Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

It is no longer Left vs Right, but pro-Western vs anti-Western

ellipse3.jpgThe distinction between the ‘Left’ and the ‘Right’ in global politics is today increasingly redundant. The dialectic has given rise to, and been superceded by, a new dialectic: pro-Western vs anti-Western. The issues that traditionally divided the Left from the Right – redistribution of wealth, public vs private ownership, a planned economy vs the free market – have not ceased to be relevant, but they are not those that define the battle lines in global politics today. In domestic politics, the extent to which they continue to dominate political discourse varies between countries, but the trend is increasingly toward the middle ground, as represented by Western Europe: both capitalism and the welfare state are here to stay. We may disagree over just how much to tax the rich or whether certain utilities should be publicly or privately owned, but nobody is going to go to war over these issues. Nor are our divisions over them projected outwards onto the world stage. The Left-Right conflict has been essentially resolved through the establishment of a centrist model of welfare capitalism, one that takes a slightly different form in each country (the US model being somewhat to the right of the West European model). Those who continue to talk about abolishing either capitalism or the welfare state are the political equivalent of flat-earthers.

The triumph of the centrist political model has led to one section of the Left and one section of the Right breaking away from their respective comrades and joining up in opposition to this model: this ultimately takes the form of a Red-Brown coalition. Conversely, a second section of the Left and a second section of the Right have likewise broken away from the first sections and come together in support of extending this model globally. This, then, is the principal ideological division in global politics today: pro-Western vs anti-Western; globalist vs anti-globalist; the democratic centre vs the Red-Brown coalition.

This cannot necessarily be used to determine where any given individual or group may stand on a particular issue. Blairites and neoconservatives might find themselves aligned with Muslim fundamentalists against Christian fundamentalists in support of intervention in Kosova, and with Christian fundamentalists against Muslim fundamentalists in support of intervention in Iraq. George W. Bush might be close in many ways to the Christian fundamentalist right in the US, but he has nevertheless been ready to describe Islam as a ‘religion of peace’, attempt the democratisation of two Muslim countries and recognise predominantly Muslim Kosova’s secession from predominantly Christian Serbia. A significant segment of hard-liberal opinion supported intervention in Kosova and Afghanistan but opposed it in Iraq. Pro-Western and anti-Western are not the same as ‘pro-war’ and ‘anti-war’. Nor can this division be projected back onto the Cold War division between the Western and Soviet blocs; the issues today are not the same as they were then; former Cold Warriors and Marxists can be found in both of today’s camps.

The essence of the division is that the pro-Westerners support the extension of the liberal-democratic order across the globe, through the politics of human rights, promotion of democracy, universal values and interventionism (not necessarily always military). The anti-Westerners oppose the liberal-democratic model, at least as a universal model; they admire or support movements or regimes that stand in opposition to the Western alliance or to Western values – all of which uphold religious fundamentalism or nativist nationalism, sometimes combined with a ‘socialist’ veneer, as an alternative to liberal democracy. Anti-Westerners may support military intervention for reasons of ‘national interest’ or religious sectarianism – whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu or other – but never for the sake of liberty or ‘Western values’; never for the sake of halting genocide or overthrowing tyranny. They may masquerade as ‘anti-imperialists’, but what they oppose is ultimately not the domination of smaller nations by more powerful ones. Hence they refuse to show solidarity with the people of Tibet, Darfur, Bosnia, etc. By which I don’t simply mean they do nothing – few of us can boast that we’ve actively ‘shown solidarity’ with all the just causes in the world – but that they oppose the idea of such solidarity in principle.

Rather, the anti-Westerners’ ‘anti-imperialism’ means opposing the very ideas of ethical international intervention and of the global triumph of liberal-democratic values. Similarly, their support for ‘national sovereignty’ means supporting the sovereign right of dictators to reject pressure to respect human rights, not the sovereignty of democratically elected parliaments in Baghdad or Pristina. And their support for ‘international law’ never means abiding by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, or respecting the jurisdiction of war-crimes tribunals established by the UN Security Council, but essentially boils down to supporting the right of Moscow or Beijing to veto acts of intervention that might halt genocide or overthrow tyranny.

