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In the time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey

August 21, 2011 Leave a comment

When a journal called Jacobin publishes a lead editorial called “Dancing on Liberalism’s Grave,” one surely has the right to expect a good time: some music, or maybe steps. Instead one is treated to a small lecture about how one “should…be wary of slipping into a rhetorical posture of unrestrained invective.” Ain’t that some sad shit? It’s like your Quaker friend who wouldn’t celebrate when Reagan died, insisting that an old man dying with Alzheimer’s wasn’t any occasion for fun. But at least she didn’t call herself a Jacobin, for Christ’s sake.

So why should the left put away its boogie shoes when it enters the pet cemetery of liberalism? The editors quote Jefferson Cowie rehashing an old chestnut of Michael Harrington’s:

Unlike many leftists at the time, [Harrington] understood that the Left depended upon liberalism being strong in order to build upon. Others saw it differently, operating from the idea that if activists tore down liberalism then people would move to the “true” left.

Of course the view of the “others” is a bit caricatured here. Hitler certainly tore down liberalism, and no one save Stalin thought that Hitler was doing the left any favors. “Many leftists” don’t want to tear down liberalism just for fun (although it is a good way of having fun); rather, we want to build the left. And if lots of people are socialists, that’s a lot of people who aren’t liberals, isn’t it?

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