> Columns > Boston
Globe > A manifesto for those who reject the extremes
A manifesto for those who reject the extremes
By Cathy Young | October 9, 2006
TODAY'S POLITICAL scene is not a friendly place for people who don't
see the world in stark black-and-white categories -- people who,
for instance, strongly condemn human rights abuses toward detained
terror suspects in United States custody, but just as strongly reject
the mentality that views the United States as the chief perpetrator
of human rights abuses in the world today. Now, some of the politically
homeless are building a home of their own, known as the Euston Manifesto.
The manifesto, which can be found at eustonmanifesto.org, was authored
last March by a group of British academics, journalists, and activists
headed by Norman Geras, emeritus professor of politics at Manchester
University. In September, a group of American supporters of the manifesto
issued their own statement, ``American Liberalism and the Euston
The signatories are truly a varied group. A few, such as American
Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Ledeen, could be described as
conservative. Some, notably Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of The
New Republic, are noted ``liberal hawks" with the reputation of right-wing
Democrats. Many others are liberals: emeritus Harvard professor sociologist
Daniel Bell; Progressive Policy Institute president Will Marshall,
the founder of the Democratic Leadership Council; noted psychiatrist
Walter Reich; feminist legal scholar and City University of New York
professor Cynthia Fuchs Epstein.
The signatories of the Euston Manifesto, American and international,
stress that there is no consensus among them on some key policy issues,
including the military intervention in Iraq. What brings them together
is a commitment to liberal values in the broadest sense of the word
-- and an understanding that these values must be defended from the
grave threat of radical Islamist terrorism.
The American statement explicitly compares today's situation to
the Cold War. Then, as today, many on the left regarded the use of
US power as immoral and the two sides in the global conflict as morally
equivalent, shying away from the notion that Western democracies
were engaged in a struggle against evil.
Cold War liberals such as Harry Truman, the statement notes, successfully
battled totalitarianism of the left as well as the right, ultimately
resulting in the defeat of both Nazism and communism: ``The key moral
and political challenge in foreign affairs in our time stems from
radical Islamism and the jihadist terrorism it has unleashed."
The American signatories are harshly critical of the Bush administration,
noting that ``President Bush did not seize the moment after 9/11
to bridge the political divide. Rather than govern from the center,
he has governed from the right in the realms of taxation, energy
policy, global warming, Social Security, the role of religion, and
culture war issues."
They also deplore the conduct of the war on terror: ``We recognize
that in the management of the war, the Bush administration has erred
egregiously in ways -- at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere --
that undermine the very values for which this war must be fought
and won. Tolerance for torture or ambiguity about the application
of the Geneva conventions is both wrong and self-defeating."
However, the statement also has some harsh words for liberals who
``remain more focused on the misdeeds and errors of our own government
in Iraq than on the terrorist outrages by Islamic extremists." It
makes the eminently sensible point that ``anger at the Bush administration,
however justified, should not trump opposition to all aspects of
jihadism." The original manifesto, while critical of US abuses, also
condemns ``the anti-Americanism now infecting so much left-liberal
(and some conservative) thinking." The American statement follows
suit, deploring anti-Americanism as ``a low and debased prejudice."
Both conservatives and liberals will undoubtedly find much to disagree
with in the manifesto and in the American statement. As a libertarian-conservative,
I am closer to the Bush administration than to Euston signatories
on such issues as taxation and Social Security, and I do not endorse
the American statement's proposal for a national gasoline tax. But
those are issues on which honorable and intelligent people can disagree.
Will a statement by a group of academics and journalists have much
of a political impact?
Only time will tell. Many influential movements have started small.
A liberalism that upholds the basic values of Western civilization,
and recognizes them as worth defending, is sorely needed in today's
political discourse. It would be good to see a similar movement from
the right: for a conservatism that defends the free market, the separation
of church and state, and a limited government that is strong both
on national defense and on civil rights.