Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Disillusion Blues

A lot of people are over-excited ... But on the crashing bore scale they are minnows compared to the people who seem to think they are imparting great wisdom in telling us that the highest expectations won't be met.


Matthew Turner.

Oh damn. I've just given away all of Big Dave's Tuesday column, haven't I?

Well, not quite. He does say, "It is now a cliché to say that he [Obama] must inevitably disappoint...", but then he sets out to manage expectations. In some respects this is a B+ Aaro column. It's lucid, researched, knowledgeable, non-shrill. But our Dave, like too many columnists, thinks his brief is to tell us what to do. And this week our task is to take up the US voters' burden.

I've also always thought that Kennedy's "Ask not" spiel was really just the most frightful buck-passing bullshit. DA implicitly buys into everyone around the world being American whether they like it or not. Note that he quotes two 20th century US Presidents. Woodrow Wilson may seem like a smart pick when most journalists don't recall further back than Reagan, but Wilson took America into WW1 and Kennedy started the Vietnam War. Heroes of armchair generals everywhere.

What I like about Obama is that Israel timed its exit from Gaza to coincide with Bush's departure from the White House. I'm impressed also by his prompt action on Guantanamo. (But won't we, the not-yet-murdered, have to worry about being slaughtered in our beds now?) It would be nice if Obama followed the example of a different President and said, "Mr Olmert, tear down this wall." We shall see.

See also Medium Large. And Tim Worstall understands me.

53 Comments:

Blogger Dan said...

Isn't Tim making an entirely different point? "Oooooo, those silly (undefined) lefties, aren't they silly?" isn't really the same as a comment on the prospects for, and early actions of, Obama's presidency.

1/21/2009 12:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It coukld be worse: it could be Polly Toynbee berating the readers for not behaving like the front row of a Tom Jones concert like she does (yet again).

[redpesto]

1/21/2009 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Hell, this Obama's going to disappoint stuff isn't exactly a wild gamble, is it? I mean, unless he starts jumping tall buildings and healing the sick by laying hands on them, it's a dead cert.

Also, if Tim's right about the left, so to speak, I'm going to have to declassify myself. I'm really quite enthusiastic about the Americans on the micro and macro scale. If they're acting like dicks I'll say so, but IMHO if the world has to have a superpower, it's probably better it's them rather than most of the other contenders.

Hell, looking at the way it panned out last time, it's probably a lot better that it's them rather than us Brits.

1/21/2009 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I think also there's a fundamental reason why most of the people (save the Toynbee reaction types) who are pleased at Obama's victory aren't setting themselves up for a great fall - they're naturally sceptical of the capability of American power. This is not something you could say of many Scoopites or Decents.

1/21/2009 03:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Marc Mulholland said...

I think it's a Decent idea that good intentions are really all that matters, because (a) in the post-Cold War world the West makes its own reality, and (b) if things go wrong, Decent purity of motives are sufficient warrant.

Once one appreciates the limits of power and indeed the constraints of social and class structure, then is becomes evident that Obama won’t live up to the hopes invested in him. So why hope at all? This used to be well known to certain Decents: 'Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will'.

(On a related note, commentators here often sigh wistfully for Decent Norm's classical Marxist period. I'll not seek to gainsay that, but he shared with Anglo-Marxism - all the way from Perry Anderson, through the Analytical crowd, to Terry Eagleton - a dismissal of the classic Marxist idea that the working-class, because of their conditions of existence, spontaneously generate socialist preferences. In the classical tradition, Marxists do not develop the credo as much as worry about how the proletariat might be empowered, because progress depends more upon emancipating progressive social forces than winning any TGISOOT. Once you redefine socialism in idealist terms, agency becomes uprooted from social context. With this habit of mind, even the abandonment of socialism for general progress does not change the calculation much. Progress is dependent upon Decency being awakened in the powers that be by tribunes of virtue. There’s no need to examine the class constraints of those with force at their command. As Ken McLeod once wittily put it, it’s less Socialism in an Age of Waiting, as MIAW (Marxism Inflicted by American Warplanes). To this extent, there’s a pretty clear – if not, of course, inevitable – trajectory of Norm the super-orthodox Marxist to Decent Norm.)

1/21/2009 06:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Marc Mulholland said...

As a P.S., the real-Neo-Cons are much more Marxist. They clearly identify progresses with the triumph of bourgeois civil society. That's why, generally speaking, NeoCons are distinguished from Decents by being more intellectually interesting.

