ThoughtStorms Wiki

Context: LiberalHawks over IraqWar vs the AntiWarLeft

Original manifesto :

My original comment :

A shorter anti-Euston

Eustonites complained about some of the rhetorical flourishes in that previous critique. And, frankly, I'm sure few people can really be bothered to read it. So here's the shorter version. (Still organized by the Euston numbering system) :

General : there are probably no essential properties of left or right thinking. But something I think is close to a "principle component" that distinguishes the left / right poles is MethodologicalHolism vs. MethodologicalIndividualism in explanation of the world. To be left, in my book, is to have a strong tendency towards explanations in terms of systems or situations rather than the characteristics of individuals. Euston has pretty much abandoned holism in favour of individualism. Attempts to "explain" our problems in terms of underlying systems are denegrated, while the world is characterized in terms of tyrants and terrorists (who are "bad" and should be condemned), and America (which is "noble" and should be followed). For this reason, I figure they've pretty much moved over to the right.

  • 1) democracy. Euston is actually too specific about the particular institutions it commits itself too. Commitment to specific institutions which just happen to be the ones we have now is pretty much what I'd call "conservatism". I'm for a general principle of democracy which could nevertheless be embodied in very different institutions.
  • 2) apology for tyranny. I agree that rights are universal, but argue that our responsibility to act follows the contours of where we feel our power to effect change is greatest. It's justifiable to focus our criticism on the UK and US governments when we assume that this is where we have the best chance of making a difference. (And see Darius's point about the agents of change, below.) It would be absurd to demand that anyone critical of the war needs to fulfill a quota of criticism of SaddamHussein in order to qualify their criticism.
  • 3) human rights for all. Yes. But see answer to 2)
  • 4) equality. Yes. No argument.
  • 5) development for freedom. Compatibilism between economic dynamism, ecological sustainability, and egalitarian distribution is uncontroversial in theory, but tricky in practice. If we want it, that's what we actually need to be putting our minds to. There's no hint in the Euston manifesto that markets are inherantly opposed to egalitarian distribution and ecological sustainability. And there needs to be for this point to have any real content.
  • 6) anti-Americanism. A unipolar American hyper-power has powers over non-US citizens like me, but no commensurate responsibility. I conclude my interest is best served by rival power-blocks to balance US power, regardless of whether these are less "moral" than the US. Naive trust in the nobility of the US political system is belied by the fact that the US state is itself hostage to corporate interests. (We have plenty of evidence of this. Not only from anti-Americans.) Perhaps trusting "good countries" rather than a system of checks and balances between "suspect countries" is another symptom of the Eustonian shift from holism to individualism.
  • 7) two-state solution. Agreed. But the onus of responsibility is on Israel to give the Palestinians a state. The onus is on Israel for two reasons : a) Palestinian atrocities in Israel may be bad, but this isn't sufficient reason to justify denying all Palestinians a state; b) Israel is the only agent with the power to create a two-state solution, and so has the responsibility. All other questions about Palestinian behavior are really a smokescreen, obscuring these two points.
  • 8) against racism. Yes. Agreed.
  • 9) united against terror. Terror is a symptom of fourth generation war : a shift in primary loyalties away from the state and an empowerment of non-state actors. It's largely driven by notions of identity, problems with nation-states themselves and new technologies. Posturing to condemn terror without attempting to understand or combat its underlying causes is not a serious attempt to deal with the problem. Trying to blame terror on the particular people or identity groups who are currently practicing it, is missing the point. Compare the sudden outbreak of tribal / gang warfare in Sao Paulo this week : similar phenomena appear because of similar underlying causes. "Islamism" is revealed as incidental local colour.
  • 10) new internationalism. Agreed. Foreign troops can and should intervene in sovereign states to avert genocide. The hurdle of justification is high, though.
  • 11) critical openness. Agreed.
  • 12) historic truth. Agreed.
  • 13) freedom of ideas. Agreed.
  • 14) open source. Yes, but could be stressed. It's more important than given credit for.
  • 15) precious heritage. Yes. But I think Euston is close to the point of abandoning the left heritage in its rejection of methodological holism.

Finally, I think DariusSokolov made a very profound point about the Eustonians here :

I want to defend my point about class. Simplistically, traditional Marxists were at least committed to the idea that the exploited would be the agents of their own emancipation. So intellectuals who supported progress had to engage in dialogue and work with the working class. (Okay, didn't amount to much in practice, but at least something of the idea was there.)

If you're right and the benighted subjects of tyranny can play the role of the exploited workers for the Eustonists, who's going to save them from tyranny? I guess other 'educated white middle class guys', with bombs. The only agents of change, and so the only people worth talking to (I mean engaging, arguing with, trying to influence and convince of your ideas, etc.) are those in their own circle. A closed system. Outside it the exploited and oppressed themselves have become completely objectified - if not tyrannised victims, they're dolts.

See also :