It’s true that Voltaire was excoriated by the Catholic Church, but remember: he had put the Church first among the infamous things he wish to see crushed. To Voltaire, “ecraze l’imfame” was a prescription to end all forms of fanaticism, oppression, and bigotry, especially the bigotry and oppression born of organized religion.
It was natural, then, that the Church, since survival has been its forte, would return the compliment.
Ophelia, re: “Loonies still oppose fluoridation of water, so teeth continue to decay.”
I am strongly opposed to flouridation of water, and I say that if people cannot be bothered taking care of their own teeth, that is their look-out. That personal responsibility should take precedence over government attempts to force people to consume things it considers good for them is not a “loony” position.
RE, Edmund Standing’s comments on Marxism (“The Marxist historical vision incorporates disparate historical events into one unified narrative through the notion of class struggle”) – I gasp in awe at Mr. Standing’s deep comprehension of Marxist theory.
‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’.
- The Communist Manifesto
Edmund Standing’s “The Far Left Campaign to Silence Critics of Islam” has something in common with Orwell’s explanation of the behaviour of the Stalinist “liberals” of his own time. I paraphrase, but Orwell wrote that English liberals had lost their religion and their patriotism without losing the need for a homeland and something to believe in. Thus they adopted the Soviet Union as a substitite Homeland, Marxist as a substitute Religion and Stalin as their new God.
Actually I don’t think that Orwell went far enough. Supporters of genocide and slave labour had not “lost” their religion or anything else. They were consumed with hatred for their Church and Society and they supported a Communist butcher because he shared those hatreds. Thus for example, they did not support Franco becuse HE was a Catholic and a pro-western dictator. The fact that he killed far fewer people was irrelevant!
Re Edmund Standing
This is the comment by Orwell that I referred to (from his 1940 essay “Inside the Whale”. Again I don’t believe that the ‘Disillusionment’ that Orwell speaks of, is enough to explain why English (and Irish) intellectuals supported Stalin’s dictatorship and mass murder. ‘Hatred’ – of self, of Christianity and of ‘Bourgeois Democracy’ – is a better explanation. This also applies to the left-wingers who want to silence critics of Islam today.
Orwell wrote that by about 1930 …
“The debunking of Western civilization had reached its climax and ‘disillusionment’ was immensely widespread. Who now could take it for granted to go through life in the ordinary middle-class way, as a soldier, a clergyman, a stockbroker, an Indian Civil Servant, or what-not? And how many of the values by which our grandfathers lived could not be taken seriously? Patriotism, religion, the Empire, the family, the sanctity of marriage, the Old School Tie, birth, breeding, honour, discipline—anyone of ordinary education could turn the whole lot of them inside out in three minutes.
But what do you achieve, after all, by getting rid of such primal things as patriotism and religion? You have not necessarily got rid of the need for SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN. There had been a sort of false dawn a few years earlier when numbers of young intellectuals, including several quite gifted writers (Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Hollis, and others), had fled into the Catholic Church. It is significant that these people went almost invariably to the Roman Church and not, for instance, to the C. of E., the Greek Church, or the Protestants sects. They went, that is, to the Church with a world-wide organization, the one with a rigid discipline, the one with power and prestige behind it. Perhaps it is even worth noticing that the only latter-day convert of really first-rate gifts, Eliot, has embraced not Romanism but Anglo-Catholicism, the ecclesiastical equivalent of Trotskyism.
But I do not think one need look farther than this for the reason why the young writers of the thirties flocked into or towards the Communist Party. If was simply something to believe in. Here was a Church, an army, an orthodoxy, a discipline. Here was a Fatherland and— at any rate since 1935 or thereabouts—a Fuehrer. All the loyalties and superstitions that the intellect had seemingly banished could come rushing back under the thinnest of disguises. Patriotism, religion, empire, military glory—all in one word, Russia. Father, king, leader, hero, saviour—all in one word, Stalin. God—Stalin. The devil— Hitler. Heaven—Moscow. Hell—Berlin. All the gaps were filled up. So, after all, the ‘Communism’ of the English intellectual is something explicable enough. It is the patriotism of the deracinated.”
