We have so little time, but still the old guard wants to block any possible path to salvation, writes Jonathan Cook.
A group of 30 respected intellectuals, writers and historians has published a manifesto bewailing the imminent collapse of Europe and its supposed Enlightenment values of liberalism and rationalism. The idea of Europe, they warn, “is falling apart before our eyes,” as Britain prepares for Brexit and “populist and nationalist” parties look poised to make sweeping gains in elections across the continent.
The short manifesto has been published in the liberal elite’s European house journals, newspapers such as the Guardian. “We must now fight for the idea of Europe or perish beneath the waves of populism,” their document reads. Failure means “resentment, hatred and their cortege of sad passions will surround and submerge us.”
Unless the tide can be turned, elections across the European Union will be “the most calamitous that we have ever known: victory for the wreckers; disgrace for those who still believe in the legacy of Erasmus, Dante, Goethe, and Comenius; disdain for intelligence and culture; explosions of xenophobia and antisemitism; disaster.”
The manifesto was penned by Bernard-Henri Levy, the French philosopher and devotee of Alexis de Tocqueville, a theorist of classical liberalism. Its signatories include novelists Ian McEwan, Milan Kundera and Salman Rushdie; the historian Simon Shama; and Nobel prize laureates Svetlana Alexievitch, Herta Müller, Orhan Pamuk and Elfriede Jelinek.
Though unnamed, their European political heroes appear to be Emmanuel Macron of France, currently trying to crush the popular, anti-austerity protests of the Yellow Vests, and German chancellor Angela Merkel, manning the barricades for the liberal elite against a resurgence of the nationalist right in Germany.
Let us set aside, on this occasion, the strange irony that several of the manifesto’s signatories – not least Henri-Levy himself – have a well-known passion for Israel, a state that has always rejected the universal principles ostensibly embodied in liberal ideology and that instead openly espouses the kind of ethnic nationalism that nearly tore Europe apart in two world wars last century.
Instead let us focus on their claim that “populism and nationalism” are on the verge of slaying Europe’s liberal democratic tradition and the values held dearest by this distinguished group. Their hope presumably is that their manifesto will serve as a wake-up call before things take an irreversible turn for the worse.
In one sense, their diagnosis is correct: Europe and the liberal tradition are coming apart at the seams. But not because, as they strongly imply, European politicians are pandering to the basest instincts of a mindless rabble — the ordinary people they have so little faith in. Rather, it is because a long experiment in liberalism has finally run its course. Liberalism has patently failed — and failed catastrophically.
These intellectuals are standing, like the rest of us, on a precipice from which we are about to jump or topple. But the abyss has not opened up, as they suppose, because liberalism is being rejected. Rather, the abyss is the inevitable outcome of this shrinking elite’s continuing promotion – against all rational evidence – of liberalism as a solution to our current predicament. It is the continuing transformation of a deeply flawed ideology into a religion. It is idol worship of a value system hellbent on destroying us.
Liberalism, like most ideologies, has an upside. Its respect for the individual and his freedoms, its interest in nurturing human creativity, and its promotion of universal values and human rights over tribal attachment have had some positive consequences.
But liberal ideology has been very effective at hiding its dark side – or more accurately, at persuading us that this dark side is the consequence of liberalism’s abandonment rather than inherent to the liberal’s political project.
The loss of traditional social bonds – tribal, sectarian, geographic – has left people today more lonely, more isolated than was true of any previous human society. We may pay lip service to universal values, but in our atomized communities, we feel adrift, abandoned and angry.
Humanitarian Resource Grabs
The liberal’s professed concern for others’ welfare and their rights has, in reality, provided cynical cover for a series of ever-more transparent resource grabs. The parading of liberalism’s humanitarian credentials has entitled our elites to leave a trail of carnage and wreckage in their wake in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and soon, it seems, in Venezuela. We have killed with our kindness and then stolen our victims’ inheritance.
Unfettered individual creativity may have fostered some great – if fetishized – art, as well as rapid mechanical and technological developments. But it has also encouraged unbridled competition in every sphere of life, whether beneficial to humankind or not, and however wasteful of resources.
At its worst, it has unleashed quite literally an arms race, one that – because of a mix of our unconstrained creativity, our godlessness and the economic logic of the military-industrial complex – culminated in the development of nuclear weapons. We have now devised the most complete and horrific ways imaginable to kill each other. We can commit genocide on a global scale.
Meanwhile, the absolute prioritizing of the individual has sanctioned a pathological self-absorption, a selfishness that has provided fertile ground not only for capitalism, materialism and consumerism but for the fusing of all of them into a turbo-charged neoliberalism. That has entitled a tiny elite to amass and squirrel away most of the planet’s wealth out of reach of the rest of humanity.
Worst of all, our rampant creativity, our self-regard and our competitiveness have blinded us to all things bigger and smaller than ourselves. We lack an emotional and spiritual connection to our planet, to other animals, to future generations, to the chaotic harmony of our universe. What we cannot understand or control, we ignore or mock.
And so, the liberal impulse has driven us to the brink of extinguishing our species and possibly all life on our planet. Our drive to asset-strip, to hoard resources for personal gain, to plunder nature’s riches without respect to the consequences is so overwhelming, so compulsive that the planet will have to find a way to rebalance itself. And if we carry on, that new balance – what we limply term “climate change” – will necessitate that we are stripped from the planet.
One can plausibly argue that humans have been on this suicidal path for some time. Competition, creativity, selfishness predate liberalism, after all. But liberalism removed the last restraints, it crushed any opposing sentiment as irrational, as uncivilized, as primitive.
Liberalism isn’t the cause of our predicament. It is the nadir of a dangerous arrogance we as a species have been indulging for too long, where the individual’s good trumps any collective good, defined in the widest possible sense.
The liberal reveres his small, partial field of knowledge and expertise, eclipsing ancient and future wisdoms, those rooted in natural cycles, the seasons and a wonder at the ineffable and unknowable. The liberal’s relentless and exclusive focus is on “progress,” growth, accumulation.
What is needed to save us is radical change. Not tinkering, not reform, but an entirely new vision that removes the individual and his personal gratification from the center of our social organization.
This is impossible to contemplate for the elites who think more liberalism, not less, is the solution. Anyone departing from their prescriptions, anyone who aspires to be more than a technocrat correcting minor defects in the status quo, is presented as a menace. Despite the modesty of their proposals, Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K. and Bernie Sanders in the U.S. have been reviled by a media, political and intellectual elite heavily invested in blindly pursuing the path to self-destruction.
As a result, we now have three clear political trends.
The first is the status-quo cheerleaders like the European writers of liberalism’s latest – last? – manifesto. With every utterance they prove how irrelevant they have become, how incapable they are of supplying answers to the question of where we must head next. They adamantly refuse both to look inwards to see where liberalism went wrong and to look outwards to consider how we might extricate ourselves.
Irresponsibly, these guardians of the status quo lump together the second and third trends in the futile hope of preserving their grip on power. Both trends are derided indiscriminately as “populism,” as the politics of envy, the politics of the mob. These two fundamentally opposed, alternative trends are treated as indistinguishable.
This will not save liberalism, but it will assist in promoting the much worse of the two alternatives.
Those among the elites who understand that liberalism has had its day are exploiting the old ideology of grab-it-for-yourself capitalism while deflecting attention from their greed and the maintenance of their privilege by sowing discord and insinuating dark threats.
The criticisms of the liberal elite made by the ethnic nationalists sound persuasive because they are rooted in truths about liberalism’s failure. But as critics, they are disingenuous. They have no solutions apart from their own personal advancement in the existing, failed, self-sabotaging system.
The new authoritarians are reverting to old, trusted models of xenophobic nationalism, scapegoating others to shore up their own power. They are ditching the ostentatious, conscience-salving sensitivities of the liberal so that they can continue plundering with heady abandon. If the ship is going down, then they will be gorging on the buffet till the waters reach the dining-hall ceiling.
Where Hope Can Reside
The third trend is the only place where hope can reside. This trend – what I have previously ascribed to a group I call the “dissenters” – understands that radical new thinking is required. But given that this group is being actively crushed by the old liberal elite and the new authoritarians, it has little public and political space to explore its ideas, to experiment, to collaborate, as it urgently needs to.
Social media provides a potentially vital platform to begin critiquing the old, failed system, to raise awareness of what has gone wrong, to contemplate and share radical new ideas, and to mobilize. But the liberals and authoritarians understand this as threat to their own privilege and, under a confected hysteria about “fake news,” are rapidly working to snuff out even this small space.
