The Left at War
I have more important news that I’ll have to save for tomorrow (no, really—truly world-transforming Jamie news), but for now, I just want to note that the Manichean left has begun to respond to my critique of the Manichean left, and they completely agree with my critique. No, wait, that’s not exactly true. A certain person has taken me to task for my “badmouthing" of Naomi Klein and “Women in Pink” [sic]—and hard as it may be to believe, there are some people who take this guy at his word. So before I get to the more important news, I thought I’d post the passage in The Left at War that mentions Klein and Code Pink. Consider it a free sample! From chapter 3, “The Hard Road to Debacle”:
The international outrage and dismay at the failure of the U.N. to act in Rwanda—a failure whose domestic American version involved the refusal of any government official to utter the word “genocide”—has been well documented, and helped to set in motion a new form of left internationalism. There were two curious features of this new left internationalism, however: one was that, as we have seen, not every faction on the left was on board with it, because some saw it simply as a stalking horse for American imperialism; and the second was that, unlike the left internationalisms over the previous 150 years, this one did not depend on the existence (real or hypothetical) of an international proletariat. It was not a Marxist internationalism—or, for that matter, a socioeconomic internationalism of any kind. Rather, it was a moral and legal internationalism, seeking change not in the base but in various superstructures: the United Nations, international criminal tribunals (in Rwanda and the Balkans), truth and reconciliation commissions (in South Africa), and an International Criminal Court. The intervention in Sierra Leone was one of the high-water marks of this internationalism; another was a Spanish court’s indictment of Augusto Pinochet in 1996, followed by Pinochet’s arrest in Britain in 1998 and his Chilean indictment in late 2004; still another, of course, was the liberation of East Timor. Though the new internationalism has occasioned much debate on the left, the vast majority of its most vocal and dedicated opponents are on the right. The United States’ opposition to the International Criminal Court is one of the many shameful blots on our recent record, but it makes sense if you realize that a good part of the Republican electorate in the U.S. loathes even the U.N. with unbridled passion and hates and fears anything that threatens U.S. domination of world affairs. (Hard as it may be to imagine, their complaint is that the United Nations has not been beholden enough to U.S. interests.) A political party whose major figures routinely sneer at the U.N. can hardly be expected to countenance something so radical as an International Criminal Court in which Henry Kissinger, among other U.S. policymakers, would take his rightful place in the dock alongside Pinochet and Milosevic. And it should have been no surprise that the far-right fanatic known as Osama bin Laden targeted Bali in part out of his sense of outrage at the Australian-led U.N. intervention in East Timor: “Australia was warned about its participation in Afghanistan,” bin Laden said in his late 2002 audiotape taking responsibility for the Bali bombing, “and its ignoble contribution to the separation of East Timor.”
“Moral internationalism” is the cause, one might say, of a “human rights left”; and I imagine that it is not well understood, in popular discussions of left internationalism in the U.S., partly because it has so few points of contact with more salient lefts such as the environmentalist left or the antiglobalization left. For most young American activists, certainly, being “on the left” in a global sense more commonly means being familiar with Naomi Klein’s No Logo and The Shock Doctrine or Medea Benjamin’s Global Exchange and Code Pink than with Human Rights Watch, more drawn to G8 protests than to the plight of Iranian dissidents. I do not mean to disparage other forms of left internationalism; climate change and the workings of multinational capital are both, in their separate ways, truly global issues, and anyone who calls attention to carbon emissions and sweatshops is working on the side of the angels. But I am not sure that human rights issues always get the attention they deserve from left internationalists in the U.S.; I am not sure that the defense of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights inspires quite so many activists as do street demonstrations against the World Trade Organization. And I am quite sure that American “leftists” who defame Samantha Power as a mouthpiece for war and imperialism and who denounce Salman Rushdie for his response to the fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini are effectively working to undermine the human-rights internationalism that should be the foundation of any global left with regard to genocide and freedom of expression.
In an obvious sense, of course, the human-rights left is working at a severe disadvantage. The idea of enforcing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or supporting the causes of political dissidents living under tyrannical regimes seems all too thin and abstract, a matter of checkbook altruism, a paltry thing when compared with the immediately and dramatically pressing crises of global poverty, brutal inequality, ecological devastation and climate change. What is the life of a single dissident, let alone the status of a piece of paper, when one contemplates the possibility of permanent, irreversible damage to the planet and the reality of billions of human beings living in utter abjection? What is the value of an opposition newspaper in a distant country when one realizes that one’s sneakers have been manufactured by child laborers earning pennies a day? It is no wonder that the global left tends to emphasize equality over freedom—for freedom seems like an ephemeral, epiphenomenal thing compared to the bare facts of bare life, to the wretchedness of the wretched of the earth, to the essential requirements for life’s sustenance and sustainability; and to some young left activists, liberal advocates of political freedom sound like earnest, misguided wonks working to craft ever finer versions of laws that forbid rich and poor alike from sleeping under the world’s bridges. Pledging allegiance to international norms and standards in the political realm must seem, to some people on the environmentalist and anti-globalization left, like pledging allegiance to an international system of weights and measures.
