Comment at end
Update, 2nd March 2010: Nick Cohen – “Where the Far Left joins the Far Right”
27th May, 2009
WELL, THEY WOULDN’T NOTICE, WOULD THEY?
Kamm: “What has happened to the other wing of nominally progressive politics is more surprising. Liberalism, in its broadest sense, has become suspicious of its own ideals. Notions once considered reactionary, even extreme, have insinuated themselves into the mainstream of right-thinking (that is, left-thinking) social idealism.”
Oliver Kamm’s “How The Left turned to The Right” should be read by all of those in the present Labour party dreading the day of judgement – the next general election – when New Labour looks set to be consigned to the dustbin of history. It might point a way forward, and save them from this fate which I foresaw, tongue-in-cheek more or less, over a year ago.
Kamm’s is a position put forth NOT to perpetuate the usual myth – that Blair took Labour right, thus destroying it – but to argue the exact opposite. The party and its disparate followers (and I would add, the left-leaning press) are the perpetrators of this rightward turn.
Trouble is most of them are too dull to realise it. If they read Kamm’s article, attracted by the headline and hoping for another nail in Blair’s coffin, they will have clicked away quickly. Partly because they cannot cope with such truths; partly because they couldn’t understand it.
How Will Labour Handle Defeat at the General Election?
Following their expected election defeat, and a year is a long time in politics, will be a political bloodbath such as never before seen in British politics. The blame game will then commence – ‘it was Blair wot dun it – we moved to the Right – we were too illiberal – we failed to hold the executive to account’ – etc etc. At the same time the Conservative party will be taking back power. A party whose agenda will be much as was that of Blair.
All very confusing. And at the same time many of the Labour confused will have to come to terms with these facts:
Blair won three historic general elections for his party, the third three years into what the press told us was a “disastrous war” in Iraq. That historic three times victory is unlikely ever to be repeated. The Old Left, now looking forward to the past – the distant past – need to bear this in mind when they tell us that the country wanted a more Leftish Labour. But they won’t. Aided by the left-leaning press we will be given all sorts of analyses, none of which will stand up to real scrutiny.
One of the reasons I started this blog although not a Labour supporter, was that towards the end of his time I recognised Tony Blair as an extraordinary leader and unusual visionary. (I was, admittedly, slow on the uptake.) I have differences with him now and again, of course, but nothing has moved me from the conclusion that ONLY Blair saw the world as it was and still is. Scrapping Clause 4 before he became PM is seldom complained about today, though at the time it caused ructions from the Left. It was an archaic hangover and limiting to any modern party hoping to reach across political boundaries. Blair was correct to dump it.
His Doctrine of International Community was a speech given just two years into office, updated this April. This was amazing forward thinking, and is still ignored by those whose aim is to be rid of this the consummate politician, whose very political existence threatens smaller political minds (and parties.) Of course they argue against it for different reasons, and look to Left, anti-west academia to back them up. These Left-leaning writers could hardly beat their way out of a paper bag, much less beat a political opponent in a real election.
Kamm’s article should give Labour pause for thought before it splits asunder, Blairless, leaderless, visionless.
I take issue with some parts of Kamm’s (bolded) diagnosis, but with most of his article I am in agreement:
“When you encountered someone of professed left-of-centre opinions, you used to be able to draw broad but important, and generally reliable, inferences about what these entailed. They included, at a minimum, commitments to secularism, freedom of expression, individual liberty against collective authority, women’s rights, homosexual equality and the combating of xenophobia. Times have changed. Now these stances are unusual, even heterodox.”
My own view is that it is mainly BECAUSE they are still committed to MOST of the above, but their own versions of … that they are now in a bind.
For instance, their continuing adherence to “secularism” means that ALL religions are as good, or probably, as bad as any and should be treated with the same moral relativism;
Secondly, their commitment to “freedom of expression” HAS clearly been compromised. It is only THEIR freedom to express that is sacrosanct. There were few if any on the Left who complained when Geert Wilders was prevented by Brown & Smith from entering this country. That was shameful, imho. Their constant screaming about “individual liberty” means that any leader who says that there is any external influence (for instance terrorism) that should ever impinge on this, even temporarily, is Hitler (aka Blair);
Thirdly, homosexual equality is still a tenet of the Left, in the main;
Fourthly, the combating of xenophobia is another principle which may have fallen to the moral relativists, mainly Left, where confusion reigns over the distrust of certain tenets of Islam and hating Muslims. Even the great communicator Tony Blair failed to manage to explain that there IS a qualitative difference here. Now any inkling of the slightest questioning of Islam is seen by many as racism. WRONG! I, for instance, distrust ANY fundamentalist Islamist, black, white or yellow. And yet I could never be moved to vote for the racist BNP. I am NOT racist.
Fifthly, women’s rights and its state of being I discussed here the other day following Clive James’ excellent radio broadcast. He was referring to the lack of feminists’ interest in defending women in undemocratic lands. As for homegrown feminism, it certainly is not as lively now as it was in the 1960s, but I think it is still possessed more by the Leftish liberals than by the political Right in this country. But it’s such a quiet political movement today, that I could be wrong.
