Debating the Left with Three Leftists
By David Horowitz
A Conversation with the Left About DiscoverTheNetwork.org
David Horowitz’s new database DiscoverTheNetwork.org presents itself as a “guide to the political left.” In less than two months it has been visited by nearly 625,000 individuals in 116 countries and has sparked a great deal of controversy. This controversy has been focused on what constitutes the left, specifically what individuals and organizations should be considered in this database. Objections have been raised to the inclusion of entertainers like Barbara Streisand and Sean Penn, Democrats like Howard Dean and Barack Obama and above all Islamic radicals like blind shiek Omar Abdel Rachman and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In all candor, most of the controversy took the form of ridicule and name calling -- familiar responses of the left when under challenge. There was a striking lack of intellectual comment and argument.
Part of the explanation for this failure to express disagreement in the form of an intellectual argument, we suspect, has to do with the left’s undisputed domination over the institutions of the higher culture – the universities, the large metropolitan press, and the TV networks. This dominance has caused it to inhabit a cultural echo chamber where the only interlocutor it really has to speak to (and answer to) is itself. Consequently, it has grown intellectually lazy and reaches for the most convenient epithet before it ever thinks about an argument. It has substituted emotional reflexes for ideas for so long that it has become a kind of latter day version of the conservatism that Lionel Trilling described as a “mental irritability” rather than an intellectual reference.
While the left often looks these days like a set of reactionary reflexes to conservative innovations, if we thought this was all the left was we would not have devoted several years to building our database at DiscoverTheNetwork.org, nor would we be attempting the present enterprise, which is to overcome the refusal of the left to discuss itself with us on its own and to invite it to discuss itself on our territory.
This is the first in what we hope will be a lengthy series of conversations with leftists about radicalism and leftism and liberalism and conservatism. We begin by inviting the first of three prominent members of the Left to discuss our new database with David Horowitz. Our guest today is Michael Berube, the Paterno Family Professor of Literature at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. He has a website at www.MichaelBerube.com, which featured one of the most linked satires attacking the idea behind DiscovertheNetwork.org.
Part I: Michael Berube and David Horowitz
FP: Prof. Berube and Mr. Horowitz, welcome to Frontpage's discussion on DiscoverTheNetwork.org.
Prof. Berube, let's begin with you. Tell us your thoughts on this new database.
Berube: My thoughts on it are pretty straightforward: it’s a database of liberals, progressives, leftists, and far-leftists. But it clearly seems designed to blur the distinctions not only between the mainstream left and the far far left, but between the far left and liberals such as Barack Obama, Barbra Streisand, and Bill Moyers. David himself says as much: “It should be obvious that even the otherwise innocent Barbra Streisand shares negative views of the Bush Administration and its mission of liberating Iraq with anti-American jihadists like the aforementioned [Abu Musab] Zarqawi, even though we are sure that she deplores some of his methods.” By that standard, anyone with negative views of the Bush administration or the war in Iraq is an ally of Zarqawi. Suffice it to say that I don't think this mode of argumentation -- construing liberal dissenters as supporters of terrorists -- is appropriate for people living in republics and democracies.
More specifically, my objection to the Network is this. It’s one thing to associate [International ANSWER’s Brian Becker, Ramsey Clark, or [National Lawyers Guild convicted terrorist] Lynne Stewart with political Islamists; these people truly have gone around the bend, and are making what amounts to a red-brown alliance between the far far left and the far far right of Islamism. It’s quite another thing -- an indefensible thing, I think -- to suggest, as this database does, that there is a ‘network’ linking people like Katie Couric to Mohammed Atta, Zacarias Moussaoui to Roger Ebert. So this ‘network’ deliberately confuses the distinction between people who criticize Lynne Stewart and Ramsey Clark and people who support them, and this fact alone renders the very idea of a ‘network’ incoherent.
FP: Mr. Horowitz?
DH: Of course we did not design the database to blur distinctions. We designed it first of all to make the distinction between the left and everyone else, and secondly to describe the particular positions of the left and their networks and to distinguish between them.
The database clearly identifies five categories of leftists: “Totalitarian Radicals,” “Anti-American Radicals,” “Leftists,” “Moderate Leftists” and “Affective Leftists.” How are these distinctions blurred if they are made? How, for example, does the database “blur the distinctions between the mainstream left and the far far left” or “between the far left and liberals such as Barack Obama?” as Berube claims, when Barack Obama is clearly identified as a “Leftist” and not a “Totaliatiran Radical” or an “Anti-American Radical?” I notice that Berube doesn’t identify a single statement that we have made about Barack Obama or any other entry in the database that is either false, inappropriate or misleading.
In contrast, I could write an entire book about the false, inappropriate and misleading statements about any given conservative on leftwing sites like MediaMatters, MediaTransparency, NameBase, RightwingWatch and the like.) In other words, we have actually made the distinctions Berube claims we haven’t, and we have done them in a responsible, fair-minded and accurate way. Berube’s claim reduces itself to the claim that all these names of people who are “far left,” “left” “liberal” (his terms) are included in a single “database of the left.” The issue, in other words, is whether there can be said to be a “left” that includes all these individuals, disparate and otherwise.
What Berube actually seems to disagree about is whether Barack Obama or Roger Ebert, for example, should be described as “liberals” or a leftists.” My question to him would be how can someone who supports racial preferences, income redistribution, and unlimited expansion of the nanny state, and who is comfortable with university faculties from which conservatives are virtually excluded be regarded as a “liberal?” Reasonable people may disagree on this, but we certainly have a right to identify modern liberals as belonging to the classic left. However, one may come down on this particular question– whether Obama is a leftist, or a moderate leftist or a liberal -- surely no reasonable person can maintain that we have blurred distinctions when we have actually codified them.
Whether actual liberals (by our standards), e.g., Senator Joseph Lieberman, New Republic Editors Martin Peretz and Peter Beinart, Slate editor Jacob Weisberg, NBC reporter Tim Russert belong in a database on the left is a difficult question. All of them are Democrats and thus deeply enmeshed in networks that obviously identify themselves as left (or “progressive”). There is, in fact, a profound battle going on in the Democratic Party for the soul of liberalism and we cannot predict what the outcome will be. But are comfortable including these – or people like them -- in this database precisely because we have made the internal distinctioins between those on the left who are radicals and totalitarians and those who are opposed to radicals and totalitarians.
Berube’s claim that I have conflated Barbra Streisand and Zarqawi is unintelligible. To say that two people share some views – in this case opposition to American policy in Iraq – is not the same as saying that any critic of policy is an ally of Zarqawi. Although I notice that people who really want America to lose the war on terror often have a guilty conscience that makes them feel hunted in precisely this manner. But as I have explained many times, and most recently in my essay "Why We Are In Iraq," not all criticism of American policy is the same, and I certainly do not make that mistake. Calling Bush Hitler in the midst of a war is one kind of criticism; calling his policy mistaken is quite another. Agitating to have American troops defect from their service in the war terror, as many so-called “peace” organizations do, cannot be regarded simply as justifable “criticism” of the war. Why are Zarqawi and Streisand in the same database, or Zarqawi and Michael Moore, or Noam Chomsky and Ward Churchill? It is a question the left really has to answer for itself.
How can people who claim to be for women’s rights, gay rights, equality and freedom take sides against America when it is at war with Islamic terrorists who oppress women and gays and who have declared war on democracy and equality? I have answered this question in my book, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left, which provides the rationale for the design of DiscoverTheNetwork.org, which Berube doesn’t like. Not a single leftist has commented on this book however. This reflects how intellectually lazy the left has become in examining itself and its commitments, and is why it resorts to name-calling and derision when it is forced to confront an analysis it does not like. If you don’t answer critics you find yourself unable to articulate why you are marching shoulder to shoulder with your own ideology.
It should be mentioned that Unholy Alliance is not the only book on the war on terror that links the Zarqawi Islamists with segments of the American left that Berube would find familiar and also identify with. Paul Berman a well-known leftwing author who despises conservatives in general (and myself in particular) has written an insightful book, Terror and Liberalism, which describes the affinities and alliances between American leftists (for example attendees of the Socialist Scholars conference) and Islamic terrorists.
Most people like to be judged by their intentions and given wide latitude for their deeds. People on the left are no different. Berube is asking us to judge opponents of the liberation of Iraq on the basis of their stated intentions that women should have equal rights rather than on their practical activities during the war, which – if successful --would have kept Saddam in power and prevented Iraqi women from gaining their rights. We regret that not being leftists ourselves we can’t indulge his narcissism in this regard. But then when do leftists like him judge conservatives by their intentions and not their deeds?
In any case, I have argued in Unholy Alliance and elsewhere that in the post-Communist era, the left’s intentions are even less important in understanding and evaluating their agendas than they were in the past. This is a direct consequence of the collapse of Communism and the socialist fantasy, and the lack of a coherent plan for the revolutionary future. The left is united today only by its commitment to “social justice” and “progressive values” which are vague statements of the imploded socialist dream. The real unity – the organizing principle as it were – of the left today likes in its its oppositions -- first to the United States and then to the state of Israel. Another way of putting it is that the left is defined by these oppositions. This is not a view peculiar to me, though I believe Unholy Alliance is the first attempt to systematically articulate it. I have posted a lengthy analysis of the left’s history from 1945 to the present written by an academic leftist Andrei S. Markovits for the socialist magazine Dissent that comes to exactly the same conclusions. I would welcome in these pages a leftist response to these conclusions. So far I have not seen any.
The negative framework of the left’s agenda in the political events following 9/11, that are described as the war on terror, can be understood by referring to its anti-war effort during the American intervention in Vietnam some forty years ago.