Then, too, there is the profound insult to moral internationalism in having “human rights” championed by a United States that practices torture and indefinite detention—and that, in violation of the Universal Declaration, fails to consider food and health care as basic human entitlements. And yet, and yet: the case must be made that political freedom and international institutions are more important to economic sustenance and ecological sustainability than most people (and most nations) have realized to date. It is quite true, for example, that some international conflicts are conflicts over resources—not excepting oil—and it follows that stronger international institutions stand a better chance of resolving such conflicts peacefully than weak international institutions trying vainly to referee a war of all against all. Likewise, tyrannies have proven to be exceptionally poor stewards of the earth and only moderately successful, at their very best, at combating immiseration; indeed, at their worst, as in Saddam’s Iraq, Karimov’s Uzbekistan, and Pinochet’s Chile, they have opened new frontiers in human immiseration. Though the human-rights left is working at a disadvantage when competing for the hearts and minds of young activists, and though its commitments may seem to some too thin a gruel for human consumption, it nevertheless works on the crucial assumption that the best chances for human flourishing, in every sense of the term, are to be found in democracies with a high degree of political transparency and accountability. The fact that the United States can be weighed in those scales and found wanting is obvious, and merely underscores the point that the U.S. should be more democratic and more transparent than it is; moreover, as I will argue in the following chapter, there is a virtue to the “thinness” of international norms and standards, insofar as they may be able to dilute “thicker” commitments to blood and soil and nation.
See you tomorrow with more important news!
. . . climate change and the workings of multinational capital are both, in their separate ways, truly global issues, and anyone who calls attention to carbon emissions and sweatshops is working on the side of the angels.
How dare you say such terrible things about them?Posted by Jason B. on 12/02 at 01:04 PM
Dr B, I’m going to talk about you in the third person here, on your own blog, which is weird, and I apologize if it comes off as rude.
so, first I want to say that it’s via Michael Bérubé’s blogging that I was introduced to (1) Douglas Baynton’s article on disability and the justification of inequality in American history, which was a paradigm-shift for my thinking which I am still working out; (2) Ellen Willis’s article on what’s the matter with what’s the matter with Kansas, which felt like, gah, FINALLY, an articulate expression of what I’ve inarticulately felt about Tom Frank; (3) Marc Bousquet’s How the University Works—rock on.
so, dude is on the side of the angels. Plus, like, funny and smart and everything.
oh! also! I forgot: lovely witty correspondence with Sokal. all thumbs up.
Howevs, given all that, his attacks on Chomsky, his support for the initial invasion of Afghanistan, and his position on NATO intervention in the Balkans: totes baffling. Like I just don’t see how from premises 1-2-3 above he gets to 1-2-3 below.
Okay—end of third person address. In the calm reflective absence of internet angree, ad hominen attacks etc. which cause an inevitable digging in of heels, have you sort of changed your mind on any of this stuff?
About human rights—I get defending “hr” as a mode of internationalism in the face of its cynical co-opting; I haven’t abandoned feminism in the face of its being used opportunistically as a club to bash Islam, & I think your articulation of what it is that is to be held dear in hr is parallel to this. All the same, given the political terrain of the era, I’m with the young activists on where direct energies should be spent; you can’t keep the cynics and opportunists away from hr (or feminism) in a way that you can from anti-capitalism.Posted by on 12/02 at 01:20 PM
Like I just don’t see how from premises 1-2-3 above he gets to 1-2-3 below.
Thanks for all the kind words, Kathleen—and you’re not alone in being baffled in this respect. Long story short, I get there pretty much exactly the way Ellen Willis did. FWIW. I so wish I’d said more about that while she was alive.
Have I changed my mind about any of the 1-2-3 below? Well, that’s what the book is about. But as I just said to Christian in the previous thread: there are a number of antiwar arguments w/r/t Kosovo that I agree with—not only the one about high-altitude bombing but also the one about how bypassing the Security Council in the face of Russian opposition set a dangerous precedent that was then used (by both the neocons and the liberal hawks) as a template for the invasion of Iraq. Just for example. And I really do try to say this in the book—as with Afghanistan, where I try to distinguish the antiwar arguments that were (imho) right (like the quagmire one! and the one about how it would be a prelude to a much larger war) from the ones that (imho) weren’t.Posted by Michael on 12/02 at 01:32 PM
For a scientist who occasionally reads your blog for the snark and the amusing stories, this kind of thing is really a sort of cultural anthropology to me. I clicked through to Louis Proyect’s blog and comments, and it’s all written in a bizarre, highly stylized and buzzword-laden style, with multiple levels of implied and actual meanings overlapping, and with very specific uses of undefined technical phrases. It’s like what I would imagine reading my work would be like to you.
