The Magazine

A Few Good Liberals

Liberalism stands strong in the United Kingdom.

May 1, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 31 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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"WHO TODAY IS CALLED a liberal for strength and confidence in defense of liberty?" Harvey Mansfield asked this question almost 30 years ago in the preface to his Spirit of Liberalism, and the answer was almost self-evident. This was during the Carter administration, and things haven't gotten better since. There have been some exceptions to the rule of liberalism's weakness, but these exceptions have been fleeting, and the rule seems stronger than ever in the America of 2006.

Not so in Great Britain. There, Tony Blair has shown strength and confidence in defense of liberty, and it turns out he is not alone. A couple of weeks ago, a group of "democrats and progressives" released the "Euston Manifesto" (eustonmanifesto.org) proposing to draw a line between a soft and relativist left and the strong and confident democratic left that the signers seek to invigorate.

The primary author of the manifesto appears to be Norman Geras, a British academic, and the long list of signatories includes serious intellectuals like Oliver Kamm (author of Anti-Totalitarianism: The Left-Wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy) and John Lloyd of the Financial Times, to mention just two. It's an impressive document. It articulates 15 principles reminiscent of the much-missed liberal anti-totalitarianism of the early Cold War period.

Here, for instance, is the entry titled "No Apology for Tyranny":

We decline to make excuses for, to 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. We draw a firm line between ourselves and those left-liberal voices today quick to offer an apologetic explanation for such political forces.

The manifesto's signers also "reject without qualification the anti-Americanism now infecting so much left-liberal (and some conservative) thinking. This is not a case of seeing the United States as a model society. We are aware of its problems and failings. But these are shared in some degree with all of the developed world. The United States of America is . . . the home of a strong democracy with a noble tradition behind it and lasting constitutional and social achievements to its name."

Two more quotations. There is this on making common cause with other opponents of terrorism:

Drawing the lesson of the disastrous history of left apologetics over the crimes of Stalinism and Maoism, as well as more recent exercises in the same vein (some of the reaction to the crimes of 9/11, the excuse-making for suicide-terrorism, the disgraceful alliances lately set up inside the "anti-war" movement with illiberal theocrats), we reject the notion that there are no opponents on the Left. We reject, similarly, the idea that there can be no opening to ideas and individuals to our right. Leftists who make common cause with, or excuses for, anti-democratic forces should be criticized in clear and forthright terms. Conversely, we pay attention to liberal and conservative voices and ideas if they contribute to strengthening democratic norms and practices and to the battle for human progress.



And this, on Iraq:




The founding supporters of this statement took different views on the military intervention in Iraq, both for and against. . . . We are, however, united in our view about the reactionary, semi-fascist and murderous character of the Baathist regime in Iraq, and we recognize its overthrow as a liberation of the Iraqi people. We are also united in the view that, since the day on which this occurred, the proper concern of genuine liberals and members of the Left should have been the battle to put in place in Iraq a democratic political order and to rebuild the country's infrastructure, to create after decades of the most brutal oppression a life for Iraqis which those living in democratic countries take for granted--rather than picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention. . . . This opposes us not only to those on the Left who have actively spoken in support of the gangs of jihadist and Baathist thugs of the Iraqi so-called resistance, but also to others who manage to find a way of situating themselves between such forces and those trying to bring a new democratic life to the country.