1/21/2009 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger Palinate said...

Alan "NTM" Johnson has been kicked.
http://progressonline.org.uk/columns/column.asp?c=171

1/21/2009 09:09:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

Worstall's comment is bizarre. As a lefty I am supposedly already annoyed by that part of Obama's speech he quoted. Except that I'm not and have seen no one else claim to be either.

The sheer desperation of the right to see the left express their disappointment/betrayal/disillusionment over Obama is hilarious.

1/21/2009 10:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

My 13-year-old son objected to that bit, on general who-asked-them-to-lead-the-world? principle - libertarian principle, you might almost say. (Worstall presumably hasn't expressed an opinion of his own about the glories of American hegemony.) He - my son, not Worstall - also bridled at the bit about the US defeating Fascism and Communism ("Communism wasn't that bad!") Bright lad.

1/22/2009 12:03:00 AM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

Worstall's stuff on the Obama speech is straight out of the playground. In other words: "You lefties said you hated America and now America will save the world". I won't dwell on this, because he hasn't understood the diplomatic politicking that the speech had to get into, and it's just tbf insane.
But, "America" as a paradigm of when/how/why to act/ react/ intervene will be the next territory that Decency has to try and occupy. They can't be seen to be wrong. So they'll have to come out big for Obama and then do "a told you so" to "us" "American-haters".

1/22/2009 01:37:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

they'll have to come out big for Obama and then do "a told you so" to "us" "American-haters".

Aaro and Nick have already written columns to that end.

What I find funniest about the Decents and Obama is that he was consistently ridiculed in the first half of last year, being 'the anti-war candidate' and apparently agreeing with everything Jeremiah Wright said (even though he didn't), and a lot of them (especially the HP lot and Nick) seemed to be lining up behind John McCain. Essentially, most of them seemed to be where Melanie Phillips is now on the matter - HP veiled all their 'smear by association' stuff with 'well this needs to happen now so it doesn't happen later' but it never really convinced. The Decents didn't notice the grassroots activism, they still can't admit that being anti-war is a justifiable position for a 'real' American, and they equally seemed convinced that he was a radical despite all evidence to the contrary.

As soon as it became clear to them (and everyone else) that McCain was not only rubbish but also had no chance of winning - ie in early September - HP suddenly dropped all the anti-Obama stuff and essentially became a Democratc activist site for a month. Nick tried his best to import wingnut culture in *that* column on Palin but that was doomed too - so he and Aaro went back to the old 'well you claim you like Obama but since you hate America (no matter what you say) this will be shown when you disagree with an aspect of his policy.

What's most telling is that the flipside of this argument is - Aaro will support anything Obama does - otherwise surely the logic of 'i told you so' doesn't work...

1/22/2009 08:30:00 AM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

Slightly OT but Chomsky's piece from a few days ago has its usual crispness.

On the IDF withdrawal: "The meticulous planning also presumably included the termination of the assault, carefully timed to be just before the inauguration, so as to minimize the (remote) threat that Obama might have to say some words critical of these vicious US-supported crimes."

1/22/2009 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also off topic, Nick shows more economic insight: End the financial ciris by cutting the salaries of Council chief execs. Even he doesn't seem to believe what he is writing.

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23623447-details/Put+a+salary+cap+on+the+council+bosses/article.do

1/22/2009 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

"That" column on Palin was probably funniest Decent article all year (and Nick was hardly alone in his reaction to her). What was it all about? I stick to my view that it was simple bigotry of low expectations, a prejudice of people who don't really know much or care much about the US or Americans that it's a country populated solely by Palin types.

1/22/2009 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

That Evening Standard article (when did he move to Tuesdays?) says that the private and public sector must be treated equally. So bank chiefs have to forego their bonuses, and council chiefs have to take large salary cuts.

1/22/2009 01:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if Nick will be volunteering a salary cut. What do you reckon he earns ? £80k

(the catchpa word verification for this was inaclunt !)

1/22/2009 04:18:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

To be fair to Nick he has always raged about salaries, although back in the day he used to reveal his to encourage the others - £55,500 in 1999/2000, although I guess that might include an advance for Pretty Straight Guys.

http://www.newstatesman.com/200005220006

1/22/2009 05:12:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I can sort of understand his point about public sector pay, but didn't Nick sue the NS for cutting his own wages? Would that have been acceptable if it had happened today? after all, nobody whose back is against the wall financially wants to see journalists being handsomely paid for writing the same odl stuff etc etc zzz...

