April 18, 2004


REVIEW: of The Betrayal of Dissent by Scott Lucas (Johann Hari, 11 April 2004, Independent)

When I first heard that Scott Lucas was writing a book-length attack on "public intellectuals including Christopher Hitchens, Michael Walzer, David Aaronovitch and [hem hem] Johann Hari, who have all invoked Orwellian honesty and decency to shut down dissent", I was excited. The British school of "Cruise Missile Liberals" - lefties who backed the recent war on Iraq and, more broadly, the "War on Terror" - have been an eclectic crowd, from John Lloyd to Nick Cohen. Our philosophy remains inchoate. Nothing helps to clarify thought like intelligent opposition, so I turned keenly to The Betrayal of Dissent when it arrived on my desk.

Lucas's first chapter is a familiar attack on George Orwell, rehashed from his earlier biography. Orwell is a "policeman of the left", he argues, a man who defended the world's existing power structures aggressively while dressing his conservatism in progressive rhetoric. He merely adopted the pose of telling uncomfortable truths to his own side; in reality, he belonged in the conservative camp all along. Orwell's ire, Lucas argues, was consistently turned to greatest effect against the legitimate socialist movements of his time. He blamed the poverty in Wigan on the failure of socialists and the rise of tyranny on the success of socialists. Presented with any given problem, he was more enraged by the failure of the left than by anything else.

Once he is seen in this context, Lucas explains, we can see that the canonisation of Orwell has occurred for two fetid reasons. Firstly, he provides right-wingers with a fake "decent" left-winger they can use to bash and delegitimise any real opposition forces. Secondly, he provides lefties with an excuse - and indeed a vocabulary - for selling out while retaining a smug sense of moral superiority. This is an interesting thesis, albeit one Lucas has already outlined at length. The point of this new book is to extend this critique to the "liberal hawks" who are, he believes, contemporary Orwells, defending the extension of ultra-conservative American power with slices of leftie rhetoric.

Isn't the point that to be a member of the Decent Left is to be of the Right?

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 18, 2004 9:40 AM

The idea that sometimes dissent is not brave or inspired, but simply insipid and illogical, doesn't occur to these people.

I'll do their thinking for them - sometimes dissent is just plain being a moron!

You're welcome.

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at April 18, 2004 9:28 PM