Sunday, January 21, 2007

London Calling: The Whole World Is Upside Down

"In the past conservatives made excuses for fascism because they mistakenly saw it as a continuation of their democratic rightwing ideas. Now, overwhelmingly and everywhere, liberals and leftists are far more likely than conservatives to excuse fascistic governments and movements, with the exception of their native far-right parties. As long as local racists are white, they have no difficulty in opposing them in a manner that would have been recognisable to the traditional left. But give them a foreign far-right movement that is anti-Western and they treat it as at best a distraction and at worst an ally."

That's from Nick Cohen's What's Left?: How Liberals Lost Their Way, which is excerpted at length in the Observer today. I expect to be reviewing What's Left? in my Dissent column soon.

Over at the Sunday Times, Christopher Hitchens observes: "Cohen has no problem with those who are upset about state-sponsored exaggerations of the causes of war, or furious about the bungled occupation of Iraq that has ensued. People who think this is the problem are not his problem. Here’s his problem: the people who would die before they would applaud the squaddies and grunts who removed hideous regimes from Afghanistan and Iraq, yet who happily describe Islamist video-butchers and suicide-murderers as a “resistance”.

The book has set off the usual berserking, in spades.

Cohen is a writer I've long admired. His web page is here.

21 Comments:

Blogger Robert McClelland said...

Yawn. Yet more of the "left supports evil" tripe sans evidence.

3:18 PM  
Blogger FurGaia said...

Cohen may be trying to pre-empt what will surely be growing awareness of those other liberals who refused to condemn the war.

5:02 PM  
Blogger Nav said...

So Rob, how do you feel about Castro?

Just fishing for evidence.

8:08 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

I'm pretty sure that most people on the left would agree with me that fascism must be opposed, regardless of its source.

Sometimes I agree with you Terry, about your criticisms of some on the left, but I think you are mistaken that it is as prevalent on the left as you seem to suggest.

8:52 PM  
Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

In the past conservatives made excuses for fascism because ...

Saudi Arabia
Pakistan
Egypt
Kuwait
Jordan
Nigeria
Equatorial Guinea
The Gulf States

What, exactly, are US conservatives saying about these dictatorships?

Liberals and leftists more likely than conservatives to excuse fascism? Really?

News to me.

9:02 PM  
Blogger Robert McClelland said...

So Rob, how do you feel about Castro?

He'll be dead soon.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Robert McClelland said...

Cohen may be trying to pre-empt what will surely be growing awareness of those other liberals who refused to condemn the war.

You're probably right. I'd imagine those other liberals aren't too comfortable now that the war is going to hell; at odds with their liberal companions and not finding their current company to their liking. Too bad they don't simply realize the best way to get out of the hole they're in is to stop digging.

9:27 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...

Stephen: I'm not suggesting anything here except that Cohen's book (or at least the excerpts I've pointed to) says some very important things that desparately need to be said about the state of the "left." Pretending these currents aren't significant isn't any way to deal with the problem.

DPU: Cohen isn't absolving conservatives of anything (and are Jordan and Nigeria dictatorships?), but this is a book about where the left has gone, and it's written by a solid citizen of the left. Changing the subject doesn't change anything about what Cohen's pointing out.

Nav: That first comment suggesting there's no evidence for moral squalor on the left is from Robert "Fuck The Jews" McClelland, yes?

9:35 PM  
Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

(and are Jordan and Nigeria dictatorships?)

The Economist Democracy Index lists Jordan ranked 113 out of 167, tied with Pakistan at the top of their "Authoritarian Regimes" section. Nigeria is 124, being somewhat worse.

Cohen isn't absolving conservatives of anything...

He's saying that leftists are more likely to excuse fascism than conservatives, which is unsubstantiated nonsense. Conservatives support a US administration which, for example, recently gave Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea a tour of the White House and a delightful photo op with the US Secretary of State because his oil resereves allows his hideous human rights record to be excused.

C'mon now. More likely to excuse fascism? Hardly.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Robert McClelland said...

Nav: That first comment suggesting there's no evidence for moral squalor on the left is from Robert "Fuck The Jews" McClelland, yes?

Well here's all you need to know about Glavin. He's a guy who judges people on the basis of the title of one blogpost. Which is pretty much makes the case that there's no evidence to support Cohen's gibberish either.

11:35 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...

DPU:

Nigeria and Jordan are authoritarian regimes, but they're not dictatorships. They're actually emerging democracies.

But more importantly. . .

You're confusing the relationships between states (and photo ops at the White House) with excuse-making for fascistic governments and movements. And that isn't to excuse the hypocrisy of the Bush administration in these matters, either.

You do raise a good point, though.