We have so little time, but still the old guard wants to block any possible path to salvation – even as seas filled with plastic start to rise, as insect populations disappear across the globe, and as the planet prepares to cough us out like a lump of infected mucus.
We must not be hoodwinked by these posturing, manifesto-spouting liberals: the philosophers, historians and writers – the public relations wing – of our suicidal status quo. They did not warn us of the beast lying cradled in our midst. They failed to see the danger looming, and their narcissism blinds them still.
We should have no use for the guardians of the old, those who held our hands, who shone a light along a path that has led to the brink of our own extinction. We need to discard them, to close our ears to their siren song.
There are small voices struggling to be heard above the roar of the dying liberal elites and the trumpeting of the new authoritarians. They need to be listened to, to be helped to share and collaborate, to offer us their visions of a different world. One where the individual is no longer king. Where we learn some modesty and humility – and how to love in our infinitely small corner of the universe.
Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. He blogs at https://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/.
“Elite”, “Liberal” – amorphous terms.
The leaders of europe as in the us are showing increasing disdain for the state of and wishes of the populace.
They are to a great extent trying to replace their constituents with new, hungrier population – greatful for refuge from the havoc that we have created.
It’s a tragedy because it doesnt work for them finacially.
Yes, thank you for this Mr. Cook. Too little focus in the world on compassion, understanding and realizing that we do not “start” off with equal opportunity. Too much individualism and competition. Most of this is caused by capitalism, with all it authoritative horrors which gives us the isolation, the military industrial complex, the corruption caused by the campaign financing system, and the huge disparity in wealth.
I disagree with one of your ideas, and I wish you had left it out, and that is your blaming our “godlessness” as part of our decline. Religion is a personal idea and has not a shred of evidence to justify it. We all wonder why we are here and what the universe even “means” but the god thing is long dead. We can find the sociality many find in religion, in many other public and private forms. We do not need gods.
But politicians soon must come to understand what you say here, or we certainly are doomed, one way or the other. Remember that Nietzsche reminded us that one day the sun and the earth and humans will not be here. He started with that idea and tried to make the best of things. Plato and others noted that democracy is unlikely to really function well and he was correct. But revolutions have always been useful and maybe……………….
A Theory of Justice, by John Rawls. It’s a big book. I know, Nobody reads it anymore. 1971, they still play Led Zepplin and the Stones on Pandora and Sirius but few talk about John Rawls even though he’s still alive and Bill Clinton , President “It Depends on What Your Definition of Is Is”, gave him an Award sometime in the last century when when Affluenza was all the rage. . Affluenza is still with us, now more than ever. It seems Billionaires and Entrepreneurs have Fear of Being Left Out too.
John Rawls died, 81 years of age, in 2002.
You are correct. Evidently he is no longer with is in spirit either. You can still read the book though, I’m pretty certain.
“What is needed to save us is radical change. Not tinkering, not reform, but an entirely new vision that removes the individual and his personal gratification from the center of our social organization.”
I agree that capitalism cannot be reformed and requires a fundamental or “radical change”. However, the solution you offer is devoid of an example of how to organize the economy of the new society. Here is a truism: the economy of any society is the base upon which the super structure of laws, culture, politics, education, etc. are built. It seems to me that all the perils of capitalism that you so eloquently describe; and, including, poverty, hunger, predatory wars, mass incarceratuin, police brutality and murder, homelessnes can not be resolved under capitalism. We have an opportunity to build a new society based on socialism. That is the only viable way forward.
“Socialism” has so many definitions now that itn’t really very helpful to define it as the solution. We need to be much more concrete in what we propose if we want people to thoughtfully consider it, I think.
Levy was the author and fabricator of many of the lies that were disseminated to justify the bombing and destruction of Libya, such as the canard that Gaddafi had given Viagra to gangs of black Africans to rape Libyan women. Many African migrant workers were lynched from lamp posts as a result. Others found themselves for sale in the new Libyan slave markets.
He and his French Islamophobic cohorts practically invented the technique, adopted in the US by Drudge and Breitbart and in the UK by Nigel Farage, of making isolated or wholly fabricated incidents (he began with supposed Islamic anti-semitism in French schools) seem like a major “illiberal” trend when in fact it was based on a house of cards. The book, “Reflections on Anti-Semitism” by Alain Badiou takes apart these canards. Undoubtably a useful skill for a NATO propagandist and professional hype man of multinational corporate pillaging to have. Recently, he’s been claiming that the Yellow Vests are monarchist totalitarians using the same playbook.
Leftist here, who “passionately” believes in Israel’s right to survive. I guess we don’t all march in lockstep.
Can you please explain what makes the fascist Netanyahu state preferable to a secular, one state Palestine with equal rights for Jews and Muslims, whites and Arabs?
I’d like an answer to that one too, Anne.
Basic survival under threat of violence is the struggle Palestinians are forced to bear…whereas the state of Israel is quite well armed, protected, subsidized, and granted “special privileges” to steal and murder. The right for Israel to survive is neither in threat nor a question that is going to be relitigated anytime soon. But it would be nice if they would grow up learn how to be good neighbors. Then we could talk about how to get on with better ways for all of us to survive together.
What else can one expect from a manifesto spearheaded by Bernard-Henri Lévy, the cheerleader of Libyan misadventure, to mention just one fact? Also amusing to see a prominent reference to “increasingly brazen meddling by the occupant of the Kremlin”. Too bad, back then they had to blame the dog for having eaten their homework. Today “the occupant of Kremlin” is the culprit for anything and everything that you don’t like. How pathetic.
This article is really confusing to me. Here is an example: “our unconstrained creativity, our godlessness and the economic logic of the military-industrial complex”
First, I don’t see unconstrained creativity anywhere in sight. I see creativity is allowed only to the chosen few, usually people who will only repeat the same cruelty, mindlessness and banality required for receiving a very high paycheck. This is true in visual arts, music or the MIC. These aren’t people trying to question the system. They are people feeding off it and as such, not going to be creative in any deep, profound or much needed way
Second, what is wrong with being godless? When I look at history, I can’t truthfully say that being godful has a good connotation. Many godful people are not good thinkers, are extraordinarily war like, are very cruel to others and feel they own the environment. Of course this is not true of all people who are godful, but it is true of many. Likewise, being godless is no guarantee of goodness. I think the writer should reconsider recommending everyone be godful so that we will be “good”!
The MIC is full of godful people who have a limited vision creativity. I’ll need to read the original essay to comment further but Cook’s essay needs rethinking.
Yes, many of the “Godful” in the MIC really embrace survival of the fittest [SOTF]; at that level they’re determinists. But Dems in Congress, for example, who might read a New Age book or two but who can’t reject Bolton’s Venezuela coup (or make some noise about it) also basically subscribe to SOTF; and if SOTF isn’t determinism, what is?
Time for folks to start considering Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic field (at least for starters). IMO. As I’m not a plant here to hawk this cat’s lit…will try to demonstrate it by not mentioning him again under this article.
Sorry, Sheldrake’s stuff is pseudoscience. There is as little evidence for it as for any traditional religion, or as the prevailing ideology of the status quo. And irrational evidence-free dogmas will always lead to tyranny and abuse.
Seconded. Cook’s attack on the status quo here seems perilously close to coming from a traditionalist, right-wing, conservative position. The anti-imperialist movement is already constantly smeared with the ‘Putinist’ label, there is no need to give them serious justifications for that by flirting with ‘constraints on creativity’, ‘godfulness’ and general illiberalism.
As for ‘owning the environment’ – our problem is not that people think that. If you own the only realistically accessible source of food, water and oxygen in the world, that certainly does not entail destroying that source, as we are doing, unless you are suicidal. Making this an argument about the environment’s own freedom and sovereign rights is as counterproductive as it gets, since it obscures a matter that any rational person would agree on by replacing it with an extravagant and divisive ideological discussion. As far as I’m concerned – yes, one might say that the human species does ‘own’ the planet, since there is nobody else on it that is conscious enough to lay a claim to it. We owe other living things humane treatment, as far as possible, but we certainly cannot treat them as our equals. This does not in any way entail that we should be altering the planet in the way we are doing that now, either in view of our own self-interest or in view of our obligation to treat other living things humanely.
Thanks, Jonathan, for steadying my hand as I attempt to remove this plank from me own eye and for revealing how many others here are struggling with this same problem.
The endless prattle of theorists, political or otherwise, has rankled of late. Yet, so many seem to demand instant and well formed answers in return for the right to speak or to be taken seriously, it reminds me of those whose used to say if you haven’t fought in the War then you have no right to criticize it! As if some almighty resolve to our world-destroying problems will grace us in an instant, deus-ex-machina.
