Thursday, June 30, 2005

Blog book review: "A Matter of Principle" 

There is a very lonely spot in politics reserved for heretics. These days, it's occupied by some people of the left - liberals, progressives, call them what you will - who over the past three years have found themselves on the same side of the Iraq question as President Bush. Their rationales for supporting the military action against Saddam might have had lot more to do with anti-fascism and human rights rather than weapons of mass destruction or terrorism, but that didn't make their position any more comfortable vis-a-vis the great majority of their ideological kin, for whom blind anti-Americanism in the end trumped any other consideration. But stick to their guns (so to speak) the liberal hawks did, despite unrelenting hostility and ridicule.

Hence, the present volume, "A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq", a collection of writings, some previously published but most of it original, by journalists, writers, academics, activists and politicians - with exception of Roger Scruton, all people of the left, and not necessarily soft left either - who supported liberation of Iraq even if it was being carried out by a Republican president. "A Matter of Principle" has criticisms of the Administration's policies aplenty, but none of it written in bad faith of those who like to gleefully watch corpses piling up, hoping that they eventually bury the President.

Neocons they ain't, to be sure, and three years on some of the contributors do suffer from doubt, but if there is a villain in this book it's those who Jonathan Ree calls "a self-regarding conspiracy of moral exhibitionists and beautiful liberal souls" - the progressives who sided with the forces of reaction, the self-professed champions of the people who would have consigned 25 million fellow human beings to continuing slavery just to score a point against George Bush, or the United States more broadly.

You will, no doubt, be familiar with many contributors; from Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman, Ian Buruma, and blogger-professor Norm Geras, to Polish dissident Adam Michnik and East Timorese pro-independence activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta. The contribution range from learned discussions of Kant's "Perpetual Peace" and Christian just war theory, to breezy take-downs of Michael Moore and the "Not in our name" crowd, but all of them are well-argued, well-written and pleasure to read. Kudos to the volume's editor, Thomas Cushman, professor of sociology at Wellesley Collage, for bringing all the talented contributors together. Kudos to the contributors themselves, who had the courage of their convictions to stand up for the Iraqi people when to do so has put them at odds with the rest of their ideological movement.

As Cushman writes, the contributors "share one enduring disposition: that those who are in a position of strength have a responsibility to protect those the weak. The very basis of liberal consciousness depends on fulfilling that responsibility. Indifference, whatever its basis, is an abdication of the duty of solidarity and the responsibility to protect." Or, to put it differently, if concepts such as democracy, human rights, or anti-fascism are to be something more than just empty rhetorical shells, we should be prepared to defend them, by force if necessary, whether in our own backyard, or in Iraq, or elsewhere.

Even though my home is on the other end of the political spectrum to the book's contributors, possibly because of my childhood spent under communism I've always found the "humanitarian" argument for war - the need to depose tyrants, liberate people from oppression, and give them chance of a better, democratic future - to be a lot more important than any other rationalizations, such as the threat of WMD or terrorism, or the need to enforce UN resolutions. For that reason, over the recent years I've been particularly appreciative of the anti-totalitarian leftists who took the unpopular and untrendy position and in the struggle against Saddam put themselves on the side of the oppressed and against the tyrant. One would have thought this to be an easy choice for those on the side of politics where the rhetoric has always been steeped in the language of democracy, freedom and human rights. That it wasn't, is a sad reflection on our modern times, yet at the same time an encouraging sign that the spirit of George Orwell is still alive today, even if the enemy of freedom and open society is different now than it was in 1948.

Highly recommended.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?