Are liberals and "leftists" in the west nowadays more or less likely than conservatives to make excuses for "fascistic governments and movements"? From everything I've seen over the past few years, I wouldn't be surprised, and I think you know damn well you're going way out on a limb by calling Cohen's claim "unsubstantiated nonsense".

Meantime, I look forward to Cohen's book, and I also look forward to your petition calling for an invasion to liberate the people of Equatorial Guinea. . .

12:07 AM  
Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

Meantime, I look forward to Cohen's book, and I also look forward to your petition calling for an invasion to liberate the people of Equatorial Guinea. . .

What, you haven't signed it yet?

If only we could prove our measure of ideological purity through the petitions that we'd signed, or through the nations that we've wanted to invade. These debates would be then so much more simple.

Of course, Cohen's opposition to the Afghanistan invasion might prove problematic in that case.

7:30 AM  
Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

Nigeria and Jordan are authoritarian regimes, but they're not dictatorships. They're actually emerging democracies.

Abdullah has very few restrictions on his total control of the government, the judiciary, the military, and the security forces. They use torture, they have political prisoners. I'd call that a dictatorship even if things have improved somewhat in the last few years, and the Economist rates at the same level as Pakistan and Egypt.

I think you know damn well you're going way out on a limb by calling Cohen's claim "unsubstantiated nonsense".

Actually, I think that the burden of proof lies the other way, but this is old ground. Yes, some knee-jerk leftists are going to excuse some nasty people purely on the basis of their opposition to the US, but what of it? If the point is to identify them and publicly attack them, then Cohen should do so on the basis of those specific beliefs or statements by individuals. But these attacks are too often taking the form of mournful head-shaking about the general sad state of "the left" these days. That does little good.

8:07 AM  
Blogger tglavin said...

DPU:

I was tongue in cheek about the Equatorial Guinea petition. Just wanting you to be consistent from one minute to the next, at least. Irony and all that.

As for Cohen being consistent with what he wrote about this more than five years ago . . . I can remember writing a very similar column around the same time, about the same subject. As I recall, the headline was War Is Not The Answer. I was against war in Afghanistan as a response to 911 - at least warfare in any traditional sense (and I was against the invasion of Iraq for the same sort of reasons) and I was against the outrageous jingoism and demented belligerence of the time as well. It's just not how you beat theocratic fascism, of the al Qaida kind, or the Khomeinist kind, or more conventional fascism, of the Baathist kind.

I think I was mostly right about Iraq, but I turned out to be wrong in my expectation of what overthrowing the Taliban would involve. As things turned out, the Taliban had pretty well fallen before the Yanks even got there. But I cefrtainly wasn't ideologically opposed to the idea that the "west" should help overthrow the Taliban, and I certainly didn't salute the indefatigability of Saddam.

Cohen was wrong, too, in his expectation of widespread famine in Afghanistan. Turns out he's not a clairvoyant. Apart from that, Cohen's column was written at a time that precedes most of the period his book is about. And as it also turns out, it stands up pretty well after all this time, and after everything that has happened.

But come on - have you even read those excerpts in the Observer? It's hardly fair to say Cohen is not being specific and he's just engaging in a hand-wringing exercise. You're also forgetting that it doesn't matter how specific you get in outing the excuse-makers and fellow travelers of fascism in key leadership positions on the "left." You'll still be accused of broad-brushing the left or "smearing" the so-called peace movement.

That's been my experience. You can expose specific individuals in key "anti-war" organizations who actually run organizations established for the explicit purpose of promoting Khomeinism worldwide and you'll still be accused of engaging in a smear job. That's how deep the denial runs, DPU.

And I'm a bit surprised that you'd write, "but what of it?"

Everything we ever stood for, that's what.

Anyway, Cohen's book just arrived at the door as I was writing this. So you can complain again when my Tyee column's done.

Cheerio,

T

9:27 AM  
Blogger double-plus-ungood said...

Terry: You're also forgetting that it doesn't matter how specific you get in outing the excuse-makers and fellow travelers of fascism in key leadership positions on the "left."

Cohen: Now, overwhelmingly and everywhere, liberals and leftists are far more likely than conservatives to excuse fascistic governments and movements...

The emphasized part is what I'm objecting to, Terry.

I was tongue in cheek about the Equatorial Guinea petition.

I knew I should have added a smiley to my response.

As for Cohen being consistent with what he wrote about this more than five years ago ...

I'd just like to take this opportunity to say that I've never been wrong about anything, ever. :-)

It irks me somewhat, though, that Cohen objected to Afghanistan yet supported Iraq. That is a position just so colossally wrong that I'm amazed he shows his face in public, let alone writes a book condemning other's positions.

And I'm a bit surprised that you'd write, "but what of it?"