In the Vietnam War the United States had undertaken to support a dictatorship in South Vietnam on the grounds that the dictatorship was also anti-Communist, and therefore a lesser evil than a unified Communist Vietnam. Some on the left supported the Communist totalitarians. But many “New Leftists” were self-declared “anti-totalitarians” who believed that Communism was a flawed attempt to create just societies. Moreover, they did not believe that the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam was a Communist pawn (as it was) but a quasi independent socialist and/or nationalist force. Their argument for opposing the United States defense of the South Vietnamese regime was that a victory for the NLF would mean the emergence of an independent Vietnam committed to the principles of equality and justice. This was an incentive to see that America was defeated. And this indeed is the delusional vision that motivated people like Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda other anti-war activists, who worked to cut off all aid to the regime in South Vietnam (and Cambodia as well) that was fighting for its life against the Communists..
But in Iraq, America did not set out to defend a dictatorship for whatever reasons. It set out to overthrow one. In Iraq the United States overthrew a monster regime, and liberated women and Iraq’s minorities -- and the left did everything in its power to prevent this. The practical actions of the left were to save the regime of Saddam Hussein. But what could saving Saddam Hussein mean but more corpses shoveled into mass graves, more human beings stuffed into plastic shredders, more terror for the Iraqi people, and further deferment of the rights of women and other minorities.
Even after Saddam Hussein was toppled, the left’s agendas were primarily to bring down the Bush Administration, not to help American forces to consolidate the peace or establish an Iraqi democratic state. Many leftists even actively support what they call the Iraqi “resistance,” led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Others like Barbra Streisand and Michael Berube didn’t like Saddam and don’t like Zarqawi but seem to fear George Bush and American power even more. To read the publications of the left which Michael Berube’s perspective since 9/11 – the Nation, the Progressive, Salon.com, the Village Voice -- is to read relentless attacks on the Patriot Act, on American military actions and America forces in Iraq, along limitless skepticism about the American goal of establishing a democracy in the Middle East. The sheer volume of this criticism adds up to a political action against American purposes in this war. The impression reinforced by the virtual absence constructive proposals for defeating the Zarqawi terrorists and establishing a democratic regime.
So it’s not really the DiscoverTheNetwork team that has to defend the decision to include Zarqawi and Streisand in the broad networks that link disparate elements of the left. Rather it’s leftists like Michael Berube who have to explain why they are engaging in a political course of action which if successful would strengthen the global Islamic jihad against the West, along with its misogynist, anti-minority and reactionary agendas.
A point that may need reiterating (I have made it before) is that the mere fact that people on the left disagree does not mean that they are not on the left. As I observed in an earlier article on the design of DiscoverTheNetwork, Trotsky and Stalin declared war on each other, which ended with Trotsky’s murder by Stalin’s agents. But a responsible complier of a database on Communism would still be obligated to include both of these mortal enemies in the database.
FP: Prof. Berube, aside from your problem with the distinctions that, according to you, are not made, do you recognize that there is a “network” operating? Or do you deny the existence of any network at all? Tell us what you think of a Lynne Stewart and what she did. What was in her heart and why? What does it mean when Michael Moore calls for the victory of our enemy in Iraq? Just for the record, this is Michael Moore’s statement in his piece “Heads Up...from Michael Moore” on his site MichaelMoore.com, April 14, 2004: “The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or ‘terrorists’ or ‘The Enemy.’ They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win.” Does this say something about the Left, especially since Moore was an honored guest in Jimmy Carter’s box at the Democratic Convention? Is there a chance that Moore’s propaganda activities may bring harm to this nation and free peoples everywhere? As a member of the Left, do you feel a sense of responsibility to say something here?
Berube: Last question first: of course I have a responsibility to criticize members of the Left who've gone around the bend, and I have done so -- many times. It was strikingly ungenerous of David not to acknowledge that, especially since I criticized ANSWER in no uncertain terms on this very site two years ago. There really is no basis whatsoever for David’s claim [in the article “Why Michael Can’t Read” that “radicals like Berube can’t be bothered to actually read or respond rationally to anything that ruffles their progressive feathers, let alone be concerned about the fact that their entire political focus since 9/11 has been in getting our terrorist enemies off the hook.” And I’ve always insisted that my opposite numbers on the Right have a responsibility to criticize their lunatic fringe, which is why, six years ago, I went after David’s appalling defense of Augusto Pinochet.
Now, is there a network here? That's a good question. When Hillary Clinton named that “vast right-wing conspiracy,” she was really referring to a network -- and I wish she’d used that term instead-- of people who belonged to groups like the Rutherford Institute and the Federalist Society, who were working with Congressional Republicans and figures in the right-wing media to impeach the President. These people met, corresponded, and worked together toward a common goal. Nothing comparable exists between people like me and people like Brian Becker of ANSWER or Ramsey Clark, most recently of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic, let alone between people like Katie Couric or Bruce Springsteen and Lynne Stewart.
As for Stewart, hers is a sorry story. I think that the New York Times Magazine profile of her in September 2002 had it right: like Clark, Stewart has allowed her opposition to US policy to make her embrace the very worst kind of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend"” logic. I’m not aware of Moore saying anything that batty with regard to Iraq, but I do know that whenever I come across a far leftist speaking of the ‘Iraqi Maquis’-- or Arundhati Roy telling us that we don’t have the luxury of supporting an Iraqi resistance more to our liking, and so must support this one -- I dissent. Such sentiments are not part of any Left I call my own, because the fringe Left that endorses them forfeits its moral authority to oppose totalitarianism, torture, and terrorism. (And I invite the Right to join me in opposing all three! Anyone?)
To associate me (or Roger Ebert or Ted Kennedy or Ruth Bader Ginsburg) with such fringe Leftists is to partake of precisely the same ‘logic; as that of the fringe Left itself: for Becker and Clark, the enemy of their enemy is their friend, and they welcome figures like Milosevic or al-Sadr, because anyone who opposes the US must be all right with them. Likewise, in Discover the Network, anyone who does not support George Bush and the war in Iraq is part of a “network” that extends to al-Qaeda. It’s the same fundamentalist logic, and the same forfeiture of moral authority.
DH: Well of course I specifically did not defend Pinochet in the article he refers to; in fact I specifically criticized Pinochet. What I did that upset Berube was to point out that Pinochet left his country prosperous and democratic (he voluntarily submitted to a referendum which he lost) and to contrast this to the fact that Fidel Castro is the longest surviving dictator in the world and has made his country dramatically poorer than it was when he took power. For this Berube called me a Nazi (to be precise he said he couldn’t wait for my next article defending the Third Reich). Now that’s what I call blurring distinctions, and I have to say it is pretty much a staple of the “arguments” of the left, as I have encountered them.
In fact in my conservative career – and from the very outset I – leftists have smeared me as a “renegade,” a supporter of contra terrorists, a Nazi, a fascist, a racist, a homophobe, a McCarthyite, a Stalinist, and most recently a Maoist. And these leftists attackers have ranged from what Berube calls the “far far left” to People for the American Way and a former Democratic Lieutenant Governor of Colorado, who described me both as a McCarthyite and a Stalinist in her column in the Denver Post for merely contemplating the creation of an online guide to the left, which she referred to as a “snitch site.” So these complaints about DiscoverTheNetwork are really like the pot calling the kettle black, only worse, because we have gone to great lengths not to indulge in casual smears.
Turning to Berube’s point about Hillary, in the interests of historical accuracy allow me first to point out that the reference to the “vast right wing conspiracy” was in response to a question as to why anyone would “invent” the charge that her husband had committed adultery with Monica Lewinsky. Knowing full well that her husband had indeed committed the act, denied it and instead maliciously identified a vast right wing conspiracy as the author of the “lie.” In other words Hillary’s comment (which Berube approves) was a classic McCarthyite attack on conservatives to cover her husband’s misdeeds. And this is being unfair to McCarthy, since there actually were Communists with malign agendas towards the United States whom he did identify, whereas no one invented Monica Lewinsky. Berube’s willingness to take at face value a malicious and false accusation from the left and at the same time to deny the evidence presented in a database that took conservatives years to research is revealing of how unable he is to maintain an intellectual standard let alone appreciate how he is perceived by others.
Berube’s dissociation from the criminal activities of Lynne Stewart and the Bolshevik dementias of International ANSWER are welcome and yes – ever mindful of the distinctions between leftists – we provided Berube a platform to express them on FrontPagemag.com. But this is only scratching the surface of the problem that Lynne Stewart presents for the left.
Lynne Stewart is a fifty-year veteran of the progressive left and a key player in its legal defense community. The organizations that have been her political base include the National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights, two pillars of the anti-Patriot Act movement, the immigration reform movement, the reparations movement, the affirmative action movement, the solidarity movement and other causes of the broadly based left of which Berube is a part. If Berube will consult the database he will see that these are working allies – and share personnel with -- the American Civil Liberties Union, the Ford Foundation, and the Tides Center (to name just a few of its allies) and thus with the core institutions of the activist left of which Berube considers himself a part. Berube’s political friend, Todd Gitlin, a fellow critic of International ANSWER and of the politics of Lynne Stewart shared platforms with Lynne Stewart at the Socialist Scholars Conference. In his book Liberalism and Terror, Paul Berman has described how this Conference – which represents a pretty broad spectrum of the progressive left – gave a warm ovation to a speaker who justified suicide bombing. So both the network and the blur are realities; we didn’t create them; we have just described them, and have done so as scrupulously and accurately as we are able.
