Recently, NEWSgrist posted an excerpt of Tony Judt's LRB article, "Bush's Useful Idiots...on the Strange Death of Liberal America". Here are some letters in response, from the recent issue of LRB:
via London Review of Books -
Bush's Useful IdiotsFrom Robert Boyers:
Most American liberal intellectuals surely agree with Tony Judt about the catastrophe that is the Bush foreign policy, and the Bush administration's 'sustained attack on civil liberties and international law' (LRB, 21 September). As a consequence, it seems necessary to say that the charges he levels are, to a considerable degree, misleading, and reflect a deplorable 'cultural provincialism' (Judt's words) that is surprising in so seasoned a critic. To read Judt, one would think that the only liberal intellectuals that matter in the United States – and the only ones he reads – are the handful of journalists who contribute pieces to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. The only other so-called or one-time liberals who apparently wield any influence, according to Judt, are the new hawks who write to urge a war against Islamofascism, people like Paul Berman, Michael Ignatieff and Leon Wieseltier.
The truth is that the pages of American journals are filled with attacks on Bush's foreign policy, and indeed on the entire record of the current administration in Washington. The op-ed pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post regularly contain blistering attacks on Bush and his policies, attacks which do not at all buy into the 'binary division of the world along ideological lines' that Judt rightly condemns. To be sure, Thomas Friedman has not given up his hectoring about 'the larger struggle we're in', but the New York Times has done a good deal to rally the liberal intelligentsia with hard-hitting pieces by Frank Rich, Paul Krugman and others. Beyond the newspapers of record, there is a whole other world in the United States that Judt seems either to know nothing about or to ignore.
Why does he not cite the American liberal intellectuals who write for Harper's, or Daedalus, or my own quarterly, Salmagundi? Why not mention the lengthy pieces contributed to Harper's in recent months by its just-retired editor, Lewis Lapham? The current issue of Salmagundi, a special number on 'Jihad, McWorld, Modernity', contains contributions from liberal intellectuals like Benjamin Barber, Martha Nussbaum, Orlando Patterson, James Miller and Carolyn Forche, not to mention other intellectuals like Breyten Breytenbach, Peter Singer and Tzvetan Todorov. Not one of these people has 'acquiesced' in the Bush programme. Not one has agreed to the silence that Judt contends has spread across the American intellectual scene. Not one is other than committed to resisting what Judt calls 'the unilateral promotion of empire'.
Yes, quite as Judt contends, 'many of America's most prominent liberals have censored themselves in the name of the war on terror,' but many other prominent and not so prominent intellectuals have refused to 'provide the ethical fig leaf' for the brutal policies Judt would have us identify and resist. To suggest otherwise is not to get the picture right.
Saratoga Springs, New York
From Harold Jaffe:
Tony Judt names a dozen or so former 'liberals' who have seemingly deserted the cause by backing Bush's war in Iraq. Nearly all of the so-called liberals he cites happen to be mainstream and Jewish, and one can readily infer that many of them put their concern for Israel's welfare, as they interpreted it, ahead of their liberalism. The greater omission in Judt's article is the plethora of dissenting opinion in organs that are simply not represented in mainstream media. From blogs to Z-Magazine online, and from Chomsky and Zinn to graduate students throughout the US, there is and has been a great deal of informed dissent. That this dissent is marginalised or utterly unacknowledged is the fault of the corporatised media, which ought really to be the subject of Judt's interrogation.
San Diego, California