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Whats Left Paperback – Nov 8 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: UK General Books (Nov. 8 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007229704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007229703
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 3 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 281 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #191,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

'A roaring polemic of outrage against the moral and political crisis of the liberal tradition. It is already one of the most discussed current affairs books of the new year…At the very least it forces anyone on the left to think carefully about where their movement has ended up in the modern world.' The Guardian

‘The book is a superbly sustained polemic.' Sunday Times

‘Exceptional and necessary…Do not feel you have to be a leftist or liberal to read it, because it engages with an argument that it crucial for all of us, and for our time.’ Christopher Hitchens, Sunday Times

‘This is a brave, honest and brilliant book. Every page has a provocative insight that makes you want to shake the author's hand or collar him for an argument. Who could ask for more?’ The Observer

'(He writes with) a genuine passion and human sympathy about people who have experienced appalling suffering.' Michael Burleigh, The Evening Standard

‘Undoubtedly controversial and provocative “What’s Left?” is, as its title suggests, a bleakly witty but perhaps dimly hopeful examination of what it means to be liberal in an age where the lines that have been drawn in the sand are in danger of being washed away.’ Waterstones Books Quarterly

‘One of the most powerful denunciations of the manner in which the Left has lost its way…Cohen's is a brave voice.'
Michael Gove, The Spectator

'Nick Cohen explains how contemporary liberals have lost their way with his usual polemical brio.' The Observer

'An essay of wide reference and great brilliance.' John Lloyd, Financial Times

About the Author

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer, The New Statesman and The Evening Standard. In his Channel Four documentaries and general media appearances, he has proved himself to be the witty and excoriating voice of the left. He commands a loyal readership, as his groaning weekly postbag attests. He is the author of two books. ‘Cruel Britannia: Reports on the Sinister and the Preposterous’, a collection of his journalism, was published by Verso in 1999 and ‘Pretty Straight Guys’, a dissection of the Blair leadership.

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By Peter Uys HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 26 2007
Format: Paperback
In this fascinating book, Cohen tries to find answers to why the world is upside down, why liberals and leftists are nowadays more likely than conservatives to excuse fascist movements and governments. With the exception of their native western far-right parties, they embrace all foreign oppressive governments as long as these oppose the West. The author argues that the death of communism has brought a dark liberation to those who consider themselves on the left; they are now free to champion any totalitarian group that is anti-western and anti-American. This mindset is particularly prevalent amongst the intellectuals and the mass media, as also documented in Can We Trust The BBC by Robin Aitken.

Third world democrats, feminists and liberals have been betrayed by those who so style themselves in the West. The fall of communism and the disappearance of a coherent set of principles have liberated Western leftists into a kind of nihilism that is akin to modern consumerism. Now you can pick your issue du jour from an anti-Western smorgasbord. Cohen chronicles the etiology of the disease - how it started with postmodern theorists and obscure fringe groups, entered the mainstream and led to the failure of left-liberals to confront genocide in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Middle East until it grew into an all-consuming fever. He also attempts to salvage the best of the liberal-left's internationalist and democratic traditions. In this regard, please consult A Matter of Principle edited by Thomas Cushman.

The author chronicles these developments in part by telling the story of Iraqi human rights campaigner Kanan Makiya who exposed Saddam's atrocities in the book Republic of Fear and was later shunned by his former so-called comrades.
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Well written and entertaining as hell, but as with most books it's best if you already have some knowledge on the subject matter. He covers a lot of ground and has quite a lot to say (much of it non-flattering) about many of the most notorious leftards of the day, as well as skewering quite a number of folks on the right in the process. That's fair. If you don't already know what despicable little trolls the likes of George Galloway and Noam Chomksy are, then this book is definitely worth a read. As for myself, there was not much in here that I didn't already know, but I enjoyed the way he put it. For the most part............

I suppose the fact that this book is written by an avowed lefty tells me that he is at least trying very much to be honest to the best of his ability, and that is a plus. Honesty does not necessitate knowing fully what one is talking about. He breezily alludes to a number of historical and economic 'facts' which I know quite matter-of-factly to be rubbish. Widely accepted by the left of course, but rubbish nonetheless. For all his talk of fairness and honesty, when the topic vears to Israel he reflexively alludes to the same garbage that Islamists and anti-Semites have been spouting for decades. I suppose for a lefty, it's almost a Pavlovian response, such as spitting whenever the name Bush is mentioned or swooning over Obama's glistening torso.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa0779084) out of 5 stars 20 reviews
55 of 62 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa07cc138) out of 5 stars It's not dark yet, but it's getting there May 26 2007
By Peter Uys - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In this fascinating book, Cohen tries to find answers to why the world is upside down, why liberals and leftists are nowadays more likely than conservatives to excuse fascist movements and governments. With the exception of their native western far-right parties, they embrace all foreign oppressive governments as long as these oppose the West. The author argues that the death of communism has brought a dark liberation to those who consider themselves on the left; they are now free to champion any totalitarian group that is anti-western and anti-American. This mindset is particularly prevalent amongst the intellectuals and the mass media, as also documented in Can We Trust the BBC? by Robin Aitken.