An insightful essay,I hadn’t understood as to why the Left has allied itself with theocrats.It appears that in regard to Islamists and Marxists,each is the other’s “useful idiot”.
The reason Orwell’s explanation for the behaviour of Stalinist “liberals” did not go deep enough, is that he tried to put Evelyn Waugh and T.S. Eliot into the same category of “disillusioned intellectuals” as Stalinists like O’Casey and Shaw. Disillusionment can take many forms and they are not all on the same moral level!
I’m not sure I fully understand Edmund Standing’s essay. He seems to accept that the far left are motivated by hatred – of self and of society and that’s why they justify Islamic terrorism. On the other hand he seems to imply that all forms of “irrationalism” are the same – so converting to Catholicism would be no different from adopting the terrorist version of Islam??
re The Uses of Common Sense
This is a wonderfully coherent essay, without malice and with great clarity.
All forms of ‘irrationalism’ are the same on a certain level (based on faith, wishful thinking, fantasy, often involving apocalpytic/eschatological aspects), although they are not all equal in terms of the threat they pose to those who don’t buy into them. Compare the Plymouth Brethren and al-Qa’eda, for example.
When it comes to the far-left, conversion is not an issue. They do not advocate Islam the religion, but rather see ‘revolutionary’ potential in Islamism. If a radically anti-Western form of Catholicism emerged then, yes, they might support that, of course.
Very interesting, well-written, and enjoyable examination of the imposition of God-talk onto the Darwin Conference.
another outstanding contribution from Standing. also helps explain Europe’s otherwise incomprehensible prostration and capitulation in the face of Islamism. The Marxists would do well to “thought-experiment” their future appearance in Islamic Court under Sharia law cf. a “Bourgeois” (Liberal) judiciary before deciding which is more “progressive” (e.g. look to Iran).
i find this article completely illegible according to islamic rules!
this hijab is not a yoke for muslim women like me as u have said!!
its done on the bases that Allah swat has commanded us and we abide to it willingfully.u urself hv given legal quetes to suport this.avoiding non-mehrams is only to protect ur selfrespect.and noone has said that we cant work with non mehrams.when the need arises we can..
The only thing here that is illegible is your comment. Never mind Islamic rules; next time try to apply some basic rules of spelling.
Alan, thank you once again!
Very interesting article. A leftist (social democrat) myself, I’ve been annoyed for quite a long time by this lunatic fringe (if only they were just a fringe) and their mad ravings about revolution and imperialism and so on.
Do you give permission for this article to be translated fully into Spanish and published (with due credit of course)?
I find this article to be deeply dishonest in its content and melodramatic in its tone. Really, Mr. Standing, a ‘campaign’ against critical thought? “A McCarthyite denunciation of critics of Islam and Islamist organisations”? Really? McCarthy had an entire government apparatus and many sympathetic well-wishers behind him, and yet of the eight examples you cite, only three, Chris Harman, Molyneux and the blog ‘Islamophobia Watch’ can be described as influential in any way whatsoever. Roobin is a student, Louis Proyect an old man, a former (and now anti-) Socialist Worker Party member who is, himself, frequently critical of left-wing extremism. During the actual paragraph about the ‘chilling effect’ on discourse caused by far-leftists, you cite…no examples, no other studies or articles about this vast conspiracy to silence your brave criticism of Islam. Indeed, this essay is posted on a very popular site, and rubs shoulders with (relative) giants like P Z Myers. And yet, you claim, you’re under threat from those devious Trots and Marxists, who want to censor you and out you as a racism. Really? Really? Most of your targets are bloggers, and as much as I do not like to denigrate bloggers, they are hardly getting the front page of the New York Times, now are they! You’ve taken the aggrieved tone of someone under assault, in imminent danger, the very furthest from the truth.
Your take on Marxists is weak, in the sense of vernacular skater and slacker. You conflate Marxists and the far-left, as if there aren’t Marxists anywhere else in the socialist milieu. And all Marxists share a conspiratorial view of the world? Really? The John Birch Society could do better! And they are all inspired by a millenarian delusion just the same as the religious? Oh from such lofty heights you disclaim! Most of these jabs and smears are pure John Gray in a rather timid form, and aren’t, I’d say, not particularly valuable as insights except where they inform prejudices already held. More serious is your criticism of the “narrow materialist ‘rationalist’ interpretative framework” of…well, I would say Marxism, but as you cite only Marx as your authority on what Marxists feel on religion, we’ll go with that.
