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Anti-Totalitarianism: The Left-Wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy

antitotal.jpgOliver Kamm, Foreword by Martin Bell, 2005
ISBN 1 904863 06 X

Throughout the past century the Left has fractured over the issue of national security. In Anti-Totalitarianism: The Left-Wing Case for a Neoconservative Foreign Policy, Oliver Kamm plots a course for progressive politics by drawing on four pivotal historical debates on the British Left. These episodes comprise: collective security in the 1930s; opposition to Communist expansionism after World War II; the Labour Party’s rejection in the 1980s of its earlier anti-Communism; and President Bush’s ‘war on terror’.

Kamm identifies, running through these debates, an authentic left-wing tradition of militant anti-totalitarianism. Against it, however, there has been a recurring temptation for progressives, critical of their own societies’ failings, to extenuate or even romanticise the ideological opponents of Western liberal democracies.

Kamm criticises left-wingers who instinctively oppose the use of force by the Western democracies. He demonstrates the affinity between their supposedly progressive anti-interventionism and a conservative ‘realism’ (which Kamm terms ‘amoral quietism’) that fails even in its own terms as a strategy for preserving vital interests. Kamm demonstrates that these issues are not new to British political debate, and that the Left is reprising familiar errors. The sole novel feature of left-wing opposition to the Blair-Bush strategy since 9/11 is that an alliance has emerged between different and previously hostile forms of totalitarianism.

Against self-styled realists, Kamm defends regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of an anti-totalitarian struggle with recognisable antecedents in twentieth-century Europe. He argues that the promotion of global democracy accords with the Left’s internationalist ideals of opposition to fascism and clerical reaction. Indeed, the much-maligned term neoconservatism should be seen as a modern variant of traditional liberal internationalism.

Interventionism has recently been a difficult cause to argue in British politics. Kamm expounds it, as Martin Bell notes in his foreword, “with style, dexterity and scholarship”.

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