Nick Cohen and the “collapse in liberal principles”


by Sunny
13th June, 2010 at 1:19 am    

Nick Cohen has some rambling blog-post in which he juxtaposes a whole bunch of events, described very briefly, to come up with the radical and original conclusion that there is far too much “liberal cowardice”. You never saw that coming did you? He writes at the end:

The collapse in liberal principles in the past decade has been so widespread that one vignette was bound to become a representation of the wider disintegration.

Liberal principles eh? Do you think those might include not trying to justify torture [link fixed]? How about demanding that governments respect Habeas Corpus? What about not defending state terrorism? Does a person who stands up for liberal principles defend Sarah Palin? Do you think they’d have mates justifying black ops and Guantanamo Bay?

A funny definition of “liberal principles” that. But then, Cohen has also always claimed he stood up for universal human rights.


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  1. Naadir Jeewa — on 13th June, 2010 at 2:11 am  

    Such epic fail

  2. Wilfie — on 13th June, 2010 at 2:19 am  

    S’funny you mention Nick Cohen; I read an article by him in the New Statesman back from 2002, and I couldn’t believe how articulate and impressive it was, and now he’s degenerated into one of the worst, most dogmatically minded writers that seems to follow just about every single opinion that Christopher Hitchens holds, and every single reason for such opinions, and denounces all leftist critiques of his opinions as being some of dictatorial/totalitarian ideology. I don’t dislike him, incidentally, because there’s no reason or need to. He’s let himself down, above all.

  3. Vikrant — on 13th June, 2010 at 2:54 am  

    Can we have a footy rant thread? I’m bloody depressed!

  4. Andrew — on 13th June, 2010 at 10:10 am  

    I agree wholeheartedly with Wilfie. Cohen was for several years the reason I carried on buying the Observer, because he realised Blair was an unprincipled right-wing opportunist at a very early stage, and documented the corruption and authoritarianism at the heart of New Labour. He has moved from speaking truth to power, to licking the arses of the sorts of people he used to (quite rightly) despise. Sad.

  5. cjcjc — on 13th June, 2010 at 10:18 am  

    Is there no news other than a three month old Nick Cohen post?

    You do know it is possible to be wrong about some things and right about others?

    He is IMO wrong about torture.
    Though he is not “defending” Palin merely pointing out how hysterical her opponents had become. Which to some extent they had!

    But it is difficult to disagree with this:
    “If supposed liberals refuse to oppose movements that are “irrationalist, misogynist, homophobic, inquisitional, totalitarian, imperialist and genocidal,” it is always worth condemning them wherever and however they do it.”

  6. Carl — on 13th June, 2010 at 1:02 pm  

    Cohen does mention in his piece that:

    “From the ICA’s point of view, this must seem horribly unfair. I know good people who work there and know too that it holds serious debates.

    [...]

    Unfair and accidental, the Institute’s notoriety may be, but it remains justifiable for two reasons.”

    Those two reasons are that whether this is an accident or not (it just so happened that a group of idiots turned up to an event which might otherwise attract non-idiots) stupidity of the sort displayed by a third of the audience must be highlighted regardless. Secondly this was bound to happen sooner or later, that an evening highlighted a microcosm of the diluting of left-wing politics by those who want to sav it. Many of those who refer to themselves as left-wing or liberal are normally using these words erroneously, when in fact cultural relativist, middle class, postmodern or post-colonial guilt-ist might do.

    I wouldn’t be able to defend many of the things that Cohen or Hitchens defends re the Iraq war for I opposed it and still do, but they are at least in principle not choosing to ignore the deplorable human rights records of countries in the Middle East that those who practice a perverse version of “left-wing politics” might otherwise like to brush aside as merely a consequence of Western Imperialism.

    For me, this view did not have to lend itself easily to support for regime change in Iraq like Cohen or Hitchens have suggested, but in all other regards they do not pick on a straw man, there are people out there who think they subscribe to leftist ideals when in fact they do little other than to provide unpalatable causes like the cageprisoners a soapbox.

  7. BenSix — on 13th June, 2010 at 2:16 pm  

    …they are at least in principle not choosing to ignore the deplorable human rights records of countries in the Middle East that those who practice a perverse version of “left-wing politics” might otherwise like to brush aside as merely a consequence of Western Imperialism…

    Are they, though? When did Cohen pull up Tony Blair for his claim that retributive amputation’s part of Saudi Arabia’s “culture…their way of life“? Where’s his outrage over the US/UK’s coddling of Uzbek tyranny? Enough rhetorical questions! There hasn’t been any; though, surprisingly, he finds the time to rail against the obscure and the undefined on the “liberal left“. That, to me, is not suggestive of high principle.

