academic sounds off quite interestingly
July 13, 2006 2:42 AM   Subscribe

The anti-globalisers are flakes, Samuel Huntingdon is all about the decline of white hegemony, Bin Laden is ‘the illegitimate child of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan’ – Fred Halliday tells it like it is. (via, but you might well have filtered it out on the assumption that it's one of the tedious right-ring rants that they seem obsessed by nowadays.)
posted by Mocata (30 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Man, the terms "liberal" and "left" are so confused these days they make hardly any sense at all. But in general there are two kinds of "liberal" one is the domestic liberal, which supports things like welfare, social security, universal healthcare, etc. On the other hand you have a more generic "liberal" who supports open society, democracy, and free markets. A lot of Neo-cons are actually "Liberal". It's what we mean when we say "Liberal Democracy".
posted by delmoi at 4:18 AM on July 13, 2006

After reading this, I feel a compelling need to be much better informed. Interesting article, thanks.
posted by teleskiving at 4:23 AM on July 13, 2006

The dictionary definition of 'liberal' sounds very much like a lowercase-L libertarian.

The Democrats... I don't know what they are, but they're not liberal. They're something else.
posted by Malor at 4:53 AM on July 13, 2006

this is a good, good post. It summarises the arguments I've been having for the last three years with my friends on the left and right and will prove to be a useful reference. My thoughts (I'm probably in the Tariq Ali camp, for full disclosure):

t's true that imperialism and capitalism can advance societies and create new classes and the opportunity for resistance (c.f. China). Tactical anti-imperialism is still a good idea though. What does a leftist look like supporting intervention in Kosovo or Iraq? Christopher Hitchens, that's what. It's a 'which side are you on' thing - a tactical thing. And the leftist should be on the side of the people who are being oppressed, occupied and bombed. Riverbend, Salam Pax and all the other culturally pro-Western bloggers want the fucking troops out, too, for what it's worth.

There's also the very good argument that womens' rights have gone to shit in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo post-intervention. And take a look at the interventions-for-which-rights-are-an-argument in the context of all the other interventions, such as Guatemala, Chile and Argentina (despot installed, rights decreased post-intervention). The leftist should build up a coherent theory of US intervention that explains all of these things together.

I think the only case in which the leftist should support intervention is in a world war two type scenario, when a coherent fascist alliance is truly threatening to take over large swathes of the world. A civilisational clash, existing or mythological, between an imperialist coalition and a bunch of relatively decentralised terrorists and Islamist radicals, doesn't match up to this scale.

On direct cultural issues, like the Muhammad Cartoon or the Hijab in French Classrooms, it's more acceptable for leftists of conscience to disagree with each other. There's a real argument there that a communally-responsible state has a right to fight the oppression of women or the silencing of a free press by an extremist mob. That argument holds less water when the states involved have radical anti-immigrant movements and policies, though.

(please attach a large IMHO to this whole screed, by the way.)
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:51 AM on July 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

BTGoG: Thoughtful, interesting comments overall, but I nearly spit out my morning cuppa at "womens' rights have gone to shit in Afghanistan... post-intervention." I didn't realize there was a circle of hell lower than where women were held captive under the Taliban regime...
posted by twsf at 6:07 AM on July 13, 2006

Right enough, twsf. In the case of Afghanistan, the intervention has not IMPROVED womens' rights overall. Immediately following the intervention, a small circle of rights for middle and upper class women in the Kabul area has opened up, and very modest gains were made in other areas. Since the resurgence of the Taliban of late, most of the new rights in non-Kabul areas have disappeared and things are pretty much the same as under the Taliban, with the added risks and limitations of occupation and increasing levels of violence.
posted by By The Grace of God at 6:11 AM on July 13, 2006

And I guess this is where I part ways with the folks on the Left who are so eager to reinforce their (well justified) despise for the Bushies that they can't 1) recognize those occasions when even folks we disagree with philosophically may yet do something that's the right choice, and 2) reconcile themselves to the idea that in the real world even the best-intentioned, most effective efforts often don't take a straight parth toward progress. Don't let the best be the enemy of the good...
posted by twsf at 6:20 AM on July 13, 2006

twsf, I'd be very interested to see any documentation you have on progress in Afghanistan. I opposed the invasion myself but still hoped it would benefit the women there, and was very disappointed when what I saw and read depicted very little progress for most Afghan women. I have seen fashion shows, womens' magazines and radio shows, and other cultural advances for urban women in Afghanistan. I just worry that the growing military divide between Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan precludes these advances reaching the majority of women. I'd be really pleased to see some substantive achievements for women in the countryside and villages.
posted by By The Grace of God at 6:30 AM on July 13, 2006

I investigated a little the Halliday's proposition that bin Laden is the illegitimate child of Reagan and Thatcher.