That said, I was at the UIUC for my doctoral degree, and I do remember David Green. And anybody who David Green hates is a friend of mine. He was an odious and self-absorbed human being.Posted by M. Gordon on 12/02 at 02:43 PM
I read the post and comments over on LP’s site Michael....and I must say that now I am confused.
Are you a member of the Postmodern Left or of the Cruise-Missile Left? Cruise missiles don’t seem very PoMo to me!Posted by Ben Alpers on 12/02 at 03:04 PM
Well, M. Gordon, I don’t know Green personally, so I don’t know what he’s like. But I can say that in April 1999, he attended Nancy Fraser’s talk on the politics of redistribution and the politics of recognition (basically, a version of her argument in Justice Interruptus), then asked an aggressively clueless question in which he insisted that all this talk of “recognition” was basically bullshit and that “redistribution” was all that mattered (in the time-honored manner of Angry White Male Leftists who don’t see why these women and minorities and GLTBQ folk should get so much attention when class oppression is the only thing that matters), then followed up with two more questions (Fraser was preternaturally patient with him) before heading for the door, and saying to me on the way out, “you can see what she’s made of—she supports intervention in the Balkans.” To which I replied, taken aback, “this is a debate on the left, is it not?” “Read the work of Diana Johnstone,” he snapped. So I did. And I learned a great deal about Diana Johnstone’s work, just as I learned that none of those people can fathom the possibility that a reasonable person might read Diana Johnstone and come away with the impression that there is something quite wrong with Diana Johnstone’s work. So it was, you might say, a moment to remember.Posted by on 12/02 at 03:19 PM
Ben: Are you a member of the Postmodern Left or of the Cruise-Missile Left?
This isn’t an either-or kind of blog, you know. More cruise missiles! More simulacra!Posted by on 12/02 at 03:20 PM
More cruise missiles! More simulacra!
Well, now we know what to get someone for Molocmass. (Captcha: “these”, as in “I wish there were a book that brought these two great tastes together”.)Posted by Cosma on 12/02 at 04:43 PM
Seeing someone described as “on the side of angels” in your writing inspires no confidence. You’re just as likely to mean it sincerely, as to mean it mockingly, as to be ventriloquizing someone who means it sincerely, as to be mocking someone who said it mockingly, as to be utterly indifferent to the tone altogether. It’s precisely the sort of hyperbole that probably made Proyect detect an edge of contempt in that paragraph, which you certainly prime the pump for, with your scolding accusations of ultra-left-Matrix-Manichean elitism fired hither and thither. The innuendo driving that paragraph is a series of sly moves: from claim on “morality,” to citing the contrasting popularity of Klein and Benjamin, to “not meaning to disparage” them (such approbation!), to that back-handed-sounding bit about being on the side of angels, to some muted or insinuated defense of Samantha Power, to (that old chestnut) crazy lefties who support Khomeni, to obstructing the advancement of human rights.
This kind of clever compression of your ostensible friends and doubtless enemies seems to drive the book and lets you play into Proyect’s hands too easily.Posted by on 12/02 at 05:33 PM
This is my favorite part:
“If you read his blog, you will learn that when he is not writing articles on cultural theory or redbaiting the left, he is playing hockey or the drums.”Posted by on 12/02 at 05:53 PM
You’re just as likely to mean it sincerely, as to mean it mockingly, as to be ventriloquizing someone who means it sincerely, as to be mocking someone who said it mockingly, as to be utterly indifferent to the tone altogether.
Ah, so that’s how postmodern leftism works. When I say “anyone who calls attention to carbon emissions and sweatshops is working on the side of the angels,” I might mean anything at all, up to and including the opposite of what the “words” seem to “say.” OK, I understand. Or I don’t. It is the same thing, n’est-ce pas?
Captcha: reading, and I am not making that up.Posted by Michael on 12/02 at 05:57 PM
Strikingly, Proyect neglected to note that I play objectively counterrevolutionary hockey and drums.Posted by Michael on 12/02 at 05:58 PM
Speaking of hockey, I am curious if you are going to be one of the individuals investigating your collegue Michael Mann for his role in profligate scientific misconduct. Is deleting data within the realm of academic freedom?
As a follow up, would your expertise in disability give you a greater ability to deal with Michael Mann’s total explosion of aspergers?Posted by on 12/02 at 06:08 PM
Oh no you didn’t!
I am more of liberal hawk than our blogmaster. It doesn’t piss me off that Saddam Hussein is gone. I mean he was a pretty bad dude.
It’s like as if Dick Cheney and Eva Peron had a baby and Margaret Thatcher and Genghis Kahn had a baby and those two babies had sex and had a baby, that would be Saddam
The thing is that guys like Chomsky are wicked smart while Republicans are .... dumb.