  8. Carl — on 13th June, 2010 at 2:36 pm  

    you could name any tyrannical act that Cohen hasn’t made mention of, that doesn’t mean he is not right to suggest that the left has been infected with a culturally relative disease that threatens to infiltrate everything left wing politics is supposed to stand for. Thank goodness there are good people out there on the left who have realised this and are speaking out.

    Those people who protest at UK/US aggression in the Middle East on the grounds that tyranny is being acted out in the name of peace, have a duty to do the same when a tyrannical country in the Middle East commits a crime in the name of retaliation. I can’t put my finger on why the stop the war coalition only protests at what the Yanks and Brits have done to curb peace in the Mid East, but that’s the way it is.

    For Cohen, the left, which he says he feels an attachment to, has lost its way, and that is why he spends a great deal of time denigrating those who you call ‘the obscure and the undefined’ who unfortunately are neither of those things. The left as a whole political section in this country has to get its house in order, because our skirting around issues is a joke, and this can be seen in the lack of conversation on immigration, Islam, when intervention is needed, when multiculturalism is actually dressed up monoculturalism. Left wing ideas have not been lost, which is Cohen’s main charge in his book What’s Left, but what people who claim to represent it are ruining it for us all, and this is why I will continue to defend Cohen against those who say he is a neocon.

  9. BenSix — on 13th June, 2010 at 3:11 pm  

    …you could name any tyrannical act that Cohen hasn’t made mention of, that doesn’t mean he is not right to suggest that the left has been infected with a culturally relative disease that threatens to infiltrate everything left wing politics is supposed to stand for.

    Perhaps, to some extent, “left wing politics” have sunk into cultural relativism. I’m not an active part of “it” and, thus, it’s not among my grave concerns. What, though, does Nick Cohen write that you consider useful? He speaks ofthe Left’s treason” – cries of “liberals’ betrayal” – without specifying who “the Left” might be and what they stand accused of. His polemics are incoherent, rankly dishonest and untainted by theory. What, to borrow a phrase, is left?

    Should note, by the way, that I’m not being partisan. Heck, I used to be a “decent” (and, it’s likely, even more insufferable than Cohen’s recent output).

    I can’t put my finger on why the stop the war coalition only protests at what the Yanks and Brits have done to curb peace in the Mid East, but that’s the way it is.

    I consider it a priority because it’s my government (along with its foremost ally). Moreover, there’s little reason to protest against – say – the horrors of Mugabe, or Kim Jong. All have been amply convinced and none can inspire change – what would be the use?

  10. Slipshod Jack — on 13th June, 2010 at 3:39 pm  

    Sunny, Cohen did NOT justify torture in the article you link to. Quite the opposite. You have serious comprehension problems.

  11. Slipshod Jack — on 13th June, 2010 at 3:53 pm  

    @ Ben Six

    “Where’s his outrage over the US/UK’s coddling of Uzbek tyranny?”

    I suggest you catch up with what has been taking place in the world in the past five years. The US fell out with Uzbekistan in 2005 over the massacre of protestors at Andijon, because the US joined calls for an international inquiry. The Uzbeks booted the Americans out of their air-base as a result. Subsequently they blamed the US and British for the Andijon protests taking place in the first place.

    So for nearly five years now, the Americans and British have been persona non grata in Uzbekistan, because they rightly criticised it over human rights abuses. Meanwhile Uzbekistan is now an ally of Russia and China, who don’t care about human rights abuses, and yet… and you are still complaining about the US and UK, not Russia or China, Uzbekistan’s current allies.

    You are either extremely ignorant on this subject or a dishonest, devious twat.

  12. Sunny — on 13th June, 2010 at 4:06 pm  

    You do know it is possible to be wrong about some things and right about others?

    I bet you say that to all the Islamists ;)

  13. BenSix — on 13th June, 2010 at 4:17 pm  

    You are either extremely ignorant on this subject or a dishonest, devious twat.