Contrary to Berube’s understanding, Stewart is most definitely not someone operating under the formula, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” For Stewart the enemy is her friend. Stewart is a Communist and a terrorist and believes in her heart that the Islamic terrorists are freedom fighters, and she has said so in so many words (her statements are gathered in Unholy Alliance). The fact that Berube and others dissociated themselves from Stewart after she was caught in terrorist activities is a good beginning, but it is not the whole story, since Stewart’s communist and terrorist sympathies were the substance of her politics for years, with no visible dissent from Berube. Her anti-American, pro-terrorist sympathies are shared by organizations like the National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights which are integral to the causes of the political left. New Republic editor Peter Beinart has called on liberals to purge from their ranks individuals and organizations like the National Lawyers Guild (and even MoveOn.org) that oppose America’s war against radical Islam. Berube has written a critical response to Beinart, which suggests that he himself is not ready for such steps. This is the real issue. If Berube doesn’t want to be associated with supporters of terrorism, he has to do a lot more than separate himself from one embarrassingly caught and convicted individual and some holy rollers from the International ANSWER.
I haven’t seen Berube dissociating himself, for example, from the Coalition United For Peace and Justice, described by the New York Times, Salon and others as the “moderate” peace movement. Does Berube think that the politics of the leaders of this organization differ significantly from those of International ANSWER as far as the war on terror is concerned? Medea Benjamin and Leslie Cagan the principal organizers of the CUPJ are two pro-Castro communists, (Cagan with a capital C, Benjamin with a small c). Leslie Cagan, who is a lifelong member of the Communist Party organized protests against the Vietnam war, movements for solidarity with the Communist guerrillas in Central America, and against the first Gulf War. Her lifelong sympathies lie with America’s enemies, yet she is the leader of a “peace” coalition that includes factions which extend from the Communist Party and radical Islamic organizations to People for the American Way, the National Council of Churches and MoveOn.org. What does Berube have to say about this network, and where do his own agendas part company with this coalition?
FP: Prof. Berube?
Berube: The American right needs to dissociate itself from:
-- the torture and murder of random Iraqis and Afghans
-- its support of South African apartheid
-- its support of violent, ultrareligious homophobic patriarchs in the US
-- its support of violent, ultrareligious homophobic patriarchs abroad
Until it does, I'm going to persist in thinking that its recent endorsements of “freedom” are hollow and meaningless.
DH: This answer from Michael Berube is disappointing but not surprising. As I have already observed, the left has become so intellectually lazy from years of talking to itself (and “at” everyone else) that it has lost the ability to conduct an intellectual argument with its opponents.
Berube has not answered any of the points made in response to his original criticisms. He has failed to defend his claim in particular that networks of the left to which he himself actively belongs include Communists, Islamo-fascists, and supporters of terrorism, united by their opposition to the American Great Satan. Nor has he attempted to explain why an alliance of convenience is justifiable in these cases. And he certainly has made no credible case for excluding Lynne Stewart’s terrorist friends from a database of the left.
As if happens – to answer his final contribution to this conversation – conservatives do dissociate themselves from the “torture and murder of random Iraqis and Afghans – beginning with the President, who is the author of America’s policy to promote freedom in the Middle East. If Berube wants to discuss the question of whether torture of terrorists is justified under any circumstances, perhaps we can organize a symposium on the subject.
Most conservatives opposed apartheid. A database on conservatives should certainly include those who did not however. What is the point of this challenge?
Who is Berube referring to when he refers to “violent, ultrareligious, homophobic patriarchs” in the United States and abroad. Conservatives are in a war with the “violent, ultrareligious, homophobic patriarchs” of radical Islam. Progressives are either not in the war or still attempting to make up their minds.
This grandstanding, initiated by Berube, is really out of place in an intellectual discussion, and an unfortunate way to conclude this exchange.
FP: Prof. Berube and Mr. Horowitz, thank you for joining Frontpage's discussion about DiscoverTheNetwork.org. We encourage our readers to stay tuned for Part II of this series, in which Mr. Horowitz will continue this dialogue with Prof. Robert Jensen, an associate professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.
[Editor’s note. This is a continuation of the debate between Michael Berube and David Horowitz after the close of part one. For clarity, we have posted Horowitz’s responses to Berube’s original objections to DiscoverTheNetwork.org and then Berube’s replies. The exchanges are separated by asterisks.]
Horowitz: How does the database “blur the distinctions between the mainstream left and the far far left” or “between the far left and liberals such as Barack Obama?” The database clearly identifies five categories of leftists: “Totalitarian Radicals,” “Anti-American Radicals,” “Leftists,” “Moderate Leftists” and “Affective Leftists.” How are the distinctions blurred if they are made? I notice that Michael doesn't single out one statement that we have made about Barack Obama in our profile of him that is either false, inappropriate or misleading. In other words, we have actually made the distinctions he claims we haven’t.
Berube: The database makes “distinctions,” yes. But it insists nonetheless that everyone listed in it is part of a “network.” Now, imagine that I compile a “network” that links Olympia Snowe to Timothy McVeigh, or Bruce Willis to Augusto Pinochet. Wouldn’t sane people see something wrong with that?
Horowitz: Why would they? What you are objecting to is the very idea of a database of the left which includes factions of the left however disparate. This is not blurring distinctions, it is just saying that despite these distinctions there is a justification for including all these people in a database of the left. As I have already pointed out, a database on Communism would include Stalin and also Trostky, even though they were mortal enemies and ideological antagonists. I’m afraid I’m not very familiar with Timothy McVeigh’s ideological perspectives, but assuming that he thought government was oppressive and ought to be limited, and that Clinton administration’s incineration of 80 mainly innocent individuals, mostly women and children was wrong, placing him in a database with Republicans who also believe in limited government makes sense. Including Olympia Snowe. I’m not sure Bruce Willis has a political ideology, but let’s say that he is for lower taxes and the promotion of a business economy, then why not have him in a database of the right along with Pinochet who left Chile a prosperous, pro-business democracy by the time he was through?
The point Berube seems to be arguing is that there are so many points along the spectrum of the left and the spectrum of the right that the very categories left and right have no meaning. This is an arguable point of view but even adopting it does not mean that DiscoverTheNetwork blurs distinctions. It does not.
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Horowitz: What Michael and I seem to actually disagree about is whether Barack Obama is a “liberal” or a “leftist.” My question to him would be: How can anyone who supports racial preferences and income redistribution be regarded as a “liberal?” But whatever conclusion one draws - whether Obama is a leftist, a moderate leftist or a liberal - surely no reasonable person can maintain that we have blurred distinctions when we have actually codified them.
Berube: Here, David is straightforward about what’s at stake: he wants to move the rhetorical goalposts so far right that anyone who supports affirmative action and progressive taxation is labeled a “leftist.” All well and good: that’s David's job, and I respect him for doing it so diligently. My job, then, is to push right back on those goalposts, and to insist that David’s “Network” is the work of a far-right ideologue. More than this, it’s the work of a far-right ideologue who desperately needs to disavow the intimate ideological connections between the Islamist far right and the American far right.
Horowitz; Actually I have always been straightforward about what is at stake. If Berube were to read my book The Politics of Bad Faith, he would find that the introduction itself argues that what is referred to as liberalism today is actually a variety of leftism, and for the reasons given in the statement to which Berube is responding. His argument that this point of view is itself “far right” is his opinion, but it has no historical basis. I have often referred to the case of President John F. Kennedy and the New Frontier as way of measuring how the political spectrum has been shifted to the left by the arbiters of the cultural discourse. In the 1960s, Kennedy was regarded as a liberal. Under the standards the left has been able to establish in today’s culture he would be regarded as a Reaganite or (as Berube would prefer) a member of the “far right.” Kennedy was a hawk on defense, a militant anti-Communist, for a capital gains tax cut and a balanced budget (also weak on civil rights). He appointed Republicans to his three top cabinet posts. He launched the war against Communism in Vietnam. There is not a scintilla of difference between Kennedy’s politics and Reagan’s.
Berube’s suggestion that the Islamist far right is intimately ideologically connected to the American far right has this problem: It is the far right (as defined by him and meaning pro-Bush conservatives like myself) that has been in the forefront of the war against radical Islam and its ideology, while it has been progressive leftists like him who have been at war with the right’s war on radical Islam. Of course, he may mean the far isolationist right of Pat Buchanan, and then he would be right, since Buchanan has linked arms with Noam Chomsky in opposing the war that I support.
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Horowitz: Berube’s comment about Barbra Streisand and Zarqawi is unintelligible. To say that two people share some views - in this case opposition to American policy in Iraq - is not the same as saying that any critic of policy is an ally of Zarqawi.
Berube: No, it is David’s comment about Barbra Streisand and Zarqawi that is unintelligible. (The comment was this: “It should be obvious that even the otherwise innocent Barbra Streisand shares negative views of the Bush Administration and its mission of liberating Iraq with anti-American jihadists like the aforementioned [Abu Musab] Zarqawi, even though we are sure that she deplores some of his methods.”) David’s remark clearly implies that if one opposes the war in Iraq, one necessarily endorses “some views” espoused by people who have no conceivable contact with any progressive/left American project whatsoeverlike Zarqawi. On the contrary, part of our criticism of the war in Iraq is that the Bush Administration bungled an opportunity to launch a strike against Zarqawi because it was so obsessed with Saddam Hussein.
Horowitz: The shared view is that America is an imperialist, aggressive power and therefore is in some way responsible for the 9/11 attacks on itself and is suspect in its war in Iraq. Forgive me for not thinking that leftwing criticism of the war in Iraq is based on a concern for more zealous prosecution of the war against Zarqawi. In the first place, Zarqawi was in Iraq when we attacked, which is one of the reasons we did attack: Saddam was part of the international terrorist jihad against the United States. In the second place, anyone reading the mountain of leftist commentary on the war on terror (including the commentary posted on Barbra Streisand’s website) would instantly notice that virtually none of the commentary is about ways to wage the war against Zarqawi and other terrorists more efficiently, and that virtually all of it is about the lies, deceptions, manipulations, bad motives, dishonesty, lust for oil, imperial agendas, contempt for civil liberties, racial persecution of Muslim captives of and by the United States.
