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Jewish World Review Nov. 7, 2001 / 21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Michael Kelly

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The Left's Great Divide -- DAVID BROOKS, the man who gave us the term "bourgeois bohemians," or bobos, argues in the Nov. 5 issue of the Weekly Standard that Sept. 11 reshaped our politics. The most important, and most salutary, of the ways in which this is true involves what Brooks calls the relegitimization of central institutions.

"This creates rifts on both left and right, because both movements contain anti-establishment elements hostile to any effort to relegitimize central authorities," writes Brooks. "The splits have been most spectacular on the left." And most significant.

The leftward wing of politics, Brooks points out, includes liberals who work in politics and academic and literary leftists who stand -- in a pose that apes moral superiority but is really a species of aesthetic snobbery -- apart from (and, they fancy, above) politics. Brooks: "They champion the outgroups. They stand with the victims of hegemony, patriarchy, colonialism, and all the other manifestations of central authority."

Sept. 11 cleaved the left smack on the line between these two primary constituencies. Liberals and leftists who work in politics or who are serious about politics (such as the writer Christopher Hitchens and the political philosopher Michael Walzer) have pretty much lined up on the side of the government and the public, which is the side of giving war a chance.

The liberal scold Bill Moyers, once press secretary to Lyndon Johnson and forever since a sort of national deacon, wrote this in a cover story for the Nov. 19 issue of the Nation: "Already, in the wake of Sept. 11, there's been a heartening change in how Americans view their government. For the first time in more than 30 years a majority of people say they trust the federal government to do the right thing at least 'most of the time.' . . . To most Americans, government right now doesn't mean a faceless bureaucrat or a politician auctioning access to the highest bidder. It means a courageous rescuer or brave soldier." Heartening? That most Americans trust their government to do the right thing and admire their brave soldiers? This, in the Nation? We live in an age of wonder.

Meanwhile, the reflexive response of Brooks's "outgroup left" to the new world of Sept. 11 has been, as Hitchens has written, "to translate it back" to the little Pooh Corner world of oppression and victimhood in which it has long and cozily dwelt. In this, writes Hitchens, "the Sept. 11 crime is a mere bagatelle when set beside the offenses of the Empire. . . . All radical polemic may proceed as it did before the rude interruption."

This split on the left is producing two excellent, related, effects. The first is to begin the process of rebuilding a responsible left. In recent years, it has increasingly seemed that to be a person of the left meant to be for, well, let's see, there was freeing Mumia, and there was, um . . .

This was not healthy, not only for the Nation but for the nation. In the years when the loony left was the dominant left, the sane and sober (well, relatively speaking) left seemed often a voice carping in a double wilderness, lost not only in the larger national conversation but also within its own conversation. It now has a chance to re-emerge, to divorce itself from the dilettantes of the English Department, and to fashion a grown-up politics of the left, one that actually functions as an effective force for the liberal approach to the real concerns of the country.

The second cheering effect is to nip more or less in the bud the anti-globalism movement. This movement, which was growing, offered the outgroup left its first real chance in many years to fashion a radical politics of destruction with some measure of mass appeal. The human costs of globalism, and the policy elite's disdainful unconcern for those costs, had given rise to a fragile coalition that promised the possibility of fulfilling the hard left's eternal dream: Workers of the world, unite. (Under us, of course.) For a brief moment, labor union working men marched in the streets with the Cub Scout anarchists and the perpetual protesters.

That's gone now. It went up in a cleansing puff when the radicals hit upon the brilliant notion of segueing the anti-globalization movement into an antiwar, anti-America-the-oppressor movement. This was an error in judgment with significant consequences. Working men will not march in the army of the flag-burners. They will march in the army that is setting out to kill the people who killed so many of their union brothers in the fire and police departments of New York City.

And the dilettantes can get back to the important business of saving Mumia.

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