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Pottering about on the left

This Magazine Staff

Go now and read Andrew Potter’s latest column in Maclean’s.
In it, he outlines some of the basic tenets of the Euston Manifesto, which he calls “a statement of broadly left-liberal principles cooked up last spring by a collection of London-based journalists, activists and academics.”
Quick full disclosure– Potter blurbed my book, and I do like to drink with him when I see him, which is too rarely; but none of that means I can’t objectively engage with his arguments.
That said, let’s engage. I first heard of the Euston Manifesto on Potter’s blog. I spent a bit of time with the EM, trying to figure out if it is something I might find myself signing. I have a romantic notion about signing declarative manifestos, ever since my hero Vaclav Havel was imprisoned for lending his signature to a piece of paper. Signing things can be an incredibly brave act — just ask anyone who has bought a house. Now there’s a way to make one’s peace with the market economy. Sign here, here, here and here, and initial everything else. Then sign here. Now give me more money than you have.
In the end, I decided I could NOT comfortably sign the Euston Manifesto. While I applaud the impulse that created this document, I find its many flaws outweigh any positive significance it might have in the global debate. In my opinion, the EM and its many highly-placed and well-respected signatories have caved under relentless neo-con criticism, accepted the charges lobbed at them from the right-hand side of the arena and made the most forceful apology they could muster. The whole thing smells weak and a bit snivelish.
Potter outlines much of what I mean in his latest column when he presents his brief history of the problematic left. Let me quote a bit:
“The purpose of the Euston Manifesto is, essentially, to save the left from itself. It is an attempt to draw a clear line between the social-democratic liberal left and the anti-war left, the latter of which has, since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, made common cause with tyrants, excused terrorists, and — in some cases — sold out the rights of women to reactionary theologians, all in the service of a single-minded opposition to the United States.”
“…The left followed a similar path of thought when it came to understanding the American desire to topple Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime in Iraq: the invasion was immediately linked with a dystopian narrative of suburban excess — it was about providing a steady and cheap supply of oil to fuel the gas-guzzling SUVs that symbolize all that is odious about American consumer comfort.”
See, this is exactly the problem with the EM. It is responding to the scenario here outlined by Potter, as if the charges herein had merit in fact. Which means that to sign it is to agree that the anti-war left in general has indeed made common cause with tyrants, excused terrorists and sold out women to reactionary theologians. Signing, in effect, is to agree that the left’s criticism of the US invasion of Iraq was generally as simple-minded as Potter suggests it was. We on the left who are generally anti-war and have for many, many years been calling upon various world powers, including the much maligned US of A, to stop befriending tyrants, excusing acts of terrorism and selling out women are confused by this argument. I think I briefly engaged with Mark Steyn and Andrew Coyne on the use of just this kind of logical fallacy on this very blog awhile back.
Here’s directly from the Euston Manifesto:
That US foreign policy has often opposed progressive movements and governments and supported regressive and authoritarian ones does not justify generalized prejudice against either the country or its people.
Well, who wouldn’t agree with that? I’ll tell you who — neo-conservatives, who regularly make a “logical” link between any criticism of US foreign policy and a generalized prejudice against either the country or its people.
When did you stop beating your wife, Mr. Manifesto?
Is the EM really the only way for the left to gain back some of its moral authority? Why don’t we just try not letting the bullies on the right define our positions for us — you know, in everyday life; not on some document we can publicly sign to say, “not me, I’m not one of the deluded ones on my team.” In the end, I think the EM probably makes the neo-cons very happy, since it shows just how unsolid is the solidarity. Lob a few logic bombs at these jokers and they start fighting among themselves.

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