Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Fresh Political Alignment

Would any reasonable, educated person oppose any of this?
  1. We are committed to democratic norms, procedures and structures — freedom of opinion and assembly, free elections, the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers, and the separation of state and religion. We value the traditions and institutions, the legacy of good governance, of those countries in which liberal, pluralist democracies have taken hold.
  2. We decline to make excuses for, to indulgently "understand", reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy — regimes that oppress their own peoples and movements that aspire to do so. We draw a firm line between ourselves and those left-liberal voices today quick to offer an apologetic explanation for such political forces.
  3. We hold the fundamental human rights codified in the Universal Declaration to be precisely universal, and binding on all states and political movements, indeed on everyone. Violations of these rights are equally to be condemned whoever is responsible for them and regardless of cultural context. We reject the double standards with which much self-proclaimed progressive opinion now operates, finding lesser (though all too real) violations of human rights which are closer to home, or are the responsibility of certain disfavoured governments, more deplorable than other violations that are flagrantly worse. We reject, also, the cultural relativist view according to which these basic human rights are not appropriate for certain nations or peoples.
These are the first three statements of the Euston Manifesto, a fledgling "reconfiguration of progressive opinion" based in Great Britain. Their 15-point platform lays out "a fresh political alignment" that I do indeed find refreshing. I am a signatory of the document (one of more than 2,000), and I hope something like it will catch on in the US.

As a citizen of the world, I favor a strong transnational movement promoting moderate but progressive views. Moreover, I urge the Euston group and others to emphasize the value of reason and actively oppose reactionary, anti-intellectual forces wherever they are found. Whether it is the militant fundamentalists of the Islamic world, or the anti-Enlightenment religious right or the anti-science radical left in the Western world, they are all equally dangerous.

[cross-posted at Mike Treder on...]


Dale Carrico said...

"We decline to make excuses for, to indulgently 'understand,' reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy." Who are these people who are "making excuses" for reactionary governments? Precisely who exactly do they have in mind? Precisely who do you have in mind when you speak of how "refreshing" this manifesto is?

Do you know that many of the original signatories of the Manifesto supported the Iraqi invasion (as did Tom Friedman) and still refrain from taking a position on the question of whether or not they were right to do so?

I opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning (as I think you did too), pretty much anticipating every catastrophe that has subsequently befallen that disgusting war-adventure. I think the Manifesto's loose talk of librul' self-indulgence and apologetic wishy-washiness in the face of "reactionary regimes" is pretty much a conservative caricature that serves as an apologia for war-mongering ideologues who have learned literally nothing from the mistakes they made in supporting the Iraq War.

The rejection of the "double-standards" of "self-proclaimed progressive opinion" deriving from "cultural relativism" is also a conservative canard, bespeaking an inability to distinguish diplomacy from moralizing and, paradoxically enough, celebrating anti-intellectualism while claiming to combat it.

Needless to say there are many formulations and slogans that are quite sensible on their face in the Euston Manifesto. But the document arises in an actual historical context and is sending strategic signals that are not immediately apparent at that level of sloganeering generality.

The facile clarity of "hard line" approaches to foreign policy provide real comfort at a parochial moral level, I suppose, for some, but it remains true that politics involves compromises among actually existing stakeholders, that planetary politics must be multilateral, that warfare radicalizes civilian populations in ways that are always incomparably more costly than short term war strategy ever comprehends, that democracy cannot be imposed by force, that abstract commitments to rights are vacuous without social stakeholders and that it is fair trade and global standards that will bring these about rather than militant sanctimony.

The "reconfiguration of progressive opinion" represented by that document looks to me like an effort to re-invigorate the muscular "market"-militarist neoliberal "third way" that gave us the DLC and Blair's debased (soon to be defunct) Labour. I think it is enormously too late for all that.

Mike Treder said...

In expressing our opposition to the imperialist excesses of the Western powers, we should take care not to omit condemnation of the destructive reactionary forces in the Middle East and elsewhere. Standing up for what's right also requires opposing what's wrong. The Euston Manifesto is a commendable attempt to carve out a moderate but progressive position that has global appeal. I particularly appreciate their emphasis of the Universal Declaration, a document that always deserves greater attention.

Dale Carrico said...

You write: "In expressing our opposition to the imperialist excesses of the Western powers, we should take care not to omit condemnation of the destructive reactionary forces in the Middle East and elsewhere."

