Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Muscular liberalism

Madeleine Bunting's Guardian article yesterday, "The muscular liberals are marching into a dead end", was one of the most irritating and incoherent things I've read in a while.

Bunting is attacking the "significant section of liberal and left-leaning opinion has signed up with such relish to the 'clash of civilisations' argument". I don't know whether I want to defend the muscular liberals, as I don't know who she means. As Harry says, "Bunting does not name who her 'Muscular liberals' are but we can take a rough guess at who she is talking about (mostly people who are quite flabby actually)" - presumably the likes of Johann Hari, David Aaronovitch, Christopher Hitchens and Nic Cohen, in other words people who don't actually support the Clash of Civilizations thesis.

She asserts that "Scruples about the unsavoury rightwing company they are now uncomfortably lodged with - such as the American neocons - have been easily squashed." And then she urges us to take up instead the company of presumably more savoury Islamic clerics... She calls for us to abandon the Enlightenment pretense of universality - and then she urges us to learn from Muslim religious fundamentalists who, more than anyone, have absolute faith in their values' universality...

Bunting says, of the muscular leftists' complaints at Livingstone's courting of the mullahs, that "the idea of submitting all potential interlocutors to an ideological approval rating will mean we end up talking only to ourselves. Is a reminder necessary that this is a symptom of insanity?" Presumably she'd also be happy with Livingstone "engaging" with the BNP.

She blathers on about how we've become apathetic, fatalistic and self-doubting, and this breeds our susceptability to neo-con ideas. In fact, the so-called muscular liberals are also fighting aginst apathy, fatalism and self-doubt, while the liberal liberals like Bunting worry on about completely pointless things. I think the real problem is that so much of the left has forgotten about the core struggle for social justice and equality, and become wrapped up instead with concerns around cultural recognition, identity and sexual politics.

I have to confess I had a hard time knowing how to start writing this post, because Bunting's article was so full of mad non- sequiturs that I didn't know where to start. Here's a couple more:
"The louder Tony Blair expounds "our values" and "our way of life", the more vacuous the phrases sound. How do British values look to an African?"

"[T]he insights of Islam might have a bearing on many of the [core moral] issues and could even contribute to a renaissance in western thought."
Madeleine Bunting: a reminder of everything that was wrong will the old Grauniad.


See also David Ford's sensible reply to Bunting here.
Madeline Bunting, Madelaine Bunting, Madeleine Bunting, Madleine Bunting, Madlaine Bunting
Blog link: World of Barmcake: A Finger in the Salad.
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Bloggers4Labour said...

I also didn't quite know where to start, so in the end I didn't. As much as anything, I found it deeply irritating, and it really didn't ring true at all. Her own points have been put better elsewhere, and rebutted too, so what's the point?

Andy M said...

I didn't know where to start with Maddy, either. I never do. One could go for a point-by-point rebuttal, but since there are no actual points to be rebutted, this rapidly becomes an exercise in futility. I had intended to really go for her on this one, as there is simply nothing in the article that makes sense on any level, but in the end, I just found the whole thing too wearying. I found myself remembering that quote from Nietszche, which I picked up via Alan Moore's 'Watchmen' many years ago: "gaze into the abyss and the abyss gazes also into you".

Thanks for the link, by the way. I can see I'm going to have to raise my game.