The hunt is on, it seems, for Nick’s conversion moment. I have it!
The only time I realised I was charging up a blind alley was when I read Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism. I didn’t see a blinding light or hear a thunder clap or cry ‘Eureka!’ If I was going to cry anything it would have been ‘Oh bloody hell!’ He convinced me I’d wasted a great deal of time looking through the wrong end of the telescope. I was going to have to turn it round and see the world afresh. The Labour would involve reconsidering everything I’d written since 11 September, arguing with people I took to be friends and finding myself on the same side as people I took to be enemies. All because of Berman.
Now the date isn’t given, but since that date Nick left active politics as we know it and entered theology. It’s as if an old friend suddenly discovered evangelical Christianity. He seems nice enough, but he’s convinced you’re going to hell. Before he had a framework of beliefs within which he interpreted facts, and these interpretations helped in turn to develop his framework of beliefs. But now it’s all been explained. Berman says…and the rest is simply doctrine. Hence paragraphs like this:
Wars are usually worth opposing, especially capricious wars advocated by a slippery Prime Minister in alliance with a repellent US President. But arguments have their own dynamic. If you start by refusing to look Baathism or Islamism in the face, the logic of blaming everything on Tony Blair and George W Bush pushes you into making ever more excuses for the extreme right.
I don’t think anyone who went on or sympathized with the big antiwar march would be capable of refuting this, but only because they wouldn’t be in a position to understand as a description of their motives and beliefs. They may have thought that an aggressive war was a bad idea that would lead to lousy unintended consequences and that the people who proposed to conduct it merited a certain degree of suspicion, even hostility. But the Bermanite theology has a different explanation into which the facts must be made to fit. It’s a position that also tempts our Nick into certain dishonesties:
Who is going to help the victims of religious intolerance in Britain’s immigrant communities? Not the Liberal Democrats, who have never once offered support to liberal and democrats in Iraq.
Well, what have the Labour party done, whose government conducted the war, or the Conservatives, who supported it? What are their motives? What saeth the Great Berman?
One major problem in propagating orthodoxy is that you inevitably lose touch with the general give and take of mainstream opinion. Take the issue of the link between the Iraq war and the recent bombings. You have the SWP, 85% of the population and every single reputable defense and security analyst in the world more or less in the same area…and the pro-war left and the American far right in the other. Politics has surely taken some strange twists in recent years, but the re-birth of supposedly mainstream liberals and social democrats as bitter fringe sectarians has to be one of the strangest.