Or, why, once again, we can’t have nice things.
All bad precedents begin as justifiable measures. — Julius Caesar
There is hope. But not for us. – Franz Kafka
“Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of man” – Nietzsche
So I have the definitive unluck to encounter this in my daily facebook news feed: A eulogy about the pure and joyful polemic hate of Alexander Cockburn publishes of Counterpunch. (Note I am not linking to Counterpunch because it does not need my traffic.) Jacobin’s Managing Editor, Connor Kilpatrick, waxed-and-waned poetic on Cockburn’s polemics. Now, Kilpatrick, accurately, points out some of the snobbery aimed at the Tea-party which led Cockburn to defend it:
When liberals and lefties dismissed the Tea Party, calling it an inauthentic “astro-turf” operation, Alex was quick to call them on their smugness: “You think the socialist left across America can boast of 647 groups, or of any single group consisting of more than a handful of people?”
Marine Le Pen is a nationalist politician, no anti-Semite, quite reasonably exploiting the intense social discontent in France amid the imposition of the bankers’ austerity programs.
She has gone to the heart of the matter, asserting that monetary union cannot be fudged, that it is incompatible with the French nation-state.
She has won 18 percent of the vote by campaigning to pull France out of the euro and smash the whole project. A recent poll shows only 3 percent of French voters consider immigration the main issue. So logically, Le Pen cannot owe her 18 percent to that issue. The No. 1 issue is employment.
It’s true; things could get ugly. Europe’s politics are being refashioned before our eyes. Greece has 21 percent unemployment, and the Socialist Pasok Party could face near-extinction in the upcoming elections. In Spain, 1 in 4 persons are out of work, and the right-wing prime minister insists on maintaining austerity. As Evans-Pritchard points out, “We forget now, but Germany was heavily indebted to foreigners in 1930, like Spain today. It was the refusal of the creditor powers (U.S. and France) to reliquify the system and slow monetary contraction that pushed Germany over a cliff. The parallels are haunting.”
But there’s another aspect to this habit of flinging the charge of fascism at Europe, and that’s the simple matter of national hypocrisy. The mobs that flooded into the streets to revel in the execution of Osama bin Laden were not exulting in America, land of the free and of constitutional propriety. They were lauding brute, lawless, lethal force. In this year of political conventions we’ll be hearing a lot of tub-thumping about American freedoms, but if there’s any nation in the world that is well on the way to meriting the admittedly vague label of “fascist,” surely it’s the United States.
You will notice that this is the exact same tone and rational as the defense of the tea-party, but with a twist, the people whom Cockburn was defending in the Tea Party are now implied to be fascists.
You will now that Cockburn published Israel Shamir and defended him:
We’ve run a few pieces by Israel Shamir down the years and each time a couple of emails promptly drop into our editorial inbox from dedicated Shamir-haters who seemingly have nothing better to do than surf the internet for Shamir-sightings, then rush forward with routine obloquies. They never vary. To believe them, the man is a blend of all that’s vile, a hospice for prejudice and hate, starting with anti-Semitism and moving forward into complicity with the darkest forces in Russia. I reply to them that co-editor Cockburn has in the course of his long career been falsely accused of innumerable crimes against conscience and enlightenment and so I’m instinctively averse to black-balling a writer on the basis of some charges sloshing around on the internet. What we print – most recently two very useful pieces on Julian Assange – bear no sign of the vile prejudices ascribed to Shamir and have been reports well worth presenting to our readers.
Even though Sharmir published this:
The philosemites of Aaronovitch’s ilk brought incredible calamities to mankind and Jews. They excluded a priori the possible guilt of Captain Dreyfus or Beyliss. Instead of standing aside and allowing justice to take its due course, they created mass hysteria in France and Russia, thus obtaining acquittals but also undermining popular belief in the judicial system. After Dreyfus and Beyliss trials, Jews rose above the law. This caused the backlash of the 1930s, the back-backlash of our days, and will probably cause a back-back-backlash tomorrow.
In a better world, Dreyfusards and Beylissists would be sentenced for contempt of court; for their unspoken axiom was “a Gentile may not judge a Jew.” One should not believe or disbelieve ritual murders. […]
Jews of our day rarely know they are supposed to eat matzo on Passover, let alone afikoman. They are blissfully unaware of the troublesome legacy of mediaeval Jewry.
Kilpatrick does not even gloss these incidents, merely alluding to Cockburn’s defense of the Tea party, and ends on this:
And it’s in this sense that Alex played what I think was his most valuable role for the left, though as a staunch anti-militarist, he’d probably hate the metaphor: he was like our drill sergeant. He hurled abuse at us — but beautifully stated and almost alway hilarious abuse — from every possible direction. “Oh, maybe if Hillary — SLAP!” “Oh, maybe if I buy organi — SLAP!” “Oh, if only the Democrats — SLAP!” “The Kennedys were the last true — SLAP!” But why was he doing it? Because he was mean? No. Because he wanted us to survive. He wanted us to win.
And honestly, we needed it.
And yet no where in this: “Oh, maybe if we teamed up with the anti-liberal right — SLAP!”
This, my dear readers, is why I have given up hope on the “idea of the left.” For when it condemns one thing one political or moral principle, it excuses a similar ideological offense elsewhere. Both errors, however, remain offenses. If one cannot expect consistency on these matters–to at least mention the contradictions and caveats on these positions–what could one see emerging beyond that.
But then again, what I am to expect from these paper Jacobins, so willing to talk about both the guillotine and social democracy. At the end of the day, the problem is not in a Marxian analysis of economics or ideological situations, or even a Christian one. Alasdair MacIntyre, in a way far more consistent that Cockburn and his eulogists and defenders, pointed out the mutual problems that Marxism and traditional Christianity shared against liberal modernity. If that was what this was based in, I would be more sympathetic, but it is clearly not. If I am being charitable, this is opportunism of the basest form, but if I am not charitable, it is far more dark. On Jacobin, I am sure it is the former, and on Cockburn I do not know.
Marx’s critique of capital does not stand or fall on the hypocrisies of left-wing polemicist and cadres, any more than any religious or ethical or economic claim depends on the actions of its adherents. Truth claims must be dealt with separately, but if I were a religious man I would take these “contradictions” as a sign of the fallen nature of humanity. If I am religious, I am not that kind of religious though and cannot take consolidation in such things: the dark impulses and the human contradictions are not so easily just written off as inevitable. Julius Caesar, in perhaps one of the most self-ironic statements in history, said, Omnia mala exempla ex rebus bonis orta sunt.
Kilpatrick mentions this, but perhaps it should be used against its subject: “There is hope, but none for us.”
With both Kafka and Caesar, truer words are rarely said, or embodied.
(Originally published here. )