said...

Now Anticant : use your debate with me and let us use Ise Berlin. I am no expert on this guy but I have read and studuies his books.

butwhatif said...

Zola you promised to profit us with a thread on the prophet Isaiah some time back, if I remebber.

I agree with Toby: Berlin's take on nationalism is highly relevant today. (For a 'Berlinian' approach to Islamic fundamentalism, I've yet to read anything better than Margalit and Buruma's short monograph, 'Occidentalism'. Superb, it is, the way they extend Berlin's accute sensitivity to currents of humiliation/pride/dignity, into the realms of religious identity.

As to Berlin's 'bias', Zola: I think he'd probably accept the charge. The 'history of ideas', was inherently, for him, an interpretative, creative, empathetic exercise; and fairly used as much as a vehicle for one's own worldview as for anything else.

A Berlin thread: yes please! Whoever opens it: remember to invite every would-be fox and hedgehog to the party.

anticant said...

Szwagier: Why would you have had to support either? I can see Zola's point, that because of geographical proximity Finland was between a rock and a hard place; but that did not apply in the UK. In the 1930s - and I was alive at the time - many people here [not all, but some, on the Left] were vehemently opposed to Chamberlain's appeasement policy but felt no call to sympathise with what was then already apparent - although denied by some of the purblind Left for many more years - as a Communist tyranny.

Zola: You duck my question [I won't say "of course"]. Why do you always drag these discussions back to Isaiah Berlin? Clearly there's something about him which bugs you, but you never explain why. Yes, please do put up a post about him - I think it's incumbent on you, not Toby or me - and let's thrash the issues [whatever they are] out.

My complaint about some elements of the Left is that they seem incapable of opposing more than one totalitarianism at a time. Why?

Szwagier said...

It's perfectly possible to be against more than one totalitarianism at a time. All I'm saying is that I would have chosen, would still choose, Communism over Nazism.

Why not choose neither? Well, that really would have been burying my head in the sand, wouldn't it? As with now, it's all very well saying I don't like any of them, but that's not actually going to solve anything, is it?

I can say 'none of the above' about UK politics because I don't live there and I have no intention of living there. I'll keep my British citizenship because my kids have the right to choose differently.

I can still, although I'm on less firm ground, say 'none of the above' about Polish politics, too, because I'm not yet allowed to vote. When I am, I won't have that luxury.

In any case, as has been pointed out, saying 'no' to Bush and Blair (and there's two authoritarians I'm saying 'no' to simultaneously) is in no way equivalent to saying 'yes' to Saddam.

My original point still stands - saying that supporting a dictatorship is 'obviously plain stupid' is, quite frankly, obviously plain stupid. If you're seeing things in black and white you can be quite sure you've misinterpreted the situation.

anticant said...

Choosing neither would NOT have been burying your head in the sand. It would have been the most principled thing to do. There are more than two sides in this - as in most - arguments.

You should have the liberty to say 'none of the above' wherever you live. I believe that voting should be made compulsory, with a provision for people to say just that. There would be so many of them, plus spoiled papers, that it would really cut the effete party machines down to size and show them up for the unrepresentative rumps they are. What we need is a voting system that makes our positive preferences effective - not just the futile choice of voting against something, or for the least objectionable of the available alternatives.

Far from being ostrich-like, "a plague on all your houses" is the only coherent position for anyone who really cares about the health of our society and its future politics to adopt at this moment in time.

Toby Lewis said...

Stalinist Communism over Fascism? I'd definitely say neither. The Spanish Civil War seems the obvious case in point. The Republic were forced to rely on the Stalinists and by the time most people realised that the Russian Communists were determined to stamp out any heterodox views the Stalinists had already closed down every other rival group. They persecuted before taking power of the country perhaps leading to the collapse of the Republicans.

As to whether during Stalingrad I would have preferred the Russians to win. Yes. Yet that would definitely not mean I were actively supporting Stalin, only that I would prefer the lesser of two evils in the short-term. This would be at most indirect support of Stalin, like the protesters' support of Saddam. People like Sartre, Hobsbawm, Hemingway, etc, back in the day, made gross misjudgements backing Stalin and Communist Russia and their only excuse to my mind is that they weren't aware of all the facts.

