The new conservatives

Ian Buruma’s essay in the FT’s weekend supplement touches on many familar themes that have been looked at on this weblog and is simply a must-read.

By the late 1980s, there were not many western Leftists around anymore who still admired the Soviet Union or held much brief for violent third world revolutions. Memories of Pol Pot, Vietnamese boat people, and the Cultural Revolution were a quiet source of embarrassment (one hopes). Even the promises of socialism itself had begun to fade in the aftermath of 1989. What got stuck, however, was anti-Americanism.

Anti-Americanism may indeed have grown fiercer than it was during the cold war. It is a common phenomenon that when the angels fail to deliver, the demons become more fearsome. The socialist debacle, then, contributed to the resentment of American triumphs.

But something else happened at the same time. In a curious way left and right began to change places. The expansion of global capitalism, which is not without negative consequences, to be sure, turned leftists into champions of cultural and political nationalism. When Marxism was still a potent ideology, the left sought universal solutions for the ills of the world. Now globalisation has become another word for what Heidegger meant by Americanism: an assault on native culture and identity. So the old left has turned conservative.

This essay covers lots of other ground too and has a collection of some truly dreadful Gore Vidal and Arundathi Roy quotes.

(Thanks to Norman Geras for the tip-off)