Because I don't think it's as prevalent as Cohen says, and nut-bars are always with us, as they are with any ideology. I'm unsure of to which market Cohen is targeting his writing, but I'd think that the ones most eager to buy and read it are probably those who like to imagine the majority of the left to be moonbats. In other words, conservatives. I notice that the right-wing blogs are already signing its praises.

11:32 AM  
Blogger tglavin said...

"It irks me somewhat, though, that Cohen objected to Afghanistan yet supported Iraq."

Now that's an oversimplification for ye. . .

Cohen certainly did not object to proposition that the Taliban should be overthrown, and he was not "wrong" to be on the side arguing for the overthrow of Saddam. The "left" was overwhelming opposed to the U.S.-led invasion. So was I. But that doesn't put me at odds with Cohen on matters of fundamental principle.

What's wrong, as he makes painfully clear, is that broad sections of the left changed sides and abandoned the real Iraqi resistance as soon as the bombs started to fall, and the default position of much of the left shifted to an Iraqi "resistance" that is in fact made up of Baathist and Islamist reactionaries who turned immediately to assassinating trade unionists and democrats and who have lately been responsible for the deliberate slaughter of so many Iraqi innocents.

As for the claim that Cohen's overgeneralizing, you're dead wrong. In fact you're overgeneralizing. I've also just had a quick look at his lengthy introduction, and Cohen's taken pains to set out his terms quite carefully. "You can't write clearly without generalizations," he writes (and I'm afraid you can't dispute that, DPU), so he sets out his definitions in great detail.

This is a book about the distance the "left" has strayed from its anti-fascist traditions, and the extent to which the "left" has substituted anti-Americanism for internationalism and identity politics over class politics. As a journalist, I've observed this pattern first hand for more than a decade. I've been following Cohen for years and he has documented this trend better than I have, specifically and exhaustively, as have many, many others.

Sorry, DPU, but it really is happening. And it really is widespread.

Don't be in denial.

Now, I know you like to have the last word, so go ahead if you like. But I think I'm going to wait to actually read Cohen's book.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

Well after reading this what can I say anyway here is Cohen(from Observer excerpt)...
"The protests against the overthrow of a fascist regime weren't just a European phenomenon. From Calgary to Buenos Aires, the left of the Americas marched. In Cape Town and Durban, politicians from the African National Congress, who had once appealed for international solidarity against South Africa's apartheid regime, led the opposition to the overthrow of a fascist regime. On a memorable day, American scientists at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica produced another entry for the record books. Historians will tell how the continent's first political demonstration was a protest against the overthrow of a fascist regime.

Saddam Hussein was delighted, and ordered Iraqi television to show the global day of action to its captive audience."....
...............................
what simplistic stupid rubbish.So that why I and so many opposed the war,we were supporting Saddam and his fascist regime.
wow....
Dirk gimpchronicles.com

1:36 AM  
Blogger tglavin said...

In the book, Cohen goes to great pains to make clear that most people at those rallies were there for all the right reasons. In the excerpt you cite, though, he is actually being quite accurate, I'm afraid. Be fair - he's not saying the people at those demonstrations supported a fascist regime, Dirk. But strictly speaking, the rallies were indeed "against the overthrow of a fascist regime."

That is objectively true. It is also ironic, to put it mildly. I realize that the very idea of objective truth is unfashionable these days, as is irony, but the book is written from a traditional left perspective. It requires the reader to consider what is objectively true, and exepcts the reader to be capable of appreciating irony.

And the book is actually a lot better and braver and more thorough than I'd expected.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

so it was not because they were against war.knowing that war usually kills more innocents than anything else.Not because most wars create more problems than they solve.
Not because we all knew that the reasons the US gave were bullshit.And then there is the history of US invasions(that was also a factor)which are usually about every thing else but democracy,freedom or helping the down trodden i.e Vietnam Nicaragua,Guatemala,Cuba etc etc etc
How could all those anti-war types not trust US intentions.
The fact that in the end(history shows) it will always be the people that decide their own future.In Iraq they seemed to have chosen religious party's,who's ideas about democracy etc are quite different than that of the West.So in affect the invasion has done more for the extremists than any number of anti-war demonstrations.In deed the nightmare predicted by the "ant-war","Saddam supporters" seems to have becoming the reality.
Silly people,so stupid just have no clue about the complex nature of things unlike Cohen.And his unprecedented and wise insights...
"If you are against the invasion then you must support Saddam"
"if were against the war,you must support fascism,or religious fundamentalism"

5:16 PM  
Blogger tglavin said...

Dirk:

Why don't you go and argue with someone who actually holds these views or said these things?

10:52 PM  
Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

"what simplistic stupid rubbish."

Interesting. How does one describe in this way what seems to be (to my, admittedly simplistic, eye) a factual description of something that really happened?

P.S. Terry, that link to CiF was a low blow. I have already took my weekly dose of that poison ;-)

11:31 AM  

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