As to the future Berlin thread - I'd definitely be interested in writing one in February. If you feel the need to have one now, please go ahead, although I won't be contributing until my exams are out of the way.

anticant said...

I agree with you, Toby. As I keep saying [echoing Erasmus and others], in the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king.

I hope Zola will take up my challenge, and write the Berlin thread. It's up to him to explain why he is always sniping at the old boy.

Toby Lewis said...

Zola thinks I'm a paid-up follower of Berlin after a passing comment from myself in one of our early discussions over at Frank's place. Perhaps we could start a Berlin revival. In my experience mainstream analytical philosophers seldom mention Berlin, probably because his scope was so broad and less problem focused. It would also involve a decent knowledge of thinkers like De Maistre, Herder and the rest, which might be tricky for many.

lavenderblue said...

Any problems with research,Tobe,feel free to contact me !!
( I still haven't got over that Zebra-thingy )

anticant said...

I'm sure you would do it excellently, Toby, but I want to know what Zola thinks is WRONG with Berlin, as he's always griping about him. I too have read a good deal of Berlin's stuff, and think he is brilliant, though sometimes uneven which covering such a broad canvas as he did isn't surprising.

zola said...

I am in agreement here too.
Let us warm up with berlin and then let us try a few threads. Count me in on this. I'm with you all.

Reason I kept bringing him up was :-
a) his name was used in simplistic fashion before on one post and that post ssimply name dropped.
b) berlin is, I feel, wonderfully wide and rarely less than complex even if he usually remains to the right.
c) That different posters on this ring have differing positions ( and that is great) but whereas Toby has a hive for serious philosophical points there remains name dropping or mere opinion disguised as truth popping up.
d) Anticant has a more personal opinion hive ( great too) but if a philosopher is mentioned then it is avoided quickly and skillfully by the Anticant way. But many are told off if they do not stick to the thread.
e) the likes of butwhatif and others know the good differences on all our sites and sometimes we do not promote this knowing and things get confused. Toby : you are known as a worthy site for philosophy and that is great but with it goes a sense of sticking to things.
f) my site is more playful and hardly a link to academia but a warm up thread would be ok. If i published more it would be rightfully ignored anyway.

The Lair and pond and all have so much knowledge but again their sites have different atmospheres so your site Toby seems to be the ideal site for a thread on Berlin.

I am being too black and white here but i try to make a point.

BTW : Hemingway? Was he supporting a Stalinist way? Really!!! That is the kind of one-off comment that is not so much at home from our Toby and to use Satre in the same breath is really asking for the shit to hit the fan.
Anticant says especially lefties. Where is this coming from I ask?

However if this site is not wanting to be seen as a good philosophical and political discussion site then ok. But i suspect, Toby, this is what you might like.
Butwhatif is, I think correct, when he brings up promises ( from me no more no less)from the past.
However with the existing knowledge of this ring and friends the initial post would need to be VERY good indeed.

Perhaps I might try to warm up a few first and others can warm up with. Then Toby might make a more substantial text which all can respect and know the history and the work that has been put in by us all.

That beats name dropping under a pretence of serious debate.

with respect and hope

butwhatif said...

You're right about the analytical philosophers not taking to him, Toby. And Berlin never took to analytical philosophy, ditching this early on in his Oxford career, if I remember rightly.

The most amusing thing was, the 'analyticals' could never leave Berlin alone. Someone once tried such a treatment of Berlin's two concepts of liberty - 'positive' and 'negative'; claiming Berlin was mistaken, that it all really boiled down to one super concept, involving a triadic definition; where positive and negative were two side of the same coin: "X is free from Y to do Z."

It was the most stupid attempt by Oxford linguistic philosophy to cash out something of Berlin's that was far, far richer in insight.

zola said...

Positive liberty and self-mastery is now my warm up. Posted now.
Toby I do hope you will keep the threads and do something with them.
I am a little excited.
Butwhatif - wonderful mate.

Again I hope that Toby will get a good thread at the end of it all.

anticant said...