Bin Laden was born in March 1957.

At this time Ronald Reagan was in his GE Playhouse period of his Hollywood career, but did still do an occasional film. Ron Reagan Jr would be born in 1958 so Sr. was still fertile. Margaret Thatcher had her twin children in 1953 and had run unsuccessfully several times for parliament until 1958 when she succeeded. So there is a kind of blank space in both their lives in which they could have met and had bin Laden. Interesting theory Halliday has.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:38 AM on July 13, 2006

Bin Laden is a Pisces? I knew it.
Pisces are the most impressionable of the twelve zodiac signs. Deeply empathetic, they often exhibit a gentle, patient nature, but one that is in want of inspiration. Pisces can be deeply affected by and completely absorbed into their environment.

Pisces adapt well to their circumstances, both good and bad. They are generous, amiable, positive natured people with a deep sense of kindness and compassion. Pisces are highly tuned in to everything around them including the feelings of others. Pisces are socially popular because of their easygoing and likable manner. They have an uncanny sense of perceiving what a person wants or needs, and delivering it....
posted by pracowity at 6:48 AM on July 13, 2006

obligatory wikipedia link.

As long as liberalism is tied to the class system, it will be a very confused philosophy.

I like what he has to say regarding UN Reports vs New Left Review, but not what he has to say about the globalization's view of anti-capitalism.
posted by eustatic at 6:51 AM on July 13, 2006

Do you still call yourself a socialist?

Fred Halliday: I don’t, because I think it’s too easily misunderstood. I associate myself with much of the radical critique of capitalism. But much of what socialism tried to be—planning society, promoting equality—I agree with. But I can’t associate with either the authoritarian or the ineffective trends which have defined socialism in recent decades. The anti-globalization movement has taken over a critique of capitalism without, to a minimal degree, reflecting on what actually happened in the 20th century. You can’t denounce capitalism in the name of a radical alternative without thinking about what happened when we tried a radical alternative.

1) of course you can't, but who are you talking about?
Michael Albert's speech at Porto Allegre 2003

2) it's the globalization movement, not "anti"
posted by eustatic at 7:38 AM on July 13, 2006

This is good. Thanks for the post.

As for 'liberal,' I think Americans need three different categories:

1) Progressive 'liberals' i.e. the American 'Left' (hippies, radicals, charitable volunteers, anti-corporate types)
2) Traditional liberalism, which is the liberalism that treats citizens as rights-bearing-persons. Most political discussions, including the Democrat/Republican split, happen without ever challenging this broad sense of liberal rights.
3) Neo-liberalism, or the Washington consensus, which argues that capitalism and free markets will produce traditional liberal principles in despotic regimes, including democracy and civil rights.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:02 AM on July 13, 2006

Excellent interview, and BtGoG, well-put comments.

eustatic: Among the radical anticapitalist movements of the 20th century are Soviet Communism and early fascism. I believe Halliday's pointing up the danger inherent in holding up (unreflective) 'solidarity' as a cardinal virtue. This is a sensible point, and links up with Hitchens banging on about the same thing, though Hitchens is more sly about using his on-the-ground reportage to win moral authority.
posted by waxbanks at 8:12 AM on July 13, 2006

It's always nice to hear a well balanced take on things. Nice article!
posted by BillJenkins at 8:16 AM on July 13, 2006

tswf and BtGoG- We've discussed this recently, but I'll just say again that Afghani women -are- worse off post-invasion, since even poverty and oppression at the edge of survivability can be worsened by the brutality of starvation and brutality unto death. Their conditions are worsened by infrastructure destruction which makes it impossible to get necessities, and by the heated warfare between rival factions between which they are caught. Check out RAWA.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:20 AM on July 13, 2006

Ack. "between... between" and "brutality... brutality." Need more coffee.
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:22 AM on July 13, 2006

Good stuff. Halliday sounds a lot like Orwell.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 8:28 AM on July 13, 2006

3) Neo-liberalism, or the Washington consensus, which argues that capitalism and free markets will produce traditional liberal principles in despotic regimes, including democracy and civil rights.

Neo-liberalism? Is Von Mises new again?
posted by three blind mice at 9:00 AM on July 13, 2006

Newer than John Locke, yes. :-)
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:10 AM on July 13, 2006

Really enjoyed the article. The man is talking an awful lot of sense.