I’ll throw my lot with whoever said (maybe Einstein) that the same type of thinking that produced these problems will not provide the answers. So there, I’ve done my meager bit for namedropping and philosophizing. To your point: Status Quo, Gotta Go. There’s a slogan for anyone who wants it.
Other than that, the sinking ship metaphor is one I’ve carried too for a while now. Here on Earth As Mine (in every sense) greedheads hustle and hoard to cling to the top of the mast, to be the last to go. Reminds me of that old Leadbelly song: “It was midnight on the sea/Band playin’ Nearer My God to Thee/Cryin’ “’Fare thee, Titanic, fare thee well’”.
The first order and most important issue is not mentioned in this article – and its about the subservience of capital to the state. The problem with liberalism is they have it back to front.
No, from day one going back to the Whigs, liberals’ goal has been to make the state a servant of big corporate capital. Only social democratic parties, pressured by labor, have tried to make the state an ally of ordinary workers.
The elites are celebrating this discussion : ” Look at them. They can’t even think about proposing alternatives , because they spend all their time trying to figure out what all the labels mean. Our “Gaslight the Language” strategy worked beautifully ! We win , again !! “
I believe we are entering a new period in history where “success” and survival will depend NOT on maximising production, but on minimising consumption. The biggest consumers (often conflated with biggest spenders), will be at the bottom of the social scale.
This will make way for a democracy relatively free of the influence of campaign spending. We might see this as the ESSENCE of the yellow vests and most “anti establishment” movements.
It’s almost enough to make a Whiteheadian out of ya. The old generalizations don’t apply. Put it this way. There was a “feeling” about the EU, a oneness feeling. But then when this idealism (and any such like) triumphs in a crowd, the crowd judges itself relative to those on the outside. Stop and think. How much is a broadway ticket? How much is a major league baseball ticket? How much is a ticket to see Coldplay? Destiny has favored those with the “feeling.” Destiny has favored those who can afford the tickets. But I’d say look at these concerts. The music’s lousy (Coldplay an exception), but the crowd thinks they’re in nirvana. They’re “above” those who aren’t there. There are even some not there (not at the party) who have a little cash. But they are left out. And they think, “While those folks are losing their minds I’ll contact folks who are different…the old Friedrich von Hayek buffs.” So, we’ve pushed these people into a camp. At any rate, the aforementioned “feeling” exists right along side the attraction-of-von-Hayek. That’s why I say Whiteheadian. At the same time we feel the “general” thing that is a oneness, if you’re on the von Hayek side it doesn’t exist as a thing. It exists as an insane rejection. And if you’re on the outside you only see a peak moment of the oneness dance followed by a peak moment of the von Hayek dance, followed by a peak moment in the sun for the oneness dance, etc. If there’s any general sociological trend of one in particular, it’s hard to see…and how long it will “trend” requires a struggle with learning…to gauge at all.
I think you can see what Cook’s saying if you look at the nations lining up with Bolton on Venezuela.
We need to suspend our ideas of what are general trends that will continue because they are just. We need to think a little about blowback may be a bit stiff.
I can look at Scahill, Porter, Nairn, Bennis, Parry and say…meritocracy works! (they got in print) But it only works for us. The bigger phenomenon perhaps wasn’t a totally worthless cracy, but it morphed into something that has to give way. We can say it worked better before…for some whites. We should be thankful for the fact that it did work as well as it did. And now we’re walking around in a world where these folks are the last of the Mohicans. What can work better? What can work better is if we can let the light of these-folks-in-us shine. It’s the only hope. And more are coming. More are dissenting. We need to discern’em, friends. Wise as serpents, gentle as doves is how we need to be. So many writers in the old meritocracy couldn’t handle this or that, and resorted to boos or dope. But we have to outlast the this or that. It makes us stronger. Reflect before throwing pearls (comments, words). Reflect before taking that drink. Sleep on it. Getting through with faith…like the struggling non-liberals have to do does make us stronger just like it made them stronger. We can handle it just like they handled it.
Thinking of that book “Pig Earth,” by IIRC John Berger?
“The liberal reveres his small, partial field of knowledge and expertise, eclipsing ancient and future wisdoms, those rooted in natural cycles, the seasons and a wonder at the ineffable and unknowable.”
Wonder is real important. Go off to the Bruderhoff and look through their big telescope so the photons from the stars are hit’n your retinas. It makes a difference. I differ with this paragraph only in that I think we must fashion our take…our guess as to the unknowable. This era’s take. Of course it’s gonna be off some. Each age’s is. Liberals should never act as though abortion is an easy thing (I’m for choice but nukes are a bigger issue). Interventionist determinists shouldn’t be accepted because they’re too busy (with work/works) to know about Rupert Sheldrake’s ideas. Same goes for young Earth interventionists that are faux Christian.
Please, for gawd’s sake, don’t give us a long, beautifully written polemic against ‘liberalism’ without ever defining what ‘liberalism’ is!
You cant define it easily anymore nowadays, because its pretty much everything. Well, not really, but they claim it to be.
Reality looks different. I think “Hypocrisyism” would be the best term for it now.
It doesn’t mean what it used to.
The problem with the Lévy/Macron brand of elitist ‘liberalism’ is that it never truly made ‘the’ individual king – an indvidual’s status actually depended on the individual’s wealth and other forms of power. In other words, it isn’t truly liberal in that it does not provide everybody with meaningful ‘liberty’. As for climate change, given technological advancement, it would have happened under any regime that continues to leave a lot of room for the pursuit of power and competition for power, as capitalism does. Under any such regime, the powerful would seek to prevent such measures to tackle climate change as would reduce their share of power, and, if and when such measures were taken, to maximise the share of the price paid by the less powerful.
(Political) liberalism and rationalism – as opposed to capitalism – are not to blame for this
problem; their general principles are in no way incompatible with measures to prevent climate change. After all, it is only thanks to scientific rationalism that we can *know* about climate change at all. Calls for some kind of illiberal, irrationalist and communitarian climate-friendly alternative to the present paradigm would mean advocacy for a nature-worshipping, traditionalist, authoritarian theocracy exercised on behalf of ‘the planet’, ‘animals’, ‘future generations’ and other unconscious or non-living entities by a self-appointed, unaccountable elite. That would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A lack of humility on behalf of humans in general is something that reactionary elitists have always complained about, and it has never been a problem – the so-called ‘humility’ in a future illiberal system would be imposed by the elite on the majority, just as the Lévy/Macron crowd is trying to impose it now on the unruly Yellow Vests. Were such an illiberal system to materialise, the likes of Lévy and Macron would immediately find their place in the new unaccountable elite. They speak of their commitment to liberalism, but what they actually mean is elite power, and when any *actual* liberal principle stands in the way of elite power – which happens quite often – their real priorities become clear.
I think it was Jacques Ellul who wrote that books hardly ever effect people in a major way, change them. Who can really judge who has struggled with the writings the world’s current intelligentsia is so concerned with?
At first I had Linda Furr’s reaction, but slowly I realized (unless I’m wrong) that Cook left out a definition on purpose. To define it in a Wikipedia way would be a thing we couldn’t handle?
Regarding the individual being king (or queen), who really knows anything about today’s individuals? If we were sociologists in any quasi-functional meritocracy, we’d still use categories to attempt to understand them. If we were one of the million in Europe reading Richard Rohr [or close to a million, + those of course everywhere else], we might approach understanding any individual with enneagram concepts. It was sort of perplexing recently to see how quickly concern for Kurds in Syria went out of “discussion” (eclipsed by another distraction of course). There’s a big group of individuals–what do we really know about them? Patrick Cockburn tells us something. Chomsky tells us something. What I’ve thought recently is that if you’re not down there in the trenches with them [or him or her] for a protracted period like Ehrenreich or MSF you really don’t know much about them…”individuals”. Now, destiny and/or happenstance can put anyone “down there,” don’t get me wrong. But helping out Habitat for Humanity once in a while, or volunteering at a soup kitchen once in a while IMO doesn’t really help you know them. No, I’ll stick with MSF or Ehrenreich’s example [or choose a nursing career, or one comparable in today’s labor setting]. It’s a gamble, and it’s an existential risk (leap), and you may discover weaknesses in your own individuality that’ll disrupt like crazy [or our neoliberal economies may push folks into an understanding, and no leaps’ll be necessary]. But if we keep saying it would be right if each one were a king or queen, and really don’t know much about the each-one today wherever, or about any group of each-ones today wherever…does what we are saying make any sense?
I’m wowed [wonder IOW] we can filter radio waves and infrared and actually observe the star S2 closely orbiting our Milky Way’s central black hole [or technically it doing so 20K yrs ago], but I’m more wowed by how individuals I know can keep it together in today’s world.
