Dear Ron Radosh,
In a column on Judith Butler and the anti-Semitic left, you put out a challenge to those of us who would still like to consider ourselves “on the left” but don’t have Israel Derangement Disorder.
The logic of the left is the same logic its ancestors used to defend Stalinism in its heyday — the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and the enemy of the left is Western democracy, as it exists in both the United States and Israel. Butler’s anti-Americanism and anti-Israel posturing defines the left.
Isn’t it time for good men like Landes and Geras to face reality, and to stop trying to get the left to change its tune? The fight to defend Israel must henceforth include the effort to fight the left, whose agenda, as always has been the case, leads to horrendous ends.
I’d like make a distinction between a “demotic” left and revolutionary left, and then address why the sharp differences between those two styles of “being left” have been lost in the last decade(s).
First, everything that you describe as “left” is actually “revolutionary left.” They are the ones who served as useful idiots for the Stalinists back then, and who, today, as Dan Pipes chronicles, serve as useful infidels for the Islamist Jihadis. They in fact pursue – like Marx – a profoundly apocalyptic millennial agenda that wants to radically transform/perfect society and the world now. So while they derive their ideology from demotic leftist principles – egalitarianism, anti-imperialism, dignity of manual labor, un-coerced cooperation and sharing – their impatience draws them into a whirlwind of emotions that end up compromising the very principles they began with. Marx made some very fine distinctions between crude (rohe) Communism, based on “universalizing envy” of others, and (presumably) the real thing (based on generosity?).
I’d like to define demotic principles (which are also “liberal” principles) as the behavior of free people, entering with personal dignity into uncoerced relations with others (Die Würde freiwilliger menschlicher Interaktion). This means the renunciation of coerced, domineering relations at multiple levels in social and political interaction. These are the basic principles that underlie fundamental demotic values like the dignity of manual labor (rather than stigmatizing laborers), equality before the law (rather than legal privilege, apartheid), and the value of every human life (rather than the sacrifice of the well-being of the many for the pleasure of the few). These are the basic cultural building-blocks of successful democracies, that is societies of abundance in which commoners are empowered. Carl Schorske argued that there’s no Liberal Party in England is because the liberals won: both the Tories and Labor were liberal (in comparison with real authoritarians).
Now in fascist revolutionary circles, where violence is redemptive and coercion, even mega-death, an attractive tool with which to crack the eggs necessary for the omelet, many of these fundamental commitments to non-coerced relations become problematic. (Judith Butler tries to maintain her technical virginity on this point in her statements on Hamas.) This is what happened with terrible consequences in the 20th century, including the mega-death of tens even, in total, a hundred million.
The real question is, how, with our knowledge of how these demotic principles got hijacked by revolutionaries on the left in the 20th century – Hitler’s initial “party” was the DAP, the German Workers Party – and the knowledge of how appallingly some of the most brilliant (and not so brilliant) intellectuals of their day behaved as fellow travelers – George Bernard Shaw, Heidigger and Jung, Jean-Paul Sartre, Noam Chomsky) in their defense of revolutionary state terrorists (Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot) – the main figures on the left have (collectively, consensually) not learned anything from this, but instead gone from being useful idiots for a demotic millennial ideal to being useful idiots for one of the most abhorrent and regressive cultural and religious movements in recorded history.
I think Bruce Bawer’s recent book offers one of the most important bases on which to pursue the answers to these questions, and personally, I would, had I some graduate students, set them to work on exploring the millennial/messianic dimension of critical theory, the impossible utopianism built into the theory and practice (transgressive performativity as apocalyptic deed, as a form of what students of early Christianity call “realized eschatology”). I think an analysis of their post-apocalyptic cognitive dissonance (since the fall of Communism in particular), helps understand how they can get into such ludicrous oxymorons such as “gays for Palestine” or “Hamas is a progressive social movement and part of the global left.” The book I want to write is entitled, They’re so Smart cause we’re so Stupid, and it was inspired by Fort Hood, but works as a key to understanding lots of things, like the stunning success of so cheap a product as Pallywood and its most poisonous and much relished fruit, the Muhammad al Durah bloodless libel.
