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Friday Ephemera

An Adversarial Relationship

In the comments to this, a reader, Vitruvius, posted an extract from Alan Charles Kors’ 2003 essay, Can There Be An ‘After Socialism’? I think it’s worth sharing, as it touches on a number of recent comments here, most notably with regard to oppositional posturing, redefinitions of prejudice and the ideological denial of reality.

“Until Socialism… is confronted with its lived reality, the greatest atrocities of all recorded human life, we will not live ‘after Socialism.’ It will not happen. The pathology of Western intellectuals has committed them to an adversarial relationship with the culture - free markets and individual rights - that has produced the greatest alleviation of suffering; the greatest liberation from want, ignorance and superstition; and the greatest increase of bounty and opportunity in the history of all human life…

The cognitive behaviour of Western intellectuals faced with the accomplishments of their own society on the one hand, and with the Socialist ideal, and then the Socialist reality, on the other, takes one's breath away. In the midst of unparalleled social mobility in the West, they cry ‘caste’. In a society of munificent goods and services, they cry either ‘poverty’ or ‘consumerism’. In a society of ever richer, more varied, more productive, more self-defined, and more satisfying lives, they cry ‘alienation’. In a society that has liberated women, racial minorities, religious minorities, and gays and lesbians to an extent that no one could have dreamed possible just fifty years ago, they cry ‘oppression’… 

In the names of fantasy worlds and mystical perfections, they have closed themselves to the Western, liberal miracle of individual rights, individual responsibility, merit, and human satisfaction. Like Marx, they put words like ‘liberty’ in quotation marks when these refer to the West….”

The full essay can be read here. Related, this and this. Let the rumblings begin. And, of course, feel free to make a donation.



Maybe I can take at least one brick out of this wall. The charge (recorded in one of the links) that we on the Left make race a key issue is false. Others do that, constructing whole groups and "communities," as in, "When will the Muslim community speak out against terrorists?" Funny how the individual rights crowd so quickly collectivizes the Other.

Opposition to racialization isn't racism, but it's a cute rhetorical trick to claim the opposite. Indeed, it's another cute rhetorical trick to create a binary between "Western intellectuals" and the people who really know what's what. Frankly, one hardly knows where to begin when confronted with such nonsense.


Dr Dawg,

“Frankly, one hardly knows where to begin when confronted with such nonsense.”

Well, I’m not inclined to defend Kors’ generalisations about “intellectuals”. “Many academics in the Humanities” might have been a slightly better term. Or “much of the left-leaning media.” But I posted the above, as I said, because it touches on several issues of significance. However well or not Kors describes it, there is, I think, a pattern of oppositional posturing which can – and very often does – override basic moral sensibilities.

One might reasonably arrive at the conclusion that many of the people mentioned in the links above are being contrarian, perhaps for the sake of seeming oppositional, and irrespective of incoherence and inconvenient facts. I can only guess at their motives in any particular case, but perhaps they feel obliged to adopt a contrary position to “Western imperialism”, “BushHitler”, capitalism or whatever, regardless of whether that’s a morally sound stance to take at any given time.

The postmodernist educator Priyamvada Gopal (see link below) provides one example of how practised disdain for the “American regime” and the notion of universal human freedoms can lead one to defend the indefensible. And there’s something rather striking about an acclaimed female educator effectively siding with those who would end education for girls. But such contradictions don’t appear to trouble Ms Gopal, whose anger must seem righteous, at least to her.


Dr. Dawg: One hardly knows where to begin with your own comments. You actually wish to state as fact that "we on the Left make race a key issue is false"? Really? So the Leftist claims that the war in Iraq is a "racist war" don't exist? The claims that America is a "racist society" don't exist? Al Sharpton doesn't exist?

Your one counter-example is that the Right often complains that the Muslim community doesn't police itself adequately. But that community is self-identified, and loves to wrap itself in the mantle of victimhood even when it hasn't been victimized. Every fresh atrocity committed by Muslims is immediately met with cries of "backlash!" from the Muslim community in the West, with fresh demands for more tolerance and concessions. Given that, it's entirely reasonable for us to question why the members of that self-identified community seem more interested in searching for nonexistent oppression than dealing with the murderers in their midst.