* * *
Horowitz: [I do not equate criticism of Iraq policy with anti-Americanism or treason.] As I have explained before (Why We Are In Iraq) not all criticism is the same. Calling Bush Hitler is one kind of criticism, calling him mistaken is quite another.
Berube: Calling Bush Hitler is foolish.
Horowitz: We agree. You are somewhere between a Leftist and a Moderate Leftist.
* * *
Horowitz: And there are many gradations in between. My comment was made to answer the specific question: why are these two people, Zarqawi and Streisand, in the same database? It is a question the left really has to answer rather than me. How can people who claim to be for women’s rights, gay rights, equality and freedom have taken sides in the war with the terrorists in Iraq and come down on the anti-American end? I have answered this question in a book, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left, that not a single leftist has commented on.
Berube: OK, then, consider this a comment. I’ve read that book, and I endorse women’s rights, gay rights, and egalitarian social justice in the following terms: I believe that all humans born have equal entitlement to shelter, sustenance, health care, education, political participation and representation, reciprocal recognition, and respect. So-called “leftists” who make exceptions to this principle when it comes to Cuba and Cambodia are not my allies. But right-wing ideologues who invoke this principle only in order to take cheap potshots at leftists are not even serious interlocutors. David, let me know when you're willing to endorse my conception of the left. In the meantime, I think the right has to explain why it’s apologized for terror (in Oklahoma City) and torture (in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib) and virulent racism (in South Africa).
Horowitz: I would so like to engage you (allow me to shift to the second person in answering this question) in a discussion of how all humans born have equal entitlement to shelter, sustenance, heath care and education – or more particularly how you propose to pay for this? Is a right a claim on some else’s labor from birth? I’m already supporting enough people thank you. Lenin, Castro and other Marxists tried this formula and made billions of people miserable and poor. I’m glad you take your distance from leftists who support Cuban and Cambodian totalitarians. As I said you are somewhere between a Leftist and a Moderate Leftist in our political taxonomy. I don’t speak for the right (and you have certainly misrepresented the right in saying that it has in any blanket way apologized for terror in Oklahoma City, torture in Abu Ghraib or virulent racism in South Africa). In any case you have not answered the question, which is why the left put itself on the line to defend the Saddam regime from the British and American retribution it so richly deserved, and why the left which claims to support e.g., women’s rights has opposed the Bush Administration’s successful efforts to liberate 20 million Muslim women in Afghanistan and Iraq.
* * *
Horowitz: I have argued that the left today is largely defined by its oppositions, first to the United States and then to Israel. I have even posted a lengthy analysis of the left's history from 1945 to the present that was written by an academic leftist for the socialist magazine Dissent that comes to exactly the same conclusions. I would welcome in these pages a leftist response to these conclusions. So far I have not seen any.
The reason why the left’s behavior after 9/11 suggests that a watershed has been passed in the development of the left itself can be understood by referring to the left’s anti-war effort over America's intervention in Vietnam some forty years ago.
In the Vietnam War the United States was supporting a dictatorship in South Vietnam on the grounds that the dictatorship was anti-Communist. “New Leftists” who believed by and large that Communism was a flawed attempt to create societies governed by the principles of equality and justice had an argument (whether one considers it plausible or not) for opposing the United States defense of the South Vietnamese regime. Perhaps (so they reasoned) a victory for the guerrilla forces of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam would mean the emergence of a society that honored the principles of equality and justice. This an was incentive to see that America was defeated. And this indeed is the delusional vision that motivated people like Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda other anti-war activists.
Berube: Millions of Americans opposed that war not because they desired an NLF victory, but because they feared - in terms that the late George Kennan would surely understand - that the US war in Vietnam would lead us to become more, rather than less, like our enemies who were fighting proxy wars around the globe. And millions of Americans opposed that war on the pragmatic ground that it was not, in fact, critical to the outcome of the Cold War. As I’ve said to you before, David, in one respect the antiwar left has been pretty clearly vindicated on the subject of Vietnam: that war was not, after all, crucial for U.S. national security or to the fate of the free world. We could have walked away in 1954 or 1964 instead of 1975, and the Berlin Wall would still have come down in 1989, the Soviet Union would still have collapsed in 1991. And there would be 58,000 more Americans - and roughly a million more Vietnamese - around to watch it happen.
It is true that some New Leftists, in the “network” you once inhabited, were NLF supporters. Had I been 10 or 20 years older at the time, I would have criticized them.
Horowitz: Millions of Americans may have eventually opposed the war in Vietnam for the reasons you describe. But we were talking about the New Left, which launched the movement against the war in Vietnam in 1962 (I should know because I helped to organize the first anti-Vietnam demonstration, which was staged in Berkeley in June of that year). The two national anti-Vietnam organizations that mobilized all the major demonstrations against the war were run by the Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party respectively. Their slogans were Bring The Troops Home Now (which was designed to ensure a Communist victory) and Bring the War Home (which is self-explanatory). The left did not care one hoot about America’s national security and this was not a factor in any leftist’s critique of the war. The left was only vindicated if it willed the slaughter of 2 and a half million Cambodians and Vietnamese by the Communists after America was forced to leave and the destruction of both countries.
* * *
Horowitz: But in Iraq, America set out to overthrow a dictatorship not defend one. What could saving Saddam Hussein -- which was the practical goal of the anti-war left - mean but more corpses shoveled into mass graves, more human beings stuffed into plastic shredders and more terror generally for the Iraqi people? In Iraq the United States overthrew a monster regime, and liberated women and Iraq’s minorities - and the left did everything in its power to prevent this.
Berube: I am glad that Saddam has been captured. I wish that it could have happened in a way that did not so dramatically compromise the United States’ standing in world affairs - and this is not a trivial matter, because the US’ standing in world affairs will set the conditions for our ability to act effectively against al-Qaeda in the future. But has this war really liberated women in Iraq? David, you’d be wise to be more circumspect about this; you might wind up being disappointed by your new Shi’ite friends. And you might do well to read more deeply in the history of Iraq since 1920.
In the meantime, I salute all the American leftists who opposed Saddam throughout the 1980s, when Reagan and Rumsfeld were making their marriages of convenience in the face of the Iranian Revolution.
Horowitz: I’m glad you’re glad that Saddam has been captured (second person again). But you and your political allies did nothing to help the Bush Administration capture him and everything possible to keep him in power, so I’m not quite sure how you expect the rest of us to take this. Even now you can’t bring yourself to concede the remarkably positive developments that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Rice have brought about in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Lebanon, and the broader Middle East.
Your incredibly facile references to America’s desperate efforts in the 1980s to prevent either the radical Islamic state of Iran or the fascist state of Iraq from dominating the Gulf shows how removed you are from actually being concerned about American policy, America’s standing in the world or the terrible responsibilities that have been placed on its government. We tilted towards Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war to prevent Iran -- a nation four times the size of Iraq whose leaders had sworn “death to America” -- from overrunning Iraq, and dominating the entire Gulf region and with it the energy lifeline of Europe and the West. If you don’t like balance of power politics, why do you express such concern about the opinion of European states, who are wedded to this principle of realpolitik and have shown themselves to have no particular commitment to moral principles like the defense of democracy or the advance of freedom?
* * *
Horowitz: Some leftists actively support what they call the Iraqi “resistance,” led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Others like Barbra Streisand and Michael Berube don’t like Zarqawi or Saddam but they seem to fear George Bush even more. More importantly they have put their political bodies on the line first to obstruct America’s war of liberation and save Saddam’s oppressive regime, and then to denigrate and undermine America’s post-war effort to consolidate its victory, an effort which if successful would allow Zarqawi to emerge as the ruling power in Iraq.
Berube: This is beyond nonsense. As a supporter of the US-led overthrow of the Taliban and as a liberal-progressive opponent of al-Qaeda, I opposed the war in Iraq because I believed that it would not advance our goals of marginalizing and defeating Islamist extremism. And I argued that it was foolish for Bush to ignore Zarqawi in his drive to invade Iraq.
I believe that American military and intelligence resources should have been deployed to capture bin Laden and Zarqawi. David offers apologies for the policies that have left both of them free men - and then he impugns my patriotism. You’ll forgive me if I find this hard to believe.
Horowitz: Looking at my comment, I do not see any reference to Afghanistan or the Taliban. If you really opposed the war in Iraq because you thought it would not advance the goals of marginalizing and defeating Islamist extremism, now is the time to admit you were wrong. Our liberation of Iraq resulted in an election in which 70% of the Iraqi people voted against terrorism and our efforts have started a wave of anti-terrorist and democratic movement in the Middle East from Baghdad to Cairo.
In case you didn’t notice, Bin Laden has been politically and militarily dead since U.S. forces entered Iraq. His big terrorist act against the 2004 elections was to send a video to Al-Jazeera. That’s because Bush and Rumsfeld’s war has shredded his organization and put him on the run Zarqawi is only in slightly better shape. He declared war on the elections in Iraq – and lost. Time to admit you were wrong, that is if you want to retain any credibility in these matters. BTW: Where did I impugn your patriotism?
* * *
Horowitz: So it's not really myself and the DiscoverTheNetwork team who have to defend our decision to include Zarqawi and Streisand in the broad networks that link disparate elements of the left. Rather it’s leftists like yourself who have to explain to us why you are engaging in a political course of action which if successful would strengthen the global Islamic jihad and its misogynist, homophobic and reactionary agendas.
