Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Children of '68 (3)


Here's the third, and concluding part of my American Conservative essay on the longer term implications of the 1968 Paris riots. For those who missed them, Part One can be read here, while here is a link to Part Two.

In 1968 the fault lines became clear: on the one side the sovereigntists—a coalition of conservatives like De Gaulle and traditional leftists—on the other the globalists, socially and economically liberal, bent on destroying the nation state, national culture, national identity, and any links with the past.

Although De Gaulle’s party won a resounding election victory in June 1968, the tragedy is that it’s Cohn-Bendit’s pernicious ideology that dominates today.

Tony Blair may have attacked the excesses of the 1960s social liberalism, under which : “a society of different lifestyles spawned a group of young people who were brought up without any sense of responsibility to others," but in many ways the intellectual guru of “New Labour”—and the 21st Century “New Left” in general is Cohn-Bendit.

An obsessive hatred of conservatism- and conservatives- is a hallmark of both New Labour and Cohn-Bendit. “The one striking new paths in politics will always be accused of something: conservative thinking is always taking revenge“ he complained in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica earlier this year.

In a 1999 speech to his party’s conference, Tony Blair ferociously attacked “the forces of conservatism” a group that included everyone from fox hunters, hereditary peers, and the medical profession to left-wing supporters of nationalization and “those who yearn for yesteryear,” who stood in the way of the brave new globalist future.

New Labour severed Old Labour’s strong links with the indigenous and staunchly conservative working class and instead forged a new alliance with the global moneymen. It rejected the old left’s distrust of military adventurism and respect for the sovereignty of nations and instead embraced a militant interventionism, beginning with the illegal “humanitarian” attack on Yugoslavia in 1999, and culminating in the debacle of Iraq. “Old leftist friends of mine from the 1960s are now on Labour’s frontbench and staunchly defend the overthrow of Saddam Hussein,” boasted Christopher Hitchens.

New Labour and its imitators define their progressiveness not in terms of redistribution of wealth—the gap between rich and poor in Britain is now at its greatest for more than forty years—but in their support for gay marriages and other “liberalizing” social reforms. “From the cultural point of view, we won,” declares Cohn-Bendit today, and of course he’s right.

Cohn-Bendit’s militant ideology has infected not only the Left, but the Right too.

John McCain’s advocacy of a more liberal immigration policy and his championing of a “League of Democracies,” with the right to intervene in the affairs of sovereign states the world over, owes more to Red Dany than it does to Russell Kirk.

Forty years ago, Red Dany lost a battle. But the sad truth is that he won the war.

9 comments:

Philip Cross said...

"An obsessive hatred of conservatism- and conservatives- is a hallmark of both New Labour and Cohn-Bendit."

...and 'Old Labour', and what you euphemistically call the 'traditional left', presumably the PCF, but not you.

Frankly Neil Clark, it is you who are peculiar. You never explain why the whole of the British Left is wrong to support the Jenkins-associated reforms of the 1960s, and generally want to go further, but you and a few mates, are right. Of cause, one would expect you to go against the Left in Pat Buchanan and Taki's periodical. Nominally strange, er bedfellows for you.

No doubt your dislike of Cohn-Bendit has nothing to do with his advocacy of intervention in Bosnia. No, you are not that petty.

Neil Clark said...

'philip': I'm not going against the left at all, only the faux-left. The type of leftists who define their progressiveness solely in terms of social issues- and not economic ones. These faux leftists embrace globalisation, the rule of money power, and illegal wars of 'intervention', but label one of the most unequal societies Britain has ever known as 'progressive', simply because it allows gay marriages and has an liberal policy on immigration.

As for your jibe re conservatism- socialism in the economic sphere goes together with social conservatism. By the same measure, economic libertinism begets social libertinism and vice versa: Roy Jenkins and Margaret Thatcher were both sides of the same 'me first' coin. If we're ever going to rebuild our broken society, we need to ditch individualism in both the economic and social sphere- and we can't do that without adopting more socially conservative policies.
The folk singer Pete Seeger, the authentic voice of US paleo-leftism, once said he was more conservative than the right-wing Republican Barry Goldwater. Goldwater wanted to turn the clock back to the days before people paid income tax; Seeger wanted to turn the clock back to the days when people lived in villages and were nice to one another. I couldn't agree more.

ps The American Conservative is not 'Taki's periodical'.

Philip Cross said...

If you are "not going against the left", try arguing for the death penalty in "The Guardian" or the "Morning Star".

olching said...

An interesting article, Neil; certainly food for thought. Not sure I agree with all of it, but you raise a number of good and interesting points.

I've been thinking about the link between that early form of liberal individualism and then Thatcherism and Blairism and the extreme liberal fundamentalism (accentuated through globalisation) nowadays. The link is there and has been overlooked, as the only aspect people have picked up on since has been the aspect of social liberty (sex, gender, race).

To be sure, these reforms and changes were necessary, but what is often overlooked is that these laid the foundation for the nihilistic individualism we see nowadays.

