September 19, 2006

Orwell vs Chomsky

So the London Review of Books clashes with a leading blogger this Week. The article in the London Review of Books written by Tony Judt accuses pro war Liberals of being useless idiots in the march of NeoConservative ideology- actually Judt puts it better than that:

In today’s America, neo-conservatives generate brutish policies for which liberals provide the ethical fig-leaf. There really is no other difference between them.

Norman Geras is outraged on his blog by Judt's lack of principle in attacking a principled foreign policy and accuses him of being amongst

those good liberals and leftists of anti-war conviction to whom none of this applies, but for whom, nevertheless, there has been only one truth and one virtue, to be the same as them; and the main object of whose animus, whose almost daily passion, has been - what? - not 'malign regimes', not apologists for terror, certainly not the denizens of the aforesaid Hizbolleft; no, as demonstrated again here by Tony Judt, that main object has been the segment of the liberal-left (when they allow that we do actually remain liberal or left) which has taken a view on current international conflicts that is opposed to theirs. What a sorry debacle.

What is so fascinating about this is watching the clash of two archetypes of a liberal intellectual. Judt obviously works out of the template provided by Noam Chomsky, for Judt liberal experts provide the cover for rightwing regimes to follow and he views the role of a principled intellectual as the unmasking of rightwing motives and actions and the discrediting of the ethical figleaf which covers them. Geras on the other hand takes an Orwellian model- for him the real enemy is the rightwing regime, consequently sometimes he is willing to ally with a rightwing regime to take down one that is worse- anti democratic or genocidal. Judt maintains a kind of ideological purity- Geras rightly says that Judt has no truck with Hizbollah- but exchanges that for lacking any influence over any policy save the one introduced by an ideal government- like Chomsky he psychologically withdraws into the camp of a perpetual opposition. Likewise Geras and Hitchens and others, like Orwell, revell in the status of being hated by both sides- yet actually have influence upon the real world. In a sense these two opposed models- Chomsky and Orwell- of what it is to be a leftwing intellectual have dominated the present leftwing discourse about the Iraq war. Some choose one, some choose the other but like it or not many who propose war see themselves as Orwells of the modern world, many who oppose see themselves as modern Chomskys.