But often the Chomskyites are perennially pissed off, like David Green above. I met an antiwar guy during Gulf War II and he had to be the angriest guy on the planet. It was impressive.Posted by Peter K. on 12/02 at 06:15 PM
Ryan @ 13: I’m sorry, someone is investigating Michael Mann? Good. Now maybe we can find out what those guys were saying in Miami Vice. Because that dialogue was just inaudible.
Which is to say, no, I have no idea what’s up with that investigation. All I know is that the ice caps are definitely not melting.
And Peter @ 14, Chomsky is indeed wicked smart. Approximately 1 zillion times smarter than his detractors on the right. I learn more from disagreements with him than I would learn from mere agreement with almost anyone else. Except for maybe Richard Rorty and Stuart Hall and Ellen Willis.Posted by on 12/02 at 06:29 PM
Can you point us to somewhere where Proyect or Chomsky say that Milosevic was a great guy, and that the left should celebrate him? What are your main disputes with LP’s piece in Swans about Milosevic?
Sifting through all this blog rancor isn’t clarifying anything on either end.Posted by on 12/02 at 06:39 PM
Chomsky never says anything of the kind, and I never claimed he did. (I did say that Chomsky mis-cited the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation’s report on Srebrenica, because that happens to be true. But it didn’t involve anything like saying “I heart Milosevic.") Proyect’s qualified defense of Milosevic for standing up to “the injustice perpetrated by states acting out of perfect evil” is precisely the kind of Manichean thinking I criticize in the book (if the US is perfectly evil, then Milosevic can’t be all bad). There, I also argue that leftists who impugn the ICC because of the Milosevic trial are turning their backs on what could be an important form of legal internationalism. But I’ve given away all my free copies, and probably can’t reproduce the whole text of the book here.Posted by on 12/02 at 07:25 PM
I don’t heart Milosevic, but I might spleen him. Or maybe duodenum him. Hm. “Duodenum” is nowhere near as satisfying and amusing to type as it is to say out loud.
I will now commence saying “duodenum” until my wife spleens me.Posted by Jason B. on 12/02 at 08:22 PM
For me, in so many ways, my unhinged far-left views can be summarized by the mottoes from posters i have hanging on the wall next to my desk:
EarthFirst! Obey Little, Resist Much
John Trudell: don’t trust anyone who isn’t angry!
Woody Guthrie: This Machine Kills Fascists
Tom Morello: Arm The Homeless!!
And for the not so unhinged, perhaps a question: Why does the left have to be held to standards of hermeneutical integrity, while the right can be all over the mind map of lies and hypocrisy?Posted by on 12/02 at 09:19 PM
I have to admit that some serious critique of Chomsky’s - and others of a similar bent - Manichaean tendencies is warranted. Yet, I think you might have overplayed the disadvantages under which the humanitarian internationalism on the left works. Similarly, it wasn’t just the refusal of anyone in a place of authority in the US to utter the word “genocide” vis-avis Rwanda that was the issue. Rather, much of the anger at the Clinton Administration over their inaction in Rwanda was the deliberateness of it; it seemed then, and seems now, that members of that Administration were quite willing to allow hundreds of thousands of Africans to die, even as Saddam Hussein was hyped as a threat to our vital interests, necessitating our continued presence in the Gulf region, which created far more problems than it solved.
While the rest of the world creates a more formal international legal structure - including revoking sovereign immunity as a legal defense - the US continues to dither. While the ICC and international criminal tribunals set up for various and sundry conflicts in the Balkans and Africa may be imperfect, many on the radical left seem to forget that police power - in its most basic form of naked force - is a necessary concomitant of bringing people to justice. It is not enough to call attention to the various misdeeds of the US, and their roots in the very structures of power and ideology in this country. What alternatives are offered? Even if an effective international police power could be built, it would be necessary to give it teeth - that is, a visible sign of the threat of force - to make it credible.Posted by Geoffrey on 12/02 at 09:48 PM
Here’s is another perspective on the dueling that is occurring on the left.Posted by on 12/02 at 10:02 PM
I think you might have overplayed the disadvantages under which the humanitarian internationalism on the left works.
It’s encouraging to hear that. As for the Clinton Administration’s willingness to let hundreds of thousands of Africans die while keeping the hype on Saddam, I agree—and I agree with your account of US dithering w/r/t the emergent formal international legal structure, too. All the more reason to be wary of ICC-bashing from the radical left.
Spyder: Why does the left have to be held to standards of hermeneutical integrity, while the right can be all over the mind map of lies and hypocrisy?
