The project started out, as all good projects do, over beer. A group of British liberal/leftist thinkers and activists gathered at a pub near the Euston Station (a subway stop in London). While they disagreed about many things, in general they were dissatisfied with the direction of thought and action by many of their fellow politicos. As Norman Geras and Nick Cohen explained in the New Statesman a few weeks ago:
Part of the problem with much contemporary left-liberal opinion is that too many things that should be obvious in the light of the history of the past hundred years seem not to be so.
They drafted a manifesto, the Euston Manifesto, to outline their basic principles they held in common. Geras and Cohen explain,
We value the traditions and institutions of the liberal, pluralist democracies, and we decline to make excuses for, to indulgently “understand”, reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy. We hold the fundamental human rights codified in the Universal Declaration to be precisely universal. Equally, violations of these rights are to be condemned whoever is responsible for them and regardless of cultural context. The manifesto speaks of our attachment to egalitarianism in all domains.
We argue that the time is long overdue to break with the tradition of left apologetics for anti-democratic forces and regimes; that there is a duty of respect for the historical truth; and that it is more than ever necessary to affirm that, within the usual constraints against incitement, people must be at liberty to criticise beliefs - including religious beliefs - that others cherish.
The left now has to fight two battles simultaneously. We defend democracies against all who make light of the differences between them and tyrannical regimes. But these democracies have shortcomings. Their social and economic foundations are marked by deep inequalities and unmerited privilege. In turn, global inequalities are a scandal to the moral conscience of humankind. Millions live in terrible poverty, an standing indictment against the international community. In keeping with our traditions, we on the left fight for justice and a decent life for all. In keeping with the same traditions, we have also to fight against powerful forces of tyranny, which are on the march again.
While written largely within the context of British politics the themes are universal. Too many of the liberal/left persuasion seem all too willing to try and explain away terrorism rather than condemn it without qualification. Too many, while rightly denouncing the reactionary and pathetically incompetent policies of the Bush administration, seem all too willing to ignore the criminal and murderous regime of Sadam Hussein or acknowledge what a destabilizing influence the Iraqi Ba’athist regime was to the Middle East. In essence, the manifesto is a call for a liberal internationalism. The manifesto also espouses an egalitarian politics calling for progress in relations between the sexes, different ethnic communities, various religious affiliations as well as those with no affiliation, and people of diverse sexual orientations. They state that labor rights are human rights. They argue that the benefits of global trade should be distributed as widely as possible and not be allowed to serve the narrow interests of small corporate elites.
It reminds me somewhat of the efforts of an earlier generation’s creation of the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) which worked to push the Democratic party to the left on many issues while at the same time campaigning hard against Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party which they believed was dangerously naïve about the threat of Soviet dominated Communism. However, so far, the manifesto is strictly a statement of the signers and is not yet a movement or organization.
Most of the signers are Brits but there are some Americans such as Paul Berman, Mitchell Cohen and Michael Walzer, all associated with Dissent magazine as well as blogger and Nation magazine contributor Marc Cooper. There are others. While the ideas are not necessarly new, with any luck the manifesto will spark a greater debate than has already taken place on this side of the Atlantic also.