Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What's left of "the Left"?

The globalization of political discourse, increasingly through the blogosphere, is teaching many of us to think more about political labels. In everyday US political discussions the world liberal means something very different to what it has traditionally meant in Europe or the United Kingdom. Another foreign resident of this fair city, Phil at Finland for Thought, has been battling with himself for some time as to whether he is a liberal or not as he has become more used to the European sense of the word and more removed from the US rightwing habit of using it as an insult. Likewise, we can say the same about the Left. Previously I would have said without a second thought that I was generally “of the Left”, but now might do so more carefully. Again in the US debate it is striking that even the Dean wing of the Democrats doesn’t readily self identify itself as “the Left” even though it evidently is; preferring a label such as progressive. In the UK the big fight now in the Left no longer appears to be over how hard left you are on traditional economic matters (“not very” seems to be the answer for most of us who grew up in Thatcher’s Britain and got brainwashed despite our best intentions – I have a three year subscription to the Economist and actually quite enjoy a Starbucks double-latté, so what can you expect?) but rather between what in political science seems to get termed cosmopolitanism and communitarianism. Those are tricky to type, so perhaps its easy to discuss it as the pro-war Liberals versus the Guardian Comment page. This is of course a blatant over-simplification, not every neo-Wilsonian British liberal (indeed can you be a neo-Wilsonian British Liberal? I’m trying to think of a British muscular-liberal but keep getting blocked by the smiling, enthusiastic, oh-so-caring face of certain prime minister bobbing up and down and shouting “pick me! Pick me! Compare me to Wilson! Please! …errrrrr - you do mean Woodrow don’t you? Not Harold?”) thinks that sending the British Army to Zimbabwe tomorrow is necessarily the smartest thing to do right now. And not everyone who writes on the Guardian comment page is… well… Madeline Bunting. The end point of this is that now if you say you are of the Left this could mean that you are either Madeline Bunting or to all intents and purposes a Neocon and I’m not very happy with either.

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