And you entirely ignore the rest of Kors's argument -- that Western intellectuals are entirely willing to forgive genuine tyrants and murderers but are quick to condemn their own society for imaginary crimes.


Dawg's insistence that
"academics jus' tawk like that,left,right and center"
has a very simple explanation:

obtaining and maintaining status against all comers.

when ideas are your marker,you must defend them at all costs,
even if they're unworthy of defense.

the intensity of the defense arises from the fact it is not "ideas" they are communicating,but their STATUS.




You would not prefer, I hope, a homogeneous sludge of intellectual assent as a substitute for what you call "oppositional posturing," would you? Where would that leave your blog? :) Seriously, why is it that you cannot bring yourself to believe that Leftists are sincere in our views? Is it really the case that we all secretly agree with our opposition, and are just acting up?

I read the Gopal piece. She writes pretty clearly for a "postmodernist," eh? And there is more subtlety in it than you give her credit for. I've followed Rushdie since Midnight's Children, and read The Satanic Verses on a Caribbean island in all innocence of the storm that was being unleashed in the wider world. I think he's a good and interesting novelist, and his searing caricature of the Ayatollah Khomeini, buried in the latter book, was (in my view) what might really have provoked the Iranian fatwa. Rushdie went into hiding, of course, and was scathingly denounced as a "coward" by the neocon Barbara Amiel, now Lord Black of Crossharbour's consort. His crime was to be an all-round iconoclast, living in the relative comfort of the UK but issuing broadsides against Attila the Hen.

So now, after following a long and winding path, he accepts a knighthood from the Establishment that used to be one of his targets. I don't begrudge him the honour. I've received scholarship and grant money from the government, and a public service salary for quite a while as well, all the time being, well, "oppositional" in my politics. We're all in the belly of the beast, as some wise man once commented. But I think that the old Rushdie would have rejected what he now gratefully accepts. He has been tamed, and absorbed into a polity that he once set himself against.

Moreover, it would be silly to suggest that the award has no political content. Of course it does. And it also takes place in a wider context, in which the new Rushdie has been effectively assigned his role. The saddest thing, however, is that the binary thinking that sets the West against the Rest has swept up a gifted writer who used to be nobody's fool.


The Left didn't invent "race," which I shall henceforward enclose in quotation marks. It continues to critique both the notion and the oppression that the notion justifies. It's simply dishonest for people to manipulate that into a "racist" position itself.

The Muslims are not a homogeneous "community" (there is no "midst" in which murderers hide) any more that "Whites" or "Blacks" are. In Toronto (I am Canadian), there have been frequent calls for the "Black community" or the "Jamaican community" to speak out against gun violence. (No one has ever demanded that the "White community" speak out against, say, the Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh. "Whites," to use the language you people here don't care for, is the unmarked "race.") The image is of a fully interconnected group of people, each of whose members is accountable, or should be, to all of the other members. That's racialization; that's racism.

I have heard the demand, again and again, that we should be denouncing tyrants and murderers instead of focusing upon less egregious oppression in our own society. But those tyrants and murderers are already well denounced, and uncontroversially so. You would prefer that we simply join the chorus. When we point to various wrongs in our own yard, those wrongs are defended--or are termed "imaginary." In the first instance, there is simply no critical stance to take; in the second, there most assuredly is.


Dr Dawg,

“You would not prefer, I hope, a homogeneous sludge of intellectual assent as a substitute for what you call ‘oppositional posturing’, would you?”

It’s not a matter of uniformity as some supposed default virtue; no-one has suggested that. It’s about being oppositional for very bad reasons, or as a reflex, or for the sake of appearance.

What I’m suggesting, and what I’ve demonstrated here many times, is that politics can easily become role-play. In terms of the left, particularly the far left and the anti-war movement, this role-play can take the form of being almost habitually against the West, its interests, and any successful product thereof, regardless of what that actually entails or whose bed one ends up sharing. (Middle-class lefties waving placards saying “We are all Hizballah Now” spring to mind.) One might call this narcissism, since the emphasis appears to be on how one seems in certain kinds of company, rather than on what actually helps, or on any obvious moral criteria.

