Nick Cohen — What’s Left?

April 18, 2007 at 10:52 pm Leave a comment

What’s Left? highlights a fundamental struggle in British society that you may not even see if you don’t look. The problem, as Cohen sees it, is that the backlash to crises in the Middle East threatens to take Britain somewhere dark. The rational debates surrounding Iraq, Israel and Islamic extremism are being routinely hijacked by people who claim to be liberal but are so sceptical of America and Western values that they have lost sight of what liberalism really means.

Who is more hated today in Britain – Hamas or George W. Bush? The answer is obvious, as is the urgency of this book. Cohen traces the causes of the phenomenon, and argues passionately against lopsided arguments that masquerade as liberalism while enshrining none of its principles.

The title may suggest this is an argument from the right. It is not. Cohen professes to be on the left, and the left of decades past receives as much praise as criticism. On this matter, opinion is not clearly split along left/right lines. The old boundaries are now blurred; you don’t have to be on the right to criticise the modern left or modern liberalism. The boundaries are so blurred, in fact, that the left and the far right have a few things in common. This is a key thrust of Cohen’s argument.

Cohen is cautious about praising the Iraq War, but the amount of this book dedicated to Iraq leaves the reader in no doubt as to his opinion. Happily, although I opposed the war, the book managed to avoid offending me (so I don’t need to have it banned). There were of course sensible reasons for opposing military action. Cohen correctly observes that the aftermath of the war has decimated support for the idea of humanitarian interventionism – some of us predicted this back in 2003, and that’s why we opposed the war. Cohen does not go back over the old arguments but suggests, quite rightly, that the debate has all too often acquired a sinister anti-Western tone.

What’s Left? offers a vital counterweight to those who would say that promoting civil rights indiscriminately is not the job of a liberal democracy. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights is something to be treasured, not dismissed as Western cultural imperialism. If you agree with that sentiment, you will appreciate What’s Left?.


Entry filed under: Book Reviews, Cohen Nick.

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