Moral torpor of the western left?

If you’ve not come across it before, Dissent magazine rarely fails to impress at least in some of its parts, if not the whole. This Quarter has an interesting piece from Norman Geras on the political reductionism of the left that has largely remained unchanged in the wake of 9/11.

His premise begins “from a short essay by Paul Berman entitled “A Friendly Drink in Time of War, which appeared in the Winter 2004 issue of Dissent, in which Berman offers six reasons why many on the left didn’t see things his way over the war in Iraq, which he supported”:

Abbreviating them, and also adding a seventh to the six that he enumerates (it appears toward the end of his argument, though he doesn’t include it as an “official” item with its own number), I set out those reasons: (1) George W. Bush; (2) the United States as being responsible for all the problems of the world; (3) support for anything construable as being anticolonial; (4) cultural relativism; (5) hostility to Israel; (6) a failure to take anti-Semitism seriously; and (7) lack of any genuine grasp of, or feeling for, the meaning of extreme forms of evil and oppression.

  • James

    Torpor? This guy invented it. Bush supporter or not, that drudging dirge established his post modern leftist writer’s bona fides with me. This placed me in the world of leftists trading cryptic insults in ever more spiraling arcane arguments in obscure journals. It’s a caricature of itself. Where are those great old commies we traded insults with in the Cold War? Where are they when you really need them? Give me lickspittle of the imperialist warmongers or running dogs of the blood-soaked ilk of capitalism any day.

    Get get him on the same stage with Norman Finkelstein, Mick, you know, hands across the sea, let a hundred flowers bloom …..a little blood on the tracks. Anyway on to the blurb.

    Number 1 is spot on. Bush hasn’t gone out of his way to appear intellectual and that is always very important for the elitists. It almost guarantees that they underestimate him.

    Number 2 is myopic. Leftists that ascribe to that one out to get out more and consider how multinational business groups are becoming powers unto themselves. I would also pay to consider how the Cold War still has echoes. But he’s talking about he people he knows, not the ones I do.

    Number 3 is off my radar, I attended a lot of lectures on imperialism back in the 60’s & 70’s just to see if I could get lucky but I haven’t messed with that crowd since.

    Number 4 is iffy, IMO since westerners, I suppose Geras included, don’t separate the tribal component out of Quranic teachings. The ones that rise above the tribal malarkey think pretty much as we do about ethical problems. The Qur’an is not the template followed in 9/11.

    Number 5 has been the fracture plane in the left since 1967. DUH!! It’s an event that gave birth to the neocons who adore this guy. Creation turned back on itself.

    Number 6 is something that all but the exceptional Jewish writer would pick up on. This isn’t slamming the guy, mention “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish” on your blog and see how much your bandwidth picks up.

    Number 7 is a given unless you care to send your kids to a war zone for an education. I don’t have a clue on how to instill that kind of empathy, especially as applied to catastrophe and I didn’t pick up much from him. The obsession with Iraq doesn’t help me give him much credence here as the Jihad in Afghanistan is more ghastly and is directly linked to 9/11. Neither does he mention Rwanda, an even ghastlier bloodbath, possibly since that is not linked to 9/11. But then no one ever mentions Rwanda, do they?

    Anyway hows about picking up on that Finkelstien angle?

  • aquifer

    Good Work. The left has lost its way. It has also lost its levers. The role that modern nation states play in the working and social lives of citizens has been shrunk, in competition with other states, to make them more open to capitalist investment and growth. In developed countries the left can no longer establish an economic alternative to capitalism by gaining control of the state by electoral means.

    So what to do? Subcontract this task to cultures where life is cheaper? or cheapen life at home to remain in contention?

    Ignore our own complicity in capitalist exploitation and scapegoat the people driving the biggest cars?

    The theory of surplus value just leaves people unemployed with a bad attitude, so lets drop the bogus marxist revolutionary tradition.

    Run a capitalist economy efficiently, also in social and environmental terms, defend separate social, family, and cultural spaces, import goods, export ethics, defend human life.

    Looks familiar. All we need is some reform.

  • Fraggle

    if only the whole world could be like sweden.

  • aquifer

    All the left may do for the developing world is to export its dangerous theoretical waste?

  • aquifer

    Or is the the new McLeft

  • mickhall

    Mick asked,
    Abbreviating them, and also adding a seventh to the six that he enumerates (it appears toward the end of his argument, though he doesn’t include it as an “official” item with its own number), I set out those reasons: (1) George W. Bush; (2) the United States as being responsible for all the problems of the world; (3) support for anything construable as being anticolonial; (4) cultural relativism; (5) hostility to Israel; (6) a failure to take anti-Semitism seriously; and (7) lack of any genuine grasp of, or feeling for, the meaning of extreme forms of evil and oppression.

    1/To say the left does not take the George Bush Presidency serious is plain silly. As to the man himself, that may be another matter, what does Geras want us to do, fall at his feet.

    2/No one is suggesting all the worlds problems spring from the USA. What we are saying is they sure as hell help aggravate them.

    3/What is meant by this I have no idea, if he means the left is ever alert to neo colonialism, yes, up go our hands.

    4/If he means that “The view that perception of the world is inevitably determined by the individuals/writers background and environment” then again hands up.

    5/No I am not running with this one, as it is far more complex than a blanket rejection of the State of Israel. Indeed at a guess I would suggest that a majority of leftists would these days support the two states solution.

    6/To accuse the left of a failure to take anti-Semitism seriously is in my opinion ridiculous and I have considerable personal experience of this subject. Yes, in the middle east there is anti-Semitism for the first time in centuries. This has come about due to the crimes committed against the Palestinian people during the Israeli states continuos occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Within the west, sections of the Pro Israel media, have attempted to suggest there has been a large rise in anti-semitism in Europe. Myself I do not see it nor have I experienced it. I feel they have done this as a counter weight to the undoubtedly anti muslim sentiment that is currently doing the rounds throughout Europe and the USA. This does not mean we should not be wary about anti-semitism raising its ugly head and if it does oppose it vigorously. However by opposing anti-Semitism, it in no way restricts us highlighting the injustices daily perpetrated on the Palestinian People.

    What ever one might feel about the left, at a local level they have been the bedrock of all forms of anti racism and have been the main catalyst in opposing nazi groups like the BNP in the UK and the FN in France. Geras wants to get out of his ivory tower a bit more.

    7/This question is totally self serving, what he is getting at is the left refused to be stampeded into supporting the illegal war on Iraq, which the Professor did. Thus to justify his wretched behaviour he has to paint Saddam as one of histories main villains, which as bad as he was is silly. The left opposed the war on Iraq because it was illegal, Geras supported it despite this fact. What he still seems to fail to understand, is one cannot successfully transport social systems on the end of a bayonet and even if it were possible one should not do it for the simple reason it is wrong to do so. Help people to over through their tyrants by all means, but do not bomb them into the democratic chamber.