It also manifests in massive lapses in logic and patently delusional rewritings of events – see my posts on Karen Armstrong, Madeleine Bunting and Seumas Milne, whose ability to hallucinate away unsightly evidence is practically superhuman. Or Loretta Napoleoni’s fanciful portrait of Musab al-Zarqawi for the Socialist Worker, in which she construed jihadist terrorism as “the new anti-imperialist ideology”, before praising Zarqawi’s “kindness” and “determination.”

You say: “But those tyrants and murderers are already well denounced, and uncontroversially so.” Yet the people I’ve mentioned, and dozens of others archived here, seem to have an almost religious need to oppose their own tribe (as it were) and exonerate The Other, and no amount of evidence will apparently alter that.


Nobody claims the Left did invent "'race,'" Dr. Dawg. But it's disingenuous verging on dishonest to pretend that the contemporary Left doesn't obsess on it, fetishize it, and view everything in terms of race and racism. As to the Muslim community, at least in the United States their whinings about (hypothetical) backlash and "racism" are far louder and more unqualified than their stand against terrorism and tyranny.


Dawg's comments confirm your underlying thesis: the left has become a purely reactionary movement. Their rhetorical contradictions become more and more evident as multiple countermanding issues force more and more contradictory reactions.

In this, the Left resembles Ethel Murman (sp?) singing, "Everything you can do I can do better...I can do everything better than you. No you can't, Yes I can!"

This posture is necessary, too. The Left knows that, on every issue facing our nation - from abortion rights, to "Eminent Domain," to transforming the Middle East, to Kyoto - it lacks a positivist agenda that appeals to America's core constituencies. So it's only recourse is to push-back reflexively against every policy intitiated by those not so lacking.

I'm reminded of a bratty little sister, who winges and cries anytime the neighborhood kids suggest a game that isn't her favorite. She throws insults and a hissy-fit, every time!


Good grief! steveaz is throwing a very nice hissy-fit of his own.


The Left, we agree, invented neither "race" nor racism. Speaking out against the latter offends you. Why? Incidentally, your view of the Left is far too narrow. We obsess about gender and class, too.


I hardly know where to start. You continue to imply that no Leftist can really believe what he or she is saying. We're all posturing, or play-acting.

I would agree that some incautious--no, downright stupid--things have been said about Islamists by a very few on the Left. It caricatures the wider debate to insist that jihadists are our allies against imperialism. By coincidence, that point of view, expressed by one individual in a far-left publication over here, resulted in a letter signed by several others, including yours truly, making the obvious point that homophobes and woman-enslavers are not our friends.

But let's take the spotlight off the Left for a moment--it's making me blink and sweat. "The Left" isn't a homogeneous "community." Neither is "the Right." So Pat Robertson's call for the assassination of Hugo Chavez, Daniel Pipes' vindictive "Campus Watch" McCarthyism, David Horowitz's paranoid blatherings and Stephen Sailer's racism may not be typical. At least I hope not.


Dr. Dawg:

I spell my name with an s, not a z.

I never said it was a bad thing for the Left to speak against racism. However it is frustrating that the Left seems to only be able to perceive racism in the Western democracies, and at times seems to believe only Europeans and their descendants are capable of it.

This is Kors's whole point: that the modern Western liberals seem to think the tiny flaws in modern Western societies are somehow greater evils than the genuine horrors and atrocities committed by those opposed to the West. As if the existence of racist yahoos in South Boston justifies terrorist attacks on New York.

And the double standard just reeks of racism. We can't use force to stop genocidal massacres in Africa because that would be racist -- as if mass murder is some kind of essential part of being African. We can't use force to overthrow vicious tyrants in the Middle East because that would be racist -- as if subjugation to megalomaniac psychopaths is an essential part of being Muslim.

If you really oppose racism, then hold _everyone_ to the same standard. Which means the modern leftist should spend zero time on the relatively trivial instances of racism in the USA and UK, and should strain every nerve to fight the horrible examples of racial genocide going on _right now_ in Darfur and Tibet and Indonesia.