This verbose warning was written with flourish meant to be read with skeptical wonder by a writer flexing his literary muscle before us, the crowd, I suspect, and while we all might understand the strong emotion presented, I, for one, could not discern clear logic behind the words. Perhaps preface with a concise abstract and end with a clear proposal for cure, I say.
As for attacking liberalism, I say bravo for entering a dangerous arena, yet not olé, tho I did enjoy the read.
I like Jonathan Cook, and have often found his article helpful, but I was both puzzled and disappointed by this one.
Like many others here, I am puzzled about what he is saying about liberalism. And I agree with those who feel that the big problem is simply that the word “liberalism” has a lot of definitions.
For the record, I consider myself a liberal – a classical liberal. ( I’ll not try to define my liberalism other than to say that my views are pretty much those of the late Ralph Raico, a historian of liberalism.)
Which brings me to the matter of “dissenters”, who are “the only place where hope can reside”. I looked at Jonathan Cook’s article to find out more about these people. I read:
“This new camp – let us characterise them as the dissenters – is not easy to characterise in the old language of left-right politics either. Its chief characteristic is that it distrusts not only those who dominate our societies, but the power-structures they operate within.
The dissenters regard such structures as neither immutable, divinely ordained ways for ordering and organising society, nor as the rational outcome of the political and moral evolution of western societies. Rather, they view these structures as the product of engineering by a tiny elite to hold on to its power. . . .
For the dissenters, politicians are not the cream of society. They have risen to the surface of a corrupted and corrupting system, and the overwhelming majority did so by enthusiastically adopting its rotten values.”
That sounds like me. As a classical liberal, I am definitely a dissenter.
But as I kept reading, it seemed to me that the solutions that Jonathan Cook was proposing basically involved massive expansion of state power.
And that, I fear, is simply to take a bad situation and make it worse.
This is a difficult read, but supremely important for twitter-befogged readers. The obvious and suppressed truths about Venezuela are 1) the poor are allowed to vote; and, 2) they know to which economic class they belong. The benefits of this state of affairs is precisely what imperialism does not want you to know.
CH should have printed my comment on this thread even if the logic may have been a bit obscure for some. The coup that is/has occurred is in the United States of America is what matters. The EU does not and neither do liberal elites/ schmiberal elites. . We are 18 years in now and hope for our Democracy fades by the hour. Some of the original perpetrators are still active in US government today. Vote. Sometimes they give you a sticker with a flag on it.
This column attributes to liberalism things that are not liberalism. They may be what Bernard-Henri Lévy really thinks and does, but as this column notes that is not liberalism either on key things like Israel, meaning any time he has an interest that real liberalism would not serve first.
Liberalism does support community. It is not church community, but it is community.
Liberalism does not support resource wars. That is the neocons and the faux-liberal hawks like Bernard-Henri Lévy (who was a key assist for Hillary’s destruction of Libya and Syria, plus of course everything Israel).
Liberalism is not merely all that is bad. That is using it as a political catch phrase for one’s opponents, not as the name of an idea.
“Liberalism has patently failed — and failed catastrophically”.
“The idea of Europe is falling apart before our eyes. The liberals professed concern for others has provided cynical cover for a series of ever more transparent resourse grabs”.
These two statements have me very confused, and this is why using labels to describe an ideology or an action is simply too pedestrian. Where are the ‘conservatives’ in this hodgepodge?
Of course we can’t understand these labels without some sort of modifier like ‘neo’, ‘fiscal-conservative’ etc but this article misses the mark with almost every paragraph.
“Resource grabs” are the result of blatant, mostly corporate capitalism, and a colonial ethos . The resulting deaths of millions belies any postulate, or oversimplification like “liberal”. Your example of Venezuela is apt, but would there be a blatant coup forming, with many countries helping in this coup if this country didn’t have its oil resources? Last time I checked, I haven’t seen the oil companies, with the help of US dollars, anywhere referred to as “liberal.”
May I suggest that a very real aspect of ‘Europe falling before our eyes’ doesn’t carry a liberal label at all. It is the direct result of an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels dictating and mandating to the rest of Europe what to do with their money and how austerity, and lowering their pensions is a good idea for the greater whole. The people controlling Europe out of Brussels are probably more the reason for discontent and rebellion for your ‘Europe falling’ than any colloquial labels one could cram into an opinion piece.
He’s referring to economic liberalism, the impetus behind the west’s colonial expansion and slavery in earlier times and today manifested in corporate capitalism, resource grabs in the developing world, and the bipartisan neoliberal agenda (privatization, deregulation, financialization, deunionization, liberalization of labor, housing, etc.,etc). The hegemonic ideology of modern western history and politics in other words.
Well said, Sean. You’re one of the few readers who has grasped the import of Cook’s incisive essay. This is not a critique of liberal vs. conservative politics. It’s a precise description of the deadly juncture to which advanced liberal political/economic/technological societies have lead us. The symptoms are unmistakable for those with eyes to see: Greed, violence, narcissism, the culture of the self, alienation from and hostility toward nature and the planet that sustains all life. The solutions are not to be found in political movements, or violent revolutions, in my view. As we said (but failed to do) back in the sixties: “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Get out of the sickness of obsessive materialism and consumer capitalism. Establish cooperative societies of like-minded people and build a sharing economy, a sustainable agriculture, a loving, spiritual community. Peace
True, but (neo)liberals wont tell you that thats their stance. They will lie to you, use the best and nicest words to manipulate you into thinking that they are the good guys, while they are essentially exactly what Orwell warned about.
So thts why its so hard to define “liberalism” today. Because its infiltrated by fascists.
Something big is missing from your article. Kind of vague on the cure aren’t you? Could you be more vague if you tried ? Would like to hear more details from the “dissenters”. It’s great to criticize but if you can’t come up with the goods then where are you ?? Even small voices need to say something. Where’s the vision ?
His articles have always called for the kind of pro-human, social-democratic policies the vast majority of the public wants. As opposed to the big-business sponsored neo-liberal policies of the past generation, policies that greatly enrich the richest at everybody else’s expense, and which the authors of this manifesto wish to perpetuate.
I think it’s clear from the article that Cook feels that the “dissenters” hold the key to the “cure”. He laments, however, that they are quickly being denied any platforms on which to critique the current system and build consensus for change.
For decades the corporate media perfected the art of censorship without raising awareness that the public mind was being intentionally constrained to a limited set of acceptable ideas. This all changed with the internet and social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, all of which are now under assault in ham-fisted attempts to deny “dissenters” their voice and their community.
The differences between Liberalism and Neo-liberalism are confusing.
Part of what is going on is Europe, the term Neoliberalism is used more commonly. In the US, most people have never heard of it, much less are able to define it, and many claim it does not exist, or exists only as an all-purpose slander against Democrats, much as the word “fascist” has no real specific meaning to most Americans, rather it just means “I don’t like them.”
Here are two recent essays by Richard Moser which help distinguish the two:
No one takes the next step. There seems to be a lot of flailing about.
Dr. Jack Rasmus has consistently analyzed the economic factors involved.
His landmark book “SYSTEMIC FRAGILITY IN THE GLOBAL ECONOMY”
addresses major issues.
These issues are not always beloved by liberals-progressives.
I think if the Democratic Party could promise jobs, job security etc. they would
attract a following. They have never been able to. (Perhaps they prefer the cash
from political donors!)
If you were an out-of-work worker would you take a secure job over
“Medicare for All”?
Before this, in my time, there were the Reagan Democrats. They voted by the
thousands for Ronald Reagan for President. Liberals wondered “Why?”.
The issues are, of course, complex. Most analysts run away from facing them.
—-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA
What is “a secure job” ? Companies are started, grow, flourish, fail.
All a government can promise is some kind of income security.
Government supported Medicare-for-all is long overdue.
When my husband lost his job it was the $1300 health insurance premiums every month that broke us financially.
No! Just No! The ills laid out here are more accurately attributable to corporatism and the national security state.
Liberal elite? Don’t you mean authoritarian elite? I don’t consider Donald Trump “liberal,” so much as a conservative racist athoritarian would-be dictator. He is hardly liberal. I would think neo-conservative of a rigid inflexible nature. Xenophobic and narcissistic as your article describes. But liberal?? Does that equate to progressive, as well?
Be happy to send you my thinking on US foreign policy, a piece I call:
9/11 Was an Act of Treason.
I’m a journalist by background, albeit at retirement age.
Noblesville IN 46062
Then you have fallen for the neoliberal propaganda, if you think that about him.