Hmmm, I’m not sure I would say “hermeneutical integrity” (though I’m in favor of being hermeneutically integral, myself), but I am sure that I don’t want to be part of a left that says “what we need now is more lies and hypocrisy—we have a severe lies-and-hypocrisy gap with regard to the maniac right.” Let the right have their Becks and Palins and Bachmanns and Malkins and Limbaughs (and George Wills, for that matter); there’s no need for us to compete on that ground.Posted by Michael on 12/02 at 10:04 PM
Um, I find the conversation fun and entertaining, but we’re not suggesting that there’s any relevance to what you’re calling the Manichean left, right? I don’t think relevance is what they’re after, anyway. It’s a lifestyle thing.Posted by on 12/03 at 12:25 AM
I don’t want to be part of a left that says “what we need now is more lies and hypocrisy
Nor do i, but there also seems to be an overabundance on the left of criticism from one another with regard to one’s holding of diverse principles and policies that may not be fully integrated within a theoretical framework. Maybe we could find some consensus on being critical of one another for proposing a position, without trying to harp on how the holding of that position isn’t integral to one’s other positions? Different circumstances manifest different problems requiring different solutions, especially when considering military options (Afghanistan, Philippines, Balkans, Darfur, Rwanda, et al).Posted by on 12/03 at 12:36 AM
Oh, I see, spyder, by “hermeneutical integrity” you meant “across-the-board-ism.” Got it. I am totally on board with the proposition that different circumstances manifest different problems requiring different solutions, especially when it comes to the tricky business of challenging state sovereignty.
Fiera: two answers. One, no, the Manichean left has no relevance in a political sense. You know how it goes: our fringe is on the fringe, whereas the right’s fringe is driving the GOP bus. But two, yes, they do have some relevance insofar as they can, every once in a while, pull a good left organization right over the cliff.Posted by on 12/03 at 10:27 AM
You’re just as likely to mean it sincerely, as to mean it mockingly, as to be ventriloquizing someone who means it sincerely, as to be mocking someone who said it mockingly, as to be utterly indifferent to the tone altogether.
I keep trying to decompress JBL’s comment, and all I can come up with is that Douglas Adams faked his own death:
“One of the major difficulties Trillian experienced in her relationship with Zaphod was learning to distinguish between him pretending to be stupid just to get people off their guard, pretending to be stupid because he couldn’t be bothered to think and wanted someone else to do it for him, pretending to be outrageously stupid to hide the fact the he actually didn’t understand what was going on, and really being genuinely stupid.”
Speaking of which: Hi, Ryan! I’m not sure about Penn State’s policies in such matters. However, I’m going to hazard a guess that Professor Bérubé is unlikely to play a substantive role in any putative review of Professor Mann’s work, since he lacks the expertise to evaluate it. You know, much like you, only with self-awareness.
Anyway, somewhat more on-topic, some vaguely-formed reaction to:
It is no wonder that the global left tends to emphasize equality over freedom
Actually, I think many of us just make them more interdependent than you seem to imply. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a fine document, but the WTO or the IMF frequently seem to treat it as irrelevant at best. Does it really increase freedom for a nation’s publicly-owned assets to be turned over to outside private speculators? It’s possible to support Amnesty International and criticize the megacorps that help prop up repressive regimes for their own benefit.
Plus, it’s much easier to organize a protest of a G-8 conference than of a meeting of the International Cabal of Evil Leaders and Pancakes.Posted by on 12/03 at 10:36 AM
I’ve only just started the book...you may have discussed this there...but I’m wondering when they’ve pulled a left organization over the cliff. I’m not doubting it’s true; my experience is probably to short to have seen this first-hand.
Anyway, I’m a terrible person (professional progressive in community organizing, even know lobbyists, etc.) and I’m wondering if, in my experience, their relevance has to do with the power of distraction in the most mundane sense—tying up meetings to plan events, torpedoing relationships with elected officials that could actually help move policy, etc. There are some organizations—because that’s what I’m talking about here, not academics—that build their identity and agenda around what they’re against. They can’t seem to be for anything and, really, you have to be for something to change things. It makes me wonder if they really want to see change, or if their real investment is in being oppositional.Posted by on 12/03 at 11:05 AM
Michael, this is one hell of a strawman:
And I am quite sure that American “leftists” who defame Samantha Power as a mouthpiece for war and imperialism and who denounce Salman Rushdie for his response to the fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini
First, calling Samantha Power “a mouthpiece for war and imperialism” isn’t defaming her - it’s what she does and if she hadn’t called Hillary a “monster” it would probably be how she earned her living today. What Samantha Power does, is argues that various human rights problems in the world can be solved by having a war, and specifically by having a war in which the governments of foreign countries are replaced in order to make them conform to our values. That’s what imperialism means.
Second, surely you noticed that there’s very little in common between that and the Rushdie affair, and the fact that you haven’t named anyone who denounced Salman Rushdie and supported the Ayatollah in 1988 presumably means that you know that you’re setting up strawmen here. The charge of redbaiting is absolutely valid - you’re specifically trying to imply that people who don’t take the Samantha Power approach to human rights are friends of the Iranian regime.