But somehow the Left never gets around to that. They'll make giant paper-mache Bush heads and protest the Iraq war, but they never protest against the Al-Qaeda terrorists who are killing Iraqis. They'll put bumper stickers saying "save Tibet" or "save Darfur" on their Volvos but they'd get out the paper-mache Bush heads again if the USA ever tried to intervene to stop the slaughter.

That's what conservatives find so frustrating about Leftists, and why we can't avoid the conclusion that it's all about hatred for America. If you're really as concerned with human dignities and freedom, why are you so fanatically opposed to the one nation which truly respects those things? Why cozy up to Iranians and Russians? Why fawn over Castro? Ultimately it casts doubt on either your judgement or your honesty.


Dr Dawg,

“You continue to imply that no Leftist can really believe what he or she is saying. We're all posturing, or play-acting.”

Once again, you’ve misrepresented what I’ve said rather wildly. I haven’t claimed that “no leftist can really believe what he or she is saying.” That’s absurd. If you browse this site you’ll find plenty of instances where I’m in emphatic agreement with people who define themselves as of the left. Significantly, many of them have pointed disagreements (similar to my own) with what a large part of the left has become. You may imagine that these examples - most of which are taken from mainstream leftwing publications, not just far-left oddities – are aberrant and unrepresentative. But variations of these sentiments are found on an all but daily basis in the mainstream newspaper of the British left and in many public statements by noted leftwing figures.

“’The Left’ isn't a homogeneous ‘community’.”

I never suggested it was. See above.

What I have suggested is that particular examples seem to defy rational analysis, in that they appear to require an implausible degree of ignorance and a wilfully perverse reading of events. There are particular examples I’ve mentioned that are so at odds with readily available facts, and so at odds with basic reasoning and moral propriety, that one has to entertain the possibility of other, non-rational, motives.


My apologies, Cambias. That was a simple faute de frappe.

I take issue with this comment: "We can't use force to stop genocidal massacres in Africa because that would be racist -- as if mass murder is some kind of essential part of being African." Not so. In fact Jack Layton, the social-democratic leader of Canada's New Democratic Party, is being excoriated by the Right for proposing exactly the opposite. And Rwanda was an eye-opener all around: it wasn't "the Left" who opposed sending in UN forces to stop that mass-murder.


We can all point to political silliness and worse where it exists, and even where it doesn't. I accept that you do not believe that *all* Leftists engage in this sort of thing, whatever that "thing" happens to be, but you do give the impression that you think it's somehow bound up in the Left worldview.

I tend to think that most people believe what they say, but that's probably my hopeless romantic optimism. I will take their comments at face value, and engage them. I find no need to accuse them, not only of being wrong, but of being dishonest.

There is, in any case, an equal and opposite silliness and worse on the other side of the spectrum that escapes your censure. I, too, can produce my examples and links, but I suspect you are already aware of this. And, to conclude, a mea culpa: I have certainly been guilty on occasion of selecting precisely such examples to make a possibly unwarranted series of generalizations about conservatives. If only the conservative community would denounce these wingnuts in their midst! :)


Dr Dawg,

Well, again, you’re rather missing the point, or glancing off it, at least. It isn’t a matter of searching selectively for rare and outlandish examples of delusion or dishonesty, which could certainly be found anywhere on the political spectrum. As I’ve shown, several times, variations of these contortions have come to define much of the left and certainly a large part of its mainstream. (The more credible left-leaning sites seem to find themselves combating appalling ideas and gross factual errors coming from the left more often than from the right, or from anywhere else.) Aberrations can hardly be called such if variations of the same bizarre arguments appear in the Guardian several times a week, every week, often written by members of its key editorial staff and endorsed with comments by a great many of its readers.

“I will take their comments at face value, and engage them. I find no need to accuse them, not only of being wrong, but of being dishonest.”

Good for you. But what would you do if you engaged those arguments - as I have many times - and refuted them with evidence, and refuted them again, and found them still being advanced by the same people as if no conversation had taken place?


The proof, Dawg, is in the pudding.

