One line of objection that has emerged in the response to the Euston Manifesto is that its critical themes don't really apply to anyone apart from a tiny segment of the far left: the authors of the manifesto, in Mike Marqusee's words, '[treat] the Socialist Workers' party and Respect as the totality of the left'. Not only is this untrue, it is demonstrably untrue - though I won't be laying out the demonstration in this post. It's a matter I mean to return to, and sooner rather than later. Here I just point to one current exemplar of one style of argument of which the Euston Manifesto is critical.
In today's Guardian Martin Jacques returns with a central preoccupation of his - the assumed superiority, within Europe and the US, of the values of the West, in particular of 'western-style' democracy. As I have taken issue with Jacques on this twice before already, I can be brief. His latest piece argues that one consequence of globalization has been 'a new kind of western hubris', consisting in the belief 'that western values and arrangements... are of universal application and merit'. This has created intolerance towards other cultures and values. Money quote:
[T]he underlying assumption with globalisation is that the whole world is moving in the same direction, towards the same destination: it is becoming, and should become, more and more like the west. Where once democracy was not suitable for anyone else, now everyone is required to adopt it, with all its western-style accoutrements.The problem with Jacques's present vision of the world is not the charge of intolerance as such. Western culture undoubtedly accommodates its fair share of that - though it would be interesting to know if Jacques is sensitive to the expression of intolerance from within other cultures as well. No, the problem is that he should take as a symptom or example of intolerance the view that people of other cultures might fare better living under democratic arrangements. Jacques either needs to tell his readers, plainly, that (and why) such peoples are not culturally fit for democracy, are indeed better off without it, or spell out the alternative non-Western models he has in mind but has so far failed to share with us.
Once again he de-universalizes (making it 'Western') something - democracy - which can be argued for from general moral principles, but he does so without supplying the arguments or principles that would explain why it is no good for non-Western peoples. How far does he want to take this? Arbitrary arrest? Torture? Slavery? Should we say that they are morally permissible wherever or whenever they are practised, since there are no valid universal principles to rule them out? And does Jacques's sensitivity to 'other cultures' mean that those cultures ought not to be intolerant of ours? What if universal values are part of our culture? What if imperialism is? What a hopeless mish-mash.
I return now to the observations with which I began. Martin Jacques is not an SWP crazy. Naturally, that doesn't mean he represents the entire left. But he does represent a section of it, a section of what you might call the 'Guardianista' left - unless, that is, the Guardian just employs columnists to write this kind of stuff regularly even though it appeals to none of the paper's readers. You support the ambition that others living under tyranny should be able to enjoy the civil and political amenities of democracy? What intolerance! You subscribe to Enlightenment values? Islamophobe! Sometimes one does actually have to pinch oneself. These tropes are now familiar on the left.