Equally, wouldn't treating the public and private sectors equally mean ramping up public sector recruitment when the going is good, paying colossal bonuses, etc?

This piece is tired old public sector-bashing dressed up as something else.

Nick is also weirdly obsessive in his Standard columns about how much Gordon Brown earns.

1/22/2009 05:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back on topic. There is an interesting article by Hari in the Independent about whether there will be disillusion with Obama, using Bolivia as a case study. Hari's point is that there are structural pressures within the US system that lead to hostility to a democratic leader like Morales, and we still don't know how Obama will deal with these pressures.

Hari mentions the factor of the US dependence on foreign fossil fuels, and seems to think that Obama will slowly manage to erode this. Maybe! However there are many other factors. Latin American elites have many contacts within the US political system and aren't reluctant to use them. There is also the fact that in the USA (or in the foreign policy circles) the idea is that exporting democracy is a good thing because democratic countries will be more likely to be friendly to the USA. There are still a lot of people in these circles who haven't got their head around the idea that the people of country X might democratically elect a party that isn't very friendly to the USA. So there are even more structural pressures on Obama than Hari mentions and we've no idea how he will deal with them.

Moussaka Man

1/23/2009 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

The Decents didn't notice the grassroots activism, they still can't admit that being anti-war is a justifiable position for a 'real' American, and they equally seemed convinced that he was a radical despite all evidence to the contrary.

Yeah, what really winds them up is that an Iraq war opponent is in the White House. This fact also gives great satisfaction to those of us who remember the general tenor of Decent weblog discussion in the period 2002-05, epitomised by Norman Geras's debut weblog post, "why did the left march to save Saddam"?

Once it became clear that Decency was on the wrong side of history (not for the first time in the case of many of its proponents) it's hardly surprising they spent a while scrabbling around for explanations.

1/23/2009 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Doug Henwood:
It’s a bit of a mystery why he’s so eager to make friends with the right. I always thought the guy was kind of a centrist. But to see all his overtures to the right has surprised me, and I didn’t expect much out of the guy. He’s not at all embracing populism. He’s embracing a very orthodox elite agenda. It struck me recently, since I’m working on a book about the American ruling class, that one of the reasons Roosevelt--and not just Franklin, but to a lesser extent Teddy--was able to act as a kind of perceived traitor to his class is that it takes someone who comes from that class to have the nerve to betray it. Someone like Obama, who comes from modest origins and believes in meritocracy, is usually more eager to please the powerful and the orthodox. As the German philosopher Adorno put it, you have to have tradition in one[self] to hate it properly. I don’t think he quite has it in him, and doesn’t hate it properly.
from
http://www.minnpost.com/steveperry/2009/01/21/6035/no_bottom_in_sight_yet_a_conversation_with_doug_henwood

So there you are. Genuine Marxist, with low expectations who is still disappointed.

1/23/2009 11:31:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

The argument that it's easy for the upper-class like Roosevelt to betray them can work, however, to explain Obama's choices. If you're going to take 'left-wing' positions you might as well choose those associated with the right-wing to do it. Although Melanie Phillips has been arguing this (in an hysterical and extreme form, but I didn't need to say that) that doesn't mean it can't be true. I guess we shall see, but most of his first decisions have hardly been pandering to the right.

1/24/2009 10:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, in other news, our friend and extended family member MAH - tarred though he is by the Stopper brush through having once been in the same organisation as me - has added his name to the actually quite select 'It is _1939_ and I am Churchill' list.

http://greatersurbiton.wordpress.com/2009/01/24/germany-threatens-to-block-polands-entry-to-the-eu/

Chris Williams

1/24/2009 09:40:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

So Marko is accusing Slovenia of planning the mass murder of a large part of the Croatian population?

1/24/2009 11:07:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Is anyone going to read Nick so I don't have to? I gave up after 2 paras of his book extract. He has three pieces in the Observer. It's enough to make anyone buy the Times.

What is Marko on about? Has he received a knock on the head? Well, he started it.

1/25/2009 08:52:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Newsflash - Nick Cohen has revamped his website - and it's now accepting comments...

It's funny how Nick suddenly finds a common theme uniting all his columns (Standard, Standpoint, Observer) in the weeks leading up to the publication of a new book.

