November 7, 2006

What's Left?

British journalist Nick Cohen’s new book, What's Left? How the Liberals Lost their Way, will be published by 4th Estate in February, 2007, but Oliver Kamm has had a preview, and he says it's excellent, “and you should pre-order it now.” As the synopsis by says, the book dissects the agonies, idiocies and compromises of mainstream liberal thought, or, as Oliver Kamm puts it, the scandal of “how segments of the Left, in their willingness to discern progressive qualities in the most reactionary causes, went over to the other side of the political divide.”

Besides, this book reminds me of a very interesting seminar held in Rome on May 31, 2006, to discuss the reasons why the Left has forgotten its own principles. The speakers were Paul Berman, Christopher Hitchens, John Lloyd, Piero Fassino (general secretary of the Democrats of the Left), and Adriano Sofri (former leader of the far Left Lotta Continua). An account of the seminar was given by a special correspondent for normblog—final comment included.

Nick Cohen—a columnist for the Observer and New Statesman—comes from the Left, and when, at the age of 13, he found out that his kind and thoughtful English teacher voted Conservative, he nearly fell off his chair: 'To be good, you had to be on the Left.' Today—as the abstract suggests—he's no less confused:

When he looks around him, in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, he sees a community of Left-leaning liberals standing on their heads. Why is it that apologies for a militant Islam that stands for everything the liberal-Left is against come from a section of the Left? After the American and British wars in Bosnia and Kosovo against Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansers, why were men and women of the Left denying the existence of Serb concentration camps? Why is Palestine a cause for the liberal-Left, but not, for instance, China, the Sudan, Zimbabwe or North Korea? Why can't those who say they support the Palestinian cause tell you what type of Palestine they would like to see? After the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington why were you as likely to read that a sinister conspiracy of Jews controlled American or British foreign policy in a liberal literary journal as in a neo-Nazi rag? It's easy to know what the Left is fighting against - the evils of Bush and corporations - but what and, more to the point, who are they fighting for? As he tours the follies of the Left, Nick Cohen asks us to reconsider what it means to be liberal in this confused and topsy-turvy time. With the angry satire of Swift, he reclaims the values of democracy and solidarity that united the movement against fascism, and asks: What's Left?

Hat tip: Harry’s Place