As a Tory, Michael Burleigh says that he doesn’t need to be told how nasty the Left can get because he already knows it. (His review isn’t online, but I don’t think they’ll mind if I reproduce it here.)
22 Jan 2007: Evening Standard – Page 37 – (630 words)
No Left turn for the Liberals
By: MICHAEL BURLEIGH
What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way by Nick Cohen (Fourth Estate, pounds 12.99)
NICK Cohen is a widely admired columnist in the Left-liberal press, writing with a genuine passion and human sympathy about people who have experienced appalling suffering, like many of the Iraqis he includes in this book. Cohen grew up in a Leftwing Jewish household in Manchester. That background meant it was an article of faith that the Left was morally good they were the people who shopped with political discernment. His faith in the moral superiority of the Left survived even the revelation that Communism may have liquidated as many as 120 million people in the 20th century.
One of the cardinal tenets of Cohen’s Left was “anti-Fascism”, the old rallying cry with its stirring echoes of Cable Street and Madrid’s La Passionara in the 1930s. This creed first began to be abandoned by some of the marginal Leftwing sects that Cohen knows so well. These are like cults, in which some morally squalid guru dominates the lives and minds of idiot actresses, students and a few token proles.
They take a perverse delight in opposing reform since this might diminish the likelihood of their violent Jacobin-Leninist fantasies coming about.
To Cohen’s mounting horror, such people began to flirt with some of the most vicious regimes on Earth, arguing that Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein were victims of sinister Western imperialist plots to do down the last (Serbian) bastion of Balkan socialism or to get their hands on Iraq’s oil.
Within the world of ideas and the Academy, the Left’s slightly tired, and totally discredited, historic narrative of class war and anti-Fascism was replaced by varieties of postmodernism. The writings of Noam Chomsky, Michel Foucault and Edward Said, edged out standardised Marxism, the result being that far broader numbers of Left-liberal people were capable of infinite indulgence and amoral relativity towards the Third World “Other”, up to and including such charming customs as “sati”, or setting one’s discarded wife alight. The bizarre alliance between sections of the new Left and Third World fascists and authoritarians had been born.
While Cohen is rightly damning in his criticisms of the Left-“liberalism” that dominates every branch of the arts and humanities in this country, including the BBC and several magazines and papers Cohen writes for, he rarely examines exactly how this sinister unanimity came to pass, that is, through low-level corruption, fixups and other squalid practices that have led to the creation of the Left university from which such people are churned out.
He should have skipped his laboured potted histories of this and that in favour of what he does best, namely moral outrage. He has much to be outraged about.
The trends he observes culminate in the shocking response of the Left to al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks and the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. It is useful to be reminded just how stupid well-educated people can otherwise be. Thus, Mary Beard, a minor Cambridge classics don and regular presence on the LRB and TLS, claimed that the US “had it coming” and that we should listen to what al Qaeda had to say. Leftist sects like the SWP enjoyed a Lazarus-like moment when they latched onto know-nothing Muslims and the huge potentials of the antiwar movement. The vaguely seedy George Galloway had his demagogic moment.
Finally, in the most extraordinary transformation Cohen describes, the new Left’s flirtation with Middle Eastern “Fascists” became explicit espousal of their ideas, as the Left began to openly talk about “Kosher Conspiracies” in Britain and of alleged Jewish control of US foreign policy by the neo-cons.
Not much evidence of goodness there, but then unlike the author, I’m one of the much-maligned “nasty” party who always doubted the fundamental premises of his book.
. Michael Burleigh is author of Earthly Powers and Sacred Causes (Harper Press).