Rioting piece - boring, main message is 'cut numbers in the Home Office, the management are overpaid'. The links to riots don't really work.

Long book extract - really boring - we've seen it all before. shorter nick: i blame the left - here are some pretty tedious 'amusingly opulent' examples i've made up of what greedy bankers do on nights out. Damien Hirst is rubbish and the people who buy him know nothing about art. Here are some things other people said months ago dressed up as radical new insights. even though I wasn't attacking gordon Brown in 2006 over debt, i am still right and he is still wrong, all the time.

Culture piece - rehash of Standpoint articles in slightly less belligerent form, ie, not really worth reading. Again claims that Shameless is 'laughing at the working classes' when it manifestly isn't; and again he can only manage two examples, little britain and shameless, as evidence. And one of those examples doesn't work. He was torn to shreds in the Obs letter pages for this last time - weird that he keeps doing it. Oh and we get this:

There was no Dickens for the 21st century

again, a direct lift from a standpoint column and as bad as it was in the original - Shameless is pretty close to Dickens in terms of caricatured characters, convoluted but linked plots, etc. And where does this leave 'serious novelist' Mertin Amis?

If you put the DJ taylor quotation into google it brings up another column by nick before Taylor's original; and looking at that and this new one, Nick is really misrepresenting Taylor's central argument (he's a colleague at the Eye so I guess he thinks it's ok) - Taylor is complaining that there aren't enough novels about work - not that there aren't enough about the white working classes etc.

1/25/2009 09:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Nick:

Pedants will object that Fletcher is talking about criminal rather than the political violence Europe is witnessing, but the dividing line between the two is far from clear to me.

Do what?

1/25/2009 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I didn't know DJ Taylor was at the Eye. What does he do there?

1/25/2009 11:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

There's chutzpah, there's cojones, there's big fucking brass balls, and then there's Nick Cohen pretending that he's a Social Democrat at the end of today's extract.

He'll probably get away with this because - barring the infamous Sarah Palin column - he only wrote anti-Obama stuff either for obscure wingnut rags or pseudonymously for Private Eye (this tedious "friend of a friend of Obama's is a libel tourist" stuff that Ratbiter is boring the arse off the world with).

Once again, the whole thing is predicated on taking people at face value, even when they're provably duplicitous. He has a child's view of the world, where if a party abandons its working-class left-wing followers and institutes clearly right-wing economic policies it is still left-wing because it says it's left-wing. This is probably how he can still view himself as a liberal after spending so much time hobnobbing with David Horowitz and Melanie Phillips.

Usual crap about culture tagged to the end; da liberallllzzzz have banned racism as fodder for comedy, so now we've got, er, Little Britain, where Matt Lucas and David Walliams spend half of their time blacked up. Really, comedy's as reactionary and bigoted as it ever was now, but - again - its creators usually cite alternative comedy as a key influence, so they must be left-wing. You know, there was a time when journalists questioned people's public statements, rather than accepted them unconditionally...

Every time Cohen talks about culture it really shows that he's brought all the worst of the old far left along for the Decentist ride. No attempt to engage with the fact that, whatever you may think of them, Little Britain and Shameless have an overwhelmingly working class fanbase - though I'm sure that, given time, Nick could fabricate some quotes from an unnamed middle-class leftist at one of these dinner parties he seems to spend all his time at. You get the feeling that he would be perfectly happy with a Stalinist drama bureau in charge of TV, denouncing Paul Abbott and Rory Bremner as capitalist running-dogs whose work is ideologically unacceptable.

Re: Marko. Curiously enough, my word verification is polant [sic]...

1/25/2009 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Nick's piece on economics, the City and debt has its moments, but it is perhaps not the best subject for him to talk about. To take one instance:

In August 2007 Britain passed a grim landmark. Consumer debts in the form of mortgages, loans and credit card bills totalled £1.35 trillion and overtook the entire gross domestic product of the country, which stood at £1.33 trillion. To put it another way, the British owed more than the value of the output of every office, factory, farm, quarry, mine and fishery in the land - and that was before statisticians included the immense debts of the public sector and business, which took the sum of Britain's borrowings to three times annual economic output.

We were a bankrupt nation.

Yet most of the debt is owed to other Britons, form whom it is 'savings'. The concern, therefore, is not so much the debts (and assets) for the nation's wellbeing but the fact that - I assume - they are very unequally distributed, which I would suggest has to do with unequal distribution of income. But that was something Nick '£100,000 isn't enough' Cohen rather stopped talking about.

1/25/2009 11:30:00 AM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Yet most of the debt is owed to other Britons, for whom it is 'savings'.

Is that actually true? It used to be, but not now. I'm sure that BB could explain better than my amateur witterings, but isn't one of the points of leverage and securitisation and the credit bubble that you can lend your asset value many times over.

It goes something like this: you lend the money in the first place, but then using securitisation, the income stream from that loan becomes an asset, against which you can lend again, etc., etc., ad infinitum, or at least until it goes tit's up.

Not that Nick is any financial guru, or was warning about this as a potential problem at the time.

1/25/2009 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

But then who are the credit card & mortgage debts debt owed to?

1/25/2009 12:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Simon said...

Nick has just appeared on the Politics Show, on the subjects of Ken Livingstone not really being on the left (he obviously wanted to rant about this at some length, but was shut up) and then, on the failure of financial capitalism.

1/25/2009 12:48:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I didn't know DJ Taylor was at the Eye. What does he do there?

He does the book reviews - I'm not sure if he does them every issue but he does a lot of them, i am semi-reliably informed.

Not that Nick is any financial guru, or was warning about this as a potential problem at the time.

this is the key isn't it? At least with Pretty Straight Guys etc, Nick could conceivably claim to have been warning about it all for a while. With this book he seems to be claiming that he saw it lal coming, but nowhere in his old columns was this kind of economic crisis foreshadowed, save for a couple of throwaway lines about how a recession might stop people buying organic.

No attempt to engage with the fact that, whatever you may think of them, Little Britain and Shameless have an overwhelmingly working class fanbase

Indeed - and so does the other example he often uses, Jeremy Kyle.

He must, however, really be kicking himself that his nice book title isn't all that appropriate any more.

this tedious "friend of a friend of Obama's is a libel tourist" stuff that Ratbiter is boring the arse off the world with

yes, that Rezko stuff really is boring isn't it? The Eye (and Nick) at their worst - refusing to let go of dull stories because they annoy someone unnamed and reprinting the same articles over and over again to 'make a point'.

1/25/2009 12:53:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

Is that actually true?

Yes it is, basically; the UK does have a net debtor position with respect to other countries, but it's nothing like as big as the £1trn figure Nick is talking about. Also note that a certain amount of overseas debt is part and parcel of being an international financial centre; Liechtenstein has absolutely massive external debts but I don't think anyone's going to confuse them with a bankrupt nation.

1/25/2009 01:01:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Nick is beyond parody. "Why I blame the left for Britain's financial ruin". He blames "the left" for everything these days, yet seems remarkably indiscriminate about what the left, or his relationship with the left, is.

... the paradox of the 1997 Labour government was that it was at once a left- and a right-wing administration. It wanted a huge public works programme. It aimed to redistribute enormous amounts of wealth.

More re-writing of history, I think. And then he contradicts himself in the next sentence.

All right, the political left said, we will accept extremes of wealth we once denounced as obscene.

Ken Livingstone, the allegedly left-wing mayor of London, genuflected before the cardinals of the money market with as much reverence as any Tory.

Funny how Blair and Brown don't get the allegedly tag ... As Der Bruno Stroszek has noted, Cohen's piece is based on the idea that Blair and Brown are "left", which is about as deranged as anything Mad Mel comes up with.

An immensely confused and ahistorical article.

[Weird, my captch is "opsych" ...]

1/25/2009 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Yet most of the debt is owed to other Britons, for whom it is 'savings'.

Is that actually true?

Yes it is, basically


I was referring, as I think Matthew was, to the proposition that the amount of personal debt can only be equal to the amount of personal savings. My (admittedly amateur) impression is that debt is a multiple of savings, and that this multiple has become much greater in the last 20 odd years.

1/25/2009 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for Ratbiter, surely the worst thing is Private Eye love to say that some establishment figure was "taken in by a charlatan", and with Nasty Nick's new Eye job, establishment man Hislop has surely been "taken in by a charlatan", who took Hislop in by touching all his right buttons - oooh , muslims are scary etc. Maybe Hislop thinks Nick is a replacement for the much missed Paul Foot (scary thought) ?

1/25/2009 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Well sort of - not 'personal' debt per se but all debt, ie if a British bank is owed a trillion pounds by Britons it is not right to talk about Britain being bankrupt, rather than 'Britons', the former requires the debt to be externally owed. Otherwise it's just shuffling money around. Of course if 5m people have huge savings and 45m huge debts that will cause political problems, but it doesn't mean Britain is 'bankrupt'.

