Who Answers to the Name of Liberals?


"Make no mistake," Bruce Ackerman and Todd Gitlin proclaimed in a kind of liberal manifesto posted a couple of day ago to the online edition of the American Prospect: "We believe that the use of force can, at times, be justified. We supported the use of American force, together with our allies, in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. But war must remain a last resort. The Bush administration's emphatic reliance on military intervention is illegitimate and counterproductive. It creates unnecessary enemies, degrades the national defense, distracts from actual dangers, and ignores the imperative necessity of building an international order that peacefully addresses the aspirations of rising powers in Asia and Latin America."  ("We Answer to the Name of Liberals," October 18, 2006.) 


Imagine how rotten the state of affairs in the Greater United States of America must be, when the best thing that an American can say for himself and others is that they are all liberals—and then, with trumpets blaring, they affirm that they have supported the majority their favorite state's imperial enterprises over the past couple of decades! 

Notice, too, how narrow, how limited, and how circumscribed Ackerman – Gitlin’s discussion is.  Which areas of contemporary life fall within its purview?  Which interests and concerns? And which don’t?

We read no further than the opening sentence of their fourth paragraph—prior even to the paragraph I quoted at the outset—before we are confronted by an affirmation of their core belief “that the state of Israel has the fundamental right to exist….”

So, out of somewhere in excess of 192 states in the world (192 being the number of UN Member States—not every state is a member), these American liberals single-out Israel for affirmation of a right that is recognized nowhere else in the canons of international law.  

Why would American liberals fetishize the "state of Israel"—a state that, in its relations with its neighbors, is second only to the United States in its illiberalism? 

Does North Korea enjoy a fundamental right to exist?  And if not North Korea, then how about the state of North Korea?

How about Iran?  Syria?  Lebanon? 

How about Iraq, prior to March 19, 2003?

The state of Iraq?  (Which, in any real-world sense of the term, ceased to exist as a unitary state some time shortly after March 19, 2003.)

I mean, are we really supposed to believe that true American liberals believe (a) that the use of force can, at times, be justified; and (b) that the use of American force was in fact justified in certain theaters A, B, C,…? 

My goodness.  Autumn is upon us.  As are this November's national elections.  The air grows chillier by the week.  And I feel a case of the flu coming on.    

For any of you who, like me, are feeling the need for some liberal doses of real liberalism to counter the strain of it that includes Bruce Ackerman, Todd Gitlin, and what Pat Buchanan might call the Amen Chorus of Liberals at the American Prospect, how about a return to L.T. Hobhouse’s discussion from a century ago (Liberalism, 1911)?

In Hobhouse’s introductory chapter, under the subheading “International Liberty,” he wrote that the principle of “non-interference” constitutes the “supreme wisdom in international affairs.”

Hobhouse continued (p. 21):

(1) It is of the essence of Liberalism to oppose the use of force, the basis of all tyranny.
(2) It is one of its practical necessities to withstand the tyranny of armaments. Not only may the military force be directly turned against liberty, as in Russia, but there are more subtle ways, as in Western Europe, in which the military spirit eats into free institutions and absorbs the public resources which might go to the advancement of civilization.
(3) In proportion as the world becomes free, the use of force becomes meaningless. There is no purpose in aggression if it is not to issue in one form or another of national subjection.

A far cry from the Ackerman – Gitlin strain.  Indeed.  As Article 2, Chapter I of the Charter of the United Nations (June, 1945) elaborated these same principles (never superseded, incidentally—though ever since the collapse of the old Soviet bloc, a lot of cynics have tried):

The Organization and its Members, in pursuit of the Purposes stated in Article 1, shall act in accordance with the following Principles:
1. The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.
2. All Members, in order to ensure to all of them the rights and benefits resulting from membership, shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the present Charter.
3. All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.
4. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
5. All Members shall give the United Nations every assistance in any action it takes in accordance with the present Charter, and shall refrain from giving assistance to any state against which the United Nations is taking preventive or enforcement action.
6. The Organization shall ensure that states which are not Members of the United Nations act in accordance with these Principles so far as may be necessary for the maintenance of international peace and security.
7. Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll. 

We might be able to do better than these principles—but not much better.  Combined, they express the elements of a truly liberal international order.  Take it or leave it.

Instead, all that the liberalism (so called) of Ackerman – Gitlin promises is more of the same kind of world described by Thucydides some 25 centuries ago, in the voice of an Athenian negotiator:

For ourselves, we shall not trouble you with specious pretences—either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us—and make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did not join the Lacedaemonians, although their colonists, or that you have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both; since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.  

Do you honestly believe that this differs in the least from the world of the American President, the Weekly Standard, and John Yoo?     

"We Answer to the Name of Liberals," Bruce Ackerman and Todd Gitlin et al., American Prospect, Web Exclusive, October 18, 2006 
List of Signatories
"Bush's Useful Idiots…The Strange Death of Liberal America," Tony Judt, London Review of Books, September 21, 2006
AGM-86C Conventional Air-Launched Cruise MissileBoeing Integrated Defense Systems 
Book V, Chapter 17, History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides, 431 B.C.  Trans. Richard Crawley (as posted by Project Gutenberg)
Liberalism, L.T. Hobhouse (London: Williams and Norgate, 1911).  (As posted to The Online Books Page.)
Article 2, Chapter I of the Charter of the United Nations, June, 1945

"Who Answers to the Name of Liberals?" ZNet, October 20, 2006



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