I think this is a non-problem. People on the left were ferociously criticizing authoritarian rights abuses in Iraq and patriarchal and fundamentalist atrocities in Afghanistan for over a decade while the folks who now decry the "relativism" and "indulgence" of the left were twiddling their thumbs or actively arming these regimes to make a buck.

Notice how often the Euston Manifesto puts quotation-marks around the word "understanding." This is actively dangerous. To make the effort to understand the causes of violence and terror is not to justify their perpetrators but precisely to try to prevent them.

"Standing up for what's right also requires opposing what's wrong." Again, this is a non-problem. Pro-war people want to smear the anti-war people (who were right about literally everything, as usual) as indifferent to evil. As if only flinging guns around constitutes a serious condemnation of evil. This is a neoconservative canard ventriloquized by lefties who probably know better but are either too proud to admit their mistakes or simply lack the courage of their convictions.

Radical political formations that can provide any kind of sustained cover for terrorism only thrive in conditions of extreme exploitation and insecurity. Populations are radicalized by rage at civilian casualties and by hopelessness that the world is indifferent to their unjust suffering. We need to be very careful indeed about what is getting called "fundamentalism" and by whom. In the United States there are Dominionist fundamentalists who talk like the Euston Manifesto does about interventionism -- except by "fundamentalists" they always just mean "brown people in the way of our oil."

You say: "The Euston Manifesto is a commendable attempt to carve out a moderate but progressive position that has global appeal." Well, I can't commend all of it, I don't see what is so "moderate" about it, and I hardly see any sign that it has "global" appeal. I do very much like its points 4 (the labor movement discussion), 5 (the fair trade discussion), 7 (the Two-State discussion), and 14 (the Open Source discussion).

I don't just agree with them, I think it is encouraging that they are emphasized. But there are plenty of people who get these connections without yoking them to muscular neoliberal militarism. I know enough about the specific historical context of the Manifesto to know that what it is really about is that some wrongheaded folks in the pro-war left are trying to re-establish their left cred in the devastating aftermath of that ongoing bloodbath, not by admitting they were wrong and showing how they learned from their mistakes, but instead by smearing their opponents as America-hating girly men, which has always been a tired and disgusting spectacle but is now unspeakably surreal given the realities of the war they have wrought.

You write: "I particularly appreciate their emphasis of the Universal Declaration, a document that always deserves greater attention." ER is one of my heroes too as I have said before. But when the writers of the Manifesto declare these rights to be "binding" and then go on to decry so-called left "Anti-Americanism" it is very clear what is afoot.

When the Universal Declaration becomes a rationale for interventionism in the world we presently live in this actually literally ensures that double standards will be applied. Yes, ironic, isn't it, since presumably such "double standards" from "indulgent" anti-militarist lefties like me make the authors cry salty tears.

Why does drawing an interventionist stance from the Declaration ensure double standards? Because violations of the Declaration are ubiquitous and even the most muscular of the so-called "muscular liberals" lacks the resources and will to make war on the whole planet (you know, for the kids!), hence the Declaration immediately becomes a selective pretext for war-adventuring exacerbated by the inevitable ambiguities and abuses and questionable alliances inherent in the "fog of war" to be followed, as the night does the day, by war-profiteering for the rich and radicalization among the poor who take the brunt of war catastrophe and provide the grounds for the next round of war.

Yes, "understanding" is indeed the enemy of the war-makers. In the era of suitcase nukes, bioengineered pathogens, and netwar we honestly can no longer afford to indulge the inferiority complexes of men in power who want to prove what tough-guys they are by airily defending mass-murder as "just war." I hope the authors turn their attention now to the hard work implied in their attitude toward International Labor Organization standards and leave the war-mongering to the right wingnuts where it belongs.

Tom FitzGerald said...


The anti-science left is just as dangerous as Christian and Muslim fundamentalists?

They're irritating and all, but I don't see left luddites blowing up abortion clinics or the World Trade Center or anything. Just writing windy manifestos, maybe torching an SUV dealership. Not the most commendable stuff, but hardly in the same league--hardly in the same SPORT--with religious terrorisms. (Or with the perfectly rationalized techno-violence of modern war-machines.)

I think conflating the annoying with the dangerous is unhelpful.