And still with Alice In Rwandaland! The failure of the UN to “act”! The word “act” in this context is a massive, massive red flag - it’s magical thinking. What, precisely, should have been done and why is it so obvious as to not need mentioning that there was a UN action that could have been taken to make the situation better? The one military intervention which actually took place (Operation Turquoise) made things significantly worse. The entire problem with the Samantha Power liberal imperialism approach to the world is that you lot are constantly demanding “action” without ever saying what that action might be - in general with an implicit understanding that the details will be sorted out by demigods like David Petraeus (or is Kilcullen in fashion this week?). It’s just totally, totally unserious - I don’t really have much in common politically with Lou and his mates, but at least they are actually taking a view on the world as it is.Posted by on 12/04 at 06:17 AM
Even when Proyect is right - and in my opinion he often is - his arguments are consistently awful. It’s weird. But, this time he does get at a key point, in passing:
[Berube] wants to distinguish himself from the Pentagon generals even if they are the only conceivable agency to rid the world of evils such as al-Qaeda and Slobodan Milosevic.
Michael, I’m pretty sure your aware that what you call the “Manichean left” does not typically critique Samantha Power, Save Darfur, et al on the basis that equality is more important than freedom. The critique, rather, is that humanitarian interventionists implicitly or explicitly rely on US military force to enforce human rights, and that this is a systematic problem regardless of which particularly foreign evil we are talking about because the people who actually control whether and how the US military is deployed are not motivated by humanitarian considerations (notwithstanding any UN resolutions).
On that term, “Manichean left”. I haven’t read your book. I intend to get around to it someda but I have a big stack. I have, however, read a positive but unconsciously rather unflattering review, in the American Prospect. In one paragraph, the reviewer runs together the “Manichean left”, “vanguardism”, “Free Mumia”, “rallies… police-thwarting lockboxes”, Chomsky, Milosevic, and Ahmadinejad. Now, I assume you, Michael, did not describe Chomsky as a vanguardist, because you know that Chomsky is actually an anarchist and quite anti-Leninist. But from the review, it appears that some of your readers who are not so educated may come away without the ability to make such fine distinctions.
Not having read your book, I am not sure how exactly you use the term “Manichean left”. Do you use it as a synonym for what a more sympathetic writer might call the “anti-imperialist left”? There are some people - the paradigm case is the Party for Socialism and Liberation who are influential in ANSWER - who are pretty exactly Manichean. But there is also a tradition, within the Anglo-American left, of pairing what is sometimes called a “knee-jerk” opposition to imperialism with a refusal, as somebody else said, to put a plus wherever the imperialists put a minus. A tradition which ranges from EP Thompson and C Wright Mills to the authors of articles like this and in which I would certainly include Chomsky. Do you view all this as simply degrees of Manicheanism? Or do you acknowledge not only the possibility but the actual existence of non-Manichean anti-imperialism? I’m not asking you to re-publish the book here, but perhaps you could indicate where you lean and point my attention towards the relevant pages.
Last point. You say “the human-rights left is working at a disadvantage when competing for the hearts and minds of young activists”. You also say “the Manichean left has no relevance in a political sense”. Could you clarify how these two statements fit together?Posted by on 12/04 at 09:34 AM
dsquared: Three things. One, we disagree on Samantha Power. Two, the Rushdie “strawman” is named Tim Brennan, and I criticize him and his arguments at various points in the book. Three, yes, Operation Turquoise made things worse. In the book, I suggest—following Chris Hedges—taking out or simply jamming that damn radio station.
Kal: After I published What’s Liberal about the Liberal Arts in 2006, I spent a lot of time on the Internets offering capsule summaries of the book’s various arguments for people who hadn’t read the thing. I think that was a mistake—and I know it was enormously time-consuming. So I’ll let the book explain who and what the “Manichean left” is—I mean, that’s why I wrote it. The intro and first chapter should suffice to answer your question, I think. But yes, the American Prospect reviewer lumped a lot of disparate things together, and she also argued—mistakenly, I think—that Stuart Hall was ineffective because he didn’t defeat Thatcher at the polls and that Hall’s vision is more or less realized in Obama. I really don’t want to be held responsible for the misunderstandings of reviewers.
Last point. I don’t see the antiglobalization left or the environmentalist left as Manichean, so I don’t see any tension between those two statements. But I should have said ”electoral sense,” as the rest of my sentence @ 25 suggests.
Fiera @ 27: the classic example is SDS, and I think the experience of watching SDS go over the cliff is something that deeply affects Todd Gitlin to this day.Posted by Michael on 12/04 at 11:56 AM
whoa, no, this is a massive walkback. The original sentence was:
And I am quite sure that American “leftists” who defame Samantha Power as a mouthpiece for war and imperialism and who denounce Salman Rushdie for his response to the fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini are effectively working to undermine the human-rights internationalism that should be the foundation of any global left with regard to genocide and freedom of expression.
