One of the strangest features of the contemporary political landscape is the convergence everywhere of the Left with Muslim jihadis and extremists. Those who once protested against the installation of cruise missiles in Western Europe, say, now demonstrate against the war on terror. Those who praised the Soviet Union as peace-loving are now busy signing petitions and publishing articles to the effect that Iran’s nuclear program and nuclear weapons (if it comes to that) are a third-world success and nothing to worry about. Anti-Americanism has made bedfellows of people whose world views and values are ostensibly incompatible.
David Horowitz was early in pointing out what he called this “unholy alliance.” Now an English writer, Nick Cohen, has tackled this subject in a book with the title, What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way. His left-wing credentials are impeccable. His parents were Communists devotedly clinging to the party line, whatever it might be, and they brought him up with a “loathing” of conservatives. The Observer newspaper is the voice of the English Left, aimed at the intelligentsia, and he is its leading political commentator. He knew some Iraqi exiles, including Kanan Makiya, and from them he understood that Saddam Hussein was a fascist, pure and simple. For him, intellectuals—indeed all human beings—have to be against fascism everywhere and at all times, and that too is quite simple.
But what did Cohen find? Instead of reacting to Saddam and Osama bin Laden as the fascists they were, the Left devised justifications for them. Here was 1930’s appeasement all over again, compounded by hatred of self and of democracy. Millions marched in the capitals of Europe under banners proclaiming that war in Iraq was not to be fought in their name. They were thus denying to Iraqis the freedom they themselves enjoyed. Worse, they did not even recognize what they were doing, inventing conspiracy theories about grabbing other people’s oil or the long arm of Zionism. For publicly objecting to all this, Cohen has become, it is not too much to say, an unperson. He writes, “I learned it was one thing being called ‘Cohen’ if you went along with liberal orthodoxy, quite another when you pointed out liberal betrayals.”
Among other intellectuals who turned against Makiya and the liberation of Iraq he mentions Perry Anderson, a hardline Marxist and sometime editor of the influential New Left Review (which always had a soft spot for Stalinism). As it happens, I was at school with Perry Anderson, and well recall my amazement at hearing him as a teenager praising Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Humanisme et Terreur, a defense of Stalinism typical of a French philosopher in the cold war. Anderson is one of the few people I have met who I am sure would sign death warrants and go off to dinner afterwards without a qualm. In Cohen’s telling phrase, Anderson a few years ago let out in his journal “a piercing howl of regret for the lost world of his youth.” Like Karl Marx himself, history has left him “beached.” All the leftists whom Cohen is describing wrap hatred of self and of democracy into wider fantasies. Inability or unwillingness to recognize reality is what lines them up with fascists and makes them so inhuman.