Category Archives: Articles

The Post-Left at War & the Cultural Studies Approach to U.S. Foreign Policy & International Relations

Writing in the pages of Dissent in 2005, noted political scientist Andrei S. Markovits identifies a two-ply composite “litmus test” of left political identity in recent times: knee-jerk opposition to the United States and Israel.  Since 1989/90, as Markovits observes,

Read more on The Post-Left at War & the Cultural Studies Approach to U.S. Foreign Policy & International Relations…

Posted in Articles | and edition Comments closed

Whose Left, Which War? A Comment from Jerusalem

When Gabriel Brahm suggested I write a review-essay concerning Michael Bérubé’s The Left at War, I was intrigued, both tempted and apprehensive. So I read it, and it made fascinating reading. After finishing, though, I realized that my hesitations were well founded. As I was working my way through the approximately three hundred pages of this dense and sometimes hermetic (for me) text, it was becoming ever-clearer that the best I can do is share with the reader a few reflections, impressions, puzzlements and questions, which arose during my reading. In other words, what follows is not a “review” in the habitual sense of the word, but a response to Bérubé. I shall not weigh the force of all the arguments, nor shall I measure the accuracy of the empirical evidence given to support them. I shall also not comment on the overall coherence or reasonableness of the general position nor judge its truthfulness.  I want to discuss instead some things that concern me about the book.

Read more on Whose Left, Which War? A Comment from Jerusalem…

Posted in Articles | and edition Comments closed

Operation New Dawn: The Iraq War Debate Seven Years Later

Seven years after the start of the war, and more than eight years since the beginning of the build-up for war, there is still, perhaps, no more controversial topic in American foreign policy than the decision to invade Iraq during the spring of 2003.  American soldiers are still fighting and dying there and while it seems that the situation is slowly getting better, there is little to show that it is truly stable.

Read more on Operation New Dawn: The Iraq War Debate Seven Years Later…

Posted in Articles | and edition Comments closed

The (Heterodox) Left at Peace: Or, Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Don’t take your love away from me
Don’t you leave my heart in misery
If you go then I’ll be blue
‘Cause breaking up is hard to do
“Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” by Neil Sedaka

Michael Bérubé and Neil Sedaka share few commonalities. For one, unlike the aging crooner, the accomplished academician-cum-public intellectual is relevant. Forgoing the narrow confines of the academic publishing world, Bérubé has followed his 2006 What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? with another work aimed at a broad audience, The Left at War. Equal parts history of cultural studies, intellectual geography, and bare-knuckled smack down; Bérubé’s book exposes the Manichean left’s shoddy intellectual underpinnings. At its root, however, The Left at War is a really, really long breakup note.

Read more on The (Heterodox) Left at Peace: Or, Breaking Up is Hard to Do…

Posted in Articles | and edition Comments closed

For Liberalism & Thinking Politically Again: Reflections Inspired by Michael Bérubé’s "The Left at War"

Finally, a book on and from the left that constitutes, as a certain sort of Englishman might say, a “proper” bit of thinking! Or, as a certain sort of lawyer might say, an “actionable” analysis and argument, that is, a book which can serve as a basis for action—and thinking politically again. In addition to making the case for a re-politicized cultural studies that does a lot more than endlessly produce ludic commentaries on banal cultural phenomena, Michael Bérubé’s The Left as War gives us the opportunity to seriously reflect on our world. Though Bérubé claims the mantle of a democratic socialist, I want to argue that his analysis and argument are more properly Marxist, in contrast to those who more ostentatiously inhabit that category, like Slavoj Žižek and Alain Badiou, whose non-political and actually non-Marxist thought I will briefly consider below. Bérubé’s work is political, and Marxist, because it seeks to engender a better world on the basis of what is immanent in this one, and not on the basis of its infantile rejection. His book is political in daring us to give up the certainty that so many of us on the left feel that we have it all figured out, if not the details, then the broad outlines. To wit, most of us, though fully linked in to all the benefits derived from the horrible past—air travel, telecommunications, computer technologies—nonetheless purport to be the arch enemy of the present, the capitalist, neoimperialist, patriarchal, heteronormative, liberal democratic present. What enables our certainty is our conviction that we know who the bad guys are—and they are, when all is said and done, us—and so by a simple if not very rigorous logic we know who the good guys are—anyone who is against us.