    My, all this outrage because – wrongly, I admit – I wrote “where’s” instead of “where was“? You’re not denying, I presume, that Karimov was treated as an ally, even as he killed and tortured prisoners? It’s not unfair, though not especially interesting, to ask why this escaped the notice of Cohen and others, as they rained verbal fire down on Galloway et al.

  14. Yakoub — on 13th June, 2010 at 4:17 pm  

    Nick Cohen and Mad Mel are soul twins.

    Assuming they still have souls.

  15. Slipshod Jack — on 13th June, 2010 at 5:55 pm  

    “wrongly, I admit – I wrote “where’s” instead of “where was“? You’re not denying, I presume, that Karimov was treated as an ally, even as he killed and tortured prisoners? It’s not unfair, though not especially interesting, to ask why this escaped the notice of Cohen and others…”

    No I am not denying it, and it DIDN’T escape Cohen’s notice either. He himself wrote an article about it here:

    Title: Trouble in Tashkent

    Strapline: The West – and particularly the US – seems blind to Uzbekistan’s cruel government

    full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2002/dec/15/politicalcolumnists.worldview

    Now perhaps you can link us to an article by George Galloway or other ‘peace’ protestors where he writes solely and singly about the brutal Iranian government and those in the west who are blind to its cruelty. Or Seumas Milne on Russia’s brutality and cynical alliances with brutal regimes.

    Care to try?

    Galloway is no kind of universal human rights supporter. Cohen has shown far more consistency on this matter.

  16. BenSix — on 13th June, 2010 at 6:50 pm  

    Now, that is embarrassing. I withdraw the claim, and extend distant apologies to Cohen.

    Here’s my problem, though. That column was written in 2002, preceding – as the sneer quotes around “war” suggest – Cohen’s flip to interventionism. Since Terror and Liberalism, the anti-war march and his subsequent epiphany, Cohen’s laid into the mysterious “Left” while dampening down his attacks on power. It doesn’t excuse my crappy research but with google as my witness Karimov did not arise again. Instead

    I broke the story about the government’s apparent hounding of Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. But ever since reading Thursday’s Guardian, I’ve been wondering if the FO wasn’t provoked.

    Consistency, hm?

    Care to try?

    No, because I don’t like either man. I’d propose, however, that the crimes and misdemeanors of Blair and co. are more worthy of study than a Guardian hack and a minor demagogue. They actually – y’know – affected people.

  17. Slipshod Jack — on 13th June, 2010 at 7:23 pm  

    Ben, of course I’ll try and that’s an easy one. Here is the possible provocation he was referring to – i.e. in the very next sentence of Cohen’s article.

    “Instead of looking Islamism in the eye, Murray declares that Bush and Blair longed to distract attention from their troubles and ‘dodgy’ intelligence about the alleged airport bombers ‘gave them a chance’.”

    That is to say, Cohen wasn’t rowing back on what he’d said about Karimov. By this point – 2006 – the US and UK governments had anyway fallen out with Karimov because of their – belated, true – objection to his human rights abuses. Murray had indeed been admirably critical of Karimov, and I will always respect him for that. Cohen never changed his stance on that or on Karimov.

    What Cohen, and others, have come to believe is that on other subjects Murray is often simply a crackpot. The conspiracy theorising about the airport bomb plots is an instance, and that, precisely, is what Cohen was criticising Murray about. Subsequent investigations have demonstrated to all but utter moonbats that it was indeed simply a genuine plot, and that is true whatever one thinks of Bush, Blair etc.

    Cohen’s stance on Uzbekistan has always been consistent. That he didn’t alter it, and was talking about something else would have been clear if you had read the next sentence of the supposedly damning quote you offered.

    Right, that’s three sticks you have inaccurately thrown and which I have dutifully fetched for you. I won’t be fetching anymore. Maybe you’ll just have to give up on this particular line of attack on Cohen. Maybe it will even help register with you that Cohen is not quite the monster that Sunny and the uninformed CiF contingency obssessively treat him as. If not, it won’t surprise me, as you are, at the least, showing insufficient care in representing what Cohen is talking about when you present the supposed evidence against him. I don’t think you are interested in much more than reinforcing your prejudices about Cohen; easily verifiable fact that runs counter to your position is evidently an inconvenience to be ignored.

  18. Mark T — on 13th June, 2010 at 7:27 pm  

    Do you think those might include not trying to justify torture? How about demanding that governments respect Habeas Corpus? What about not defending state terrorism? Does a person who stands up for liberal principles defend Sarah Palin? Do you think they’d have mates justifying black ops and Guantanamo Bay?