When Judith Butler attacks Berlin gays for being “Islamophobic” and humiliates them publicly, and yet calls homophobic Hamas a “progressive social movement,” she does so out of the best and most sincere of motives, as she herself insists. But she effectively betrays them despite the fact that it was conceptually “on their [‘queer’] backs” that she rode to theoretical prominence. Not much gratitude in her karma. She both adopts aspects of the authoritarian personality (with the weak) and identifies with the aggressor.
So personally, I think most every decent person is on the demotic left, in the sense that they treat others (including women) with respect and dignity; they agree to abide by the isonomic principle “whoever’s right, my side or not” (i.e., limits to the “my side right or wrong mentality); and they use violence only to defend themselves from unwarranted aggression and not to dominate others. Obviously in the real world, no one (or very few) can sustain this positive-sum ethos all the time, and judgments about what is aggression and what is defense always arise.
How the Left could mistake the Israelis defensive moves as right wing aggression (the “Nazionism thesis”) when they are among the most committed culture to demotic principles on the planet (e.g., the size of their camp of suicidal self-abnegators), and correspondingly mistake the Palestinians for the innocent victims of Israeli hegemonic aggression, when their most salient cultural product is a cult of death and hatred with few rivals on the globe, is a major question that needs addressing. But it includes the fundamental understanding that we’re not trying to understand the “left” whose principles of fairness we all wish to see implemented, but a deviation from that. Let’s call the non-violent, useful infidels like Judith Butler, who go down this path of betraying the very values they think they embody, and who refuse any “reality testing” lest it prevent them from performing their redemptive deeds on the global stage, the “self-destructivist left.” Such people flock to Human Rights NGOs and journalism.
And behind the moral preening, lies intimidation. These self-destructivists heap the criticism on powers that do not strike back (i.e., hegemons committed to non-coercive principles like the US and Israel), and don’t dare criticize those who do (Hamas and the revolutionary left). Like journalists covering the Arab-Israeli conflict (and the Islamist-West one), they are too cowardly to resist intimidation, too in need of success to admit the intimidation to their audiences, and too vain to admit it to themselves, so they become “advocates for the underdog.” Appeasement, as feeding everyone else to the crocodile with the hope that he’ll lose his appetite before he gets to you, is a classic form of this behavior, played out right now with Iran. All the self-destructivist left is against a strike in the name of peace, and the Israelis, who seem to be the only grown ups in the room to understand that a nuclear Iran will be a catastrophe for the entire global community, are considered warmongers.
I see it as a massive case of the emperor’s new clothes, starting in October of 2000 with Al Durah as the icon of hatred, paraded in the streets by an advocacy-driven media, as an act of “solidarity” with the oppressed Palestinian people. This arouses widespread loathing of Nazi-like, apartheid Zionist settler-imperialism. This narrative, which, for the West is suicidal, and which animates a genocidal Muslim apocalyptic narrative, in which all infidels will be rendered dhimmi, has so strong an appeal, that the voice of the “youth” speaking the truth is (still) drowned in the cheers for high priestesses of the self-destructivist “left” like Judith Butler. And if I had to write a Jared Diamond-like book on how civilizations die, I’d pay special attention to the suicidal versions of this leftist folly.
But right now, I’m still working to avoid that suicide, not conduct an autopsy.
Our problem now, as I see it, is that these self-destructivists, who have lost their moral compass even as they think themselves at the (millennial) cutting edge of moral performativity, dominate the public sphere. They’ve mistaken the most responsible hegemonic behavior in the recorded history of mankind (and therefore, ironically, the most successful and productive) for the worst, and the worst political culture for misunderstood children who just need their moment in the sun. They somehow imagine themselves closer to Islamic radicals than what they derisively call “right-wingers.” In fact, in comparison with the political culture of the Middle East, the most right, authoritarian wing of our mainstream is on the margins of their demotic left wing. And this drives our self-destructive culture wars. The massive failure/refusal to understand that, accounts for why Islamism has had such massive victories in the cognitive war during the brief years so far in the 21st century.
Time to turn it around. Maybe what we need is something other than the “left-right” political dichotomy.
Thanks for the challenge. Hope you find it useful.