I was away from home mid-Thursday to late Friday and so missed one or two things. That's the way it goes; as a friend once said when pressed by me over how he could be so casual about what time he checks in for a flight: 'Some you catch, some you miss.' I do, however, want to comment belatedly on Johann Hari's interview with The Dude. Christopher Hitchens (as he's more widely known) has some good things to say there as usual - amongst them these:
"The United States was attacked by theocratic fascists who represent all the most reactionary elements on earth. They stand for liquidating everything the left has fought for: women's rights, democracy[.] And how did much of the left respond? By affecting a kind of neutrality between America and the theocratic fascists."What I want to address in this post, though, is none of these points, but rather a concern that frames Johann Hari's report of the encounter: namely, whether Christopher Hitchens still sees himself as belonging to the left - as in the event he professes not to.
"[I]nequalities in wealth had nothing to do with Beslan or Bali or Madrid... The case for redistributing wealth is either good or it isn't - I think it is - but it's a different argument."
[C]an he see a time when this kind of jihadist fever will be as marginalised as, say, Nazism is now, confined to a few reactionary eccentrics? "Not without what that took - which is an absolutely convincing defeat and discrediting. Something unarguable."
Like Johann, I wish it were otherwise. However, I'm bound to say, in the light of the political developments of the last three years, that I don't think the only, or even the most important, thing one needs to know about someone today in forming a judgement about the character of their political outlook is whether or not they are of the left. Rather more significant is to know what their all-round relationship is to certain values that have always been central to the historical project of the left: democratic and egalitarian values; a decent conception of justice (such as aims to achieve for everyone the possibility of a secure and fulfilled existence); and the protection of individual human beings from the more egregious types of assault to which they are subject when such values are denied or cast aside. Christopher Hitchens's present choice is not my own. I remain attached to the idea of arguing for these values within the left. A left which showed no respect for them wouldn't be worth belonging to. But all the same, I appreciate and feel the difficulty of accepting a common political identity with the contemporary apologists for terrorism, the mumblers and rootcausers, the people seemingly capable of understanding everything except the need for drawing a clear line between those who uphold the politics of democracy and those dedicated to their destruction. The left today has no reason for self-congratulation. This is a loose movement which is able (and has seen fit) - from the Falklands to Iraq - to mobilize always hundreds, and sometimes thousands and tens of thousands, to oppose conflicts fought by the Western democracies against the ugliest of tyrannies and/or reactionary social and political forces, but musters nothing comparable, or indeed just nothing, against a global campaign of terrorist murder; or, equally, against genocidal processes as these periodically unfold in one country after another, destroying the fabric of entire communities and uncountable numbers of lives. It is a milieu in which anti-Americanism is rampant, and one whose chosen monsters today are the elected political leaders of two of the world's great democracies, rather than any of the many more suitable targets for hatred and contempt one might have anticipated from a left moved by authentically democratic impulses; in which, in the face of an anti-Semitism now resurgent across Europe - within short memory of the time that continent was turned into a slaughterhouse and graveyard for the Jewish people - the voices addressing themselves to the phenomenon, as a danger which the left ought to meet and fight, are scarce; and in which, worse still, the state of the Jewish people, born out of the ashes of that terrible catastrophe, is now widely treated as a pariah to be calumniated, isolated, boycotted and - for a significant body of left opinion - destroyed.
In a way I'm with Johann Hari. The healthy forces of the left, such as they are, need the knowledge, intelligence and persuasive powers of Christopher Hitchens to fight for what the left ought to be, and against its several current maladies. But this is not the same as thinking that being on the left is either a necessary or a sufficient condition for the soundness of anyone's politics.
With those, both within the left and without it, who fight for democratic principles, practices and institutions and the fundamental rights of human beings; against those, whatever their political colour, who always have a reason, or a tactful silence, to offer on behalf of the forces fighting against these things; as well as against these oppressive and murderous forces.