[Marxism] Crooked Timber on Kenan Makiya

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jan 11 12:25:09 MST 2006


Check: http://crookedtimber.org/2006/01/11/the-left-part-12214332/

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 left’s 
programme.

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 that’s 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) what’s wrong with this theory?

Well
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.

That’s 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 
‘reactionary’
(Hume etc.).

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 left’s 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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