My thoughts on Kamm’s analysis:
1 PROGRESSIVE IDEALISM
With this as a ‘lost cause’ I have some differences. The Left still THINK they are the only “progressive idealists”. Thus they reckon Blair wasn’t and the Tories could never be, as it would be against the very fibre of their being. Mad, narrow thinking which Blair had hoped had been left pre-1997 with the ‘forces of conservatism’ (1999 speech to party conference). It hadn’t been relegated, and it still hasn’t.
” The degeneration of progressive idealism has many roots. But among the most important is the instinct that the ideas of Western liberty are specific to time and place — that they are Eurocentric. Almost coincident with the revolutions of 1989, which testified to the power of the human instinct for liberty, was a far more atavistic political movement.”
2 RUSHDIE FATWA
One of Blair’s last acts as Prime Minister was to confer a knighthood on Rushdie. Sir, you make me proud. And that goes for Sir Salmand too. The reaction of such ‘thinkers’ as the below-mentioned was abhorrent and destructive then, and still is.
“Western governments, religious leaders and political figures were more embarrassed than appalled. In effect, they acknowledged the offence and took issue only with the sentence. The chief rabbi in Great Britain, Dr Immanuel Jakobovits, remarked: “Both Mr Rushdie and the Ayatollah have abused freedom of speech.”
Such ignorant, boorish heedlessness of the principles of a free society and the value of the novelist’s imagination sits easily on the political Right and with religious authority. Yet even then it had its left-wing adherents too.”
3 IDIOTIC RELATIVISM WILL DESTROY ‘LIBERALISM’
Astonishing behaviour, and it applies today to the government’s silence on such as Anjem Choudary and the government’s refusal to allow Geert Wilders freedom to speak in Britain. Unlike Choudary HE does not advocate the murder of “infidels”. And yet HE is excluded. No other recent development has shown more clearly the moral decay within the political psyche. No mainstream political party is innocent here. None of them, not one, stood up for freedom of speech.
‘Yet the notion that freedom of expression is a specifically Western obsession that needs to be balanced against the demands of social cohesion has become commonplace in today’s debates. It is part of the political mainstream; part of supposedly progressive thinking, assuming that the sensibilities of minority groups should be protected. These impulses littered the controversy about the publication in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2006 of cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad. The offence caused to believers has become a catch-all explanation for religious violence and intimidation.
When, last year, suicide bombers attacked the Danish Embassy in Pakistan, killing six people and wounding more than 20, a Danish journalist writing for The Guardian commented that the attack was “of course, indefensible, but it raises questions about the wisdom of the much-debated cartoons and Danish reactions to Muslim wrath”.’
4 ‘LIBERALISM’ WRIT TINY
The “all right-minded people” business again. Dreadful, disgusting, shameful. Kamm is right. There has been no public debate about the rights of anyone NOT to be upset. No election has ever included this in its manifesto.
“The “of course, but” formulation is worse than a dreary cliché. It indicates a liberalism evacuated of content. Those who prize social unity and order will tend to believe that people’s deepest feelings and beliefs should be accorded respect. But respect for ideas is never an entitlement. It depends on their intellectual resilience in public debate. No free society can treat people’s deepest beliefs as sacrosanct. They are fair game for hostile and derisive criticism. That is how knowledge advances.
5. STUFF MY FEELING – STUFF YOURS!
It’s always disturbed me how people who repeat that Blair is a ‘liar, warmonger and war criminal’ have NO regard for his feelings or for those of his family. These are people who will defend any Islamist’s right to bring Sharia courts into Britain and turn a blind eye to such as Choudary brainwashing kids weekly to commit jihad. They don’t want to upset his feelings by telling him he hasn’t the right. Yet Tony Blair’s family were put under tremendous strain, almost leading to his resignation in 2004 because of their distortions, accusations and certainties. Aren’t these the people who shout “innocent until proven guilty” over terrorism suspects? Yet to them Blair is guilty as hell, even though he hasn’t and won’t be tried for any of their ‘certainties’. THIS reason, probably above all others, is why I will NOT be voting for any of this crowd in the next general election. The hang-and-flog brigade can go hang themselves, before they get MY vote. (I referred to this here and the disappearing online article of Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne, for whom I reserve a special place in purgatory, until he rediscovers his “liberal” principles.)
“Some British liberals thought they were right. Baroness Shirley Williams declared on the BBC Question Time programme that the award was not wise, for Rushdie had “deeply offended Muslims in a very powerful way”. It was, as her fellow panellist Christopher Hitchens remarked, a contemptible statement.
No one has a right to the protection of feelings. If politics concerns itself with mental states, there is no limit to how far legislation can intrude on people’s lives. The task of progressive politics is to protect liberty, not least by attacking the accumulation of bad ideas. Yet to many on the Left, the individual, inquiring mind is of far less importance than the representation of designated groups.”
6 RIGHTS ARE RIGHTS UNDER THE LAW, NOT AS PER COMMUNITY GROUP
It has also always amazed me how Leftish women can ignore the sneaking into our country of Sharia Courts. They are not accountable to anyone except their own communities and do not need to report their sittings and verdicts to government or anyone else. In fact we presently have NO idea how many there are in Britain. Started after Blair left office, there were originally 5, now reported to be 12 [update 85 at most recent count]. But who knows? Perhaps there’s one meeting round the corner from you right now, telling a divorcing woman that she can only have control of her children until they are 7, when she must hand them over to the man; or telling a bereaved daughter that she is only entitled to a fifth of her father’s estate while her brothers divide the rest between them both.
“For example, Ken Livingstone commonly asserted that as Mayor of London he had “a responsibility to support the rights of all of London’s diverse communities”. No, he did not. Londoners belong to many different ethnic, national or religious groups. And for civic purposes those affiliations have no relevance at all. The only characteristic that matters for politics is common citizenship with equality under the law. “
7 HE WHO SPEAKS LOUDEST GETS LISTENED TO – BY THE ‘LOST LIBERAL LEFT’
Thus the idea that every grievance, every act of terror (aka deserved retribution), is the fault of the west (aka Bush & Blair). The ‘it was them – nuffink to do wiv me, Guv’ defence has soaked its way into the public consciousness. We have been conned by a few radicals. If only ‘education, education, education’ had worked, Mr Blair.
“The notion that democratic politics acknowledges, even celebrates, group identities leads inexorably to the idea that the loudest figures in such groups have a claim on the attention of everyone else. Livingstone notoriously (and literally) embraced a visiting Islamic cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who defends suicide terrorism in Israel and advocates the “punishment” of homosexuals.
It ought to be obvious that liberalism should not stomach that type of thing. Yet there is a type of left-wing thinking that regards militant Islam almost as idiosyncratic liberation theology. Verso, the left-wing publishing house, has produced a volume of the thoughts of Osama bin Laden entitled Messages to the World. To read the editor’s annotations is to gain the impression of a revolutionary figure who daringly challenges Western oppression.”
8 HANG BLAIR – HE’S THE MASS MURDERER
I hold the liberal ‘intelligentsia’ press responsible for this continuing misunderstanding of the depth and width of the threat from international terrorism, and for their continuing haranguing of Tony Blair. Nowhere else but from the press would people have got the idea that he is a “liar” and a “war criminal.” Yet the man who in years past could have sued papers for such libellous statements and was abused as destroying freedom of speech said – nothing. Zilch. Mr Kamm doesn’t mention the press, though I am sure he knows their responsibility in these matters.
The mass murder of American and other civilians on 9/11 was the expression of a nihilistic, millenarian doctrine of religious absolutism. Yet for a certain type of critic the greatest war criminal of our age is Tony Blair. Blair in reality perceived earlier than most the nature of the international order after the Cold War. This was an anarchic international order in which supranational institutions were too weak and inchoate to stymie the ambitions of the worst of rulers. In a speech almost exactly ten years ago in Chicago, he expounded the responsibilities of Western nations in the protection of human rights against oppressive governments. And he named Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein.
Blair’s analysis has many critics. But the extraordinary fact of the supposedly left-wing objections to his interventionist policies is its identity with realist positions on the conservative wing of politics. Attempting to broker a disinterested division of territory in the Balkans in the mid-1990s merely encouraged Milosevic in further depredations, against Kosovo. The containment of Saddam was an inherently threadbare system that could be implemented only if the UN Security Council were resolute in implementing it.
Many civilian lives were lost in Iraq owing to a grotesquely underprepared military intervention. But the notion that this was aggression against a sovereign state with rights gets exactly wrong the balance of moral responsibility. It is hard to find many on the Left who will say this, or will argue the intrinsic connection between peace and human rights. It is not the trahison des clercs, only because there is nothing any longer that the Left still has to betray.
Except their own consciences, Mr Kamm. Pity they have already sold them, for a liberal penny.
NOTE: ‘trahison des clercs’ – a betrayal of intellectual, artistic, or moral standards by writers, academics, or artists. The (French) phrase, literally ‘treason of the scholars’, is the title of a book by Julien Benda (1927).
Read entire article here – ‘How the Left turned to the Right’, by Oliver Kamm
Liberal over-sensitivity to the beliefs of others is undermining freedom of speech, so giving reactionaries an easy ride
His commenters are almost all very supportive, so far. Unlike those at John Rentoul’s blog here – ‘Does Tony Blair run Israel?’ – where the abusive Left and the mentally unstable are out in force. Lovely people, don’t you think? Gives you such hope for New Old Labour after the next election.
Sign Ban Blair-Baiting petition here: “He’s not a war criminal. He’s not evil. He didn’t lie. He didn’t sell out Britain or commit treason. He wasn’t Bush’s poodle. He hasn’t got blood on his hands. The anti-war nutters must not be allowed to damage Blair’s reputation further. He was a great PM, a great statesman and a great leader.”
Tags: anjem choudary, doctrine of international intervention community, how the left turned to the right, Islam, islamism, islamists, John Rentoul, Left is now Right, Nick Cohen, Oliver Kamm, Salmand Rushdie, Sharia, Tony Blair