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September 20, 2006

A Liberal Assault on Anti-Americanism


In late 2005, a group of relatively obscure British academics and bloggers sat down with the goal of redefining liberal democracy in foreign policy, in a “fresh political alignment.” What resulted was the “Euston Manifesto”, a document laying out a set of principles in favor of democracy, human rights and equality, and against tyranny, racism, terrorism and anti-Americanism.


The document, primarily authored by Manchester University professor and blogger Norman Geras, was created in response to overreaching by the European left, which the signatories felt had gone too far in failing to recognize the threat from Islamic terrorism. Supporters of Euston ranged from neoconservatives to pure centrists to mainstream liberals to self-proclaimed democratic socialists.


“We must define ourselves against those for whom the entire progressive-democratic agenda has been subordinated to a blanket and simplistic ‘anti-imperialism’ and/or hostility to the current U.S. administration,” the original document stated.


Having been translated into at least 10 languages, and now being published all around the world, the Euston Manifesto has now come to America. A companion document, called “American Liberalism and the Euston Manifesto,” was published last week, and since attracted thousands of signatories, including those of numerous historians and college professors.


It’s a long and varied document, but the main points of the American document are as follows: Radical Islam is an enemy, which “fosters dictatorship, terror, anti-Semitism and sexism,” and therefore must be confronted. America has made mistakes in the war on terrorism, but it is wrong for liberals to act more outraged by them than they are by the terrorism and mass murder carried out by the jihadists. And the document decries, in several places, the political polarization on matters of foreign policy that has befallen American discourse since the Vietnam era.


The British version made those points and several more. It argued first and foremost for democracy, while also repeatedly hammering home the point that it is wrong for liberals to apologize for tyranny, even if it’s done in the name of leftism (see: Cuba and Venezuela). It also criticized racism, anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism whether coming from the left or the right, while also arguing for a peaceful two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


“We reject the notion that there can be no opponents on the left,” the document states, echoing a point that should be familiar to readers of Peter Beinart’s The Good Fight, this year’s most important political book thus far.


The ideas behind Euston have been intuitive to many liberals since the events of 9/11, and even before. We’re the people who are essentially liberal in our instincts and temperament, but find that the anti-Americanism and “anti-imperialism” of the hard left appeals to us not at all. We’re the ones who, disgusted as we may be with that hard left, don’t find pure conservatism to be a particularly appealing alternative. And most of all, we see the traditions, culture, and (yes) liberalism of the West as something to be proud of, not ashamed of, and understand that fanatics living in another century are a serious and true threat to all of that.


Such ideas should be familiar to readers of The New Republic, Beinart’s book, and especially Paul Berman’s post-9/11 book Terror and Liberalism.


Not everybody is listening, it appears. Last week, just a few days after the American version of Euston debuted, the laughable Cold War relic known as the Non-aligned Movement (NAM) met in Havana to slam the U.S. as the root of all the world’s problems. Included in the group were Iran and North Korea. NAM concluded by electing the ailing Fidel Castro its president – believed to be the first time Castro has ever been elected to anything.


The Manifesto is not a perfect document. The American version just about punted on the question of Iraq, as it appeared the signatories were split right down the middle on the issue (the Democrats often find themselves in that same position). And the original version includes a call in favor of open source software, which seems awkward and beside the point.


But overall, the Euston Manifesto is an important and worthy document that deserves to be read and debated. You can do both at

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