If he was a racist, he wouldnt kiss, hug, shake hands of blacks and other minorities all the time, not would he give them jobs.
If he was an authoritarian dictator, he would have used his power massively and long ago to push through the agenda people like you claim he has.
McCain was a neoconservative, and Parry also described the alliance between neocons and neoliberals in many articles here.
But yeah, Trump is no liberal. At least not in the modern sense. Good thing he isnt, because then he would be against the people.
What an overcooked goulash of misanalysis! Liberalism is not the villain. It’s the victim. The kiss of death for that once-upon-a-time Europe (and America!) Cook “laments” has been delivered over the past 40-50 yrs or so by Neoliberalism and Cannibal Capitalism. And the frontman for this band of wrongheaded “elitist intellectuals”, B-H Levy’s credibility in any case and for all time was dead and buried in the criminal ruination of Libya by the warwolves of NATO, for which he led the “intellectual” cheerleading.
It’s a shame that 40 years of right wing Republican propaganda pickled left-wing Americans’ brains to think that “liberal” means “left,” it doesn’t. It refers to, in its most specific form, individualist politics of “liberty” (neoliberalism) and at its broadest, the “Liberal Democratic Base Order,” which means centrism as a whole including neo conservatives and the Third Way. This entire spectrum of ideologies, and this word, is discredited by definition and we shouldn’t seek to reclaim it for the left, as it is opposed to our agenda in every form.
Very well put, Anne.
It is precisely the purpose of the ministry of information to rewrite history to support the political agenda of the ruling class. Liberalism is equated and redefined as fascism and fascism is elevated to the restorer of all that liberalism has stolen. What’s next? They haven’t attacked democracy as an elitist liberal conspiracy yet. But that is hopefully not what is coming.
Benito Mussolini defined Fascism as the merger of the state and corporate power. The theory holds that corporations are the generators of all wealth and so the state should support corporations and not be beholden to liberal democratic ideals where misplaced power is handed to elected representatives who serve the populace. Democracy is antithetical to Fascism. Mussolini also stated that Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism.
Liberalism is not the cause of Fascism but stands in the way of the complete cooperative ambitions of business and the government which serve the interests of business and only business. The citizens of the nation should look to the corporations which control all capital wealth as the providers of their livelihoods and do what ever corporations want if they want to survive. Citizens should not look to the government for anything. All government social welfare programs should be eliminated and instead only citizens who serve the corporate state will be rewarded with employment.
It is a recipe for disaster as demonstrated in hundreds of fascist dictatorships where human rights abuses have led to genocide.
Why does this seeming logical argument always result in the greatest crimes against humanity? It is because the logical extension of placing citizens under the control of a government that serves only the interests of the wealthy ultimately redefines the citizens of a nation as corporate slaves whose livelihoods are completely controlled by large corporations that seek to extract the maximum output of human labor for the least amount of compensation.
It is completely understandable that corporations want to do this and as a result we have seen globalization of the economy seek the cheapest sources of labor to produce the manufactured goods of the corporation. It is also completely understandable that the corporations despise any attempts to compel them to adhere to standards of minimum wages or other costs such as providing health care which corporations pay out from their coffers. This extends to government regulations that force corporations to curb pollution of the environment at great expense or government taxes which take corporate earnings and use them for the purposes of a government not aligned completely with the desire of the corporation to maximize its earnings.
What we see in the current capitalist takeover of the government is the creation of a government that is ever more tuned to the wishes and desires of giant corporations that is manifest in the governments abandonment of governmental roles such as protecting the environment, providing health care for the elderly, creating minimum wages, protecting consumers, regulating financial institutions, controlling military spending, requiring financial transparency, requiring government and corporate accountability and protecting the Constitution of this nation which is a sham rag in the eyes of the corporate state.
Post depression speeches by Roosevelt who enacted many of the laws of the new deal to address many of the concerns of a failed capitalism that was unfettered by regulations and which collapsed were squarely targeted and blamed unfettered and unregulated capitalism as the root causes of the economic collapse are abhorrent to the present establishment in Washington.
These are not liberal forces which seek to end all regulations and view the New Deal as an “extra constitutional” collection of socialist agendas. These forces are funded and supported by the wealthy corporations who oppose all forms of government which do not serve their interests.
To blame liberals for the rise of the corporate state is to deny the economic success of the nation which also provided for the needs of citizens of this nation and the post depression economic growth which resulted without any general collapse of the economy. If the snake oil that the peddlers of the current anti liberal dogma was correct then we should all be living in a collapsed economy right now.
Common right wing arguments include catch phrases which are not only untrue but which disregard the role of the government to enable their own economic success. Such statements are categorized as “anti government”. “Government doesn’t create jobs, corporations create jobs” is one of these anti government right wing catch phrases that are untrue. No corporation would have stepped up to create our interstate system or funded rural electrification or the space program or the internet or the mail system or public education or or any number of infrastructure programs. These were all funded by the government and all of them laid the framework for economic opportunities by commercial enterprises to increase their ability to expand production and their profits. Today. we have commercial space companies expanding new horizons that would surely never have come about if not for taxpayer funded research and development to develop the technologies these corporations now depend on. The Internet that supports an economic revolution in the development of products and services would have never happened if not for government stimulus and building the backbone of the information superhighway just as the development of the national interstate highway system by the government enabled the movement of goods from the sites of production to the consumer would never have been funded by some company.
In fact the role of government has largely been to create infrastructures where none existed before to enable corporations that used the new infrastructure platforms to drive their growth and profits.
The government creates no jobs? Hogwash and propaganda from the selfish billionaires who are so shortsighted that they cannot even recognize the benefits they have been handed like the Alaska Pipeline built with taxpayer dollars and handed over to BP for their own private use to make billions in profits.
I for one do not believe we have arrived at our national wealth despite the negative effects of a wasteful tax and spend government. It seems obvious that the government has provided the rails to move industry and technology forward and that that is one of governments essential roles to create a strong economy.
Taxpayers also fund the enormous military industrial complex which has no citizen consumers of the products it creates yet an enormous industry has been created and funded by increasing amounts each budget cycle. I suppose none of the jobs created there were the result of government spending of taxpayer dollars since after all the government doesn’t create any jobs.
Police, military, postal workers, firefighters, teachers all get paychecks from the government and yet these essential jobs must not have been created by the government since government creates no jobs.
The complaining by billionaires about taxes and the anti government propaganda they fund comes from the whining billionaires who rake in billions of dollars in profits because of the long and sustained efforts by our government to create the infrastructures that grease the wheels of industry and provide for economic growth and stability that are beyond the capabilities of greed driven corporations.
The hyperbole and propaganda of these ingrates should absolutely be ignored. If they have their way we will see in the coming years another great collapse of our national economy.
“The third trend is the only place where hope can reside. This trend – what I have previously ascribed to a group I call the “dissenters” – understands that radical new thinking is required. But given that this group is being actively crushed by the old liberal elite and the new authoritarians, it has little public and political space to explore its ideas, to experiment, to collaborate, as it urgently needs to.” – J.C.
Indeed. The “actively crushed” Jonathon talks about is also called ‘counterrevolution. Innovators (and therefore, energetic, imaginative thinkers) are not welcome. It’s not the newfangled toaster or application that is feared. It’s the political innovation that’s feared. Those who own capital and the world and have come their positions of power and privilege via a system – the current so-called capitalist system designed and dominated by the US post World War II – that could disappear if political innovators were let loose are not about to let that happen. Hence counterrevolution.
“Thinking About Thinking” –
“the absolute prioritizing of the individual has sanctioned a pathological self-absorption, a selfishness that has provided fertile ground not only for capitalism, materialism and consumerism but for the fusing of all of them into a turbo-charged neoliberalism.”
– an excellent distillation of the real “core” issue facing humanity. Are we all a disconnected bunch of individual skin encapsulated egos with no higher calling than to maximize our own wealth, greed, happiness, power, salvation, or “whatever” at the expense of each other and a habitable planet? Or is Kropotkin’s vision of “mutual aide” still a possibility? And can we somehow embrace a new (actually very old) myth system of mutual aide that understands our interconnections and values them, and each other and the planet over the self aggrandizement and greed leading us into the abyss?
I read the article. It is a one sided diatribe that makes little sense. It conflates liberals and liberalism with neoliberals and tries to identify the root causes going back to European philosophers.
I think the authors spin and blame of the liberals for ruining the planet and the future for all of its inhabitants to be ridiculous. If he had made an argument that proto fascism in Europe was threatening stability I would believe that. But to lay the rise of Fascism at the feet of liberals and only liberals seems like the argument presented is perfectly spot on the fascist’s viewpoint of who to blame for everything that is wrong with anything everywhere. The author has in fact made a very nice pro fascism screed against liberals without actually saying what the solution is.
