The Patch

February 1, 2007

What’s Left of Nick Cohen?

Filed under: Politics — freshlysqueezedcynic @ 12:37 am

I despair for Nick Cohen. Once a man who would campaign for civil liberties, and launched some wonderfully blistering attacks on the Blair government, and New Labour in general, in his book Pretty Straight Guys, he ended up being drawn into possibly the most smug, self-righteous, whinging lefty clique out there (and believe me, that is indeed an honour), the Pro-War Left.

The Pro-War Left (once a going concern, nowadays rapidly becoming a hospice for those suffering from severely prolapsed intellects) are that small minority of people who have been widely considered to be on the left that not only thought that the Iraq War was a good idea, but they strongly supported the war in the media and beyond. Largely they didn’t do this because of the “threat” to Britain and America posed by Saddam Hussain and his Amazing Disappearing WMD Stockpile, but for the reason that Saddam Hussain was a brutal dictator and it was better to have him out on his ear through military action and regime change rather than remaining in power, killing and torturing like there’s no tomorrow.

Alas, they do not leave it there, at that somewhat simplistic (but moderately defensible) argument. They maintain, in a tone oozing with sheer contempt for anyone with the temerity to disagree with them, that not only is this the only morally upright position to take on Iraq, they argue that anyone who didn’t support the immediate invasion of Iraq and the destruction of the Ba’athist regime are not only deluded and possessed of a hypocritical and disgusting set of relativistic morals that they will discard at any moment, but inevitably end up supporting these reprehensible, disgusting fascists (whether they be Islamic or secular) to prop up the new twin burning obsessions of the Left, which they go after with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns; anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. “Forget economic and social justice”, say the Pro-War Left, “what the Left really want to do these days is start lynching some Jews and some Yanks”.

Which, to put it finely, is bollocks.

Unfortunately, in this very vein, with an almost weary inevitability, dearest Nick has a new book out called “What’s Left?: Why I Am Throwing A Hissy Fit Declaring I Am The Only Real Lefty And You Are All A Bunch of Fascists, Ner Ner Nee Ner Ner.” (Note: possibly not the real subtitle.)  These extracts from the book are pretty grim, displaying all the gross generalisations and the sneering, superlicious tone of the Pro-War Left. He starts off with a gentle, but still pretty sneery, mockery of his (by now probably long-suffering) lefty parents. The really interesting bit, however, is in the next part, where he tells us of the shock when he learns that his teacher was a Conservative:

“I still remember the sense of dislocation I felt at 13 when my English teacher told me he voted Conservative. As his announcement coincided with the shock of puberty, I was unlikely to forget it. I must have understood at some level that real Conservatives lived in Britain – there was a Conservative government at the time, so logic dictated that there had to be Conservative voters. But it was incredible to learn that my teacher was one of them, when he gave every appearance of being a thoughtful and kind man. To be good you had to be on the left.” (my emphasis.)

It is very tempting to make a link between the moral absolutism that dearest Nick held as a child, viewing the Tories as the fount of all evil (which is of course nonsense; it’s only 84%, at the most), and the moral absolutism he holds now as a man, viewing the Islamists and their fellow travellers on the anti-war left (or “everyone” as normal people like to call them, nowadays) as the new fount of all evil. “To be good,” says Cohen nowadays, “you have to want to invade Iraq.” It seems as if Cohen has never grown up in the intervening period.

He then peruses the “double standard” argument about Soviet communism, that we lefties, though we opposed such totalitarianism, only gave it half-hearted opposition, seeing as “the Cold War never turned hot and Western Europe and North America never experienced the totalitarianism of the left.” This same argument is used by conservatives over and over to antagonise the left; “if the Commies had invaded, you wouldn’t be so soft on them.”

They kind of miss the point, viz. that in real life, strangely enough, the Commies did not invade. The conservatives and our pro-war moral superiors like Cohen have the relationship between the Western left and the Soviets exactly backwards; instead of it being that we were not as critical of the Commies because we never felt a Soviet jackboot on our faces, it was, in fact, that we were not as critical of them because we knew that it was unlikely that we would have said jackboot on our faces. Despite the Cold War sometimes heating up to nearly unbearable levels, it always cooled down again, and it seemed as if both sides were in a stalemate that seemed set to last, barring huge, sweeping unforseen consequences. Since we were not going to be visiting the embalmed corpse of Lenin at gunpoint any time soon, “hatred of communism” was a somewhat lower priority to dealing with the fascists, who did actually have a party enjoying significant political support during the middle period of the Cold War, at least in Britain. Perhaps Nick has not heard of the National Front?