At the very least, you correctly interpret Marx’s famous quote on religion (a rarity!) though again you note that Marx felt religion was a ‘cover,’ a falsity. That, to an extent is true, though I’d say it behooves you to search out Owen Chadwick’s old and popular book on secularism, or any recent and scholarly study of Marx’s thought on the matter. I suspect, though I’m no Marxophile, the dead man’s thoughts are much more complex than the one’s on display here (either mine or yours, that is). Chadwick’s book also includes an excellent passage (p. 54, Cambridge, 1978) on who Marx was writing against: Feuerbach and Bauer, brilliant left-Hegelians, who nonetheless did, to Marx, what you seem to think is needed: “criticising religious texts and doctrines.” As idealists of Hegelian descent, Feuerbach and Bauer wrote some brilliant tracts against the Bible and Christian doctrine, but they, like the ‘New Atheists’ really never moved beyond mocking those texts. Indeed, that you consider the Marxist-materialist tradition ‘narrow’ is ironic: it is exactly what you’ve done here. Your explanation for religion is a “rising tide of irrationality” in the modern world, and a few sentences on psychology and fear. Hmm. I remain unconvinced that provides a better explanation for religiosity. Even Richard Dawkins, a far subtler and more intelligent mind than either of ours, comes up short when he attempts to explain faith and belief. Hitchens and Harris, to name but two, are far less impressive. On the other hand, I wonder if you’ve even read ANYTHING written by a Marxist on religion; Karl Kautsky’s hundred year old history of Christianity, severely outdated as it is, provides an extremely orthodox Marxist explanation for religion, and it is one that has plenty of room for emotions and psychoses (something about the theoretical humbug about the loose connection of the base and superstructure.) Even the more recent history of Christopher Hill, for instance, provides a much more nuanced view of religion that the one you trot out.
It isn’t that Marx’s original insights don’t need modification, but then few serious thinkers on this matter would rely on them alone, I would hope. And you’re quite right to point out that the most dogmatic Marxism cannot adequately explain the resurgence of religion, especially amongst the middle classes of America. Except, it does; alienation is a form of fear is it not? A simplification, true, but one amongst many that this article is replete with.
The real heart of your article, the criticism of the shrill cries of Islamophobia and the strategic alliance some leftists (not, I might add, all of them Marxists or far leftists) with Islamists is quite good. I have little to directly say on that matter; though I find it from an aesthetic stance rather unfortunate, crafting a vast (in its reach, rather than size) apparatus to make three paragraphs of attacks. When I said this article is evasive, I meant it: you have prepared your readers to expect those men you cite as not only conspiracy theorists, narrow, dogmatic, stupid and useless, but also completely and wholly representative, and you have skillfully manoeuvred the reader into dismissing, as you have, any valid points in, say, Harman’s arguments. But then again, how is a socialist atheist like myself, who also opposed the Iraq War and ‘racial profiling’ and media hysteria about the deadly Muslim plot in our midst, supposed to react when prominent atheists like Hitchens or Harris come out in support of those very things? Or when atheists make pronounced statements about the internal consistency of the murderous intent of Islam, and take a few for the all? Surely you’d be angry if I lumped you in with Sam Harris, who came out pro-torture? Is he a representative of all atheists, anymore than the 9/11 terrorists represent all Muslims? You condemn the far left for peddling in extremes, but your argument is painted as starkly monochrome as any of theirs. Instead, I’m left to wonder: does Harman not have a point (and one made by many non-Marxists)? Many of the most prominent atheists, most certainly in America, have proven themselves to be all too ready to support wars and bombings in the name of disbelief. Can one not criticize them, then? I would be curious, in closing, to discover exactly what your positions were, and are, on, say, Iraq, or Somalia, or Muslim immigration. I’d hope they won’t be too obvious, and my suspicions not confirmed.