Are we to believe liberals and only liberals are responsible for the downfall of the planet? Conservatives and their free market theology and Libertarians have had no part in any negative aspects of planetary destruction even though they they do such as the Koch Brothers funneling hundreds of millions of dollars into climate change denial funding which is actually destroying the planet (for real). The Koch Brothers had nothing to do with it? Not one bit? Just a great gathering of evil liberals or as some like to say “an evil cabal of liberals” arguing about which philosopher better represents epistemological tradition? Those guys? They destroyed Planet Earth? Really?
I’ll have to carefully consider the masterful arguments made here for a while. Okay, I’m done.
Not to say I agree to all in this article, but I think you’re missing the point a bit. He’s talking about Liberalism as the dominant force that started in the early 18th century. While getting rid of the feudal system, social cohesian, God and religion etc. it gave way to a new elitism, unchecked growth and individuality. Nationalism, conservatism, libertarianism, fascism are unavoidable reactions to liberalism. Thus, liberalism is to blame indeed.
In the US, it seems, liberalism is just seen as the political opposite of conservatism. If you reed the article with that mindset I understand your objections. If you want to know about the historical background of liberalism I suggest reading “Age of Anger” by Pankaj Mishrah.
Quite. Liberalism in its original sense meant small government (of course, much depends upon one’s meaning of small; usually small did not include government refusing to assist capitalist expansion, gunboat “diplomacy” and so on), individual rights (especially property rights), and while legal and political (again much depends on who were considered really equal: in the 18th C that would have meant white, propertied and male) equality were Liberal beliefs, aims, social and economic equality most decidedly were not.
Little has in reality changed among the mindset of the ruling elites: that is indeed the form of Liberalism to which they cleave.
I do not agree with the statement, “Nationalism, conservatism, libertarianism, fascism are unavoidable reactions to liberalism. Thus, liberalism is to blame indeed.”
One might as well say sexual assault, groping and raping of women is an unavoidable reaction to the way they conduct themselves. Therefore women are to blame for the abuse they incur (indeed)
It sounds quite wrong (hopefully) when the same logic is used against women. Unfortunately that very same logic used against liberals has a long and terrible history of turning the victims of crimes against women against them by blaming and the victims like they somehow responsible for the crimes perpetrated against them.
This kind of argument cannot be justified as applied to violence against women anymore than it cannot be justified when applied to arguments that liberals are responsible for “nationalism, conservatism, libertarianism, fascism” .
Thanks so much for introducing me to Pankaj Mishrah.
Neo lberals are Conservatives…..The Koch Brothers are neo liberals as are the Clintons.In fact the Clinton’s are Koch brothers moles and passed more conservative republican policies than any republican ever dreamed.
The DLC were funded by the Koch Brothers and corporations…..the DLC made the Clintons.
Worst of all, our rampant creativity, our self-regard and our competitiveness have blinded us to all things bigger and smaller than ourselves. We lack an emotional and spiritual connection to our planet, to other animals, to future generations, to the chaotic harmony of our universe. What we cannot understand or control, we ignore or mock.
And so, the liberal impulse has driven us to the brink of extinguishing our species and possibly all life on our planet.
As one who is not godless, which is to say, as one who believes in a Creator God who is not humankind, I have faith that there is ‘no’ possibility that mankind will kill off all of mankind and all of life on earth with it. That’s not what God has in mind. Also, ‘rampant creativity’ means what? If it means thoughtless creativity, then I would agree that that’s a problem. If it means creativity by those who don’t grasp that there has to be boundaries, then I would agree that it’s a problem. Otherwise, It’s a strange phrase. Imagine, for example, ‘rampant goodness’. Or rampant intelligence. Or rampant kindness.
As others have noted, words can mean different things to different people. That is particularly true of words like liberalism, conservatism, populism, democracy, and the like. I have been impressed by John Gray’s description of “the two faces of liberalism” in a book of that title published in 2000. Here are some excerpts: “Liberalism contains two philosophies. In one toleration is justified as a means to truth. In this view toleration is an instrument of rational consensus, and a diversity in ways of life is endured in the faith that it is destined to disappear. In the other, toleration is valued as a condition of peace, and divergent ways of living are welcomed as marks of diversity in the good life.”
“The predominant liberal view of toleration sees it as a means to a universal civilization. If we give up this view, and welcome a world that contains many ways of life and regimes, we will have to think afresh about human rights and democratic government. We will refashion these inheritances to serve a different liberal philosophy.”
Jonathan Cook has produced an extensive list of the problems–indeed disasters–that pursuit of the first variant has produced. But rather than condemning liberalism wholesale, would it not be useful to think about how the second face of liberalism–toleration aimed at ensuring peace among differing ways of life and governance–might be used to fashion policies that would reduce conflict by ending attempts to force other societies in a pre-conceived “ideal” form?
Toleration implies contempt.
It is a huge mistake to conflate CONFLICT with KILLING. If you prevent or prohibit conflict (argument, debate, displays of anger, confronting issues, and even physical confrontation), then killing is an inevitable result. Opposing forces or views sorting out their differences is the most fundamental motivation for any life form. Intentional killing of our own species is unnatural and virtually entirely restricted to man.
Outstanding article that intersects nicely with the late, great Terence McKenna’s call for an “archaic revival,” wherein pre-nation state communalism (we humans are social animals, after all) and its imitation of ecological symbiosis, combines with contemporary technological advancement.
Problem for the Lords of Capital, however, is there’s no money in that foolishness. Where are we with F-35 development, again…?
I believe Terence McKenna’s vision for pre-nation state communalism is what will occur following the inevitable collapse of the current empire. We can only hope that the planet remains healthy enough to support some human survivors.
Amen to that, Skip.
Isn’t the problem capitalism?
Remember these “manifestos” coming out of “intelligentsia” around the time of the Iraq invasion, and the focus on the “just war’. Bernard-Henri Lévy is a Zionist who speaks French. While I’ve enjoyed the fiction of the various novelists mentioned, their politics is all together another issue.
These are hardly worth a posting. They are shams particularly as noted Bernard-Henri Levy who comes up with these meaningless diarrhea. Call it liberal, neoliberal, classical liberal, neoconservative…blah…blah…blah.
It’s the same Max Shachtman-inspired crew that generated the Euston Manifesto, yes. Nothing new to see here, they just recycle the same ideas with a few new faces (such as the Hipster Neocons Michael Weiss, Oz Katerji, Jamie Fly and others) in order to keep things fresh. It’s a bit sad that they couldn’t even get those fools to sign this, they had to reach into the oughts era grab bag and pull out Henri-Levy and his cohorts.
Yes, Euston Manifesto. Thank you for the reminder of that cabal. I had months of debates regarding that arcane discussion about intellectual bloviation thay was a weird blend of neocons, Trotskites and the “just war” navel-gazing (civilized genocide if you will). Nothing’s changed. Somehow it seemed nent on protecting Israel.
This otherwise excellent article has one minor flaw. Jonathan Cook, in my opinion, fails to sufficiently distinguish between classical European Liberalism and the current dominant player ‘neoliberalism. While he mentions neoliberalism, he implies that it is a recent change in the ideology; when, in fact, neoliberalism became a dominant ideology in the 1980s in the U.S. and has since been spread around the Western world. He also fails to distinguish between European liberalism and liberalism as it is understood by most Americans. And even though American style liberalism, as used to be practiced by the Democratic Party, has been supplanted by neoliberalism since the Clinton administration, it remains an important distinction to make in an article such as this.
There is arguably no need to distinguish! Neoliberalism refers to the post-1989 free-market policies and the Washington Consensus, which is but a component of Cook’s real target – “Liberal Democracy,” ie the post-Second World War ideology laid down by Hannah Arendt and Jacob Talmon among the Cold War Liberals. This ideological trend birthed the Neo Conservatives and is the common denominator of the entire “centre.” It’s a recent trend to be hyping this ideology in the shrill manner that has been done since 2016 to “Protect Democracy” (oligarchy) is Max Boot and Anne Applebaum. BHL is just a clown in this wider capitalist circus.
Thank you, John for saying so clearly what I felt about this article. Cook fails to distinguish between real liberalism as we in America usually define it and neoliberalism. I don’t know how 30 plus folks define the word “liberal” but I can say that those of us over 70 do not think of it as Cook does. If liberal does not mean open minded, and generous of heart, caring for others and adhering to a strong sense of justice and morality, then I would like to know what word should take its place. Cook does not tell us, and he seems to discard those who to my mind represent liberal thought like Bernie Sanders, AOC, Eliz. Warren Jeremy Corben and dozens of others. If they aren’t liberal, then what are they? Progressives of course, but progressive only describes a philosophy of liberalism that promotes moving forward with liberal ideas : i.e. making progress with liberalism. Cook has mistaken capitalism for liberalism. They are most decidedly NOT the same thing!