Third world democrats, feminists and liberals have been betrayed by those who so style themselves in the West. The fall of communism and the disappearance of a coherent set of principles have liberated Western leftists into a kind of nihilism that is akin to modern consumerism. Now you can pick your issue du jour from an anti-Western smorgasbord. Cohen chronicles the etiology of the disease - how it started with postmodern theorists and obscure fringe groups, entered the mainstream and led to the failure of left-liberals to confront genocide in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Middle East until it grew into an all-consuming fever. He also attempts to salvage the best of the liberal-left's internationalist and democratic traditions. In this regard, please consult A Matter of Principle edited by Thomas Cushman.

The author chronicles these developments in part by telling the story of Iraqi human rights campaigner Kanan Makiya who exposed Saddam's atrocities in the book Republic of Fear and was later shunned by his former so-called comrades. Makiya was prescient as he foresaw the outcome of these relativist multiculti tendencies in his 1993 book Cruelty and Silence. Many myths and lies are exposed by Cohen, for example those concerning Saddam's arms suppliers. For the record, between 1973 and 2002, 57 per cent of those weapons came from the Soviet Union/Russia, 13 per cent from France and 12 per cent from China. The USA and UK together did not contribute even one per cent.

Other revelations concern sinister British groups on the left, like the Workers Revolutionary Party of the thug Gerry Healy, a toxic cult if ever there was one. Some of the juiciest writing is about the obscurantism of postmodern theorists - it makes you laugh out loud. The Sokal Hoax is inter alia covered here, but the very best dissection of this species may be found in Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault by Stephen Hicks.

Cohen observes that the utopian, the hate-filled and the irreconcileable do not dissappear with geopolitical changes, so a revived radicalism was inevitable after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But the death of communism gave birth to a nasty nihilism, the breast milk of the Moonbats. Not surprising since one of their intellectual masters, Michel Foucault, already hailed the Khomeinian ayatollocracy back in 1978. Thus his intellectual heirs ended up endorsing anything that was against liberal democracy.

The author examines these disturbing trends against the history of the 1930s, the infamous Hitler-Stalin pact and the disgraceful behaviour of some Tories and Leftists at the time. The book provides too much evidence to discuss in one review, but Cohen's analysis of characters like George Galloway and the Hezbollah shill Noam Chomsky is superb. Further information on the sinister marriage of leftism and fascism is available in Unholy Alliance by David Horowitz.

The book provides a vivid picture of people so deluded, they have completely abandoned the values that once formed part of the democratic mainstream and swopped them for a nihilistic culture steeped in hedonism and ignorance. That is why they embrace or excuse losers, demagogues and dictators like Mugabe and Chavez. It is not a large leap from marching in support of homicidal terrorists and sadistic Islamist and Baathist regimes to nurturing the loathsome antisemitism which motivates the moral inversion that they need in order to appear the champion of the victim. The eerily erotic quality of the expressions of their hatred has been well documented by writers like Christopher Hitchens and Julie Burchill.

These faux liberals desperately need to have faith of some sort, no matter how evil or psychotic, to persuade themselves that their paranoia about an American "theocracy" or a "Zionist conspiracy" is valid. They cling to their conspiracy theories so fervently that it is impossible for verifiable facts or reality to penetrate the bell jar of lunacy. Their delusions shield them from the implications of the abject failure of their murderous ideology that has brought misery and death to millions.

The intensity of their projection derives from the need to believe that the latest manifestation of their bankrupt collectivist ideology, properly called "transnational progressivism" stands for peace and that the Neocons/Christians/Zionists/Capitalism cause all the world's evil rather than their own utopian grotesqueries. The paranoia and projection of the PoMo liberals and leftists and their newfound friends amongst the wingnut paleocons like Pat Buchanan and "libertarians" like Lew Rockwell anaesthetize the pain and make them feel good about themselves.