Noun plural, tense present, object direct, conjunction “and”. The claim you’re making here is
1) that there are “leftists” (in a pure logical sense you only need there to be two, although there’s an implicit claim that there’s enough who fit the description to be worth talking about)
2) who are today
4) calling Samantha Power a mouthpiece for imperialism
5) in a manner which is defamatory - ie, not the sort of thing that reasonable people can agree to disagree about, but rather the sort of thing that could form the basis for a successful legal action
7) denouncing Salman Rushdie
8) specifically for his response to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa, rather than for anything else he’s said or done.
can’t you see that this is such a crazily overstrong claim that it can’t possibly be other than a strawman? If Pierre likes cheese and Jean-Paul eats snails, then that doesn’t provide a foundation for saying “Frenchmen like cheese and eat snails”.
What you mean is something like “leftists who do the sort of things like defaming Samantha Power or condemning Salman Rushdie are ...xxx”. But this would lose all its rhetorical power because most of the things that leftists of this kind believe are actually quite reasonable and sensible and only occasionally lead to odd conclusions like Tim Brennan’s; also they clearly aren’t working to undermine a international human rights agenda. Which is what makes it a strawman - you’re defining your opponents by reference to unrepresentative cases.
I mean bottom line, read that back? Would you consider that a fair description, really?Posted by on 12/04 at 01:06 PM
Ah, yes, unfortunately I do see your point. I did mean “leftists who do the sort of things,” etc. Would it have helped much if the conjunction had been “or” instead of “and”? As for “defame,” I was thinking of the Herman-Peterson-Johnstone crew, but I see how that’s overstrong as well.Posted by Michael on 12/04 at 03:13 PM
fair enough. I have to confess to really, really not seeing it with Samantha Power though. As far as I can see, the only good thing to be said about her (unless we’re handing out awards for being against genocide, where I broadly agree) is that for the most part, the wildly obviously disastrous policies she advocates have never been put into practice and never will be.
I think the big issue here which is why I keep picking fights with you on this is that neoliberalism, as far as I see it, is a form of imperialism, and that as a form of imperialism, it does kill lots of people (albeit without leaving fingerprints). I think that’s the root of the view that you regard as Manichean; in some cases you’re right that people shouldn’t necessarily regard the fight against this form of imperialism as being on the same level as the second world war, but on the other hand I think a lot of the people you’re allying with don’t regard neoliberalism as bad at all.Posted by on 12/04 at 04:04 PM
Actually, I think I’m not far from you on neoliberalism (or genocide—gotta watch those “and"s). The Manicheanism of which I speak is a combination of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” (the kind of thing that produces slogans like “we are all Hezbollah now") combined with a lefter-than-thou form of denunciation in which everyone who’s not with us is against us (in which I turn out to be objectively prowar in Iraq because I criticized the antiwar movement).
And as I explain in the intro, I did thrash around for a long time trying to come up with a term. I don’t want to say “anti-imperialist” or “radical” left because I have no desire to challenge anti-imperialism or radicalism tout court....Posted by Michael on 12/04 at 04:13 PM
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m attempting to save the cost of the book by goading you into typing it out in 200 word increments.Posted by on 12/04 at 04:39 PM
I was going to stay out of this round, but it should be noted that Michael is absolutely misrepresenting how the slogan “We are all Hezbollah now”, used on t-shorts at one Stop the War demo against the Israeli attack on Lebanon came about. It was inspired by the Chief of the IAF who declared every human in Southern Lebanon to be a “terrorist”.Posted by on 12/04 at 05:19 PM
Well, actually, Christian, I didn’t say anything about how the slogan came about. (I know the context of the original utterance, just as I know that Galloway’s “I am here to glorify the Lebanese resistance, Hezbollah, and to glorify the resistance leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah,” was a response to a recently-passed law forbidding the “glorification” of terrorism.) I’m just saying that (a) these utterances have a way of exceeding their immediate origin, as we postmodern leftists like to put it, and (b) it’s a really stupid slogan and a really stupid rhetorical strategy anyway. A t-shirt with Lebanese children labeled “terrorists” would have made the same point.Posted by Michael on 12/04 at 06:26 PM
Huh? You clearly suggested that the slogan was a result of an “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” approach - something that simply does not apply to the SWP (UK). You might also note that the UK isn’t the US, and they are in the lucky position not to have to worry about “alienating [so-called] progressives” who claim to believe that the situation in the M.E. is in any way symmetric.
Captcha: “anti”. No, really.Posted by on 12/04 at 07:04 PM
In other words, if your critique of the slogan in question is that you could have come up with a better one, how does this prove anything at all about the hard left, apart from maybe that we sometimes don’t produce the perfect slogan?Posted by on 12/04 at 07:06 PM
I’ve got a catchy slogan:
“Fuck the hard left. Rielle Hunter did.”Posted by on 12/05 at 12:33 PM
The following is not just put forth as an example; it is in many ways a tactic with which i am both familiar and advocate--albeit one that is not comfortable with most to the right of the far left.