This discussion about the terminology has blinkers on it. I had a discussion with a young school teacher who maintained that “DECADENT” means the very best of something!
I feel that Cook is spot on in identifying the desperate deceit in using words such as humanitarian, justice, democracy, or love, to mask parasitic greed (resource grabs). I also agree that fundamental values to counter this must develop at some “grassroots” level and focus on values not measurable in money terms.
This in my view requires abolition of the theory of “Creation” and all the Abrahamic or Judaic religions based on it and the worship of money. (These views of course, are only part of the discussion and collaboration that Cook calls for as needing to take place.)
Liberalism is tightly linked to capitalism historically and through to the present. It prettified itself a little, particularly in the immediate pre- and post-war (WWII) period, but it never let go of its deep connection to capitalism.
I’ve not heard Sanders or AOC or Warren, for example, even faintly hint at overturning capitalism. Perhaps I was out of hearing at those moments. Yes, they may suggest, push for something like Medicare for all, but that again is prettifying the beast, the behemoth (just as FDR with his New Deal did in order to save capitalism from what was recognized at the time as its being in grave danger from the growing turbulence among the working classes), not a seriously intended effort to muck out the Augean stables of corporate capitalism and its like.
Thanks to Jonathan for his thoughtful article. Living in France I clearly see this division, as all the media parrot the violence of the “gilets jaunes” but not the “forces of order” with their flashballs causing multiple serious injuries. All the political comments from the Macron clique tell us of the value of the EU and the ridiculous Germany-France couple renewing their vows, as if people do not see the power vs the rest.
To see a photo of “BHL”, the instigator of the Libya attacks under Nicolas Sarkozy, brings the horror home. Such people, finding “antisemitism” among the hugely Zionist-influenced French society, have no idea of the lives and needs of normal humans in France outside the cities and the environment needing care and protection.
ps I read the full manifesto, lauded in the Sycophant (sorry, Guardian) and wonder how such people can stand to live in the world of the rest of us!!!
Beautiful piece. Reminds me of Jung’s book Modern Man in Search of a Soul. We better find it fast, before the crazies finish us all off.
No, true liberalism possibly better known by the term progressive, was crushed by the abhorrent and rutheless neo-liberals, who masked their greed and lust for power with the supposed concern for the rights of the individual. Real intellectual thinkers don’t fall prey to the neo-liberal distortions of reality. Fake intellectualism of the neo-liberals allows them to delude themselves as to their superiority over the common man.
Superb answer to those exploiting the “crisis of European civilization” to reaffirm the roots of the crisis. Husserl pointed to the positivists and their rejection of the depth in experience in their truncated scientific reason for the malaise. Liberals they were, but at least they had socialist tendencies. Sure, irrationalism was part of the crisis, but the positivist stripping of value from reason fomented this reaction (Heidegger and others). The answer was not to become even more abstract and formalistic, but to embrace the fullness of experience in our science and reason. That has not happened to the radical depths that were needed, and despite Amerikkkan gesures toward the enlightenment, colonialization, occupation, invasion, unfettered capital expansion has continued the positivist crisis to the point of collapse. Fascism is a response to the crisis, but so is radical renewal of enlightenment. These bourgeois intellectuals (in the classic sense) can only wag the bones and speak through the death mask of the enlightenment, they have no idea of the living sense of enlightenment of a post-colonia pluralism that gives the grounding in experience of a radical new sensibility and logic.
The problem is that what we call conservatism is doing the same thing using a different rhetoric – and when we subtract the liberals and conservatives from the population, there are few left.
Those are the only two choices permitted in mainstream politics and society, and they correspond to the two ruling factions.
No-one really quite knows how we got here, no-one really likes what’s how things are going, but everyone agrees we don’t dare change it. It’s a bit like having bees live in your head.
This is a good and interesting piece, but as with so much of the journalism concerned with Liberalism, it gets a bit confused and loses its way.
The massive interventions of our era are often referred to as part of Liberalism.
I do not agree.
Genuine Liberalism never espouses interference in the affairs of other and certainly not war.
The truth is that governments like that of the United States and Britain have never embraced Liberalism, no matter what words they use.
They’ve certainly never for a moment in decades hesitated to attack someone they don’t approve of. They also assist in coups and insurrections, and it is just a misuse of language to say it has anything to do with Liberalism.
About sixty years ago, the United States started putting into place the elements of its intervention in Vietnam. Actually, it started earlier than that, in the early 1950s, as French colonialism approached defeat.
That “intervention” became a modern holocaust with about three million killed, many in the most horrible ways. And it had nothing to do with democracy, the artificially-created rump state of South Vietnam never having experienced democracy and serving only as a pied-a-terre for America in Asia.
Sixty years later, we see the United States having killed or help kill about two million in its Neocon Wars, which countries like Britain supported. Millions more were made into desperate refugees. This reflected similar considerations similar to those for Vietnam. Israel is in fact an American pied-a-terre in the Middle East, a special kind of colony, and the wars were intended to create cordon sanitaire around it.
There was no pause or shift between those huge and destructive events for anything that could fairly be called Liberalism. Nothing has really changed. Disregard for the rule of law, belief in national exceptionalism, and accepting that might makes right are, in fact, what characterize much of our American-dominated international environment.
What I see is just a modern form of imperialism, an especially bloody form owing to modern weaponry and the acceptance of killing more civilians than soldiers that has come with them, especially with air power. Where’s the Liberalism?
The author writes: “The loss of traditional social bonds – tribal, sectarian, geographic – has left people today lonelier, more isolated than was true of any previous human society. We may pay lip service to universal values, but in our atomized communities, we feel adrift, abandoned and angry.”
And I agree that that is the case. I don’t agree that it is remotely related to Liberalism.
Two tendencies explain it.
One, technology within a society tends to be de-centralizing. People can do more than ever before at home alone. Shop and buy stuff. Be entertained. Have chats without getting dressed. Order food. Some even work from home. This represents a social problem for all advanced societies, and it’s only going to become more intense. Some regard this as liberating, and it is in many ways, but it also has consequences that certainly are not all attractive.
Two, governments which are constantly involved in affairs abroad, such as wars and intervention, have no time or inclination for matters at home. Young up-and-comer leaders know where a career future is to be had in an imperial establishment like the United States, and it definitely is not in domestic social matters. They have almost become the butt of jokes in many circles.
And politicians have no resources left anyway for such matters, the military (plus its related security establishment) being one of most costly and wasteful parts of government. Modern weapons are breathtakingly costly. Billions for a single ship.
Another important aspect of all such discussions is the relentless march of globalization. I do not mean what the Alt-right means when it contemptuously speaks of “globalism.” No, I mean one of the inevitable economic side-effects of advancing technology.
Since the time, five hundred years ago, when most people never travelled outside their local village until now, when much of what is in your stores comes from other countries, the important thing working away and causing the changing arrangements is advancing technology – better roads, better vehicles, better ships, airplanes, etc. This is a process that is never going to stop unless we have a catastrophe.
And with globalization, there grows a need for international regulation and law and treaties. Everyone with products or services to sell wants to reach others, and everyone wants to receive from others – all safely and securely. An imperialistic country like the United States enjoys arguing that its military supplies that very security, but that is less than honest. Its military supplies a whole lot else that is not wanted by most people, and, in any case, cannot substitute for negotiated and agreed legal arrangements. It tends, and increasingly, to impose its own national laws and attitudes upon others.
Arguments berating Liberalism tend to diminish the importance of this and, in my view, tend to support American military dominance. We simply cannot have that in our emerging multi-polar world. The need for a whole new set of arrangements is going to be acutely felt.
When I think about contemporary discussions of Liberalism, I can’t help thinking of Gandhi’s wonderful saying, “What do I think of Western civilization? I think it would be a very good idea.”
You are absolutely right, but the problem is that words take on different meanings for different people. Liberalism has as many meanings as there are people who think they understand it. Words like liberalism, conservatism, democracy, etc. have so many meanings that, for all practical purposes, they are meaningless.
I agree with you. I do not use any of these terms any more in conversation or in writing because I have no idea how the person who hears what I say or reads what I write defines these terms. I am an old man who remembers the “good old days” when words had meanings. Am I a liberal, a conservative, or a moderate? Hell if I know.