Meanwhile, that Porto Allegre speech linked by eustatic reads as naive and self-obsessed.
posted by ddf at 9:11 AM on July 13, 2006

Anotherpanacea - I'm afraid I can't agree that the current awful situation in Afghanistan is an argument for why the U.S. shouldn't have invaded. From the fascinating site you recommend: UN details atrocities committed over 23 years of conflict in Afghanistan.
posted by twsf at 9:12 AM on July 13, 2006

Good job everything is different now!
posted by Artw at 9:59 AM on July 13, 2006

Okay, I'm confused. How does an article about how the US-backed Karzai government has appointed criminal warlords support the argument that the US invasion was justified or effective?

(Karzai is appointing these guys because he's fucked. He needs to align with existing forces or he can't make any progress on the ground, but the existing forces are frequently war criminals. He can't please foreign donor countries or non-aligned Afghans.)
posted by By The Grace of God at 10:17 AM on July 13, 2006

“What’s all this stuff about clash of civilizations? It’s very simple. You go to the library. You read the books. You read the history. You learn the language. You go and live in those countries. And on the basis of that, you understand them.”

Amen. And I also agree that "understanding them" does not necessarily mean "agreeing with them". I could eventually understand the cultural motivations behind, say, female genital mutilation, but I sure as hell will never accept it. After all, there is plenty in my own culture I disagree with...
posted by Skeptic at 10:20 AM on July 13, 2006

That's a great post Mocata. Thanks! It's funny isn't it that on complex issues there's a tendency to get caught up in all-or-nothing propositions and dogmatic recital. I do it too and it's articles like these that make me go - hey, wait a minute, let's do some research, let's do some thinking....
posted by storybored at 10:39 AM on July 13, 2006

3bm: I always thought that the Mises-as-neoliberal statement was a wee bit odd, as the current-day neoliberals want to establish/maintain transnational governmental trade bodies, while Misesians (especially Rothbard) would vehemently oppose WTO/World Bank/FTA type organizations.

Now, these institutions may serve Austrian ends, but one thing that the modern Austrian School won't tolerate is ideological impurity. I am reminded of the story in Commanding Heights where Mises looked a roomful of Hayekians in the eyes, and proclaimed "You're all statists!"
posted by Kwantsar at 10:49 AM on July 13, 2006

It's funny isn't it that on complex issues there's a tendency to get caught up in all-or-nothing propositions

I started a response on the Afghanistan question that twsf, BTGoG and others were discussing, and this comment seemed really fitting.

When the US started into Afghanistan, I found myself cursing Bill Clinton. Because while everybody agreed that the US was right to do so, nobody could say exactly why. There was no coherent philosophy of intervention. The 90s had offered a golden opportunity to develop such a philosophy, but it had been squandered.

I think it's fairly obvious 5 years on that the invasion was done primarily because we couldn't think of anything else to do, and as a consequence we didn't really know what we were setting out to accomplish, and that this lack of focus has had such disastrous consequences that it might well have been better had we done nothing.

I take this incident as emblematic of the phenomenon that storyboard summarizes, and much of what Halliday is touching on. Boiling these questions down to yes/no answers -- was Afghanistan justified? do you trust Western media or Al-Jazeera? are you with us or against us? -- frequently doesn't just obscure the details, it obscures the entire issue. And it's both delusional and dangerous to treat people as fellow travelers -- much less to trust them in implementing their vision -- simply because you both come down on the same side of the divide.
posted by bjrubble at 11:20 AM on July 13, 2006

twsf- That's a good article. Here's one from May 6th, 2006: Women rights situation in Afghanistan worries AIHRC: "[In 2005], 154 self-immolation cases involving women were reported from the western zone alone." Here's another: Attacks, unemployment plague Afghanistan. And another: HRW: Most of the 34 New Police Chiefs Are Human Rights Abusers. And another: Warlords Dominate New Parliament.

Improvements are judged by comparing the 'before' with the 'after.'
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:19 PM on July 13, 2006

We have had Halliday and his three dustbins before, this is a really interesting interview though. Thanks for posting Mocata.

Solidarity campaigns are a major pass time for the left ( i seem to have found myself signed up to a few of them anyway ) and its true that we don't know enough about the causes we like to think we are fighting for. He makes a good point that we should apply the same level of scrutiny to the 'Third World' press as we do our own 'Western' press.

But this is hardly blistering criticism of the left, more like avocation of thoughtful fence sitting. Compare it to his robust critique of rightwing stalwart Sam Huntingdon, or his thoughts on mr Bush:

"Let us be clear about it: the U.S. role in international medical and family-planning policy, its opposition to contraception and abortion, and its mishandling of the issue of AIDS—it’s criminally irresponsible and will lead to the deaths of many millions of people. George Bush should be indicted for mass murder because of his policies on AIDS. As should the Pope—both this one and the previous ones."

posted by verisimilitude at 4:00 PM on July 13, 2006

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