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Why There Cannot Be a Decent Left: An Answer to Richard Landes

Landes argues that the Left stands for “fairness,” and that the Left Butler represents is a “deviation” from the real Left. He calls their Left “the self-destructivist Left,” while the one he identifies with is not one that favors appeasement of evil, while their Left supports “suicidal versions” of leftist “folly” that marches in the streets in support of a movement that would make all non-Muslims dhimmi. They have lost their “moral compass,” while the members of the Left he supports do not support the Islamic radicals, out of fear that to not show solidarity with them would make them “right-wingers.”

I discussed Landes’ argument with my friend David Horowitz, and he e-mailed me a thoughtful response with which I mainly concur. Horowitz writes:

The distinction he makes between a demotic Left and a revolutionary Left is fairy dust. Yes there have been and still are a handful of decent but impotent people on the Left whose political weight is non-existent. Whatever happened to the Euston Manifesto? What are the leftwing publications, organizations, recognized spokesmen who are defending Jews and Christians and even gays and women against the Islamo-Nazis? Were the same even calling them Nazis, which is what they are (and yes, the Nazis themselves were leftists)?

There is a fundamental snobbery and arrogance evident in the postures of the so-called demotic mini-Left. The leftists actually have a monopoly on all the values that we associate with human decency, equality, liberty, etc. But these values were actually instituted and made into a global force by conservatives -- American conservatives who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and created a political system to make those values real. Judith Butler doesn't act out of good intentions. She acts out of the same emotion that motivates the Left generally, which is hate. Henry James described them all in describing the feminist heroine of his novel The Bostonians: "It was the usual things of life that filled her with silent rage, which was natural enough, inasmuch as to her vision almost everything that was usual was iniquitous. ... The most secret, the most sacred hope of her nature was that she might some day … be a martyr and die for something." Or as Marx -- who is the inspiration for all leftists -- put it: "Everything that exists deserves to perish." That is the true voice of leftism. What the demotic mini-Left is about is sentimentality.

At the YIVO conference on Jews and the Left, the keynote address was presented by Michael Walzer, the co-editor of Dissent and a man who himself wrote a major essay a decade ago titled “Can There Be a Decent Left?” in which he expressed his disappointment with so much of what the current Left stands for. In my own comments, I mentioned that Walzer embodied a contradiction -- a man of the Left who is pro-Israel but who stood out as one of a few precisely because there are hardly any others of the Left who are joining him. As I said, his own position was hardly known in the country at large, while the Left of The Nation magazine and its open hostility to Israel exemplifies the actual position of 99 percent of America’s leftist intellectuals. Therefore, I argued, Walzer was quite irrelevant.