Berube: No, I’ve made it quite clear, time and time again, that I oppose violent, ultrareligious patriarchy at home and abroad. Let me know when you're willing to disavow misogynist, homophobic and reactionary forces in the US.
Horowitz: Words, Michael. Your political actions – opposition to the war to liberate Iraq, refusal to acknowledge your mistake and give Bush the support he needs in the war to protect the fledgling democracy in Iraq – speak louder, much louder, than your words. As for my deeds in the U.S. my record in opposing the abuse of women (I guess this is what you mean) and in defending the civil rights of gay Americans is a matter of record. And of course I oppose the reactionary left, which I guess is not what you mean.
* * *
[Berube: Then there’s a brief exchange in which I mention David’s Salon essay in defense of Pinochet; FrontPage kept that part of the debate intact. And then they ran David’s reply in full - it runs another six paragraphs after the one below - while cutting my three-paragraph response.]
Horowitz: Well of course I specifically did not defend Pinochet in the article he refers to; in fact I specifically criticized Pinochet. What I did that upset Michael was to point out that Pinochet left his country prosperous and democratic (he voluntarily submitted to a referendum which he lost) and contrasted this to the fact that Castro is the longest surviving dictator in the world and has made his country dramatically poorer than it was when he took power. For this Michael called me a Nazi (to be precise he said he couldn’t wait for my next article defending the Third Reich). Now that’s what I call blurring distinctions Michael, and I have to say it is pretty much a staple of the arguments of the left.
Berube: OK, it’s time to draw some distinctions - at last! I did not call David a Nazi - though I’ve now heard from two sources that he's made this claim on his tours through our nation’s college campuses. But I certainly did argue that all of David's arguments in favor of Pinochet (whom, in all fairness, he did “criticize,” in the course of arguing that Pinochet had been good for Chile) could be made a fortiori for Hitler, who certainly improved the German economy and - unlike Pinochet - was actually elected to office.
But what David refuses to acknowledge here is that I have criticized Castro again and again - not only in the 1990s, but much more recently, when, at the outset of Gulf War II, Fidel imprisoned 80 dissenters and executed three people who’d tried to hijack a ferry to the US. The contrast really couldn't be clearer: I criticize dictators on my left, and David offers half-hearted “criticisms” of a right-wing torturer who “left his country prosperous and democratic.”
I have no problem with the disavowal of extremists to my left; I encourage David to disavow extremists on the right. Break the links between your network and Pinochet’s - and the links between your network and Gary Bauer’s or Randall Terry’s. Anytime in the next few months would be fine.
Horowitz: I think I just said you did not call me a Nazi, merely an apologist for the next Third Reich. I don’t know who your informants are but I don’t remember referring to you on my college speaking tours. Whatever. The case I made was that the average Chilean was better off because of Pinochet while the average Cuban was worse off because of Castro. Hitler is not comparable because Hitler, well, was Hitler. He also did not hold a referendum creating a democracy and ending his rule, and revitalized the German economy only by making it a war machine, which is not what Pinochet did. I don’t know what all this breast-beating about Castro is, since I never suggested you were a Castro supporter – did I? I don’t know what links you’re talking about re: Pinochet. I have publicly and more than once taken on Gary Bauer specifically and members of the Christian right who are at war with gays (you can look up the articles in my archives) and for ten years I have been saying that Randall Terry reminds of everything I detest in the left, in particular its arrogance and self-righteousness and disregard for other people’s rights.
A Conversation with the Left About DiscoverTheNetwork.org
This is the second part in a series of debates with three leftists about how the left is defined in DiscoverTheNetwork.org. To see the first part with Michael Berube, click here. We hope this dialogue will be the foundation for a lengthy series of conversations with leftists about radicalism, leftism, liberalism and conservatism.
Part II: Prof. Robert Jensen and David Horowitz
FP: Today we have the pleasure of being joined by David Horowitz and Robert Jensen, an associate professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He styles himself a "critic of the U.S. empire" and is a member of the board of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center.
Prof. Jensen, thank you for visiting us at Frontpage Magazine. So what’s your view of DiscoverThe Network? Do you, like Professor Berube, distance yourself from that part of the far Left that has endorsed radical Islam because, as Prof. Berube notes, it “forfeits its moral authority to oppose totalitarianism, torture, and terrorism?”
Jensen: I agree with Prof. Berube’s basic point about the web site’s blurring of important distinctions between centrists, liberals and leftists. The labels and individuals listed on the site correspond to no sensible political categories I can imagine. Because the site is literally incoherent, I assume it was constructed for propaganda purposes. It’s worth noting that if you asked people with even minimal political knowledge and experience in any other part of the world to evaluate the site, you would have to wait quite some time for the laughter to subside -- they would assume the site is a joke. Most everywhere else in the world, left ideas are recognized as an important part of the political mix. The narrowness of the political spectrum in the mainstream of U.S. politics is striking.
Let’s take the category of “anti-American radicals.” This is simply a rejection of any meaningful conception of democracy. I’ve made the point before, as have many others: To accuse someone who criticizes U.S. policy of being “anti-American” is to reject any meaningful role for citizens in a democracy. For example, if I believe the U.S. invasion of Iraq was unlawful and immoral, should I simply shut up and capitulate to the forces that pressed for war? To label opposition to the policies of the powerful as “anti-American,” displays incredible contempt for democracy. It’s hard to take seriously any project that uses such terms.
On the question of radical Islam: I reject the pre-modern fundamentalist strains of any religion, be it Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Islamic. I think all such non-rational philosophies are a threat to secular democratic government. I also recognize the right of people to resist illegal foreign occupation. Various groups in Iraq are exercising that right. I don’t think recognition of that right requires me to endorse the politics of any particular groups engaged in that resistance nor endorse all their tactics. I assume people can see the distinction. I also assume that people realize they have a moral and political responsibility to reject the illegal and immoral actions of their own government.
FP: Mr. Horowitz?
Horowitz: Robert Jensen really doesn’t like the idea of a database of the left in the first place, and in this I think he reflects what all leftists who have reacted to the site feel. They don’t want a light shined on their activities, agendas, and destructive achievements. They don’t want to be accountable for what they have done and for who they are. That’s why they don’t like DiscoverTheNetwork.org. The refusal of the left to be accountable for its deeds is a principal theme of a book Peter Collier and I wrote about the New Left that we played a role in, and that we titled, Destructive Generation. The leftists we wrote about did not want to make a balance sheet of what they had done, and did not want to consider how others who did not share their fantasies of a future redemption might view their achievements.
Robert Jensen says we blur distinctions between centrists, liberals and leftists, even though our database is not about centrists and liberals, except insofar as they enter into coalitions with or lend their support to the left. From Jensen’s point of view, which is actually situated at the far left end of the political spectrum, we have confused “centrists” and “liberals” with leftists in compiling DiscoverTheNetwork. In our view we have not. It would be interesting to see a comparable spectrum organized by Jensen, but there is no reason why our view of the spectrum should agree with his.
Jensen doesn’t like our specific categories either. What he really doesn’t like is the category “anti-American radical.” He probably doesn’t like the category “totalitarian radical” either but can’t find a way to deconstruct it.
Jensen, who has prematurely celebrated America’s “defeat” in Iraq in a statement after the battle of Fallujah, calls the very use of the term “anti-American” illegitimate. “To accuse someone who criticizes U.S. policy of being ‘anti-American’ is to reject any meaningful role for citizens in a democracy.” But of course the site does not accuse anyone who criticizes U.S. policy of being “anti-American.” If it did, there would be five categories of leftists ranging from “Totalitarian Radical” to “Moderate Left” and “Affective Left.” Instead there would be only one category in the site – “Anti-American Radical” -- since everyone in the database, in all categories, is critical – and in fact very critical -- of U.S. policy. Since we do not regard all critics of US policy as immoral we have taken the pains to make five categories to describe these critics, only one of which is defined as “anti-American” – although leftists who qualify as totalitarian radicals would also qualify as anti-American. Jensen is unfortunately typical of radical critics of DiscoverTheNetwork who simply ignore what we have actually written as though ignorance (or more properly, denial) is actually a form of argument. It is not.
Is “anti-American” a meaningful category? In Europe and elsewhere “anti-American” has actually been a staple description of a political attitude for half a century or more, and is employed not just by conservatives. Why is the idea of anti-group prejudice so difficult for Jensen to comprehend, particularly since it is a core theme of leftwing politics? Leftists like Jensen have no trouble in describing conservatives as anti-Arab, or anti-black, or anti-gay. So why should the idea of someone being “anti-American” be so incomprehensible?
Ward Churchill and Noam Chomsky, two well-known figures on the left, regard the United States as comparable to (or even worse than) Hitler Germany. Throughout his career and in many articles and books, Churchill has described America as a genocidal nation. That is why he referred to the innocent victims of 9/11 as “little Eichmanns,” since in conducting the business of America they were in his view also conducting genocide against innocent victims of American capitalism around the world. In many books and pontifications, Noam Chomsky has articulated a parallel judgment on American malevolence. Chomsky’s last book, Hegemony or Survival, is dedicated to the proposition that America is a threat to the survival of the planet.
In my opinion and that of DiscoverTheNetwork, these extreme views qualify as “anti-American.” They are not merely critical of an aspect of American policy but of America in its very constitution and structure. They condemn America in its essence. If America defends dictators, America is wrong; if America overthrows dictators it is wrong. Even when America does right, it does right for the wrong reason. This is a viewpoint reasonably described as “anti-American.” Jensen himself shares this perspective. To him America is an oppressive empire, which for the good of mankind should be defeated in Iraq. Jensen doesn’t conceal what he thinks. He just doesn’t want anyone to identify his extreme and negative views of America and its purposes for what they are.
