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On Point

"The Euston Manifesto": Principled Left Considers War On Terror


by Austin Bay
April 19, 2006

On July 7, 2005, at 9:47 a.m., a terror bomb destroyed London's number 30 bus en route from Euston Station to Russell Square. The bomb murdered 13 people.

On May 7, 2005 -- two months before the terror attack -- a group of British scholars, intellectuals and political activists met in a central London pub to discuss the War on Terror. Later that year, they would meet again, in a pub not far from Euston Station, to draft what has become known as "The Euston Manifesto." The name comes from the pub's location, but the connection to the terror attack -- and what to do about jihadist terrorism -- is not coincidental.

The pub crowd included Norm Geras, professor emeritus of government at the University of Manchester. In a recent article in Britain's New Statesman, Geras and columnist Nick Cohen described their group as "of the left."

"Many of us were supporters of the military intervention in Iraq," Geras and Cohen wrote, "and those who weren't -- who had indeed opposed it -- nonetheless found themselves increasingly out of tune with the dominant antiwar discourse. They were at odds, too, with how it related to other prominent issues -- terrorism and the fight against it, U.S. foreign policy, the record of the Blair government, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, more generally, attitudes to democratic values."

The News Statesman article doesn't name names, but I'll wager "dominant antiwar discourse" serves as short-hand for the public rant of such "left-wing" luminaries as filmmaker Michael Moore, activist Cindy Sheehan, British member of Parliament George Galloway and websites like www.myleftwing.com (featured in a recent Washington Post article).

"The Euston Manifesto" offers an encouraging alternative "progressive" counter-point to the loud Left crowd. It rejects those who "indulgently 'understand' reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy -- regimes that oppress their own peoples and movements that aspire to do so."

Its smackdown of knee-jerk anti-Americanism is long overdue, rejecting "without qualification the anti-Americanism now infecting so much left-liberal (and some conservative) thinking." U.S. failings "are shared in some degree with all of the developed world." The United States "is the home of a strong democracy with a noble tradition ... ." The manifesto abhors "generalized prejudice" against either the United States or its people.

Perhaps writing a manifesto sounds like a quaint, romantic gesture rife with 1930s socialist or 19th century populist nostalgia. Arguably, manifesto is also another Karl Marx-damaged word deserving repair.

James Madison's Tenth Federalist paper is an essay, but it's also a manifesto of sorts, one with manifest historical impact. George Orwell's "progressive" intellectual opposition to Stalin and Stalinism certainly helped solidify liberal resistance to Soviet expansionism. "Containment" and the Truman Doctrine had the support of America's center-Left, and they were the philosophical and strategic foundations for prosecuting the 20th century's Long War, the Cold War.

"The Euston Manifesto" deserves attention for other reasons, journalist Marc Cooper (formerly with The Nation magazine) told me. "I think it is important that there be a viable and principled opposition to the Bush administration," Cooper said.

Free-marketeers (like me) will quibble with the Eustonites' socialist economics -- but so what? An honest intellectual attempt to focus on essential democratic principles deserves praise, for these are value we share.

Cooper isn't convinced the manifesto is a seminal document. "This is, after all, a statement by writers and not some organizing plan," Cooper observed, though he argued it is indicative of diversity of "left-wing thought."

I see it as an unusual example of fact-based and principled discussion from the political Left. The Eustonites "reject the double standards with which much self-proclaimed progressive opinion now operates, finding lesser (though all too real) violations of human rights which are closer to home ... more deplorable than other violations that are flagrantly worse. We reject, also, the cultural relativist view according to which these basic human rights are not appropriate for certain nations or peoples."

Read that last line as saying Iraqis and Arabs can handle democracy.

The Euston Manifesto is a courageous expression of support for the "liberty" and "liberating" components of classical liberalism.

(Note: The manifesto can be found on the Internet at http://eustonmanifesto.org/joomla/. Norm Geras' prize-winning Website is http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog.)

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