I advocate “political assassination” as a tactic in the battle against imperialisms (especially of the military-security-industrial complex), corporate perversities against citizens and the planet, and protection of human rights. For the last five decades i have watched the left capitulate and renounce advocacy to stop this or that vile transgression because the most likely positive next step would need to be personal violence. It has been easy for the left to support war as a strategy when dealing with security of national interests and resources. It has never been easy for most of the left in the US to allow themselves to be clubbed, tasered, and maced to advocate a claim, nor to engage in actions that attack the actual perpetrators of assaults on human rights and the planet (the term eco-terrorism certainly is not a euphemism for protecting the planet).
I am confident in saying many of the readers here would find themselves opposed to treespiking for example. Yet, as a tactic in stopping the mass destruction of old growth redwoods and douglas fir forests, it was surprisingly effective--as long as the support from the left held firm. Once the bulk of the left suggested that it could not stomach treespiking, since it threatened “people” at the expense of protecting large swaths of forests, those on the far left were left to be targets for the military police state. The same is true for Greenpeace actions against whaling, PNG and Iryan Jaya tribal assaults of Freeport McMoran’s mining in Indonesia, the mountain-top mining fights in Appalachia, and yes, even the ELF.
But, in the last three weeks we see those on the right (and yes indeed, that fringe is the whole for sure) engaging in outright criminal actions against climate science to stop a process that may negatively impact the actual standard of living and way of life for many citizens of this nation. Not only are these acts criminal and personal, but they are being supported by corporations and the main stream media. It is one thing to delve into all the theory (ie Arne Naess, John Seed, Jack Turner et al), but quite another to step off the sidewalk and take action. Yet if those on the far left don’t begin to pick up the fight, the agents of Xe and KBR will be visiting your campuses soon without much resistance.Posted by on 12/05 at 11:51 PM
Probably instead of posting the above rant, i might have just passed along this video, it speaks volumes about it all.Posted by on 12/06 at 11:03 AM
Looks like Samantha Power is not the only mouthpiece for war and imperialism. That dang Tiger Woods, despite his preoccupation with getting laid, has still managed to offend the hard left for his insensitivity to global evil:Posted by on 12/06 at 09:25 PM
That truly is appalling, Foucault. The only thing more shocking than an adulterous athlete, surely, is a golfer with nasty corporate connections.Posted by Michael on 12/06 at 10:29 PM
I know, I know. If only he’d gone with Toyota Prius Hybrid Car as a sponsor, or given it up with a girl from Habitat for Humanity, this could all have been avoided. The mans (captcha) life is ruined.Posted by on 12/06 at 11:42 PM
Also, the poor slighted wife, Elin Nordegren, is from Scandanavia, where the latest climate change summit is being held. Coincidence?
I am confident in saying many of the readers here would find themselves opposed to treespiking for example.
Well, I prefer to hold it as a last resort, especially if I’m simultaneously arguing against maiming and killing ordinary folks overseas for the crimes of their masters. YKMV.
the mountain-top mining fights in Appalachia,
Well, depending on the specific last-ditch methodology, going to great lengths there could have immediate benefits in saving miners from maiming and death, as well as preserving at least a tiny portion of West Virginia.
and yes, even the ELF.
Well, I sorta like “Three AM Eternal,” and the stunt with burning all those banknotes was awesome, but I’m not sure I’d join them in violent revolution.
Hey, what did the man say when he saw three wells? “Hole, hole, hole!”Posted by on 12/07 at 02:52 PM
What becomes interesting to me, mds, is that the three aspects you mention involve essentially the same four players in the unfolding of the acts and drama. Why is it that there are so very few who stand out here on the “fringe” left willing to see the necessary actions, that are clearly outside the box, to stop the negotiated agreements that only serve to continue to the carnage and damage.
Mountain-top mining is one of the most vile, long-term, environmental threats to the future of the generations of West Virginia children.Posted by on 12/08 at 02:14 AM
Hi Dr B,
how are you? hmm.
Well, as a former student of someone with a name similar to yours: a teacher who once taught high school at Bloomfield Hills Lahser, I assert that Thomas Jefferson would disagree with many of you views regarding the left.
Maybe we’ll talk more about it: if you indeed are the creative genius history teacher I remember. I would be honored to have your critical input on my current efforts.
Incidentally, nice website/blog Mr. Berube.Posted by Thomas Krawford on 12/14 at 04:54 AM
Thanks, Mr. Krawford. But I have to admit that I’ve never taught history, and never taught at Bloomfield Hills Lahser. Best of luck with your current efforts, whatever they may be--Posted by Michael on 12/14 at 08:32 AM