The reason the left had a “halo of moral superiority” is that there was a real fascist threat to liberal democracy at that time, however nascent it might have been; the way Cohen writes about it, you’d have thought fascism was dead forever and the left were just shouting into the wind, reliving past glories that would never come around again. That was not the case, and we still haven’t got rid of the fascists yet, despite them putting out suits and not dragging their knuckles around so much.

Incidentally, Cohen, in using the “Soviet” argument fails to see the wider point; despite everyone realising that the USSR was a desperate, brutal totalitarian regime, strangely enough, we didn’t go in all guns a-blazing to try and take down the Evil Empire once and for all, and those who suggested we did normally were a) vastly hysterical over the range of the Soviet threat, b) vastly over-hyped the nature of the Soviet threat and c) were batshit crazy. (Remind you of anyone?) And when we did do that, it normally had unfortunate consequences which meant we didn’t achieve the objectives we’d been hoping to achieve and set off unintended consequences that end up hurting us more than helping (see: Vietnam). And then the Soviet empire collapsed from its’ own internal contradictions, despite it seeming like, just a few years ago, that it would continue for ever and ever. Strange, that.

And this is the real point that us lefties try to make; you can’t force people to choose democracy, and expect them to immediately attach on to it. They have to choose it themselves, which is kind of the point. (At this point, inevitably, someone will point out Germany and Japan and ask us lefties why we think the Arabs are ill-suited to democracy but the Germans and the Japanese can attach on to it just fine. They ignore both the fact that both those nations were prosperous industrial nations before they were carpet bombed, and that both received fuckloads of money for essential infrastructure. It’s a lot easier to attach on to something if it’s making you wealthy.)

Cohen would have you believe that by opposing the war, you are supporting fascism, that we only opposed the war out of a knee-jerk belief that American power is inherently a bad thing and that we felt aggrieved about being lied to about WMD. But he’s wrong; people not only opposed the war because they did not like getting lied to by the US and UK governments, but also because they foresaw how deeply, deeply misguided the attempt would be, and how bad the reconstruction attempts would be, seeing as they were lead by the world’s most incompetent administration, deluded by it’s own theorists and idealogues with no idea of the ethnic strife and potential troubles they were getting themselves into, never mind that for all his frantic hysteria about the left “supporting fascism”, Saddam, though a disgusting, horrific figure, a blot on humanity’s already stained and tattered sheets, was not by any meaning of the word, a fascist. He was an Arab Socialist (again, not one of mine). Cohen just uses it as a catch-all term for ALL THINGS THAT ARE BAD IN THIS WORLD to link it with fascism, never mind if it actually conforms to the characteristics of fascism or not. (Morning in the Cohen household: “Damnit, first my fascist alarm clock fails to ring, then my fascist water doesn’t heat up for ages so I’m having a cold fascist shower, and then I discover the fascist fridge has let the fascist milk go off so I have to have my fascist tea go cold. Hey, you, anti-war type, get off my lawn! Fascist.”)

The most bizarre thing is, Cohen admits this. Cohen admits that the way the war has been prosecuted is scandalous, negligent, thoroughly disreputable. He even says there’s a hell of a lot to dislike America for and that anti-Americanism is by and large justifiable. But still he reflexively throws his punches at the left in support of a war which has turned into disaster, because it is bad to be anti-war, and good to be pro-war.

For fuck’s sake Nick, deal with the shock of your teacher being a Tory and just grow up, okay?



  1. In case anyone’s wondering, I am the other 16% of all evil.

    Nice one though, mate.

    Comment by Alex — February 1, 2007 @ 11:15 pm | Reply

  2. […] Nick Cohen: Still a cunt Filed under: Uncategorized — freshlysqueezedcynic @ 2:03 pm Johann Hari, who can be a bit of a mixed bag, has on his site a devastatingly effective critique of Nick Cohen’s contemptuous little screed, What’s Left?, which you might remember I wrote about earlier. […]

    Pingback by Nick Cohen: Still a cunt « The Patch — July 24, 2007 @ 2:03 pm | Reply

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