I have to agree John. Twenty years ago or so when the right fell of the edge of the world and still managed to make “liberal” a curse word in the American lexicon the abandoned FDR base debated what label to replace liberal and liberalism with. In my dictionary (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate) under liberalism, @2,c; “a political philosophy based on belief in progress*, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties.” Those were still my core political beliefs, but I understood that in the war of framing I was on the losing side in that battle.
At the same entry for liberalism, @2,b: “a theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usu. based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard.” Here, I’ll have to paraphrase the ghost of Jim Morrison in The Soft Parade: “When I was back there in economics school, there was a man there who put forth the proposition that markets self-regulate. Self-regulate. MARKETS DO NOT SELF-REGULATE!” The manifesto is akin to the subsequent lyric – “Successful Hills are here to stay; everything must be this way.” The End Of History. If I hadn’t outgrown it, right now Id be laying down a full line of blasphemous profanity that would peel paint.
* Of course progress needs to be defined, or rather articulated. In this case, I submit that the progress is towards the perfection of those other elements of the definition.
“Genuine Liberalism never espouses interference in the affairs of other and certainly not war.”
I am genuinely ignorant about “genuine liberalism”. Who and when codified that thing? The usage of “liberal” dates to early 19th century when all countries developing ideologies (rather than importing them) were engaged in colonialism and various wars, so of which are not explained even today — why Crimean War?
Politically, citizens defer to experts when they do not feel that (a) they can understand issues properly and (b) they do not feel that their lives are negatively influenced by the experts. For example, experts may advocate less penal approach to crime, but citizens are afraid that muggers, drug dealers etc. will undermine their way of life without sufficiently heavy hand of the law. Nevertheless, there are instances of public being convinced that paying attention to who is guilty and who is not may improve their lives too, and some progressive district attorney got elected in USA. But foreign affairs are to a vast majority, including the educated elite, quite foreign. In that vacuum, liberal experts (liberal by their self-description) build institutions like this: “The [National] Endowment [for Democracy] is both a keystone of President Ronald Reagan’s legacy and a rare example of bipartisan cooperation and solidarity.”
I am afraid that Jonathan Cook calls his principles “liberalism” for a similar reason that Leo Strauss invoked Plato: sounds nice. In his case, his principles seem better than “liberalism as practiced”, in Strauss case, Plato was a bit of a fascist, e.g. believing that information that reaches non-elite should be very tightly controlled, so perhaps it was honestly very inspirational to the intellectual father of neo-cons.
“Liberal elite”?? — Just because it says “Liberal” on the label doesn’t mean there’s liberal in the can…
“30 respected intellectuals, writers and historians” — All the ones listed are novelists, except the historian and TV/radio talking head Simon Schama and B.H. Lévy; and to claim that the widely-detested rabidly war-mongering Zionist Lévy is respected is really stretching it!
They are respected in their own self-referencing clique, which includes the Guardian editorial board, and unfortunately this means they are seen as credible when in fact they are widely loathed by the population.
Tbanks Jonathan, a rare challenge to the self-serving ideology of a self-regarding elite. Virtually no political commentator or historian has been willing to acknowledge the unchanging essential motivation of this dominant ideology/religion of modern history. Rather, every cynical, disingenuous effort has always been employed to disguise its core purpose, which is to justify making the richest richer still at everybody else’s expense.
The pantheon of liberal heroes from the golden age of English liberalism (the two centuries after the Glorious Revolution) were far more candid in their thoughts than today’s elites. (See Dominico Losurdo’s Liberalism: a counter history and Pankaj Mishra’s From the ruins of empire.) Their pitiless ideology was constrained for a few brief decades by the challenge of a socialist bloc but its rampant hegemony since then is what has produced the forces today’s elites are bewailing.
As others have observed, a problem is that in the USA the word has a rather different meaning than elsewhere. In the USA the word was most popularized by and adopted by Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. So a US “Liberal” is more or less a European Social Democrat.
Met a biologist on a train a few years ago. He mentioned that up to 80% of the flying insects were missing in South France. Has never been a real story. I felt I was on the Titanic after striking the iceberg and the primary concern was losing ones luggage. Liberals and their grievance politics distraction will be our ruin.
These people believe in open borders everywhere. Except Israel.
“The manifesto was penned by Bernard-Henri Levy… Its signatories include novelists Ian McEwan, Milan Kundera and Salman Rushdie; the historian Simon Shama; and Nobel prize laureates Svetlana Alexievitch, Herta Müller, Orhan Pamuk and Elfriede Jelinek.”
Bernard-Henri Levy is an ardent zionist and despicable militarist with regard to Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. He is a thoroughly dishonest if inadequate “thinker:” https://partnershipblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/big-holes-left-by-bernard-henri-levy-on-issyrialibyaeudemocracy-bbc-newsnight-23-mar-2016/
Those who signed the BHL’ manifesto are banal opportunists. As Jonathan Cook writes, “They have no solutions apart from their own personal advancement in the existing, failed, self-sabotaging system.” What an ignominy!
All very reminiscent of the historical war drama film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel in 2004 ‘Downfall’. Hitler’s last days in the Berlin bunker discussing with his generals a ridiculous counter-offensive with forces that no longer exist, with the Red Army already in Berlin.
Meanwhile all the leading Nazis and General Staff are dancing and quaffing champagne with the sound of Soviet artillery shells landing just a few hundred metres away. Our own lunatic ruling stratum seems unaware of the forces that neo-liberalism has unleashed and imagine that they like Roland at the pass of Roncevaux who fought a desperate rearguard action against the Basques and died in this action. But there is nothing heroic about the lunatic elements who believe they are the way forward. They are a ship of fools and a deadly dangerous ship of fools at that. Whether enough people will wake up in time to stop the madness is a moot point. ”To do evil a man must believe he is doing good” Solzehenitsyn.
Great analogy Mr Duck with your “Downfall Comment”, I was thinking exactly the same situation? The Party must go on, like musical chairs, until the music stops & everyone is scrambling for the chairs? Unfortunately its the Human race that will be left without a chair due too our greed,arrogance, hubris & destructive tendencies towards our fellow humans & this Planet we call home, which we treat like a giant garbage dump? Liberalism & its bastard child Neoliberalism have brought us all to the brink of destruction due to its selfish promotion of “self” over the collective good? The endless Globalist promotion of Capitalist profit & growth at the expense of the Enviroment is a unsustainable model that we ate now paying the price for with Global warming & Climate change & the degradation of our ecosystems? Here in the South Pacific in Australia & where I am in NZ, we are currently having unprecedented heatwaves & the sea temps are rising massively affecting our fish stocks & forest ecology while you freeze in the Northern Hemisphere with temperatures colder than Antarctica with the Polar vortex! This Earth has been around for billions of years & will be here long after we cease to exist? Earth has seen major mass extinction events that has wiped out entire species? The Human race been around for a mere blip of time but this Planet & its resources are finite & unless we change our ways, like your Downfall analogy & face up to this reality, we are going to suffer the same fate?
Very well put. As a German who is bombarded with WW2 analogies since he was born, I can confirm the accuracy. Every time I read a new MSM article, this analogy comes to my mind. They are completely delusional and have no idea what they are doing and causing.
The MSM knows exactly what they’re doing, and exactly who is their target audience. All citizens under the age of 45 are the target….. Plan of action :
First, the citizens must be convinced that they are victims.
Next, the victimized citizens scream and cry to be rescued. Out from the shadow comes the Great One!
Finally, The Great One….becomes the new oppressor!
There is nothing new under the sun……This was the plan all along…..
The old “liberal” ideas simply have moved away from any coherent vision of the past, present or future. Western philosophy long ago reached a dead end and only incoherence and nihilism have replaced it. These intellectuals are living in an imaginary past as bad as those who talk about “making America great again”–same mentality and similarly based on incoherence and nostalgia. Meanwhile we have real conditions and real problems and no one is addressing them other than some of us on the “outside” of the mainstream which thrives on idiocies not realities. The mainstream Narrative is only about the authorities remaining the authorities and these intellectuals join in with that agenda not because that’s what they consciously want but because they prefer illusion to reality.
Just so you know, I come out of the same tradition and feel for them.
Yeah maybe but you have to work out nowadays so just do it anyway . And eat organic. Grow your own.
I believe we are in the hands of a criminal cabal of all political stripes
More info at link below.
I agree, as I usually do, and I appreciate the links. “Deep Throat” That Worldly Philosopher, had it right. I was thinking about the commentary and I realized that our divisions have been carefully crafted, often by the people cited in the article…
A link that is pertinent: https://firstworldwarhiddenhistory.wordpress.com/category/rothschilds/