It is often said that ‘fascism’ is used too broadly to mean ‘anything I don’t like’. Lots of people on the Left get very uptight and precious about their own definition of ‘fascism’, insisting it is the only correct one and getting upset when anyone suggests a different one. So I’m going to be very clear how I define ‘fascism’: as ‘revolutionary anti-liberal chauvinism’; that is, the ideology and practice of mobilising chauvinism on a popular basis in order to assault liberal values, bring down a liberal order, cement in power an authoritarian regime and/or territorially expand. The regimes of Saudi Arabia and China are both extremely unpleasant; neither is fascist, but in the long run, each may have to choose between liberalisation or increasingly populist-chauvinist authoritarianism. In Russia, the regime has made its choice; in Serbia, the battle is raging.

National or religious chauvinism is the weapon with which opponents of liberal-democratic values seek to defeat them. And ever since the late nineteenth-century, elements of the Left, consumed with hatred for the liberal-democratic order but aware that they were too weak to overthrow it by themselves, have chosen to ally with the nationalist far right against it. The brilliant historian of fascism, Zeev Sternhell, has this to say of the early twentieth century French radical socialists whose hatred of liberalism led them to ally with the nationalist, anti-liberal right in the aftermath of the Dreyfus Affair, when moderate socialists had come to the defence of the liberal order against this same nationalist, anti-liberal right:

Once again, the proletariat had become the bourgeoisie’s watchdog. Once again, in the name of liberty and the Republic, democracy and secularism, it had been cheated by its political leaders, who had persuaded it to save its own exploiters, its own oppressors. The conclusion, then, was simple: since democracy and the bourgeoisie are inseparable and since democracy is the most effective offensive weapon the bourgeoisie has invented, democracy has to be overthrown in order to destroy bourgeois society. Lagardelle, Sorel, Berth and Herve all agreed that not only did democracy not serve the interests of socialism, as Jaures believed, but it was its mortal enemy. In a parallel manner, Maurras and Valois believed that democracy brought the nation to the verge of extinction. Socialism and nationalism thus discovered their common enemy, whose elimination was necessary to their own existence.

Zeev Sternhell, ‘Neither Right nor Left: Fascist ideology in France’, Princeton University Press, 1986, p. 19


The wish to break with the liberal order was the connecting link between the Boulangist rebellion of the Blanquists, the former Communards, and the extreme left-wing radicals and the fascistically inclined or already fully fascist revolt of the neosocialists, the frontists, and the PPF [Parti Populaire Francais]. For both of these groups what really mattered was not the nature of the revolution but the very fact of the revolution. For both of these groups the nature of the regime that succeeded liberal democracy mattered much less than ending liberal democracy. This total rejection of the established order motivated one of the most important factors in the rise of fascist ideology: the transition from left to right.

Ibid., p. 15

Somthing similar is happening today, but with one significant difference: our contemporary left-right alliance against liberal democracy is attacking not primarily on the domestic front, but internationally: they are seeking to defeat, or to prevent the spread of, liberal democacy in Iraq, in the Balkans, in Russia and Belarus, in Zimbabwe and in Afghanistan. They are ready to undermine our struggle and support our deadly enemies in all these places. The right-wingers among them fear that globalisation, immigration and Euro-Atlantic integration will dilute the ‘nation’ as they understand it. The left-wingers among them fear the final, definite triumph of capitalism globally. Theirs is the rearguard action of declining political traditions, motivated by fear and hatred of the world that is emerging. They have no creative potential; their politics is wholly obstructive and destructive.

Facing them, we have a left-right alliance of our own: the alliance of all honourable socialists, liberals and conservatives in defence of liberal-democratic values and our fellow democrats abroad. We may have our internal differences over taxation or public ownership, as does the other side, but in each case, these are differences within the family. It is the struggle between the supporters of liberal democracy on the one side and the Red-Brown coalition on the other that is the principal struggle of our age. Those who occupy the middle ground are either vacillating between the two sides, or have opted out of the struggle and are standing on the sidelines.

Saturday, 29 March 2008 - Posted by | Neoconservatism, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left

1 Comment

  1. […] Centrist and Bob for pointing me to this Ignoblus post which is commenting on a post by Marko Attila Hoare. To summarize, Hoare provided a diagram of contemporary political alignments (above). These […]

    Pingback by Political Alignment and Identity: Pro-Western Versus Anti-Western Now More Important than Left Versus Right? « The New Centrist | Monday, 7 April 2008

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