For decades, journalists and pundits have invoked the New Republic magazine to prove that a conservative idea has support across the spectrum. Drawing on the magazine's historical association with the American left, the phrase "even the New Republic "—as in "even the New Republic supports the Contras"—has become journalistic shorthand for "even liberal opinion leaders.
So, Matthew Yglesias's comment on my previous post about "the Dersh" should not come as a surprise to anyone. It is to be expected that the American home of the "Euston Manifesto" would be at TNR. This document claims to promote liberal values around the world in the name of a group of "left progressives" who have united to deplore the "anti-Americanism" and "anti-Zionism" of the Western left, to declare "Islamic fascism" the greatest threat to liberal values currently alive in the world, and to declare their support for "humanitarian intervention" by powers such as the US and Britain. While they are agreed on the above values, they claim to be of differing views on the Iraq war of 2003.
Some people would argue that these are conservatives flying the "liberal" flag, and to some extent that's true. To paraphrase the right, EVEN Christopher Hitchens found the Euston Manifesto to be conservative, and wrote in a column last April:
I have been flattered by an invitation to sign it, and I probably will, but if I agree it will be the most conservative document that I have ever initialled. Even the obvious has now become revolutionary. So call me a neo-conservative if you must: anything is preferable to the rotten unprincipled alliance between the former fans of the one-party state and the hysterical zealots of the one-god one.
However, if you check the signatory page for it, Mr. Hitchens didn't sign after all.
It's also true that the Wilsonian, patriotic, interventionist view articulated in the document is part of the liberal tradition. The TNR authors who signed the manifesto refer to themselves as liberals in the tradition of FDR and Harry Truman, who, they claim, began the west's ultimately victorious, and peaceful victory against Communism. He was so peaceful, that Truman, when he dropped two atomic bombs on Japan just to intimidate the USSR. FDR was oh-so peaceful and democratic when he divided Korea with the USSR. Truman was so peaceful in agreeing to help France take back their "colony" in Indochina, and democratic and peaceful again when he supported the mission of Edward Lansdale in the Philippines.
A few words should suffice to point out the inaccuracy of the statement that the US was "peaceful" during the cold war: Vietnam, Korea, Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Cuba, the Congo, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic....and the list goes on.
This must be why a lot of left/progressives refuse to call themselves "liberals" even if they can't quite imagine themselves to be socialists or Marxists.
What this manifesto represents is a new form of what used to be called "Cold War Liberalism," proclaiming the new "cold" war against radical Islam instead of communism, and drawing a sharp line between which views are acceptable and reasonable to hold "on the left" and which are not. Such a document is pernicious because it attempts to police the left from "within" while really collaborating with the powers of the far-from-liberal state. It declares certain kinds of political statements to be beyond the pale of acceptable discourse, no longer legitimate points of view, but guilty by association with Stalinism and radical Islam. Of course, the usual "anti-semitism" charge appears front and center, and the manifesto declares that anti-Zionism is synonymous with anti-semitism.
Most problematic in this brand of liberalism is the silence on the issue of empire, and the reductive transformation of all anti-imperialist views into irrational "anti-Americanism." Again, there is no contraadiction between imperialism and liberalism, as several recent and not-so-recent academic studies show. Although some great American liberals: Mark Twain most notably, saw a fundamental contradiction between enjoying liberty at home and imposing our will on other nations, the fundamentally undemocratic nature of imperialism has never bothered those who view the countries being invaded as in need of being "forced to be free." Ah, it's the height of irony! For who was it that said people would have to be "forced to be free"? Not Marx, Not Lenin. Rather, it was that Enlightenment era political theorist, Jean Jacques Rousseau.
Yes, Phil Ochs said it best.
Once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to the socialist meetings
Learned all the old union hymns
But I've grown older and wiser
And that's why I'm turning you in
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal