I’ve been working on a post about the psychopathology of the Decent Left, and intend to have that up before long. In the meantime, I direct readers to this excellent discussion on Aaro Watch, and especially to Justin’s sharp contribution in the comments, which I hope he won’t object to me reproducing here for your reading pleasure.
1. The “Decent Left” is, essentially, an anti-left movement: criticism of the Left, not only criticism but basically damnation, is its main thrust and purpose. It is a contemporary phenomenon although nothing that it says is basically new, nor is the way in which it says it. It has a great deal in common with the old Atlanticism of the rightwing of the Labour Party, the more aggressive rightwing and anticommunist strands within the Labour movement, and Cold War liberalism.
2. Its proponents, broadly speaking, come from two basic political backgrounds. One is the number of small leftwing groups outside the Labour Party, mostly, in Britain, Trotskyite in nature where they were not the Communist Party: but also the old Right of the Labour Party, especially that part which was most hostile to CND and Bennism and yet did not leave the Labour Party. In either case the Decent Left has attracted a minority of these political trends (which were, of course, hostile to one another).
3. We therefore have those who were always deeply pro-NATO and opposed to the Left and to peace movements, or those who used to be on the opposite side but have renounced those positions. In both cases a certain visceral hatred of the Left is central to their outlook.
4. In the case of the ex-members of the far Left, there is a great deal of score-settling involved, which may in part reflect distress at the amount of time they feel they wasted in a politics they now consider harmful. As is not uncommon with the politics of the “ex”, their hostility can be utterly unbalanced and disproportionate and they will tend to be unaware of this. Issac Deutscher’s comments are still of relevance here.
5. The ex-far-leftists in particular can be accused of importing a number of bad rhetorical habits from their old politics, including an extremely aggressive polemical style, a fondness for identifying betrayers and apologists, a keenness for denunciation and for requiring their adversaries to disassociate themselves from one another, and a liking for inference in analysing other people’s statements, so that they are made to say what they probably do not. They are unaware of the aggressive, bullying character this gives them. They also have the old red-baiter’s liking for a witch-hunt.
6. Although, as said above, there is nothing entirely new about either the politics of the approach, they are like all political trends, formed by political characteristics particular to their times. These would include the invasion of Iraq and the Afghan and Yugoslavian interventions that preceded it, all of which they not only supported enthusiastically, but took as an opportunity to denounce people who did not. (It does not follow that because one supported any or all of those actions, one is on the Decent Left: what matters is the enthusiasm and the denunciation.) It would also be impossible to understand their emergence without reference to the general worldwide decline in socialist belief over the past generation, or the contemporary problem of radical Islam, which they are in favour of tackling with the same aggression that is their most obvious characteristic. Other political trends, including a certain aggressive pro-market liberalism (e.g. the Progressive Democrats in Ireland) tend to resemble them in their attitude to the Left.
7. In some ways their development can be seen as a problem of agency. In either of their backgrounds, they used to be attached to a labour movement which was considerably more powerful, in a number of ways, than it is today, and whose decline is perhaps the most important background factor in influencing contemporary politics. In a way similar to that observed (fairly or otherwise) by Orwell in locating enthusiasm for Stalinism as a transferred patriotism, they have shifted their allegiance to the Western democratic state in general but to its overseas military interventions in particular. They expect it to perform a world-transformative role in a way analogous to that which they previously expected (or hoped) of the proletariat and they retain the belief that the casualties will ultimately be proven to have been worth it.
8. Their enthusiasms extend to Israel, which they support critically in theory but enthusiastically in practice. They take a psychopathologising view of the opponents and critics of Israel. They also tend to be enthusiasts for the politics and personality of Tony Blair.
9. Their domestic enemies, whom they lump together, include the remaining far-Leftists, leftwingers in general and opponents of military action in Iraq. They see themselves as the left because they wish to define themselves as the furthest point Left in acceptable political discourse. In this desire to exclude the Left from the bounds of acceptable politics – and to see it as essentially violent and pathological in nature – they are not entirely unusual among those closer to the political mainstream.
10. A certain philistinism can be detected in their output, perhaps reflecting a dislike and distrust of intellectuals, who may be suspected of relativism. This, in turn, perhaps reflects their propensity to see the world in black-and-white terms and to take a position that who is not with them is against them.