of Christopher Hitchens is emblematic
of so many things: how success can ruin a writer, how far
an aristocratic British accent can get you on the American
scene, how Trotskyism can morph into Rumsfeld-ism without
any visible exertion. The former
features editor of the Socialist Worker newspaper
is today the Court Polemicist of the War Party, whose jeremiads
now grace the glossy pages of Vanity Fair magazine.
His evolution, more clearly and interestingly than any other
figure, maps the progress of a new ideology, a political phenomenon
unique to our time, one that is neither "left" nor "right."
It is new because what made it possible is the global primacy
of American military power, and Hitchens is its most consistent
and articulate spokesman.
until now, this new ideology has gone under more than a few
Shachtmanism, the Third Camp, Menshevism,
social democracy, New
Labour, the New Democrats.
But now Hitchens, clever to a fault, has coined a new phrase,
one that fits as none of the others ever did.
the end of his
review of Eric
Hobsbawm's recent memoir,
in Sunday's New York Times, Hitchens discusses the
decline of the British far left as the dominant force in the
Labour Party. He notes that the supposedly unrepentant admirer
of the Soviet Union and longtime Communist Party stalwart
looked on this development approvingly. The labor movement,
Hobsbawm argued, was a relic, its militancy long since dissipated
by the rising standard of living. Hitchens writes:
was timed with extraordinary, if accidental, deftness. For
many people on the existing left, it raised the curtain, not
only on the decline of British Labor but also and then
much less thinkable on the corollary ascendancy of Margaret
Thatcher. Hobsbawm, in a whole chapter on this episode, makes
it clear that he understood and even welcomed the logic of
what he had said: the left had to be defeated, and its illusions
dispelled, if progress was to resume."
a "dialectical" twist that seems almost a caricature of the
concept, however, defeat has turned into victory for the British
left. Shorn of illusions and radiating certainty, New Labour
has achieved a new ideological synthesis that would have warmed
the cockles of old Karl's heart.
As Hitchens put it:
a long and arduous shakeout, this has culminated in the near
obliteration of the Tory Party and the rise to power of Tony
Blair, at once the most radical and the most conservative
of politicians. Very many of Blair's tough young acolytes
received their political baptism in what I try to call the
Marxist Right, the doctrines of which might be termed Hobsbawmian.
Thus a long life devoted to the idea that history was inexorable
has, as its summary achievement, the grand recognition that
irony outlasts the dialectic."
Hitchens has been "trying" to call it "the "Marxist Right,"
then certainly libertarians
and paleoconservatives ought
to help him out. He has coined a very useful and deadly accurate
phrase, one that should be immediately expropriated and spread
far and wide. It precisely describes the up-until-now
nameless creed that glories in the power and majesty of a
rising Anglo-American imperium, and is being marketed in both
"left" and "right"
"Marxist Right" may be oxymoronic, but then that would make
perfect sense in our
post-9/11 Bizarro world, where up is down, left is right,
ghost of Leon Trotsky roams the halls of the White House.
fighting a war, and more to come, to force the Middle East
to undergo a "transformation,"
the U.S., under an ostensibly conservative chief executive,
is undertaking a social engineering project beyond the wildest
dreams of any Soviet commissar. Even the rhetoric of the War
Party has acquired a Soviet lilt, complete with routine references
to the "liberation" of Iraq
and clumsy propaganda
campaigns like the saga of
"Marxist Right" – that is what the movement – or, I should
– of the neoconservatives is all about, not only intellectually,
but also stylistically and in its methods of operation. It
is a movement whose commissars are ruthless in purging all
dissidents, where unconditional support of a foreign
power is a fundamental canon,
and where power-worship is the secular
religion of the intellectuals.
brilliant formulation recalls the historical analogy made
by Walter Russell
Mead, in Special
Providence: American Foreign Policy and How it Changed the
World: differentiating the Wilsonian
and Jeffersonian schools of American foreign policy, he
wrote that, while "the highest aim of Jeffersonian statecraft"
centered around defending and preserving the libertarian
legacy of the American Revolution,
defensive spirit is very far from the international revolutionary
fervor of the Wilsonian current in American life. Wilsonians
could be called the Trotskyites of the American Revolution;
they believe that the security and success of the Revolution
at home demands its universal extension though the world.
Jeffersonians take the Stalinist point of view: Building democracy
in one country is enough challenge for them, and they are
both skeptical about the prospects for revolutionary victories
abroad and concerned about the dangers to the domestic Revolution
that might result from excessive entanglements in foreign
quarrels. Wilsonians are reasonably confident that the Revolutionary
legacy in the United States is secure from internal dangers.