Jensen: Mr. Horowitz knows perfectly well that I am not afraid of having attention focused on left ideas and political activity. I post all my writing on the web and spend countless hours trying to draw attention to left politics. I have never turned down an invitation to speak or debate in public. In fact, when I have tried to engage right-wing professors on my campus to foster such debate, I’ve been rebuffed. And when right-wing groups have posted their views on my activities (such as a “professor watch list” at my university) I have not only supported their right to do it, but praised them for being engaged politically, while critiquing some of the claims they made. Mr. Horowitz knows perfectly well that I'm not afraid of public engagement but am simply critiquing his position.
Yes, perhaps he and I would describe the political spectrum in different ways. But he makes no attempt to defend the way in which his web site collapses the distinction between center, liberal and left. I consider the term “left” to mark a consistent critique of illegitimate structures of authority and concentrations of power. Centrists and liberals, who typically endorse capitalism and state power, have a very different politics than leftists.
Mr. Horowitz seems confused about the difference between labeling a position anti-gay and anti-American. If someone says, ”I think gay people are sick,” it seems honest to call that anti-gay. It is an expression of contempt for gay people. If I say, “I think the U.S. attack on Iraq was illegal” or if I point to features of corporate capitalism and state power that I think harm people, I am critiquing a policy, systems, or institutions. I am not condemning America but am trying to help create a more just world. If democracy is a meaningful term, then no one policy, system, or institution is above critique. So, I agree that it is accurate to call me anti-war or anti-capitalist, but not anti-American.
Churchill and Chomsky can easily defend their own views, but it is clear from the historical record that the United States is based on an act of genocide against indigenous people. It seems minimally honest to recognize the genocidal history of the United States. Is the United States a threat to the survival of the planet? Given the reckless and barbaric fashion in which U.S. leaders (Republican and Democrat alike) have exercised that power -- especially since the end of World War II -- calling the United States a threat seems justified to me. As the United States pursues a new generation of nuclear weapons and presses to militarize space, trying to highlight that threat seems an obligation of citizenship.
Horowitz: Jensen apparently doesn’t want to understand the meaning of the words I have written. I didn’t write that he was unhappy with being described as a leftist. He is unhappy at being described as an “Anti-American Radical,” which is a very precise description of his point view. He regards America as imperialist, racist, oppressive, and genocidal throughout its history -- a reactionary power, whose social and economic structures need to be deconstructed, destroyed and replaced by a socialist state. He regards America not as a democracy in which the people are sovereign but as a hierarchy in which a ruling class deceives and manipulates a pliant public to carry on its predatory agendas. That’s why he regards his critique as a critique of power and not critique of the American people and their choices. That is why he regards a war that was sanctioned by a vote of the people (2004), by both parties in Congress (2002) and by UN resolution 1441, as “illegal” and illegitimate. People who do not accept the legitimacy of the democratic process are self-declared outlaws who have committed themselves to war against the American system. They are not just opponents of the party in power, they are opponents of the constitutional system that put them in power. They are anti-American.
No matter times he repeats the claim, DiscoverTheNetwork does not “collapse the distinction between center, liberal and left.” If Professor Jensen will go to the “Issues” module on DiscoverTheNetwork and click on “Progressivism” or “Liberalism,” he will find ample discussion of the left and its relation to liberalism. The individual and group profiles featured on DiscoverTheNetwork are careful to preserve these distinctions as well.
In denying that he is anti-American, Professor Jensen is just seeking to avoid the plain meaning of his positions. He has publicly wished for America’s defeat in Iraq. He has described the liberation of Iraq as an imperialist occupation. He has supported political forces that are at war with America and that regard America as the “Great Satan” – the fount of evil in the world. He has rejected the American system – not a particular policy but the entire constitutional system that creates American policies. That is what America is. To oppose what America is – in its very essence – is to be anti-American. At least that’s how we define it on DiscoverTheNetwork.org
And of course this is being kind to Professor Jensen. To describe America as a genocidal nation -- a nation that sets out to exterminate peoples -- is a form of political insanity. Professor Jensen inhabits an alternate reality conditioned by a preposterous fantasy that there is a perfect future waiting out there for people filled with hate against the imperfect country we all inhabit to create. But in order create this future perfection they must first destroy the imperfect present. Therefore they are willing to join forces with and encourage truly genocidal terrorists like Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in their war against America and the West.
This treason to one’s own country has a long and dishonorable history. It is described under the category “Fifth Column” in the Issues module on DiscoverTheNetwork.org
FP: Prof.Robert Jensen and Mr. Horowitz, thank you for joining Frontpage's discussion about DiscoverTheNetwork.org. We encourage our readers to stay tuned for Part III of this series, in which Mr. Horowitz will continue this dialogue with Timothy Burke, who blogs on Easily Distracted and is an assistant professor in the Dept. of History at Swarthmore College.
This is the third in our series of conversations with leftists about the nature of the left and how it is portrayed on DiscoverTheNetwork.org. Prof. Michael Bérubé joined us for the first round in sections One and Two and Prof. Robert Jensen joined us in the second round.
For this final round, we are joined by Timothy Burke, who blogs on Easily Distracted and is an assistant professor in the Dept. of History at Swarthmore College. He specializes in cultural history with a particular interest in popular culture in America, modern imperialism and the history of Africa. His most recent book, Saturday Morning Fever (1999), co-authored with his brother, Kevin Burke, explores American cartoon culture and its influence on Generation X.
FP: Prof. Timothy Burke and David Horowitz, welcome to the third and final part of our series on DiscoverTheNetwork.org. Prof. Burke, let me begin with you. What is your assessment of DiscoverTheNetwork? And can you kindly also tell us where you personally stand on members of the left who ally themselves with the enemy in our terror war?
Burke: On DiscoverTheNetwork, some of my objections have already been ably described by my colleagues. Let me mention a few of my greatest concerns.
First, I think the entire project has an almost non-existent sense of what represents a “linkage” between two separate individuals. This is the bread and butter art of intellectual or political history, the major question in the study of social networks. What is minimally needed to claim a serious or substantial connection between two people in terms of ideas they share, institutional projects they are both contributing to, influences they exert on one another? Whether you’re talking about a connection across time (some individual in the past influencing some individual at a later time) or space (some individual in one society or community influencing another), you have to define what you regard as a meaningful connection, stick to that definition, and provide evidence of it.
DiscoverTheNetwork is justifiably made fun of not for ideological reasons but because it so miserably fails to make it out of the starting gate in this regard. DiscoverTheNetwork operates with an implicit definition of “linkage” that makes allows arbitrary assertions of connections between anyone who annoys its creators. If taken seriously, it would be hard to disallow any connection proposed: you could connect Lynne Stewart to Mayor Bloomberg or Noam Chomsky to Milton Friedman using the idea of linkage operating within the project. It’s rather like the “Kevin Bacon game,” only elevated to a high level of seriousness and polemical aggression.
So first things first. If the project is meant to have any gravity or legitimacy at all, its concept of linkage or connection has to be defined specifically and tightly and that definition has to be binding on its users. For a respectable neo-conservative example, see Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism. Though I disagree strongly with some of the more speculative and far-reaching linkages and conclusions that Berman draws, and the misuse of his arguments by many readers, Berman nevertheless invests a serious amount of work on close textual readings of the written work of figures who interest him and equally serious effort in tracing their actual institutional movements, careers and historical contexts. If that sounds like a lot of work, too bad: it’s the minimal requirement to avoid being a scurrilous effort to carelessly stain people's reputations.
Second. I think DiscoverTheNetwork operates with a very careless, historically ungrounded, painfully loose idea of “the Left.” We’re all careless occasionally in this respect, often equally in describing “the Right” or “conservatism.” These are short-hand phrases, and they usually obscure far more than they reveal. DiscoverTheNetwork’s definition of “the Left” effaces some distinctions between different individuals, projects and histories that are vitally important. It often ends up amalgamating or compressing people whose political or intellectual commitments have frequently made them antagonists on very fundamental levels, who inherit liberal or left (or even centrist) traditions which diverged generations ago or even traditions which have never had any meaningful relation to one another. There isn’t any definition of the “left” here that has content: a term which means anything means nothing. What is the definition of “left” that makes Bill Clinton a leftist? If it’s something like “believes in the positive power of government to intervene in society,” not only is that uselessly general, it is a definition that if honestly applied would make George W. Bush a “moderate leftist” as well.
On the last question that Jamie asks – “where [do] you personally stand on members of the left who ally themselves with the enemy in our war on terror? -- it all comes down to specifics: what is meant by “ally,” who are “the enemy,” and which “terror war? In a case where those specifics are in hand, I certainly can say that I reject such alliances, and I could care less whether those making them are “Left” or “Right;” that is an irrelevant part of the question. To my mind, the misconduct of American soldiers in Abu Ghraib and the clumsy response to that misconduct at the highest levels of the Bush Administration has actively sabotaged the global struggle against illiberal or fundamentalist extremism. That is as much an issue to me as the evasions and double-standard arguments of someone like Michael Moore or Noam Chomsky's compression of moral crisis in the global system to American misconduct.
But in either case -- the neo-conservative mishandling of the war against terror or the evasiveness of certain extremely particular and confined traditions of thought on the left -- I think it would be wrong to use the term “ally.” I think finding Americans (or for that matter citizens of other countries) who are authentically and legitimately describable as “allies” of terrorism is actually exceptionally difficult. It’s a serious charge, that word, and it deserves to be made seriously, rather than used with appalling casualness to describe arguments or views with which one disagrees, however passionate that disagreement might be. Dissent, from both right and left, is patriotic. It’s what we're supposed to be defending in this conflict.