Zola, you are a tad ungenerous. I did not study philosophy as an academic subject - which I presume Toby does - and I refrain from commenting on names you mention whose works I am not familiar with out of prudence, not evasion.

As for the Left, please peruse the fascinating thread on Nick Cohen's article in today's "Guardian". You will find I am not alone in my criticisms. I fear we shall just have to agree to disagree about this.

zola said...

Anticant : Damn studying philosophy you have so much there already. Even a leftie like myself respects you for that knowledge and feeling you have inside of you.
My point now is to try ( just try) to help get a thread where Toby can get concentrated and active.
For me this is a "Ring" thing.
My site is for rants and raves.
You have history and intelligence.
Others have other thing equally valuable and good.
See my site.
Let us allow Toby to get his thread together through a little help from his friends.

zola said...

BTW : my rants and raves are usually very serious and well considered. The comments are even more so.
Wicked they are.

anticant said...

By all means be as serious as you wish, Zola. But PLEASE don't be solemn!

Toby Lewis said...

Hemingway was firmly convinced by the Communists would defeat fascism at one point during the Spanish Civil War. He even coldly informed John Dos Passos of the death of Dos Passos' friend Jose Robles and perpetrated the Soviet version of things.

"Robles may have even haunted Ernest Hemingway, his most literary castigator who helped spread the official Soviet version that Robles was a fascist spy. But behind the scenes, Hemingway was questioning an executioner in Madrid about the possibility that mistakes were made in fascist spy hunts."

As to Sartre, his support of Soviet Communism was well known, and to my mind a definite flaw in a thinker who prized liberty in his philosophy. I just found a reference to how he fell out with Camus over this after a quick google. Interestingly such slurs can affect the reputation of great thinkers more than any others, yet I'm sure Sartre like Hemingway had very complex reasons for his support of the Soviets.

Did you know Wittgenstein also considered going to Russia as a worker yet they would only accept him as a philosopher?

Having seen the development of history and found out the full extent of the Russian Terror don't you think we would be extremely foolish to make the same mistake as the great figures of the past by pledging support to any dictator?

I understand Szwag's original objection to my comment that this is plain stupidity. Clearly people like Sartre and Hemingway were far from stupid. Yet now, more than ever, we should be able to see clearly that there were few benevolent dictators in the Twentieth Century.

Toby Lewis said...

BWI - I guess I'll have to look into some of that secondary literature.

Lavender - Thanks for the offer of help in research and I'll try to write another piece on Zebras in February just for you!

zola said...

Toby : Good luck with your exams. Look forward to your return.

anticant said...

Sartre liked Pol Pot too.

YellowDuck said...

How are your exams going?

Toby Lewis said...

My exams have gone really well except I´ll be needing to retake my shorthand at some point. I´ll be sure to post something here by the end of the week.

Yellow Duck said...

That is overall good news. I am going to have a look at the Cohen book having just finished Andrew Sullivan's Conservative Soul. Catch you later then.

Toby Lewis said...

Pop in here a bit later and I should have an article up. I walked past the Cohen book in a shop the other day. I paused to have a look, but I decided, on reflection, despite enjoying and agreeing with much of his article I felt that it would probably be an extended rant in a book. How is the Conservative Soul? Tortured?

YellowDuck said...

Actually a surprisingly fluent read. First couple of chapters are a bit too preoccupied with questions of faith and religion to my taste, but once you get past those it is quite rewarding. Or at least for someone like me who has been out of the loop of Anglo-Saxon intellectual life for quite a bit. At any rate, some of the most enjoyable sections are those where this master of the method fisks paleoconservative moralists. Solely on that basis I would recommend it.

YellowDuck said...

Actually a surprisingly fluent read. First couple of chapters are a bit too preoccupied with questions of faith and religion to my taste, but once you get past those it is quite rewarding. Or at least for someone like me who has been out of the loop of Anglo-Saxon intellectual life for quite a bit. At any rate, some of the most enjoyable sections are those where this master of the method fisks paleoconservative moralists. Solely on that basis I would recommend it.

YellowDuck said...

Ooops. 'Pologies.

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