Friday, April 21, 2006

Emotional Correctness

Writing in American Prospect about "enlightened pro-war liberal" Paul Berman's response to Francis Fukayama's change of heart on Iraq, Jim Sleeper digresses to gratuitously kick the unpatriotic left.

As his example, he takes Daniel Lazare's unflattering review of Todd Gitlin's ode to patriotism.
Berman has a point in lampooning people who write as if terrorists were just anti-imperialists in a hurry. For example, when Nation reviewer Daniel Lazare excoriated even the anti-war left-liberal Todd Gitlin, calling him an apologist for "belligerent nationalism" just because he'd affirmed American patriotism in voicing his dissent, the review set that magazine's recently improved book-review section back several years. Gitlin's The Intellectuals and the Flag explains why and how he is a patriot after the fashion of the socialist leader Norman Thomas, who cautioned fellow anti-Vietnam War radicals not to burn the flag but to wash it. Lazare's hatchet job on such a civic-republican stance against the Iraq War is a chilling reminder of the old Daily Worker.
An amazing combination of bad writing, poor fact checking, and baseless innuendo, all in a single paragraph.

First, he gives no evidence that Lazare, or anyone else, "writes as if terrorists were just anti-imperialists in a hurry." On the contrary, the "example" he cites is all about patriotism, not about anyone's view of terrorists.

Worse still, Lazare's objection is not at all that Gitlin "affirmed American patriotism in voicing his dissent." After all, who could possibly care whether Gitlin is patriotic or not. The problem, as Lazare rightly notes, is that Gitlin has been viscously attacking any leftist who wasn't trumpeting their patriotism in the wake of 9/11. Here is a bit of what Lazare actually said,
When Katha Pollitt published a column in [The Nation] saying she would not fly the flag because it "stands for jingoism and vengeance and war," [Gitlin] was incensed. He fired back with an article in Mother Jones accusing certain unnamed leftists of "smugness, acrimony, even schadenfreude"--an especially incendiary charge in those super-heated times, since it implied that Pollitt and her co-thinkers derived pleasure from the suffering around them. After finishing with them, Gitlin attacked Noam Chomsky and the late Edward Said for statements he regarded as foolish or disloyal, and then rounded on Indian novelist Arundhati Roy for daring to suggest that Osama bin Laden was Bush's "dark doppelganger" and that "the twins are blurring into one another and gradually becoming interchangeable." Today, with postinvasion deaths in Iraq outnumbering those in Lower Manhattan by better than thirty to one, Roy's sentiments seem positively mild. Yet for Gitlin they were indicative of "a prejudice invulnerable to moral distinctions"....
So, it all starts with Gitlin's, in my view quite despicable, attacks on people like Pollitt and Chomsky for what amounts to emotional incorrectness. It is not that they did anything wrong, or that they advocated anything wrong, it's just that they were insuffuciently enthusiastic about flag and country. Not a whole lot better than Hitchens' hysterical flag-waving denunciations of Chomsky and others after 9/11.

Thus the "Daily Worker" slur, echoing Berman's description of the Nation as "The Weekly Purge" and implying an attempt at enforced ideological conformity, turns out to be a much better description of Gitlin's politics than Lazare's.

And as Lazare goes on to point out both in the review and in his response to Gitlin's furious attack on the review, Gitlin has always been a tactical, rather than a principled opponent of the war. For more on the significance of this distinction, check out this excellent recent interview with Scott Ritter.

Also worth checking out is Michael J. Smith's response to a similar attack on Lazare's review by Giltin's friend, Eric Alterman.

Or maybe try some Camus.


At 7/22/2006 3:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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