Chris Dillow poses a question and answers it with what I think is a misunderstanding:
Whom should the "decent" left talk to? This is another question raised by Nick Cohen's What's Left?. He and the Eustonites believe the liberal-democratic left should persuade the illiberalish left of the case for liberty. But is this really the best recruiting ground for the liberal left? Or might it be more productive for it (us) to convi[n]ce decent liberals of the case for equality?I don't claim to speak in this for everyone who supported the Euston Manifesto, but even so there is what we said clearly in the Manifesto itself at B. 11:
Drawing the lesson of the disastrous history of left apologetics over the crimes of Stalinism and Maoism, as well as more recent exercises in the same vein (some of the reaction to the crimes of 9/11, the excuse-making for suicide-terrorism, the disgraceful alliances lately set up inside the "anti-war" movement with illiberal theocrats), we reject the notion that there are no opponents on the Left. We reject, similarly, the idea that there can be no opening to ideas and individuals to our right. Leftists who make common cause with, or excuses for, anti-democratic forces should be criticized in clear and forthright terms. Conversely, we pay attention to liberal and conservative voices and ideas if they contribute to strengthening democratic norms and practices and to the battle for human progress.Chris confuses talking about what he calls the 'illiberalish left' with talking to them, trying to persuade them. Of course, no one ever knows who they might succeed in persuading by their arguments, but to write about the poor positions - apologetics, evasions, misplaced priorities etc - among a section of the left is not necessarily to see engaging with those who most vigorously uphold these positions as the primary purpose. One may be arguing mainly to convince others - a more general audience, people trying to make up their minds, those on the margins of the illiberal left or in between it and other, better, viewpoints. Or may be wanting to mark out a clear space within the left, a space not characterized by the positions being criticized. Or may be aiming at people who don't consider themselves of the left and in order to persuade them of there being common ground.
It will be more important to do these things if the views being criticized are more rather than less widespread, and on this Chris seems to go along with the view that the positions targeted by Nick Cohen and the Euston Manifesto are held by only 'a few leftists'. But not everyone shares that view, and those of us who don't share it have ample evidence on our side from the comments and opinion pages of the mainstream liberal press during the last five years.
Finally, Chris is right that people on the left should engage with liberals who don't see themselves as belonging there, by arguing, for example, that 'greater equality is a precondition for freedom'. But that's an as-well-as rather than an instead-of kind of thing. There's more than one necessary task of argument.
For the record, I quote Chris using 'decentist' language here, because he uses it. But, speaking for myself, I have never laid claim to the 'decent left' label, and I don't think it is one that should be claimed. It should be left to the sneerers.