    As others have pointed out, Cohen does not justify torture in the linked article.

    Equally he is not ‘defending’ Palin in the other piece.

    And – unsurprisingly – Cohen’s ‘mate’ Hitchens does not justify Guantanamo Bay in the Slate article.

    Laughable.

  19. cjcjc — on 13th June, 2010 at 8:02 pm  

    “untainted by theory”

    Wow – it’s a long time since I’ve heard that kind of insult!

  20. BenSix — on 13th June, 2010 at 8:16 pm  

    That is to say, Cohen wasn’t rowing back on what he’d said about Karimov.

    Eh? I wasn’t implying that he did: in fact, I wrote that Karimov “did not arise again” in his writings. The inconsistency – which I merely found amusing – arose in his handling of Murray. Through your efforts to show that I’m “obssessively treat[ing] [Cohen] as [a monster]” you’ve succeeded in misreading me, which, I think, is a little ironic.

    Rather, I offered that quote as an example of how – in my eyes – Cohen’s writing has deteriorated since 2003. Though before he was an admirable critic of the powerful – such as, for example, that first piece on Karimov – he now launches strident j’accuses against the obscure and undefined. Thus, following his epiphanic, post T n’ L about-to, Uzbekistan only arose during a side-swipe against a one-time diplomat.

    By the way, what’s this stuff about how “easily verifiable fact[s] that runs counter to [my] position” are “be[ing] ignored“. I’ve already apologised for the mistake re: Karimov and happily reiterate that. (Still, if I didn’t know any better I’d accuse you of obsessively treating me as a monster…)

    Maybe you’ll just have to give up on this particular line of attack on Cohen. Maybe it will even help register with you that Cohen is not quite the monster that Sunny and the uninformed CiF contingency obssessively treat him as.

    Monster? Nope. Probably a very nice man: just a bit of a hack.

  21. BenSix — on 13th June, 2010 at 8:28 pm  

    (Then again, having slammed the guy for “launch[ing] strident j’accuses against the obscure and undefined” I should probably get off the subject of, er – him.)

  22. Sunny — on 13th June, 2010 at 11:04 pm  

    Galloway is no kind of universal human rights supporter. Cohen has shown far more consistency on this matter.

    Poor Cohen, I’d hate to be compared to Galloway.

  23. Shatterface — on 14th June, 2010 at 2:35 am  

    ‘As others have pointed out, Cohen does not justify torture in the linked article.’

    Some of us have been pointing that out for months but Sunny obviously believes repeating an accusation ad nauseum makes it true.

  24. Sunny — on 14th June, 2010 at 3:31 am  
  25. Sunny — on 14th June, 2010 at 3:34 am  

    Though he is not “defending” Palin merely pointing out how hysterical her opponents had become. Which to some extent they had!

    hahahaha! yes cjcjc, of course we should be criticising Sarah Palin’s detractors as “hysterical” rather than asking whether Palin herself is hysterical or sane or not.

    By the way, you stopped sending me updates to the temperature changes. Why’s that? When’s our bet running out again, and have you taken any other bets on your firm belief that temperatures aren’t rising?

    Keep that tinfoil hat on tight!

  26. boyo — on 14th June, 2010 at 7:42 am  

    It’s not exactly calling on all would-be jihadis to be tortured now, is it, just pointing out the tangled web we have weaved for ourselves. It could be an argument, for example, to intern suspects or whatever (and i suppose even you don’t believe our system is perfect, though I suppose it depends what day of the week it is).

    I must say though, that the example he used at the top of the story seemed peculiarly German. In England, one would hope, they’d have just dangled the tosser by his ankles from a twelve story building until he coughed up.

  27. cjcjc — on 14th June, 2010 at 8:53 am  

    I’ll send up to end May shortly.

    Our bet runs out when the “100 months to save the world” ends – 78 still to go!

    tinfoil hat? pot calling kettle…

  28. organic cheeseboard — on 14th June, 2010 at 6:30 pm  

    just to add, you might want to look at Cohen’s frequent praise for douglas murray. the man who brought us ‘all Muslim immigration into Britain must stop now’, and who believes that even Muslims who have successfully sought asylum in the UK should be sent back where they came from.

    Cohen counts him as a ‘comrade’ and has repeatedly praised Murray in print.

    you couldn’t make it up.

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