Saturday, June 03, 2006

A new world, from the ashes of the old

The decision to sign the Euston Manifesto was pretty easy for me, when I considered the company I would be obliged to keep. In the manifesto's authors and in its signatures, I recognized a pretty trustworthy crowd.

There is Norm Geras, Marxist scholar and emeritus professor at Manchester University; left-wing Independent columnist Nick Cohen; Paul Berman, author of Power and the Idealists; Marc Cooper of the venerable U.S. magazine The Nation; Francis Wheen, a foremost authority on Karl Marx; historian Marko Attila Hoare; poet George Szirtes; Wellesley professor and Journal of Human Rights editor Thomas Cushman; Dissent editor Michael Walzer; and on and on.

The Canadian list made the decision even easier. Its signatures show a healthy cross-section of academics, writers and activists. They include anthropologist Nadia Khouri, Toronto student activist Nav Purewal, Ontario gay-rights leader Jim Monk, Concordia University social-work professor Amiel Pariser, McGill sociology professor Axelvan den Berg, Jack Cunningham of the Inuvik library board, Vancouver punk-rock writer/blogger Simon Harvey, University of Toronto philosophy professor Paul Franks, and many others.

Ms. Khouri was unequivocal about her reasons for signing: "The radical left's negative reaction to the whole question of humanitarian intervention, their tolerance for post-colonial tyrants and hereditary dictators, their sick 'root cause' explanations of terrorist butcheries of innocent civilians, their pathological anti-Americanism. I'm also stunned at the Western feminists' betrayal of their oppressed sisters in Muslim countries."

But will the Euston Manifesto change anything?

McGill's Axel van den Berg says he thinks so. He considers the manifesto a kind of "revolt," and, at the very least, he says, "a strong reassertion of some universal perspective is very encouraging."

The University of Toronto's Paul Franks is convinced the manifesto's authors are on to something: "It hit a nerve," Prof. Franks says. "This is a conflict. It's a conflict over identity and tradition, and there are people who do not want to be put into a position where they have to defend these principles."

He had no qualms about those principles, his obligation to defend them, or which side he was on. So he signed.

"Besides," he says, "it's just good to know there are some kindred spirits out there."

That's from my essay in today's Globe and Mail about the Euston Manifesto. I'd put the link here except you need to register, but our comrade Norm Geras has put up a condensed version of the piece on his fine page, here.


Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

One of the general feelings about the EM is that many, if not most of, the signatories were supporters of the invasion of Iraq, despite one of the co-authors being opposed to the venture, and that many of the manifesto's better qualities are thereby tarred with that brush, reducing the manifesto's effect in forging a new definition of the left. Of course, that perception isn't helped by the EM being endorsed by someone like Michelle Malkin and the gang over at the extreme-right wing blog RedState.

Would you say that's the case, or is it a misconception?

12:35 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...

You'll find more than one early opponent of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq among the manifesto's co-authors. Alan Johnson, for instance, was a prominent stop-the-war activist.

That the manifesto has brought together people who were divided on the question does not result in its "reducing the manifesto's effect." To my mind, it significantly strengthens it, because it demonstrates that there are far more important things that unite us.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

It's impossible to control who endorses a particular cause or person, so I don't think that Euston should be jugded by the fact that it's been misappropriated by Malkin, other killbloggers and assorted troglodytes. (For a local parallel, Christy Clark was supported by Adam Yoshida, but it would be dishonest to hold it against her or grill her about his support for her.)

Unfortunately, perception doesn't work that way. I can certainly see a lot of the small-l liberals and social democrats that Euston should encompass being turned off by the association with a bunch of people who've glommed on to the manifesto in order to use it as a cugdel. That's counterproductive -- better to sign on and then declare that Malkin and her fellow internment-loving, torture-supporting comrades are being dishonest, I'd think.

It would be unfortunate for Euston to be debased in practice. Those who are of a leftish bent who are repelled by some lefties' preference for thuggish foreign governments need ways to differentiate themselves from the "anti-imperialist" crowd -- Euston, despite its flaws, is one such way.

Ian King

2:19 PM  
Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

It would be unfortunate for Euston to be debased in practice. Those who are of a leftish bent who are repelled by some lefties' preference for thuggish foreign governments need ways to differentiate themselves from the "anti-imperialist" crowd -- Euston, despite its flaws, is one such way.

The problem is that there are really three camps in the left, as I see it. The group that supported the Iraq disaster before it became a disaster, the group that opposed it for honourable reasons, and the crazies (o the anti-imperialists, as you call them).

There is an enormous rift at this point between the Decent Left and the Honourable Left over Iraq, because for too long the Decents have lumped the Honourables in with the whackos. For example, see Paul Berman's A Friendly Drink in a Time of War for an example of a socialist argument against the limp arguments of the anti-imperialist crowd without even a hint of attempting to deal with the honourable reasons against the invasion. They're harder to deal with, which is why they were probably ignored, but the result is a defacto statement that anyone opposing the war was a whackjob.

Aside from the problem of right-wingers who have identified with the Manifesto because they see it as a justification of a failed policy that they don't want to own up to, there's still the problem of the rift. It isn't addressed in any way by the manifesto, and will therefore become an issue of polarization. I suspect that the number of signatories who originally opposed the war will remain fairly small, and will therefore doom it to ineffectuality.

4:07 AM  
Blogger Robert G. said...

Excellent piece, TG.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Simon said...

Seeing this in Saturday's Globe was tremendous. Living in Canada, for all our prosperity and freedoms, one sometimes feels rather left out of the picture when reading of vigorous debate, worthwhile demonstrations and so on that seem always to happen alsewhere, so a Canadian perspective--especially one that specifically tied the Euston Manifesto to Canadian political realities-- was especially welcome. Thanks for both the article itself and for the mention-- it's not exactly every day that one's stupid record review blog gets cited in the country's best newpaper and among such elevated company, after all!

3:25 PM  

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