Horowitz: Professor Burke begins with a series of insults – as seems to be the norm for leftists, particularly when discussing issues with conservatives whose work they have not read. But underneath the unearned scorn poured forth in Professor Burke’s first two paragraphs lies an interesting point, in fact the only interesting point that has surfaced in the three conversations so far.
If I could rephrase this point for Professor Burke, it would be that DiscoverTheNetwork doesn’t articulate the rationale for the linkages it makes on the site in a fashion explicit enough to make clear to him and leftists like him what the rationale might be for its construction. (I notice I have received no such critiques of the linkages on DiscoverTheNetwork from conservatives of whatever persuasion. Nor have any liberals for that matter found the categories in the site suspect let alone risible.) In Professor Burke’s view – respectfully rephrased -- DiscoverTheNetwork identifies networks but doesn’t explain why anyone who shares the assumptions and prejudices of the left should take them seriously.
Before addressing this point, I would like to step back and explain why it did not occur to me in the first place that an elaborately articulated rationale for the site would be required (although I did actually provide several articles in the base which would serve that function but which none of my critics seems to have read).
Our political culture generally (and our leftwing culture in particular), has no difficulty identifying an extraordinary range of differing and even opposing viewpoints as belonging to the political right. Libertarians and authoritarians, secularists and fundamentalists, interventionists and anti-interventionists, anti-immigrationists and pro-immigrationists, free traders and anti-free traders, racists and anti-racists, – all are casually and unthinkingly and with no attendant controversy lumped together as the “political right” by leftists like Timothy Burke. The reason there is no attendant controversy is that the arbiters of the culture -- the universities and the reflective media (major metropolitan newspapers, magazines and the public broadcasting networks) are so firmly and unthinkingly in the hands of the left that there is no one to raise the problem outside the conservative universe itself.
As a result this lumping of all conservatives as “right-wingers” takes place unchallenged despite the fact that there is at least as much divergence among groups and individuals that are today called conservative as there is among the individuals and groups called “left” in DiscoverTheNetwork.
On the other hand, confronted by the left’s habitual lumping and labeling of all conservatives as right-wingers and not infrequently including in this category, misogynists, racists and homophobes (e.g. Michael Berube’s unsubstantiated accusations in this discussion) conservatives generally do not resort to ridicule in an effort to dismiss their intellectual opponents out of hand and deny them a place at the table of civilized discourse. Conservatives are in fact quite passive in their acceptance of the discordant and ill-fitting labels that are thrust on them. Perhaps that’s what makes them conservative. They recognize that our knowledge of and ability to describe such complexities are imperfect and will probably remain so. While this imperfection prevails, we have to have descriptive terms for groups that align in clear patterns on opposite sides of many vital issues. By contrast, leftists are people who are unhappy with the real world. They accept nothing and want everything. Consequently they are destined to be as frustrated and unsatisfied with websites like DiscoverTheNetwork as they are with life itself.
As a late blooming conservative who finally came to accept the imperfections of this world, I presumed in designing DiscoverTheNetwork that it was better to show than to tell; better to demonstrate the network itself rather than attempt the impossible task of fully explaining it – that is, of providing an intellectual structure that would completely and satisfactorily locate every individual and organization along a clearly defined political spectrum. To Timothy Burke (and Michael Berube and Robert Jensen) I would say, take a deep breath and look at how you and your political comrades talk about the right, and then look again at your complaints about how conservatives talk about the left in sites like DiscoverTheNetwork.
When you have done this, you will find that we are reasonably careful about making linkages within the site, far more so than any comparable leftist site I am aware of. People are associated in DiscoverTheNetwork if they belong to the same organizations or join common coalitions or share funding sources and ascribe to common agendas. That is the way the database relates them and that is probably the way most of them relate to each other. One reason that we don’t relate them exclusively by commitment to a unifying ideology is that the left hasn’t had a coherent unifying ideology since the death of Stalinism in 1956. In a political career that stretches over more than half a century, I have found that most people involved in politics are not deep or even careful thinkers about the whys and wherefore of the issues and causes that bring them together. This being the case, what is important for the analyst is the fact that they are indeed brought together, and that over time the lines along which they are brought together are etched deep into their identities until eventually it becomes unthinkable for them to cross those lines or to leave the group they have joined.
Most people on the left, for example, embrace positions in advance of understanding either their rationale or implications, or attempting to square them with their progressive theories. How otherwise explain “compassionate” progressives who are opposed to the death penalty for serial killers of small children supporting the court-ordered killing of Terry Schiavo, a severely handicapped individual who committed no crime? How do we explain the determination of progressives to defend a dictator, and oppressor of women, gays and minorities, like Saddam Hussein?
To answer Professor Burke’s specific question about the characterization of Bill Clinton as a “Moderate Leftist” in the database, this label is not applied exclusively or even mainly as a result of his policies or ideas but because of his core associations, alliances and dependencies, and the coalitions that brought him to power. His policies and ideas might very well be described as centrist, though his administration certainly aspired to be more left than it was, and would have been so if it had not been checked by a conservative Congress. Welfare reform was a Republican policy that he signed onto to remain in power; he was not committed in anyway to “ending welfare as we know it” even though that was what he said. Reasonable people may disagree about defining Clinton as a Moderate Leftist because of his associations and political allegiances. But our reasons for including him in the database were not lacking in seriousness, nor would anyone approaching the base with appropriate respect miss this fact.
Professor Burke’s complaint that I did not provide a rationale for the database simply ignores what I have actually written (something I have had to grow used to when dealing with critics from the left). I launched the site with a long explanatory article called “What This Site Is About,” which includes some discussion of the “linkages” which Professor Burke claims are missing. I responded to the initial criticism of the site by immediately writing two lengthy essays called “Defining the Left” and “Defining the Left Further,” which Professor Burke has also ignored but which would have provided him with the answers he appears to be looking for. I invite him to review these explanations and come at me again.
I also invite him to look at my book Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left, which is the fruit of fifty years spent either as an activist in the left or studying the left, and which is an extensive effort to define the left as well. The text of Unholy Alliance is in fact the rationale for the construction of the DiscoverTheNetwork site, and in particular the aspect of the site – the inclusion of Islamic radicals – that so distresses its leftwing critics. Professor Burke can also refer to the Issues module of the site and the sections called “Liberalism” and “Progressivism (The Left)” on which we posted (from day one) substantive essays by Barry Loberfeld on this subject which were commissioned especially for the site. He can also find there my article “The Meaning of Left and Right,” which is a chapter from The Politics of Bad Faith.
So in response to Burke’s jibes, I would respond: What the left is laughing at is its own intellectual laziness. It is so used to talking to itself and not listening to anyone else that it has forgotten how to make an argument or recognize when there is one to which it needs to reply. DiscoverTheNetwork is not only the product of years of work say but decades of reflection – and these reflections have been in print and available for more than a very long time.
Professor Burke refers to Paul Berman’s fine book Terror and Liberalism as an example of the kind of analysis and definition that takes hard work and that I should have done. In fact, I have done it and, if I may indulge myself a little, far more systematically and thoroughly. I have done it in Destructive Generation, in Radical Son, in The Politics of Bad Faith, in Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes, in Left Illusions and in Unholy Alliance. And I am not alone in this work. Leszek Kolakowski, Francois Furet, Thomas Sowell, Ludwig Von Mises, Friedrich von Hayek, Eric Vogelein, Paul Hollander, Jacob Talmon, Guenter Lewy and many other writers of whom Professor Burke is apparently ignorant, have studied the left and described the linkages that inform the construction of DiscoverTheNetwork.org. The problem Professor Burke has encountered is not of our making. It is a product of the academic world he inhabits where the writings and intellectual traditions of conservatives are actively and pervasively suppressed.
Finally, I am amused (but Paul Berman will not be) by Burke’s reference to Berman as a “neo-conservative.” Berman is someone I have known for twenty years. He is a passionate socialist and a ferociously self-identified leftist, who despises conservatives like myself. The only thing “neo-conservative” about Paul Berman is his grudging but welcome support for the war on terror.
FP: Professor Burke?
Burke: It’s fair for David to challenge me to read the work that he says forms the background of DiscovertheNetwork, and I’ll take up that challenge with an open mind.
However, if David views DiscovertheNetwork as a fair if simplified extraction from that work, there are really only two possibilities. First, that DiscovertheNetwork is so simplified as a representation of his more detailed arguments that it does his lengthier work a terrible injustice. If so, my straightforward suggestion would be to drop DiscovertheNetwork altogether. There is a point at which brevity is no longer the soul of wit, but instead becomes an axe which mutilates an argument or empirical finding indiscriminately. Simplification for the purpose of ready communication does not just involve dropping out definitions, argumentation, content: it involves changing the nature and form of the claims that one makes. If you’re writing a short one-volume history of the world intended for a general audience, you can’t say when challenged that somewhere in a three-page summary of the history of India prior to 1800 you’re still carrying out a detailed analysis of the reign of Chandragupta I, that it’s implicit. At that level of analysis, you don’t just lose details, but the form of the argument has to change. Trying just to compress the details into the sketch never makes for a pretty picture.