In their chosen role as the victims of America and Israel, these pampered elites congratulate themselves on their "courageous" and "principled" stand against "Western hegemony." They are thus not to blame for the terrifying emptiness within and the encroaching darkness of terrorism out there. Without Bush, the world would be a paradise. Externalizing the blame for their own unease is essential in order to deny the facts and banish the gnawing of reality. Without their projection - The Perpetual Banishing Ritual of the Progressive Sinisterist - there is nothing left.

The book concludes with 19 pages of notes arranged by chapter, plus a thorough index. In order to further investigate the matter and the overall spirit of the times, I highly recommend the following:

The Big Lie by David Solway

The Force of Reason by Orianna Fallaci

The New Anti-Semitism by Phyllis Chesler

Exposing the Real Che Guevara by Humberto Fontova

Sinisterism - Secular Religion of the Lie by Bruce Walker

The Death of Right and Wrong by Tammy Bruce

Why Truth Matters by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa07d00e4) out of 5 stars a call to action March 6 2007
By Inna Tysoe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Nick Cohen's argument is (in one sense) a simple one. Once upon a time, the Left championed all the right causes: women's rights, free speech, universal education, human rights, unions, solidarity with the oppressed, amongst others. And it championed those causes on behalf of the working class which the Left (largely composed of middle-class intellectuals) romanticized on the one hand and despised on the other. And then the working class got all these rights and all this education and all these opportunities but didn't support all the causes the (middle class liberals) of the Left wanted the working class to support. And in their disappointment and defeat, the middle class liberals cast about for new heroes to romanticize. They found them in the fascists of Third World countries who claimed to be revolutionaries (well, they were and are against the established order anyway) and who declared themselves to be for the people (of a certain culture and religion).

The privileged of the West, in other words, found solace in identity politics which led them to support of fascism. And this, in turn, led them to identify those who support fascism with the Left.

A simple argument, as I have said. But this book (which is so rich and so filled with wonderful anecdotes--from professorial mumbo jumbo to Hamas' Charter) is much more than a mere argument. It is a call to action. For this wonderful book ends by pointing out that a group of "politically aware citizens" who were not "intellectual celebrities" met at a pub in Euston to draw up a manifesto spelling out what the Left truly is. And that, by restating what should have been obvious (but wasn't) these men and women found a way to make a difference. Because they did not abandon the effort, the hope, the principles of the Left.

Just as Nick Cohen hopes (and hope is the last word in this book) that he has made a difference with his book. So now it's your turn and mine. What do you say?
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa07e3528) out of 5 stars The Left Hand of Darkness June 1 2007
By Omer Belsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Nick Cohen's well written book is not quite an Encyclopedia of all things Left, but it's close. Where else can you read about Ernst Bevin and Jacques Derrida, Celebrity Big Brother and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the bloody history of the Baath party?

It's hard to argue with Cohen's main thesis: There are many in the Left for whom the loathing of everything western, particularly everything American, erases any sense of moral perspective. Thus the Liberals and the Lefts support the worst kind of anti-Westerners: racists, fascists, terrorists - anything goes as long as you're against America.

As an Israeli, I'm most attuned the anti-Semitic instances (but there are many others): As I'm writing this, the British Union of Colleges and Universities has cast another academic boycott of Israel. That decision is patently anti-Semitic: It singles out Israel from other nations. Alan Dershowitz is fond of quoting an exchange with Harvard's racist president in the 1920s, A. Lawrence Lowell:

Lowell decided that the number of Jews admitted to Harvard should be reduced because "Jews cheat." When a distinguished alumnus, Judge Learned Hand, pointed out that Protestants also cheat, Lowell responded, "You're changing the subject; we're talking about Jews."

Supporters of the Boycott of Israel will happily tell you all about the horrors of Israel's occupation of the West Bank, (while ignoring or excusing Palestinian terrorism), but they won't tell you what kind of criteria exists for boycotting Israel rather then the US, Russia, China or Sudan. That this sort of blatant racism is now heralded by Leftists and Liberals is symptomatic of a wider spread malady - the Left's crisis of faith.

Nick Cohen tracks the roots of the Left's crisis to many sources: I think he's right that the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of Socialism as a viable option had much to do with it. I'm less certain that Deconstruction and the Nazi-Soviet pact are really direct causes. But whatever it's causes are, the left today knows what it is against: America, the West and Israel, but is far less certain about what it is for - which allows it support the Ayatollah Regime in Iran, murderous Baathists in Iraq, Castro's dictatorship in Cuba and Kaddafi's in Libya: in short, everyone who is against the West.

