[Marxism] Crooked Timber on Kenan Makiya
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jan 11 12:25:09 MST 2006
There's some interesting discussion on Chris Bertram's initial post.
Bertram was on the editorial board of NLR but resigned after a battle took
place, the exact nature of which I have not been able to determine. Since
his departure, he has evolved in a more-or-less liberal direction and
supported NATO intervention in the Balkans. But he has not backed the war
in Iraq, more from pragmatic reasons than anything else. Here's a pip of a
comment from somebody named Brendan:
After wading through huge chunks of (mainly) humourless, arrogant,
self-aggrandising, paranoid, vindictive and just plain foolish pro-invasion
left wing prose, I think (I think) I get it.
There are two main theoretical aspects to the cruise missile lefts
1: First, they view the history of post-war American geopolitics as
follows. After WW2, the US did not become an Empire (as some historians
have argued). Instead, American foreign policy was seized by a group of
people called Realists. These people were moral relativists and
objectivists at the same time. They were relativists in that they believed
that there was no such thing as morality, but objectivists in that they
believed that all issues of foreign policy should be considered by asking:
does this benefit the United States?.
It was these realists (so the story goes) who ran all American foreign
policy until George Bush Junior, who began as a realist but then (after
September 11) became a neo-conservative. Neo-conservatives are, we are
told, the complete opposite of realists (of whom the prime example,
apparently, is Henry Kissinger). They are moralists, they are idealists,
they believe in the spread of democracy, and they want to remake the
Middle East by bringing democracy to it. Only by doing exactly what the
neo-conservatives say can a genuinely left wing foreign policy be created.
So thats it. Note: the Keyboard Kommandos rarely state this explicitly but
this is one of the key animating aspects of their philosophy.
Now, briefly, (we could be here all night) whats wrong with this theory?
apart from everything?
For a start it omits the strain of idealism that has always animated
American foreign policy, and omits the fact that the more idealist the
President, the worst tend to be the crimes. Many of the worst atrocities of
the post-war era occurred under Kennedy who was no Realist and no cynic. Or
what about Carter? He was a left wing Christian, who believed in
universal values, democracy and civil rights, all of which were strangely
forgotten when the issue of East Timor arrived.
The human rights records of the neo-conservatives itself hardly gives cause
for faith in this belief: Paul Wolfowitz (as should be well known) did his
best to suppress democracy in Indonesia in an earlier part of his career.
And other neo-conservative fellow travellers (like Rumsfeld and Cheney)
are simply extremist paleo-conservatives: hard to explain if
neo-conservatism is radically opposed to old style Conservativism.
Thats why the canard that Kissinger opposed the war is such an item of
faith for the KKers. They simply cannot accept that one of the key
architects of realism supported their neo-conservative viewpoint, because
they know that would question (to put it mildly) they theory on which they
have staked their political careers.
2: The second part of their worldview is even more ambitious, and amounts
to a rewriting of intellectual history. In the 18th century, we are told,
there was something called The Enlightenment Project. Karl Marx, and
socialism, it is claimed, were part of this project. Then in the early 20th
century, certain philosophers like Martin Heidegger revolted against this
project. This revolt however was quickly put down until it reappeared
in the 70s as postmodernism. These anti-enlightenment figures (such as
Derrida, Foucault and others) are (as the Marxists used to say)
objectively right wing, even though they might think they are not.
Moreover they are relativists whereas the Enlightenment Project
(allegedly) was objectivist.
According to this view, it is the neoconservatives who stand behind the
Enlightenment Project and the Islamists and postmodernists who oppose it.
Again the KKers seem to be unaware that they have not produced a serious
intellectual argument in sketching this history of our times, but a
cartoon. For a start there WAS no Enlightenment Project and neither did
Socialism descend (directly from it). Socialism (in its modern form, i.e.
Marxism) as a quick look at your history books will show, was a product of
the Romantic age: the great enemy of the Enlightenment. Moreover many of
these Romantics (Shelley, Blake, the early Wordsworth) were extremely left
wing, and supported the French Revolution. Ipso facto (assuming these terms
have any meaning in this context) many of the enlightenment figures were
Nor is the issue of objectivism versus relativism as clear as you might
think. Of course, as Chris points out, Marx was often accused of being a
relativist, and Marxism was often attacked because it was perceived as
being an attack on the Enlightenment Project (so was Freud, for the same
reason). On the other hand, some enlightenment or proto-enlightenment
figures like Montaigne really were cultural relativists but drew
anti-imperialist conclusions from this (i.e. that the British and French
had no right to impose our socio-cultural system on others, because it was
meaningless to say one system was better than any other). Equally, in the
20th century, some thinkers were objectivist and aggressively in favour of
the Enlightenment Project, but decided that they therefore ought to support
Fascism (as this supported western values as against the relativism of
communism): Wyndham Lewis was one of these.
Finally, if Jacques Derrida ever went on record to say he supported
Islamism or totalitarianism i would be very interested to see the reference.
In short the pro-invasion lefts worldview is based on theories about
intellectual history that are simply wrong wrong wrong, and very easily
demonstrable as wrong too.
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