This assumes that the cartoonish distortion evident in DiscovertheNetwork is an unfair representation of the detailed argument that David feels he has made elsewhere. If in fact it’s a fair representation, that the details are well-mapped onto the sketch, then detail is not going to make things any better. Let me put it this way: I cannot see an argument that Bill Clinton belongs in the same diagrammatic sketch with Mohammed Atta, no matter what level of detail or depth that argument is made at. It doesn't matter if the concept of connection or link is made in terms of monetary flows, ideological connections, shared histories, lineal bonds: it’s not going to work. Just look at the observation on Bill Clinton: that he is linked to other “moderate leftists” by organizations, coalitions, funding sources, or agendas, but also by the same dint, to everyone within David's “network.” It doesn’t matter how detailed that argument gets, if it is made in that form, it's an arbitrary and unfair one, because at that level of ethereal sense of connection, Bill Clinton is equally linked to “moderate conservatism” -- in fact, it becomes extraordinarily difficult to discern what could not be placed within the network of DiscovertheNetwork. Barry Goldwater late in his life became outspoken on a variety of social issues and civil liberties concerns that connected him to some of the people on DiscovertheNetwork in very tangible ways. Should he put up on the map?
So either DiscovertheNetwork is a bad representation of more detailed work (in which case I wonder why David wants to do it) or it is an accurate representation of more detailed work (in which case the detailed work itself is certain to be overwhelmingly flawed).
I characterized Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism as neo-conservative, not Berman himself, which I think is actually a reasonable characterization, precisely because I think neo-conservatism in relation to September 11th is an intellectual and political movement which encompasses figures historically linked to the right and left, because it is an ideological moment which functions as a bridge between so-called “liberal hawks” or figures coming out of a left tradition like Christopher Hitchens and Norman Geras and figures historically heavily involved in the U.S. Republican Party and conservative politics.
But this to me illustrates the complexity of “linkage” as an idea: that it describes political actors in some of the things that they do, but not in all the things that they do. Someone like Paul Berman can be in one book, one argument, one moment, linked with a political project that puts him in a common room with other political actors who he might otherwise oppose strenuously. You wouldn’t want to just slap him down on a chart, any chart, for exactly that reason. People evolve, people change, people--most of them--have a complexity and texture to the ideas they give voice to and the alliances they form. It is entirely right and proper that we should object to the ripping away of that texture, the loss of that richness of history in something like DiscovertheNetwork.
Horowitz: I am somewhat conflicted in how to reply to this response. On the one hand, I want to commend Professor Burke for recognizing that his attack on DiscoverTheNetwork was based on ignorance and to praise his willingness to fill in the gaps in his knowledge. On the other, I am dismayed by the rashness with which he resumes his attack on DiscoverTheNetwork, referring to it as a “cartoonish distortion” in advance of doing his homework. How can you attack a database you don’t even understand? That was the gravamen of the first part of this discussion and I thought Professor Burke had understood and conceded the point. But apparently not. In this response, he seems to want to preclude any possibility that he might actually have been wrong. This, I’m afraid, is a familiar tic of the ideological left, which feels that it is necessary to reaffirm its faith in advance of any facts.
What Professor Burke needs to grasp before he proceeds to the next attack is that if he were familiar with even one book among the library of conservative texts that have been written to analyze the nature of the left -- Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions, would be one ready-to-hand example -- he would immediately understand why everyone in the database DiscoverTheNetwork is there and belongs there. Of course, even after familiarizing himself with Thomas Sowell’s work or mine, or Gerhart Niemeyer’s, or Leszek Kolakowski’s, he could remain unconvinced. But then he would have to provide an argument as to why the perspective developed in Sowell’s text (or the others) is wrong, along with the evidence to prove it.
DiscoverTheNetwork is not a simplification of the argument of Unholy Alliance as Burke suggests. It is not an argument at all – and this seems to be another missing dimension in Professor Burke’s understanding of what he has criticized. DiscoverTheNetwork is a database. It is a picture of the left, created according to an understanding of the history of left going back to its creation in the French Revolution – an understanding that can be found in an intellectual tradition of conservative critiques, of which Professor Burke is apparently innocent.
Because he fails to understand these basic propositions, the alternative possibilities that Burke poses are not really alternatives at all. DiscoverTheNetwork is neither an accurate representation of my book Unholy Alliance (or any other theoretical work about the nature of the left) nor a bad representation, as Burke posits. It is not an attempt to present a theory at all. It is an effort to map an active movement and its networks. This is why even if it were an accurate representation of similar networks described in Unholy Alliance, it would still be worth doing.
But even this may be overdoing it. Would Professor need an elaborate argument to justify putting David Duke and Jack Kemp in a database of the right, even though Kemp is a libertarian anti-racist and Duke is a fascist? Would he consider ridicule and dismissal of his database as lacking all seriousness fair comment or a reasonable argument?
DiscoverTheNetwork is an attempt to provide a catalogue of the individuals and organizations of the left that is so comprehensive that it could not be contained in a book (something I pointed out in the boilerplate provided for the site itself -- “What This Site Is About?”). The explanation for why the individuals and organizations are there is self-evident to any conservative familiar with the conservative understanding of the left. For those for whom it is not self-evident, there are special texts (Guides and Issues), which are theoretical and explanatory and provided to this end. I have already referred Professor Burke to the articles contained in the main GUIDE and to the articles in the “Progressivism” section of Issues, and I hope he makes himself familiar with them before returning to the discussion.
Professor Burke makes two specific points using Bill Clinton as an example. The first is that no argument could justify putting Bill Clinton “in the same diagrammatic sketch with Mohammed Atta, no matter what level of detail or depth that argument is made at.” The second is that since Bill Clinton is “equally linked to ‘moderate conservatism’” and “moderate lefitsm” he cannot be placed anywhere (because he could be placed everywhere). These objections are actually related. As a professor Burke deals in ideas and wants to be judged by his ideas, and apparently thinks everyone else should be also. But Bill Clinton is a politician. He only succeeds, and in a sense only exists, as a politician through his ability to organize and gain the support of activist constituencies. These constituencies form themselves around political issues. At The end of his first term, Clinton pursued a policy of “triangulation” – embracing conservative policies like welfare reform in order to garner votes among conservatives, because his leftwing base was not large enough to guarantee him a government majority. His advisor Dick Morris told him point blank that he would lose the election if he did not embrace welfare reform and move to the right. These facts do not make Bill Clinton a free-floating, self-defining luftmensch. He is a moderate leader who had to tack to the right to get re-elected, but whose political base is the left.
There is no diagrammatic sketch linking Bill Clinton and Mohammed Atta in the sense that Professor Burke suggests. Perhaps the word “Network” is misleading if it suggests to him. But there are undoubtedly networks in the database which would provide such a link. Is this problematic. The familiar play argues that every person on the planet is linked by six degrees of separation, so why not Clinton and Mohammed Atta? The question is not whether such links can be found, but whether they are significant and whether they matter.
It is here that Professor Burke moves to an extreme when he says that there is no database that could include them no matter what level of detail or depth one goes to. I wonder whether Professor Burke would on reflection want to defend such a statement. In a database of Americans, Polly Klass and her murderer will both be found. In a database of Communists, Leon Trotsky and his murderer will both be found. Michael Moore has defended the Mohammed Atta terrorists as “patriots” and “revolutionaries” and has himself enjoyed the support of the leadership of the Democratic Party despite the fact that he wants America to lose the war in Iraq. Is there no level of detail then that would include people who think like Michael Moore and Bill Clinton who might dissociate himself from Michael Moore (but oddly doesn’t so) in the same database?
Professor Burke’s point about Paul Berman illustrates another confusion in his position. I must confess I find his claim that Paul Berman’s book can be regarded as politically distinct from Paul Berman simply incoherent. Burke views Berman’s book as “neo-conservative” (a movement that he seems to think began on 9/11) even though Berman is a socialist, has been a passionate leftist his entire life and generally despises conservatives.
In Burke’s lexicon “neo-conservatism” seems to mean support for the war in Iraq. A socialist who supports the war in Iraq becomes in Burke’s view a neo-conservative in the very act of doing so. In this usage, “neo-conservatism” is no longer an intellectual concept. It has become merely a derogatory label for people who don’t share Burke’s antagonism to the war. Did Marxists who remained anti-fascists during the period of Stalin’s Pact with Hitler stop being Marxists for those two years? That would seem to be the implication of Burke’s view. In Burke’s handling the concept of “linkage” becomes so “complex” that it sees to have any use at all other that to describe conspiracies or complicities in a specific and clearly defined enterprise. In this argument Burke seems to be objecting to the use of categories like “left” and “right” altogether, because people have views at times and places that don’t obviously confine themselves to the defined limits of left and right. For example, by this reasoning if Joseph Stalin writes a democratic constitution as he did for the Soviet Union in 1936, he cannot be described as a Communist, or a totalitarian.
This is obviously absurd, and I’m sure in his more reflective moments Professor Burke realizes it. The whole world has been talking about “left” and “right” for centuries, even though the complexities that Professor Burke refers to do exist. To understand Paul Berman’s support for the Iraq war, you would have to spend some time understanding Paul Berman’s leftism, and his understanding of the left. Reading his book Terror and Liberalism, would be a good starting point, provided you don’t mistake it for a “neo-conservative text. If you did that, you would not understand him at all.
Professor Burke’s own desire to escape from the contingencies of his and other leftists’ positions and to fly off into the free air of noble intentions and abstract ideals is understandable, given the grievous history of leftwing practice in the 20th Century and its indefensible opposition to the liberation of 25 million Iraqis in the 21st. Understandable as this desire may be, however, it is not intellectually tenable – at least not outside the cozy, self-validating precincts of an academic world that has successfully purged conservative critics from its conversations. This dialogue, on the other hand, is not taking place in an academic setting, and if Professor Burke is going to insist that there is no linkage between Islamic radicals and American leftists, or between the ideals of the left and its totalitarian practices, he is going to have make the case and not merely assert it.
FP: Prof. Timothy Burke and David Horowitz, thank you for joining us. This concludes what we hope will only be the first part of a lengthy series of conversations with the Left about radicalism, leftism, liberalism and conservatism.