Nick Cohen rightly lashes against these trends. But even as he takes us back to 19th century Russia or to the wildest domains of French pseudo-intellectualism, the central point is always Iraq.

Cohen supported the Iraq war. Maybe he supports it still. He does not like the Bush administration and its lies and deceits. He acknowledges that there was a good case against the war; but the enthusiasm of the European crowd, their march against Bush became almost a celebration of Saddam's rule. In Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, pictures of pre-invasion Iraq are always idealic: the ethnic cleansing, the prison abuses, the rapes, the one-party-rule and Saddam's personality cult go entirely unmentioned. That the left could be against the war is understandable. That they could be so oblivious to Saddam Hussein is troubling.

The Iraq War raises the question of Cohen's affinity to an earlier generation of disillusioned Lefties: The Neo-Conservatives. Although the Neo-Conservative alliance is a complex one, at its heart were a group of Lefties who revolted against the moral relativism of the extreme Left in much the same way Cohen does. They remained committed to Liberal causes such as human rights and the welfare state, but rejected the Left's descent into relativism, anarchism and moral blindness. (See George Packer's The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq for an intellectual group biography).

It is easy to identify with the Neo-Cons critique and with Cohen's rage. But when Neo-Conservatives came to power, thirty years after their parting of the ways from the Leftist establishment, a terrible thing happened: The Iraq War. The bankruptcy of the Neo-Cons would be the Death of the Cohenesque Left (dare we call it Eustonian Left after the famous Euston manifesto?)

There are, currently, three major schools of thoughts about how the West should treat "The Rest", and particularly the Middle East. According to the Chomskyan approach which Cohen targets, the West is responsible for everything bad that happens anywhere in the world. The root of Terrorism is in the justified grievances of Palestinians, Saudis, Afghanis, etc, etc. Once these grievances would be assuaged, the problems in the Middle East: The Dictatorships, the Terrorist regimes, the extreme fundamentalists would go away. This is what Cohen goes out against: It is the main target of his books.

The second approach is realism: the view that the Middle East is dangerous and unstable and the West should seek to stabilize it by negotiating with the dictators in it, supporting client states such as Saudi Arabia against internal and external enemies. This is a gloomy view, and unlikely to appeal to Leftists. It calls, explicitly and unshamefully, for the maintenance of the Status Quo, the anathema of anything progressives.

The alternative offered by the Neo Conservatives was muscular democracy: No longer shall the West sit quite while genocide and oppression takes place within other countries. "No man is an island" said Donne, and the absence of Freedom for Iraqis is a problem for Westerners as well, who should help - militarily if necessary - in the over through of Dictatorships. This is a grand vision, suitable for the Left. It has also led to the greatest foreign policy failure in living memory.

This is not the place for a post mortem of the Iraq War. But clearly, its failure has discredited the Neo-Cons, and thus also the prospects of Eustonian Leftists to reverse the Left's trend towards nihilism and Chomskyan accomodationism. Unless the Neo-Conservative project can be resuscitated - and I see scant hope of that happening anytime soon - or unless some previously unthought-of of policy would emerge, Leftists stand to chose between Noam Chomsky and Henry Kissinger. And for most Leftists, that is not a hard choice.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa07e3ee8) out of 5 stars A superb book June 23 2007
By Jill Malter - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In this excellent work, Nick Cohen examines some of the problems with today's political left. He reminds us that in the past century, the Left has indeed been quite successful at transforming society. If one were to look at the goals of the Left from, say, 1907, we'd realize that most of them have been accomplished.

Do those on the Left still have similar goals? No. As the author points out, in the past, leftist passion tended to show praiseworthy concern for the underdog. However, "today's upsurge stands in a dishonorable contrast," because it often explicitly ignores the very victims of the far right that it used to support. Liberals in a free society have an enormous opportunity to use that freedom to a good purpose, and many are simply not doing so. As Cohen admits, one can always discredit decent people by looking only at the malevolent hangers-on who join them. But he replies that if one tries to look at the good side of today's Left, there is not much to it. Yes, there is some concern for the environment, and that's a plus. But on topics such as civil liberties, international authority, or the ability to overthrow tyrannical regimes, there's very little to praise.

One example of the problem that Cohen cites is "Index on Censorship," which was founded by friends of W. H. Auden in 1972 to defend freedom of speech. Betrayinhg its principles, Index simply gloated over a case of "ultimate censorship," namely the murder of Theo van Gogh! He also shows how Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which began as trustworthy fighters for human rights and freedom have become perverted into opposing these same rights and freedoms. In previous decades, the Left was a consistent opponent of right-wing tyrannies, but that is manifestly no longer the case.

