Monday, 7 July 2008

Did they leave the left or did the left leave them?

Among the many things worth reading in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books is Jonathan Freedland's piece on Hitchens, Amis and the 'war on terror'. I like Freedland, and his article is insightful and generally sympathetic to its subjects, but I do wish he wouldn't copy the lazy trope of describing Hitchens as a former leftist. Former Trotskyist, perhaps, but anyone who has read Hitch's most recent work on Paine, Jefferson, et al, can't fail to acknowledge that his sympathies remain with the left-liberal-progressive tradition.

Believing that the neocons might have got it right about the need to confront radical Islam doesn't automatically turn you into a conservative. Nor does supporting the 'right' policy even if you believe it's being pursued by the 'wrong' side. I don't recall Hitchens suddenly coming out in favour of school prayer and tax cuts for the rich. I'm sure he would argue that it's the left that has changed, not him, and I think he'd probably be right (see this post). Falling into the trap of describing Hitchens, or Berman, or Cohen as former leftists is doing the devil's (or Seumas Milne's) work for him.


Anonymous said...

I suspect it is a bit of both. The left has changed and Hitchens has changed.

Here in the U.S., the left seems like it has changed a great deal to me. But I have changed as well. Not sure which has changed more...

Martin said...

I agree, but for mostly strategic reasons I think it's important to lay claim to the label 'leftist' in the name of liberal and democratic values, and not cede it to those who disgrace the progressive tradition.

bob said...

I don't see myself as having left the left, and I think I've made a very similar journey to Hitchens. I don't see him as having abandoned any of the core elements of his earlier views.

However, he has described himself as having been ex-communicated from the left and has, at times, referred to himself as an ex-lefist or exile from the left. Nick Cohen, I think, increasingly presents himself as ex-left.

(Actually, it isn't always clear whether he is talking about "the" left or just part of it when he slags it off.)

Personally, I think we need a renewed and revitalised left, and such a left would most certainly have a place for Hitchens. I agree we should not do Milne's dirty work and throw him out.