1/25/2009 01:27:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

i finally managed it to the end. It's truly all over the place. The Left wasn't left-wing enough (but who ever thought NuLab was left-wing? certainly not Nick since the left lost its way over Iraq etc); left-wing govts usually disintegrate because they splinter off and that's not happening now despite all the liberal-left being splintered and navel-gazing.

What's he actually on about?

I cannot think of a more revealing measure of that failure than the transformation of the English aristocracy from pantomime villains and chinless wonders into viable leaders of the nation.

this is really awful stuff isn't it?

The whole thing feels like it was rewritten over a week or so at Christmas. What was clearly a book about the rise of the Cameron Tories in the face of an inert Brown govt has now become a book about how Brown is awful at economics and that's why - er- the tories and labour are about neck and neck - mainly because the general public don't trust people with inherited wealth on the economy.

Generally, those who wrote books on the state of the nation/economy over the summer are stuck now - note Niall Ferguson whose celebration of capitalism had to be turned into a critique overnight. and Nick's stuck with exactly the same problem. He didn't see this economic downturn coming, he doesn't understand it, and no amount of reference to some IMF report will change that.

In the rewrite, the economy is the reason why the Cameron Tories are jsut about ahead in the polls, which absolutely nobody else believes.

1/25/2009 01:30:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

It is interesting to learn, though, that what he was doing was "observing, as a writer, those on the fringes of wealth". Rather than whinging about his own income

1/25/2009 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

I can't believe that this is an unedited extract from the book because it doesn't make any sense.
It's a recession for dummies essay (first 15/16 paras), right, ok, Nick fine - but then to launch into:
"The liberal intelligentsia that dominated Britain's cultural life as completely as Labour politicians dominated its government might have reminded the leaders of the need to stick to leftish principles. But liberal Britain's dereliction of duty surpassed that of its political leaders."

Who the fuck is his target here?
And there's not even a sleight of hand in his attempt at repositioning himself.

Then there's the inevitable digs:

"The first years of the 21st century were a second "low, dishonest decade": a time when embattled feminists from the Muslim world were more likely to be belittled by writers from the New York Review of Books than the editor of the Daily Mail; when you were more likely to find anti-Semitism by looking to the left rather than the right; and when the general secretary of Amnesty International was more likely to denigrate human rights as white, middle-class indulgences than the general secretary of the Communist Party of China."

Besides all that, if you subtract the "left = new lab" part of the argument then the whole thing disintegrates.

1/25/2009 02:11:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

his central problem is that in his last book he tarred everyone on the left with the same brush - from lib dem voters to Gerry Healy. This has left him in an awkward position because he was essentially using the word 'left' as a term of abuse; now he has to pretend that in actual fact not only were New Labour - pro-Iraq war New Labour - actually on the left, but that left is not a term of abuse, as Nick represents the true left - one which apparently didn't lose its way, in direct contradition of his last book's central, dishonest, premise.

embattled feminists from the Muslim world were more likely to be belittled by writers from the New York Review of Books than the editor of the Daily Mail

oh god - he's still banging on about that! This is a reference to Timothy Garton Ash in the NYRB who voiced some mild criticisms of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. They weren't especially stinging and there was no real belittling going on. Nick however comprehensively, and apparently wilfully, misread TGS; Garton Ash took him to task about this in print and made Nick look rather silly. Discussued here .

He genuinely doesn't seem to have learned from any of the myriad mistakes he has made in the last two or three years...

1/25/2009 02:42:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

an interesting counterpoint in a different Sunday:

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/the-liberal-defence-of-murder-by-richard-seymour-1488515.html

1/25/2009 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

the general secretary of Amnesty International was more likely to denigrate human rights as white, middle-class indulgences

Has he got a quote to back this up?

Generally, those who wrote books on the state of the nation/economy over the summer are stuck now - note Niall Ferguson whose celebration of capitalism had to be turned into a critique overnight.

Nothing new about this. I've mentioned before (perhaps not on this site) that I used to work in the Acquisitions section of a university library, one with a substantial business school, and when I began the job I used to receipt absolutely loads of books about the economic miracle in South Korea and how we should all emulate that country if we wanted the UK to thrive economically. This was rather odd because the crash in that country had just occurred: of course all the books had been commissioned and written before then.

