A Review of Cohen’s What’s Left

Via Crooked Timber, Johann Hari reviews Nick Cohen’s What’s Left for Dissent, posted over at his website.

This book appears to have been written as Cohen hit a personal tipping-point. At times, he presents himself as the last true left-winger, but at other moments, he appears to be abandoning the left in disgust. A passage where he complains that the benefits system “provides a perverse incentive for single motherhood”, says that “the liberal professionals of the welfare state were aggravating the poverty and racism they said they opposed”, and rants about “the two-faced civil liberties lawyer”, sounds like Norman Podhoretz circa 1968, and an admission that Cohen is sliding into full-blown neoconservatism.

After this, there are even worse moments, when his views disintegrate into a drizzle of dismaying right-wing talking points. He describes the Spanish people’s democratic decision to elect a Socialist government after the Madrid train bombings as a victory for al Queda. So the Spanish people should have voted for a right-wing government to prove they were left-wing? That’s the ludicrous and contorted position Cohen has ended up in. Out of nowhere, he accuses Edward Said – a man who took Palestinian teenagers to Auschwitz to educate them about the horrors of Jew-hatred – of anti-Semitism and “pardoning” the 9/11 hijackers. In one column, he has suggested that the British government should be sanguine about sending suspected Islamists to countries where they will be tortured, because the sole criterion should be Britain’s “national interests.” This is an abandonment of the universalist language of the left for a parochial conservative agenda.