They also believe that the United States, without too much
blood or gold, can spread democracy around the world."
that's why all these former fans of the
founder of the Red Army are now hailing the "liberating"
power of American military might! I knew there had to be a
Marxist Right echoes its leftist antecedents in its sense
of historical inevitability. As Mead puts it, the Wilsonians
tide of history is running with American democracy. The American
revolution is sweeping the world."
neoconservatives, having once convinced themselves that the End of
Ideology was upon us, came up with a new one in the 1990s:
the End of History.
The philosophy of Alexander Kojeve, who
pronounced the United States as the embodiment and instrument
of the Marxist vision of a "world homogenous state," was revived.
The fall of the Kremlin, and the final victory of liberal
democracy, or social democratic capitalism, meant that the
battle was over: now it was just a matter of ironing out the
details and defeating the last remnants of premodernity. History,
it seems, is on the side of the neocons. This is what Irving
Kristol, in his recent reaffirmation of the neoconservative
faith, meant when he wrote:
is the first variant of American conservatism in the past
century that is in the 'American grain.' It is hopeful, not
lugubrious; forward-looking, not nostalgic; and its general
tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic."
Americans have been optimistic about themselves and their
abilities, this does not necessarily lead to the conclusion
that others have the same capacity or desire. Nor does optimism
about the ability of individuals to transform the world translate
easily into the belief that governments can have the same
effect. It will take a triumph of "dialectical" thinking for
the Marxist Right to explain how the deep conservative suspicion
of government power at home becomes a naïve embrace of state-sponsored
with characteristic perceptiveness, has homed in on a development
both exciting and horrific. The Marxist Right is on the march.
and careerists on the make, the ranks of this new movement
are varied and at times bizarre – but they
serve an essential function in the social economy of Empire.
They are the Court Intellectuals,
and every Imperial Court needs them: their job is to rationalize
the Empire, to make sure it has support not only among the
influentials, the cultural leaders and social and academic
elites who dominate the national discourse, but also that
this sense of fealty trickles down to the great unwashed masses.
an ideological current, the Marxist Right synthesizes the
worst aspects of both sides of the political spectrum – the
militant utopianism of the left and the militaristic elitism
of the right. It is the marriage of Socialism – or Social
Democracy, at any rate and Empire. A more compatible
couple could not be imagined: this is a marriage made in Heaven,
and Hitchens is their not-so-angelic offspring.
rise of the Marxist Right has to mean, therefore, the divorce
of the neocons from their former allies, the traditional conservatives.
That the two are parting
ways at the crossroads of Empire is increasingly understood
by both parties. Certainly it was understood by the late Murray
N. Rothbard, the founder of the modern libertarian movement,
in his 1992
speech to the John Randolph Club:
democracy is still here in all its variants, defining our
entire respectable political spectrum, from advanced victimology
and feminism on the left over to neoconservatism on the right.
We are now trapped, in America, inside a Menshevik fantasy,
with the narrow bounds of respectable debate set for us by
various brands of Marxists. It is now our task, the task of
the resurgent right, of the paleo movement, to break those
bonds, to finish the job, to finish off Marxism forever."
IN THE MARGIN
Crane's online interview with readers of the Washington
Post in the category of Not to Be Missed. Long-time Crane-watchers
such as myself were fascinated to see Ed rationalize waffling
on free trade and foreign policy issues by some of his Cato
associates on the grounds that we have to believe in "humility,"
like F. A. Hayek
supposedly did. I'm glad to see Crane come out in favor of
humility: now if only he could bring himself to experience
question touched on the neocons, and the conservative intramural
debate, and I cheered as Crane came out guns blazing:
in my view, are a pernicious force with dismaying influence
in the Bush administration. On domestic policy they support
big government across the board. They were the ones who created
the "faith-based initiative" and talked Bush into supporting
the greatest federal intrusion in education in American history.
They support a massive welfare state. In foreign affairs they
are reckless interventionists. The fiasco in Iraq can be laid
at their feet. What we need is an alliance of libertarians,
traditional limited government conservatives and those
few liberals who still support true civil liberties."
humility there, and a good thing too!
the best part of the interview was the following exchange:
York, N.Y.: "You should be ashamed of yourselves. Cato
is a big-business sponsored anarchists' club. You advocate
denying access to courts, the elimination of all safety and
health regulation, and the complete return of society to the
dark ages. You are personally and professionally a villain,
and the enemy of all civilized people."
H. Crane: "Dear Sir: You may well be right."
old Ed. My hat's off to you….
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