Cohn-Bendit is one of the best examples of how and in which manner the Green movement throughout Europe has ditched its leftist facade for the rabid Green free marketism it now openly espouses. The Greens in Germany, for example, are now the real credible alternative as the right-liberal coalition partner for the CDU/CSU. It has always been the FDP, but the Greens have moved in as real competition.

The watermelon Greens of the 70s and 80s (green on the outside, red on the inside) were an exception and were ousted in the fundo-realo split in Germany, which had ramification on Green movements throughout western Europe (apart from Britain, which has always been peculiar).

Another link, which I think cannot be underestimated is the link between the punk movement and the Thatcherite-Blairite nihilistic individualism. Almost as a direct result of 68, the 'me first' culture 10 years later was utterly nihilistic and rejected politics altogether (a wonderful prelude to the post-ideological individualism which is prevalent in our globalised society). The switch to Blairite individualism was not very difficult. A lot of the punks (there are still some radicals!) are now at the forefront of furthering our individualistic liberalism, only they flipped the coin to the other side. Nothing could be easier.

I do think, however, that 68 shouldn't be completely bedevilled. Some of the reforms wree desperately necessary (most poignantly the issue of race); but the 'radicals' in Paris and London were precisely those middle class kids who paved the way for the individualistic liberalism we can witness today.

Neil Clark said...

The death penalty Philip, has been supported by such famous 'right-wingers' as Clement Attlee, Herbert Morrison, Ernest Bevin and that right-wing Tory-supporting trade union leader Bob Crow.
Keeping evil murderers like Ian Huntley alive at enormous expense to hard-working and hard-pressed taxpayers is not a socialist cause.

Jock McTrousers said...

" As for your jibe re conservatism- socialism in the economic sphere goes together with social conservatism. By the same measure, economic libertinism begets social libertinism and vice versa:..."

That trips of the tongue easily, has a nice ring to it etc., but I'm not sure there is much evidence to support that. And if there was, would it be a good thing? Would it be something we should accept as inevitable? I think not.

If the point of socialism is not to let the individual flourish, in freedom, then what IS the point. " Man cannot live by bread alone..." said God, or Jesus, or someone - and they didn't mean: "eat your greens!" Flippant, I know, but the point is that individualism in some areas is fine, as long as it's limited by some sense of communal welfare - and I don't see any problem with gay rights on that score. So, I think Neil's aiming at the wrong target (slightly) here. I don't think Neil intends this, but he comes very close to a reactionary (rather than conservative) position that there is a choice between economic justice and gay rights; there isn't. Gay rights are a good thing; the problem is that this is just about the ONLY good thing the Western 'liberal democracies' have done in the last 20 years, and so, to an extent, serves as a fig leaf, allowing the reactionaries to point to gay rights to show how humane and benevolent they are. It's not that gay rights are wrong; it's that they're not enough.

The other problem is not with gay rights in themselves, but in what they're part of: identity politics, a trend encouraged (if not invented) in every way, by all those think tanks that the rich elites subsidise. Identity politics is the strategy of divide and conquer - pit all groups against each other to fight for a bigger plate of the boss man's droppings. Sure, everyone should struggle for improvements in the system as it is, but not see this as an improvement in the system itself, as the bourgeois media would like us to see the choice between the first woman president, and the first black president - both promising (roughly) to make things worse.

Neil Clark said...

"Gay rights are a good thing; the problem is that this is just about the ONLY good thing the Western 'liberal democracies' have done in the last 20 years, and so, to an extent, serves as a fig leaf, allowing the reactionaries to point to gay rights to show how humane and benevolent they are. It's not that gay rights are wrong; it's that they're not enough.

The other problem is not with gay rights in themselves, but in what they're part of: identity politics, a trend encouraged (if not invented) in every way, by all those think tanks that the rich elites subsidise. Identity politics is the strategy of divide and conquer - pit all groups against each other to fight for a bigger plate of the boss man's droppings."

Jock: I agree entirely. I'm not saying that I disapprove of gay rights (I don't) and I certainly wouldn't want to recriminalise homosexuality. But gay rights have undoubtedly become a fig leaf- enabling the faux-left to claim that Britain, despite its rapacious capitalist system and aggressive foreign policy is somehow 'progressive'. And like you, I opppose 'identity politics' in principle: we ought to be stressing what unites us and not what divides us.

Neil Clark said...

olching: many thanks.
I agree with you re punk. In the late 70s the British punk movement was sticking two fingers up, not only at the Monarchy, but at the 'old fashioned' Labour govt of the time-a govt that still had genuine socialists like Tony Benn and Peter Shore in it. While in eastern europe, the punk movement's ire was directed against even benign communist governments like Kadar's in Hungary. The socially destructive nihilism of the punk movement is all around us today in this post-political age- 'let's all look after number one, make lots of money and screw everyone else, cos it's all a load of bollocks anyway'.

Nick said...

I was on the streets in Paris in '68 Neil, but I don't recall being there in order to help the likes of Blair into power. I had other ideas altogether.