What’s Left at Hay?
A debate by the authors of two recent books, each in their way challenging the current parameters of Liberalism, both in the UK and the USA, brought together a crowd of perhaps four hundred people at the Hay Festival.
Stephen Marshall’s book, Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing, examines what he sees as the sell-out of American radicalism. Nick Cohen’s What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way, takes British liberal intellectuals to task for choking on their own jargon and becoming apologists for Islamic fundamentalism.
Cohen began the debate by asserting that the last few years had seen the traditional political Left refusing to confront the policies of the far Right. He attacked Ken Livingstone for aligning himself with the Islamist religious Right and went on to say that the Left had worked itself into a position where it had become no threat to anyone.
This had come about mainly through an adherence to relativism and to fear. Fear, he said, has led to passivity.
Stephen Marshall spoke of his time on the front line in Iraq, where an American tank commander had told him that the war was about globalization. When Americans talk about freedom, he told us, they mean capitalism.
He went on to say that the people, civilians, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, regard democracy as “that which bombs us.”
When the debate was thrown open, there was a danger of sectarian elements hogging the floor, but the audience were sufficiently fired up by this point to ensure that that didn’t happen.
Nick Cohen’s message was that during much of the 20th century the tide of history seemed to be with us, but because history seemed to be against us at this stage, we should not be afraid of open debate, and of standing up for real principles. We would be lost without our enemies.
I’ve only covered a little of the debate here, but I was conscious while it was going on, and with such a huge and involved audience, that the Hay Festival continues to provide the kind of platform that is sadly missed in the age of information.