We've also seen a resurgence of antisemitic conspiracy theories, and Cohen explains to us that "political antisemitism is not about Jews, it is about power," and would exist even if there were no Jews.

We're reminded that terror is not some sort of side effect of totalitarian systems; it is the system. As Cohen says, "when the pretensions of the workers' state or the thousand year Reich or the glorious union of Arabs are stripped away, when the differences between communism and fascism are forgotten, what remains is the sneer of the psychopathic gangster who knows he's got the cops in his pocket."

We see how the Left has abandoned its former principles simply in order to side with those who oppose the United States (or the West in general). But this places much of the Left in firm opposition to the Enlightenment, and that is quite a change.

Cohen does describe some of the atrocities of right-wing tyrannies, especially those of Saddam Hussein. But to his credit, he reminds us that such anecdotes are just too easy. He calls them a form of "blackmail" where the writer appears to be telling his readers to agree with him or be guilty by association. On the other hand, we may need some of the information or else we'll systematically ignore those who are being oppressed and could really use our help.

I hope that readers will be interested in the Euston Manifesto, which Cohen participated in generating, and which he discusses briefly in this book.

Cohen at one point asks "What's wrong with supporting the overthrow of a theocracy?" And he quotes a friend as replying, "Well, it may not work, but apart from that, nothing."

I'll leave my readers by quoting one more question, a rather blunt one, of Cohen's:

"When it comes to burning women, are you for it or against it?"

I highly recommend this book.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa07e3f00) out of 5 stars What's Left?...Not Much July 31 2007
By Izaak VanGaalen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Before 9/11 leftist British journalist Nick Cohen's most pressing concern was attacking the Labor government of Tony Blair. Indeed since the Blair government was elected, Cohen had been denouncing it for being corrupt and altogether too cozy with big business. In Cohen's own words, "attacking Tony Blair was what got me out of bed in the morning." Like the traditional left, Cohen was perputually in opposition to the status quo.

However, after 9/11, Cohen's views changed dramatically, he found himself supporting the government. He identified the new Islamic threat as fascist and much worse than the western democracies led by Tony Blair and George Bush. This is were his major confrontations with his former leftist comrades began. He concedes that they were correct in arguing that the many reasons for going to war were either false or exaggerated, and that the invasion was badly mismanaged. Where he parts company is when they start calling the terrorists "insurgents" against Anglo-American "imperialism." Cohen wants us to have a good look at the so-called insurgents that his former comrades are now supporting: namely suicide car-bombers, video-executioners, gay-bashers, women-haters, and anti-Semites.

The many objects of Cohen's scorn include Harold Pinter, Noam Chomsky, the Guardian, London Review of Books, Roberst Fisk, George Galloway, Edward Said, Tariq Ali, to mention some of the most famous. Cohen is good at unveiling the twisted mental universe of the left. Prior to the invasion, both Harold Pinter and Tariq Ali supported the cause of the Kurds, as did many left-wing politicians who voiced their opposition to Saddam Hussein. Cohen also recounts how the left initially praised Kanan Makiya's Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq, Updated Edition which described the horrendous conditions inside Saddam's Iraq. After the invasion, when the neocons used this document as a reason for invading, the left practically excommunicated Makiya.

According to Cohen, the left suffers from what Bertrand Russell called the syndrome of "the superiour virtue of the oppressed." The left has become nothing but reflexively anti-American and anti-Isreal. When Saddam was in power, they considered America his enabler, so they were against Saddam. After he was toppled, they supported the insurgents, and consider the Maliki government a version of the Vichy regime. (Inspite of the fact that the Maliki government is probably one of the most democratically elected in the Arab world.)

The British left, under the pretense of multiculturalism, also makes allowances for some of the most extremist Muslim views imaginable. Not understanding the practices of female genital mutilation, honor killings, wife-beating, suicide-bombing and so forth is succumbing to "Islamophobia." The left has forgotten that multiculturalism only works when its participants believe in a plurality of opinion, not when there are those who in principle deny others their opinions.

Cohen hits some easy targets in this book. George Galloway and Ken Livingston are the obvious ones, they are almost caricatures of themselves. But there are also other more serious members of the left who opposed the war. Cohen asks why they spend so much time excoriating Blair and Bush, and so little time supporting the Iraqi people. The left's constant maneuvering as the opposition party of Anglo-American policy and Isreal has put it in many akward and untenable positions. Nick Cohen has left the left. But he has not joined the right either, he is now somewhere in the more sensible middle.


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