Anyway, the flood dried up for a few months and was then, before I left the job, replaced by a similar torrent of books advising us that we should, at all costs, avoid following the South Korean model....

1/25/2009 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

On the whole attempt by Nick (maybe Decency at large) to refocus/re-territorialise his ground, I'm always reminded of this from Foucault:
"As in judo, the best answer to an adversary manouever is not to retreat, but to go along with it, turning it to one's own advantage, as a resting point for the next phase".

1/25/2009 05:18:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

This has left him in an awkward position because he was essentially using the word 'left' as a term of abuse

This is surely right and it covers pretty much all of what the Decents say about aforesaid left. Now yes, I'm aware that you can't really have political comment without generalisation and that generalisations are of their nature hard to back up. And I'm also aware that some broadbrush critical statements about the left are probably true. But by the same token, the more general your commentary, the more considered you need to be - and Nick doesn't really do "considered", does he?

1/25/2009 05:25:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

The shorter Nick:

I am left, although all my friends and my views are on the right. Everything is the fault of the left. The credit crunch is the fault of the left, even though it was the policies of my friends on the right that caused it. We need more left policies carried out by my friends.

1/25/2009 05:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I was the general secretary of Amnesty International I'd be looking to my libel lawyers at this point, or at least drafting a stinging rebuke.

I am, however, not the General Secretary of Amnesty International.

Chris Williams

1/25/2009 06:49:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Cohen's passage above is a little reminiscent of Orwell's review of Muggeridge's The Thirties (the reviews don't tend to be online, but the relevant passage is here. I think I've noted him channelling Orwell before.

I've also said before that I don't really believe that Cohen was ever involved in or close to the political left, not least because nobody seems to remember him, which they surely would, particularly given that he's been a prominent journalist for a long time. (Compare Paul Mason, who people do remember - and of course I'm stressing political left, since Cohen certainly has been and still is a union activist.)

This may go some way to explain why he often seems to be less sure of his material than he ought to be and more inclined to make sweeping and inaccurate statements than he should - he gives me the impression of having done a lot of reading very quickly. Hence, perhaps the researched-off-the-internet feel of some of his writing. Compare, perhaps Oliver Kamm, who I think is enormously partial and unfair in his use of material, but who does at least usually know that material. Whoever you are, you can't just cram - to know a field properly you do need years to accumulate the relevant knowledge.

1/26/2009 08:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

NC may not have been particularly involved in left politics. But he was on the governing council of Catalyst, the union-supported think tank that has now been absorbed into Compass (a retrograde step IMO, but that's another story). He can hardly be unaware then that there were plenty of voices on the left warning of unsustainable bubbles and proposing alterantive policies.

1/26/2009 09:35:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

it covers pretty much all of what the Decents say about aforesaid left

the HP lot - at least the main crew who write the articles - usually say 'far left'. Nick, in the standard and standpoint, now uses 'leftist' and 'the left' as terms of abuse. Which sits really oddly with the fact that in this new book he's trying to present himself as the spirit of the left by repackaging... his Standard and Standpoint columns.

I was thinking a bit more about this last night and it seems clear that Nick's book is just a reprise of what's left and its librull bashing. the recession stuff is all gloss, really - the meat of it is in all that guff he writes about shameless.

The book was very obviously meant to be a typical decent rant about 'PC librulls have let the etonians back in by not caring about the white working classes' until very recently - the rewrite is remarkably transparent.

he gives me the impression of having done a lot of reading very quickly.

He gives me the impression of having done not very much reading in a rush. Cohen - and Andrew Anthony as well - exhibit a tendency to take reviews of books at face value, and to judge works of art based on press reactions rather than seeing them for themselves. I think the same approach is taken, pretty much, in Nick's wider reading on economics and politics. He shows no sign that he reads much at all - he certainly reads pretty much no fiction and doesn't seem to really read much in the way of reporting or analysis about the middle east.

This is a real characteristic of Decents - they seem happy to rely on Harry's Place and the other places they write for as the only sources of information worth bothering with. Hence their collective hatred of Mearsheimer and Walt when very few of them appear to have read their article in the LRB, let alone their book.

By the way, there is some very good stuff on Gaza in the latest LRB.

1/26/2009 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

Another book Nick clearly hasn't read. He's running out of targets if he's taking on the champagne psychoanalysts.

1/28/2009 11:31:00 AM  

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