The prowar left and the antiwar left have both tended to view the conflict through ideologically tinted prisms. Reflexive anti-Americanism is one such prism. As Don Guttenplan, a London-based correspondent for The Nation, observes, for a small but vocal section of American radicals, "there is only one imperialism, and if it isn't American it's not imperialism." In the past decade this theology of American evil has assumed increasingly twisted forms, including, in some cases, a creeping sympathy for Serbian nationalism. It has also produced a highly selective solicitude for the oppressed: "Muslim grievances" are to be heeded when they emanate from Palestine, but ignored or even repudiated when they arise in Bosnia or Kosovo. This has damaged the left's moral standing and widened the chasm with human rights activists, who should be our natural allies.
Shatz makes some interesting points and his quotes of assorted leftists are quite enlightening. While in some parts of his essay he gets the sense that he understands the nature of the Islamic fundamentalist enemy his phrasing still demonstrates the extent to which leftist ideology permeates his thinking:
Yet the attacks also placed the left on the defensive. Although bin Laden represents a grisly perversion of anti-imperialism, the atrocities posed a challenge to the sentimental Third Worldism that has been a cornerstone of the radical left since the Vietnam era.
No, Bin Laden is not anti-Imperialist. Bin Laden is closer to being an Islamic Imperialist (or perhaps a religious totalitarian?). In Bin Laden's mind the problem with the US is not its power, its that US power is not exercised for Islamic purposes and that US power blocks the rise of a Muslim superstate that Bin Laden and his ilk believe should be ruling the world. That so many people on the Left have a problem seeing this demonstrates that they suffer from something akin to a concept deficit. They simply lack categories that fit some of the belief systems that have force in the world today. Their ideological framework is based on a set of premises that are too simple and unempirical.
I found the link to the Shatz article in this essay by Lee Bockhorn about the post 9/11 left:
As a conservative, I'm certainly not shedding any tears over the left's post-9/11 crisis of belief. Yet I'm almost--almost--compelled to sympathy when reading Shatz's tortured chronicle of leftist angst and confusion. It's not everyday that an event occurs that is so consequential that it literally pulls the rug out from under one's essential beliefs about how the world works. (Of course, you might think that leftists would have been prepared to deal with such an intellectual crisis, having had to confront the ignominious collapse of communism barely more than a decade ago. But why confront such challenges, when you can retreat to the snug ramparts of tenure?)
Bockhorn points out something that continues to amaze me: the Left's unwillingness to seriously reexamine their assumptions in the wake of the collapse of the USSR and the economic failure of communist regimes throughout the world.
The Lee Bockhorn article also includes a link to another interesting essay by David Brooks about Reinhold Niebuhr:
Still, even those of us who would like to see the United States practice a more idealistic foreign policy—one that is more passionate about defending human rights and about truly inciting democracy around the world—could use a Reinhold Niebuhr to police our excesses. Niebuhr was often castigated for being every atheist's favorite theologian and every conservative anti-communist's favorite liberal. It would be helpful to have more thinkers of his sort, or at least one—a thinker who simultaneously believes in using power and is keenly aware that its use is inevitably corrupting. If nothing else, such a thinker might bring those who are wary of gung-ho Americanism into a grudging alliance with the interventionists. If there is going to be a hawkish left in America again, a left suspicious of power but willing to use it to defend freedom, it will have to be revived by a modern-day Reinhold Niebuhr.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2002 September 26 02:32 PM|