Rest In Pieces
Nick Cohen explains why he abandoned the church of the Left in a Guardian article where he argued it was about to betray its principles for a second time within living memory. The first was when it sold its soul to Stalin in exchange for the debased coin of pacifistic self-righteousness. Its second embrace of totalitarianism is today, exchanging the labels "Islam" for "Communism" and "Arabia" for "Russia". Cohen compared the two betrayals.
Auden noticed a retreat from universal principles in the 1930s - communism was fine in 'semi-barbaric' Russia but would have been a screaming outrage in a civilised country. He should have been alive today. With no socialism to provide international solidarity, good motives of tolerance and respect for other cultures have had the unintended consequence of leading a large part of post-modern liberal opinion into the position of 19th-century imperialists. It is presumptuous and oppressive to suggest that other cultures want the liberties we take for granted, their argument runs. So it may be, but believe that and the upshot is that democracy, feminism and human rights become good for whites but not for browns and brown-skinned people who contradict you are the tools of the neo-conservatives. On the other hand when confronted with a movement of contemporary imperialism - Islamism wants an empire from the Philippines to Gibraltar - and which is tyrannical, homophobic, misogynist, racist and homicidal to boot, they feel it is valid because it is against Western culture. It expresses its feelings in a regrettably brutal manner perhaps, but that can't hide its authenticity.
But it is the incidental argument in Cohen's chain reasoning that is most significant. He knows that socialism as an ideology with scientific pretensions is dead: all that is left is manner.
I'm sure that any halfway competent political philosopher could rip the assumptions of modern middle-class left-wingery apart. Why is it right to support a free market in sexual relationships but oppose free-market economics, for instance? But his criticisms would have little impact. It's like a religion: the contradictions are obvious to outsiders but don't disturb the faithful. You believe when you're in its warm embrace.
And manner is not enough. The collapse of the Left's rigor and militant core means it is vulnerable to the erosive effects of militant Islam. The Belmont Club argued in September, 2003 that:
The hollowing out of the Left -- the death of its Bolshevik core -- is one of the great unwritten stories of the late twentieth century. The decline of the cadre of professional revolutionaries at its center was simultaneously matched by the inrush from the periphery of the network of sympathizers, fellow travelers and "useful fools" which it once adopted as protective coloration. It was a classic case of the inmates taking over an asylum from which the keepers had fled. ... the freak show of autonomists, zapatistas, rage-against-the-machine cultists, transgender spokespersons, abortion rights activists, militant gay and lesbians and tattered academics that characterize today's Left. ... To experience any real militancy, today's Left wing activists must attach themselves as pathetic dogs to Islamic causes like the International Solidarity Movement. There, they can indulge their fantasy of advancing world socialism while objectively dying for Osama Bin Laden or Yasser Arafat. The circle is complete. The roles have been reversed. The heirs to moribund Bolshevism have now become the "useful fools", the protective coloration of a dynamic militant Islamism.
As Cohen puts it, "with no socialism to provide international solidarity", all that is left is "good motives of tolerance and respect for other cultures" -- even when that culture is sworn to destroy the Left itself -- like some association of morons intent on carrying out a function whose purpose no one can remember. Cohen ends on a note of hope. "My advice to my former comrades is to struggle out of your straitjackets and get off at the next station. It would be good to see you on this side of the barrier." I wouldn't hold my breath.