A few weeks ago Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Irshad Manji, Taslima Nasreen, Salman Rushdie, and others signed the “Manifesto Against a New Totalitarianism”. Now there is the Euston Manifesto, whose signatories include Norman Geras, Paul Berman, Marshal Berman, Quintin Hoare, Marc Cooper and many more. Norman Geras and Nick Cohen discuss how and why they initiated the Euston Manifesto, in The New Statesman.
On a Saturday last May, right after the general election, 20 or so similarly minded people met in a pub in London. We had no specific agenda, merely a desire to talk about where things were politically. Those present were all of the left: some bloggers or running other websites, their readers, a few with labour movement connections, one or two students. Many of us were supporters of the military intervention in Iraq, and those who weren’t – who had indeed opposed it – none the less found themselves increasingly out of tune with the dominant anti-war discourse. They were at odds, too, with how it related to other prominent issues – terrorism and the fight against it, US foreign policy, the record of the Blair government, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, more generally, attitudes to democratic values.
At that first meeting our discussion focused on our common sense of discord with much current left-liberal thinking. We talked of how the prevailing consensus had ample representation in the liberal press, on the BBC and Channel 4, whereas the viewpoint of our own segment of the left was significantly under- represented in the mainstream media. We had, however, found a place on the internet and in the blogosphere, which had helped to connect people who might otherwise have felt isolated and had given expression to the voices and debates of a left other than the one heard loudly everywhere: from TV screens and newspapers, in universities and other workplaces, in theatres, at dinner tables and at every kind of social gathering. Its ideas were so much perceived as conventional wisdom that many found it difficult to allow that there could be an alternative left-liberal view.