Read more on For Liberalism & Thinking Politically Again: Reflections Inspired by Michael Bérubé’s "The Left at War"…

Posted in Articles | and edition Comments closed

The Need for an Augustinian Left

Punished for Being Right?

Writing about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq can be a frustrating experience. On the one hand, the boundaries of “reasonable debate” are so narrowly construed within the popular media as to make the discussion of any genuine alternative points of view virtually impossible; on the other, the polarized and polarizing orthodoxies of American political discourse require that any criticism of the wars be accompanied by so many qualifications and caveats as to render genuine argument meaningless. On the political right, this requires creedal affirmations of the goodness and justice of the American cause, full-throated avowals of American exceptionalism, and unqualified statements of support for the troops. In some environs of the left, it requires condemnations of American empire, coupled with declarations of our complicity in every dastardly deed of international malfeasance since the sinking of the Maine.

Read more on The Need for an Augustinian Left…

Posted in Articles | and edition Comments closed

Can the Left Govern?

I am unclear as to whether I’ve been a spy or a voyeur as I’ve read Michael Berube’s The Left at War.  One thing was clear from the start—the author wanted to write this book to persuade, but not to persuade me.  If each of us draws a circle containing tolerable or respectable beliefs at some specific radius from one’s own views, Berube offers unmistakable boundary markers separating those whose disagreements matter and those who are intellectually untouchable.  This is hardly a critique since I cannot imagine any of us participating in an intellectual community without such a circle, however large.  But there are ways of appreciating an argument even when one stands outside of the intellectual circle—even when one is not part of the conversation, even when one is a spy or a voyeur.

Read more on Can the Left Govern?…

Posted in Articles | and edition Comments closed

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.”

Read more on Cultural Studies & the “Cold War” on the Left…

Posted in Articles | and edition Comments closed

Toward A More Rational Left?

It would be difficult to discuss Michael Berube’s latest volume without registering a degree of ambivalence.  On the one hand I am impressed by the author’s honesty, seriousness and efforts to carve out a position that allows him to retain many of his core convictions while criticizing and dissociating himself from what he calls “the Manichean left,” that is, the radical, illiberal left, and its orthodoxies. On the other hand I don’t share many of his core convictions and have additional reservations about the way The Left at War is written and put together. The structure of the book is fuzzy, parts don’t hang together. There are too many detours from the central arguments and themes, too many lengthy quotes both in the text and in the notes and it is not obvious why some arguments and citations are relegated to the Notes. There may be some connection between these organizational problems and the apparent unawareness of the author that this book is likely to be appreciated only by a small number of readers who are familiar with the somewhat esoteric and sectarian preoccupations and disputes among the many branches of the academic left in this country and Britain.

Read more on Toward A More Rational Left?…

Posted in Articles | and edition Comments closed

The New “Manichean” Left & the Old Far Right: Tolerating the Intolerable

When Martin Amis returned to Britain from two years living overseas, he found a liberal-Left wallowing in self-delusion.[1] Asked by the Independent what had shocked him most since he got home he replied: “The most depressing thing was the sight of middle-class white demonstrators waddling around under placards saying, ‘We Are All Hezbollah Now.’ Well, make the most of being Hezbollah while you can. As its leader, famously advised the West: ‘We don’t want anything from you. We just want to eliminate you.’” While critics could say that Leftists boasting of their conversion to Islamism were a fringe phenomenon, Amis made it clear that he was talking about the mainstream, not the fringe, when he went on British Broadcasting Corporation’s Question Time, the most popular political discussion program of the day. “A woman in the audience,” he reprted, “her voice quavering with self-righteousness, presented the following argument. Since it was America that supported Osama bin Laden when he was fighting the Russians, the US armed forces, in response to September 11, ‘should be dropping bombs on themselves!’ And the audience applauded. It is quite an achievement. People of liberal sympathies, stupefied by relativism, have become the apologists for a credal wave that is racist, misogynist, homophobic, imperialist and genocidal. To put it another way, they are up the arse of those that want them dead.”[2]

Read more on The New “Manichean” Left & the Old Far Right: Tolerating the Intolerable…

Posted in Articles | and edition Comments closed
  • Pages

  • Categories

  • Issues