I wrote this for my other site, Adlermusic.com, a couple of weeks ago. I reprint it here today, our fourth 9/11 milepost.

A supportive and brilliant friend has challenged my recent political writings as follows:

I’m struck by a reactionary strain in your choice of material…it’s as though you have self-consciously taken on the job of thought-policing the left…. I respectfully don’t think you are picking the right targets. It’s as though you forget how imbalanced the entire status quo is in this country and the world in general! … Personally I think that we on the left need you not to police us but to help speak the truth to power, not to rise up against the powerless or already hyper-marginalized, even when they do go off the edge.

I’ve anticipated these criticisms, and while I respect them, I find them misplaced.

Do I hold the left to a higher standard? Absolutely. As a person of the left, I expect a great deal from my side, just as I expect a great deal from myself.

Like many of my colleagues and friends, I am repulsed by George Bush and his Republican Party. I believe the Iraq invasion was not just poorly planned, but wrong in the first place. I despise the Republicans’ jingoism, their tolerance of torture, their trashing of the Geneva Conventions, their unjust economic policies, their anti-gay and anti-science agenda, their hate campaign against judges, their insidious attacks on PBS. [Ed.: written pre-Katrina.] The list goes on; I won’t continue it here.

In my circles it is taken for granted that if one loathes Bush, one necessarily shares the views and goals of the anti-imperialist left. This assumption is strongly evident in my friend’s comments above. The logic I take to be this: If one hears outright nonsense from the antiwar side, calling it nonsense is somehow disreputable, a betrayal of sorts. But unquestioning loyalty to the left is not wise. History tells us so.

It is not my intention to “police” anyone. I am highlighting certain left-wing arguments so as to reject them. I am attempting to put forth a principled position. On this site I have criticized Howard Zinn, Arundhati Roy and George Galloway, among others. These are not marginal figures in today’s antiwar movement. They are among its principal ideologists. I believe they are wrong about many things. Yet I am expected to join the crowd, to amplify the thunderous applause that greets them everywhere they go. I will not.

I believe there is an alternative to Bush on the right and venomous anti-Americanism on the left, which Pierre-André Taguieff has described as “a new transnational political orthodoxy.” The alternative is being sketched by such disputatious writers as Paul Berman, Peter Beinart, Johann Hari, Oliver Kamm and Nick Cohen; by the many signers of the Unite Against Terror petition; and by the bloggers at Harry’s Place, which Cohen has described as “the meeting place of the anti-fascist left.” In the UK, this “Third Force” is gaining ground, and arguing with exhilarating clarity, in the aftermath of the London attacks. But its ideas are applicable in the U.S. and everywhere else. (At some point the Democratic Party may want to take up the call and end its current abdication on foreign policy.)

Paul Berman has discussed the contemporary relevance of Léon Blum’s staunchly anti-Soviet “Third Force” faction of French Socialists. Today’s “Third Force,” like Blum’s, is being denounced as pro-imperialist, reactionary, right-wing and worse. The attacks are scurrilous, but the Chomskyites and the Galloway fans are right in one respect: Our differences with the antiwar left are fundamental. We reject the view that Islamist terror is a convenient Western fiction, or an explicable response to American and British malfeasance, or an insignificant threat compared to American power. We will not lock arms with those, like Galloway, who glorified Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, and who now glorify the work of the Iraqi insurgents. We will not join Ramsey Clark and his allies as they labor on behalf of “anti-imperialist” dictators. We will not look the other way as the Socialist Workers Party forges foul alliances with anti-Semitic crackpots (I am referring to Gilad Atzmon). We differ widely on the Iraq war and military action in general, but we support Tony Blair’s notion of a “war of ideas”—i.e., the values of pluralist liberalism against the values of religious fascism.

To return to my friend’s remarks above: I’m not terribly interested in what the left “needs” me to do at the moment. I’m more concerned with articulating my own principles and how they diverge with the antiwar left as presently constituted. I grant that my remarks reflect an imbalance, a preoccupation with the left’s flaws. Why? For one thing, I live in New York, where those flaws are staring me closely in the face. Also, a flawed opposition is an ineffective opposition. (To take one example, Jane Fonda’s decision to appear with Galloway during his upcoming U.S. tour is a mammoth disgrace, and an early Christmas gift to the Bush administration.) Most important, when “being on the left” entails agreement with positions I do not hold, intellectual honesty demands that I dissent. Perhaps this doesn’t count as “speaking truth to power,” but I believe it is crucial nonetheless.

—First published at Adlermusic.com, August 26, 2005

**Update: Jane Fonda canceled her appearances with George Galloway.

Comments are closed.