Wednesday, 25 July 2007

What's wrong with the pro-war left?

Dear reader, our blog has moved to a new address.

Do come on over (and change your bookmarks accordingly): rationalist.org.uk

If you were looking for a definitive summation of the British pro-war left and its discontents you could do worse than read Johann Hari's seriously scintillating review of (New Humanist contributor) Nick Cohen's book 'What's Left?'. As a anti-war, but pro-Orwell, leftie I've been waiting a long time for such a comprehensive response to the undeniably powerful, but in my view wrong, arguments of Cohen and Hitchens. Now it's here.

[Thanks to Danny P]

20 comments:

Mark Thwaite said...

Hmmmmm. You will recall, Caspar, that Hari was for a time a pro-war "leftie" himself (although what on earth "leftie" means with reference to Hari god alone knows).

Cohen and Hitchens', and earlier Hari's, pro-war stance was never anything more than craven, illogical and immoral. States don't go to war for ethical reasons and the post-war mess was entirely predictable: both main pillars of their argument were daft or mendacious.

In this review he makes some erroneous (and, at best, mischievous) comments about the Lenin's Tomb blog too.

An anti-war leftie needs to look elsewhere than Hari for anything approaching illumination.

(In addition, regardless of his witless politics, I do find Hari to be the most inelegant of writers. His clumsy prose, one suspects, the outcome of his limited thinking.)

Caspar Melville said...

Well we'll have to agree to disagree on this one Mark. Hari fesses up straight away to having been pro-war - his arguments draws strength from this (though as one of the marchers I'd say ... about time and why couldntt they see it coming..) but I think this and his evident admiration for Cohen and Hitchens lends particular weight to his criticisms which in my view at least are pretty penetrating. Most particularly I disagree about his style which I find very readable and, contra your view, elegant and original too. Where is the elsewhere you suggest one looks for illumination?

Mark Thwaite said...

Hey Caspar,

We'll certainly have to disagree about Hari's writing style, that's for sure!

He does 'fess up in an aside at the start of his piece (the "pro-war left ... of which I was a part, for a time") but, for me, his fellow-traveller status doesn't provide him with any particularly incisive insights.

Indeed, Hari's evident admiration for Cohen and Hitchens is enough to damn him entirely. Cohen's What's Left is incoherent -- although, I suppose, one can't hear it said enough that the long defunct WRP was corrupt and Stalinist: thanks! Hitchens' descent into pro-war glossolalia doesn't deserve a response.

It is a nice rhetorical trick to suggest that the pro-war left was based on four Readings. And then to supply those readings to us. But it is a post-hoc rationalisation of political positions that were indefensible and stupid.

As I said earlier, "States don't go to war for ethical reasons and the post-war mess was entirely predictable". Nothing else needs saying. Nothing else ever needed saying.

Hari's painfully long-winded blast has more than a whiff of self-justification. Those positions I previously held, he seems to be saying, had some coherence.

No. No they bloody didn't.

HughCaldwell said...

Abandoning the long-outdated left/right terminology would be a help to clear-headed discussion of political issues.

Little Atoms said...

Caspar,
There are a lot of inaccuracies and, frankly, inventions in Johann's piece (all the stuff about Comrade Cohen being raised on Orwell, for a start).

The 'what would Orwell do' schtick is used all too often these days as some kind of secular socialist moral guide, and Johann does himself a disservice here by (incorrectly) characterising the 'pro-war' Eustonite left as some sort of Orwellite cult, with Nick as high priest. Whether he does know better than this or not, I can't say, but he should know better, being well acquainted with many Eustonites and having attended Euston meetings.

Nick's doing a response for the next issue of Dissent, by the way.

Little Atoms said...

Oh, and by the way, I really, really don't understand the gag in Judy's cartoon over there on the right.

Could someone enlighten me?

Caspar Melville said...

Thanks for your comments Mr Atoms (Richard?). I'm not going in to bat for Hari any more, but two points. First is since he was writing for Dissent, so a US/Global audience, I think it's fair enough to recap some of the stuff (Orwell etc) that we might think is old hat.

Second I welcome and can't wait for Nick's response (I hope you saw the piece he did for NH in which he answered his critics and addressed some of the same points Hari raises).

On the cartoon perhaps this makes more sense in context- we published it alongsideNewton Emerson's pieceabout the rise of secularism in Northern Ireland. I think it worked better then. I'll put something else there now.

Little Atoms said...

It's Padraig. The LA comes up because of the weird switchover that blogger did a while back.

My problem isn't with Johann going over old ground with the Orwell stuff, it's that Orwell was never part of it in the first place. He attacks Nick on claims that Nick never made in the first place. It's a decoy argument, perhaps a mischievous one aimed at a US audience who, as you point out, haven't been reading about this stuff in the Guardian comment pages for the past two years.

There is a broader point about the uselessness of the term 'pro-war left' when many of the 'decent'/Eustonite tendency were, in fact, anti-war, but that's for another day.

I don't want it to seem like I'm having a go at Johann (he's a nice chap, a good writer, and thoroughly deserved his Amnesty award) but I think he's gone into attack mode here, and perhaps in an attempt to distance himself from Nick et al, has created differences where none really exist,and done so in a dishonest manner.

As for the cartoon - don't mind me. I'm just being a hyper-sensitive republican.

Noga said...

Oliver Kamm does a nice job of criticizing Hari's take on Nick Cohen's book, here:

http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2007/07/assessing-whats.html

In case you missed it.

Anonymous said...

If the now empty term 'leftist' were done away with, it would do away with a lot of chatter and that would be such a pity.
Hugh

Little Atoms said...

Cohen's response is on his site now
www.nickcohen.net

Phentermine said...

Great Article! Thank You!

Buy Phentermine said...

Thanks to author! I like articles like this, very interesting.

Free Ringtones said...

nice blog!

buy viagra said...

nice blog!Nice information

Levitra said...

:-) ochen\' zaebatyj blog!

AlexF said...

Thank You! Very interesting article. Do you can write anything else about it?

AldenPatel said...

ery interesting blog, you say. I agree with you!

Buy Soma said...

soglasen s vami ochen\' zaebatyj blog!

Anonymous said...

Keep up the great work. It very impressive. Enjoyed the visit!