Self-contradiction is the inevitable result of any purely reactionary movement. And the result of self-contradiction necessarily is nullification.

At this point in the thread, enough of the Left's contradictions have been brought to light by other commentators to give my point its substance. But I'll list a few planks of the Left's platform that have been completely nullified by the Leftists' own incontinent rhetoric.

1. the UN knows best (what of Rwanda?)
2. our Allies have abandoned us (but, Sarkozy and Merkel, hmmm?)
3. all cultures are equal (except America's, we suck)
4. count every vote (as long as they're not cast in Iraq)
5. America is run by Joooos
6. American foreign policy is the "root cause" of terror (But, what of the Jihad in Thailand?)
7. Free Trade "kills" babies
8. UN sanctions "kill" babies.
9. The worst economy since Herbert Hoover (but Clinton's economy was "historic?")

I could go on, but I'm short of words, and the Left's continuous contradictions have been stacking up o'er Bush's term and they are just too many to list.


"I could go on, but I'm short of words"

And maybe running out of straw.


On a philosophical note, and to deescalate a bit, Dawg, I'm convinced that Marx simply gave a voice to the worst, most rote, simian emotion: envy.

In a nut shell, the Left's modern rhetoric is designed to couch that rankest of drives in soft, palatable terms.

Dave's post asks, can there be an "After-Socialism?" And I say, no - not as long as our society continues to countenance the conflation of our citizens' private, myriad jealousies with the emotion's Leftist, PoMo political distillate: "class-victimology."

The best!

irwin daisy

"Whites," to use the language you people here don't care for..."

All are guests here, except for Dawg it seems. He's free with his sideways insults, as he's perfected on many other rational blogs, not to his liking.

"You continue to imply that no Leftist can really believe what he or she is saying. We're all posturing, or play-acting."

Well, there has to be some rational explanation.

You'll all find debating dawg tiresome and thoroughly unrewarding after a while. Proof and logic do not work the same in his world.



I appreciate the de-escalation, but do you seriously believe that socialism is built upon envy? Is capitalism built upon greed? Is one emotion "better" than the other? Or should we perhaps look for a more robust theory? :)

Incidentally, all, the word that I suspected might meet disapproval was not "Whites," of course, but "unmarked." (See, for example, I must apologize to regulars here. I seem to have imported a flea.



Not having swum in the British milieu much, I can't really comment about your general impression. But, when it comes to refuting arguments with evidence, try me. I don't normally go on being wrong when I'm proven so. No serious Leftist does, and I guess I'll accept the label.

Not, however, to be overly self-referencing. I'll pay attention when you next post a critique in that vein. I may even end up agreeing with you, especially if someone equates fundamentalist Islamism with Leftism--but not (for example) with your dismissal of Gopal.


You're welcome, Doc. And good questions.

Envy, and another dark emotion, Hate, are harmful ones for a national political party to base it's platform on - no matter how those drives might be dressed-up. Too bad the Dem's followed Soros down that path.

In defence of Capitalism, the form that I see practiced everyday in America is built on ambition, not "greed." There is a big difference between the two words. And this matters.

The first difference is tonal: "ambition" suggests that individual citizens are empowered to achieve things they strive for. "Greed" suggests those who do achieve are criminal, and if there ain't a law yet, then, darnit, there sure ought to be.

The second dif. is, the Left can not use the two words interchangeably. None of my leftist friends would be caught dead using the word "ambition" in lieu of "greed" when critiquing America, Globalization, or Capitalism.

Which, to me, just smells like more anti-American PoMo-obfuscation to me. Maybe the Left knows that running against a virtue like "Ambition" doesn't stand a snowball's chances.

And all us students of PoMo-speak know the "power" of "words." :-)


"Never argue with an idiot. They bring you down to their level and beat you with experience."


I'm glad you liked Kors' quote, David, it's one of my favourites. And thanks for the link to the original article, the one in my quotes database was stale.



My pleasure. I do try to encourage interaction, and comments often prompt new posts or elaborations on existing ones. I only ask that people are reasonably civil – no spitting, for instance – and that they consider making an occasional donation towards the upkeep of the site.

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