Some Remarks

Let’s just look at a few comments.

From Flemming Rose:

Dictatorships in the Middle East and radical imams have adopted the jargon of the European left, calling the cartoons racist and Islamophobic. When Westerners criticize their lack of civil liberties and the oppression of women, they say we behave like imperialists. They have adopted the rhetoric and turned it against us…Yet multiculturalism that has all too often become mere cultural relativism is an indefensible proposition that often justifies reactionary and oppressive practices. Giving the same weight to the illiberal values of conservative Islam as to the liberal traditions of the European Enlightenment will, in time, destroy the very things that make Europe such a desirable target for migration.

From a review of Todd Gitlin’s new book:

Todd Gitlin, a founder in the early 1960s of the radical Students for a Democratic Society and now a professor at Columbia University, is appalled by the obscurantism of the academic left…The left, he argues, took a wrong turn when it abandoned knowledge as its guiding light on the grounds that knowledge, as argued by theorists like Michael Foucault and Edward Said, was merely a masked form of power, and illegitimate power at that…Gitlin recounts a conversation with a committed feminist who, like her fellow postmodernists, thought, as did the premodern scholastics, that there was no reality other than that constituted by “discourse.” For the postmodernists who dominate many of our humanities departments, it is as if the scientific revolution never occurred. “The category of ‘lived experience’ was, from her point of view, an atavistic concealment; what one ‘lived’ was constituted by a discourse that had no more – or less – standing than any other system of discourse.” When asked, the feminist was unable to provide a reasoned justification for her own commitments. They could only be asserted as a matter of power and will.

Well – peachy. Since feminists tend to have less power than, say, guys wielding machetes or truck-antenna whips or AK-47s, that’s not a great position to find oneself in. It’s also vacuous, and lazy.

But her problem was more than personal. If, as Michel Foucault told the Berkeley faculty in 1983, “There is no universal criterion which permits us to say, this category of power relations are bad and those are good,” then there is no way to prefer a liberal society to fascism, communism, or Islamism. What that means, by extension, is that, as in the 1930s, many leftists either sympathize with an authoritarian alternative to liberalism or have a hard time explaining why a liberal society should be defended against its enemies.

Or both.

From an article on the Euston Manifesto:

There are cracks in the façade of European leftism that should give us all some hope…Perhaps the most noticeable fissure in the masonry of group-think is a new initiative promoted by old British leftist Norman Geras, who supports the war in Iraq and democratization in the Middle East. Together with a young columnist named Nick Cohen, Geras is leading a new movement dubbed the Euston Manifesto…

That made me snort with laughter when I read it. Hang on! Norm isn’t all that old, and Nick isn’t all that young. It’s not as if Norm is ninety and Nick is seven; it’s not even as if Norm is eighty and Nick is twenty. Get a grip.

The sudden success of the British initiative suggests that there is an untapped vein of rational progressivism in Europe. It is looking for a way to throw off the stifling blanket of doctrinaire thinking that always labels Israel and America the enemy, forgives oppressive and even murderous behavior in minority communities under the relativistic guise of multiculturalism, and excuses terrorism as the only weapon of “resistance” available to the oppressed…But, with a rising generation willing to wake up and rethink some of the received rigidities, there’s reason for hope.

It’s not really a generation thing, that I can see. There are plenty of young multicultis, and plenty of ancient creaking universalists, so this isn’t yet another round of hip new cohort overthrows dreary old windbags. Oldies can be clever, yoof can be damn silly. Relevance, m’lud.

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