Re Edmund Standing’s essay: Having quoted Orwell on the Stalinist intellectuals of the 1930s, I now quote from Malcom Muggeridge’s autobiography re the same subject.
“Wise old Shaw, high-minded old Barbusse, the venerable Webbs, Gide the pure in heart and Picasso the impure, down to poor little teachers, crazed clergymen and millionaires, drivelling dons and very special correspondents like Duranty, all resolved, come what might, to believe anything, however preposterous, to overlook anything, however villainous, to approve anything, however obscuratinist and brutally authoritarian, in order to be able to preserve intact the confident expectation that one of the most thorough-going, ruthless and bloody tyranies ever to exist on earth could be relied on to champion human freedom, the brotherhood of man, and all the other good liberal causes to which they had dedicated their lives. ALL RESOLVED, in other words, TO ABOLISH THEMSELVES AND THEIR WORLD, THE REST OF US WITH IT. Nor have I from that time ever had the faintest expectation that, in earthly terms, anything could be salvaged; that any earthly battle could be won, or earthly solution found. It has all just been sleep-walking to the end of the night.”
(“Chronicles of Wasted Time, The Green Stick” pages 275- 276).
I read the book when it was published over 30 years ago and I thought that Muggeridge was too pessimistic. Of course at the time he wrote, he was seeing a SECOND generation of liberals and leftists – including former Stalinists – making their pilgrimage to Peking to worship Mao. If Muggeridge had made it to the Millenium he would have witnessed the THIRD generation of leftist lunatics. Just as dangerous are the much larger number of people who believe in nothing and will fight for nothing – and certainly not for the defence of civilisation against the barbarians!
I could say that looking at you – a socialist atheist – I’d like my suspicions about your worldview to turn out to be unfounded, but of course they’re not either: ‘opposed the Iraq War and “racial profiling”‘.
OK, running through them quickly:
1. Iraq war. Here’s an article of mine from 2007:
2. Racial profiling. My position is the same as the one found in the book ‘The Retreat of Reason’. The relevant excerpt can be read here:
Racial/religious profiling is rational.
3. Torture. If it works, I don’t have a problem with it. If torturing a Jihadist will save innocent lives, go ahead. I also supported Guantanamo, incidentally, and far from shutting it down, I’d open one here in Britain too:
4. Immigration. You can see my take on that in this article:
I also recommend Christopher Caldwell’s book ‘Reflections on the Revolution in Europe’. See also this clip of Douglas Murray of the Centre for Social Cohesion talking about Muslim immigration very sensibly:
5. Media hysteria about Muslims? I’m with you there, and have written on this on a number of occasions. See, for example:
I agree with you entirely about the far left’s toadying to reactionary Islamist forces and I admire your stated commitment to “liberal, rationalist” critiques of Islam and to the agenda of “liberal humanists and progressives.”
However, I do not understand how you can reconcile this belief in liberalism and rationalism with the views you state here, all of which are profoundly illiberal. In one of your pieces, for instance, you describe justice as “retribution.” This is a limited and anti-modern definition of the term: the “eye for an eye” definition used in Sharia law and other unjust religious codes.
A liberal society, and a society that a humanist or rationalist might find tolerable, is made up of autonomous, rights-bearing individuals who are guaranteed personal freedom and equality before the law. If one accepts this definition, it becomes impossible to argue that racial profiling and torture have anything to do with liberalism. The earliest Enlightenment critics found themselves having to argue against the use of torture and extreme cruelty. Since both have now reentered Western political discourse as acceptable options, it is clearly the duty of those, like yourself, who consider themseleves the torch-bearers of Enlightenment vlaues to oppose them.
As for issues of race, whatever one thinks of Islam, a liberal society must guarantee all its members equal rights and equality before the law, both of which are compromised in a basic way by racial or religious profiling.
I must admit, some of your views make you sound like a veritable BNP thug. If any group represents the antiquated forces of intolerance, irrationality, and injustice, it is this party and the rest of the anti-immigrant far right. I would like to see you and the rest of B&W make more of an effort to distance themsleves, as liberal critics of Islam, from racist critics of innocent Muslim immigrants.