Authors Archives: Russell A. Berman

Cultural Studies & the “Cold War” on the Left

Michael Bérubé’s The Left at War makes an eloquent and powerful case for a reinvigorated democratic left.  With rich and detailed descriptions of political and cultural debates over several decades, he explores left intellectuals’ responses to a wide range of challenges but especially 9/11 and, in its wake, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. His core thesis is that much left discourse in the US has been dominated by a dogmatic rhetoric and mode of analysis characterized by reductionism, economism and conspiracy thinking. With its contempt for the institutions and values of liberal democracy, it has cultivated a purism that condemns it to a political marginality, and then it makes a virtue out of this counter-cultural ineffectiveness. It has been opposed—but from Bérubé’s point of view, apparently too weakly—by a democratic left that values liberal institutions and, in the name of human rights, would want to see them spread around the world. Nothing less than a “cold war within the Left” has been taking place.[1] As a result of this division, a conservative ascendancy in US politics since the Reagan administration remained largely unchallenged, at least until the 2008 election. Bérubé hopes that a democratic left, one reflecting productively on the legacy of Stuart Hall’s cultural studies, would be able to pursue a hegemony that could challenge conservatism; to do so however will require a showdown with what Bérubé labels the “Manichean left.”

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