Michael Walzer on Howard Zinn
Posted to www.marxmail.org on
Speaking of Howard Zinn, I should mention that Dissent Magazine has an attack on him by the Editor Michael Walzer. This was something that first appeared on the web a month or so ago and was answered here and there at the time. For example, 7 Oaks has a good retort at: http://www.sevenoaksmag.com/commentary/06_zinn.html.
I do think there are some additional points that can be made, especially in light of Gitlin's attack on Nader in the same issue. The two articles fall within the purview of "policing the left", something that Dissent Magazine has been doing for decades now.
A word or two might be in order about Walzer.
He is a member in good standing of the cruise-missile left who has developed an
extremely tortured defense of intervention in
"But now that we are fighting it, I hope that we win it and that the Iraqi regime collapses quickly. I will not march to stop the war while Saddam is still standing, for that would strengthen his tyranny at home and make him, once again, a threat to all his neighbors."
I am quite sure that when he was penning these words, a John Philip Sousa march was playing in the background. This combination of Pecksniffian moral posturing and imperialist bombast has been honed to perfection at Dissent Magazine. I am sure that scholars of future generations will study it just as some scholars study William Henry Seward today. This is imperialist apologetics at its gory best.
Turning to Walzer's attack on Zinn, the first thing you will notice by reading between the lines is its affinity with Gitlin's piece. Walzer writes:
Zinn omits the real choices our left ancestors
faced and the true pathos, and drama, of their decisions. In fact, most
In other words, American society is a kind of Platonic ideal in which nothing strays from the perfection of the two-party system, which was with us yesterday and will be with us tomorrow and forever. Or as they say in the Book of Ecclesiastes: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."
The message really is that it is futile to run against the Democratic Party, which is not as bad as the Republicans but can achieve electoral victory. About ten years ago a term was coined to describe this sense of limited options. It was "TINA", or "There is no alternative" (to capitalism.) For people like Gitlin and Walzer, it is really TINACP: "there is no alternative to capitalist politics."
The interesting thing, of course, is that despite Zinn's support for Kerry this year, he still gets mud flung at him because his history of the USA is replete with examples of Democratic Party treachery, including that which occured during FDR's presidency, a kind of Golden Age for social democrats like Walzer.
Walzer seems particularly miffed that FDR would be depicted as a warmonger in Zinn's book:
Of course, as an
imperial bully, the
One can certainly understand why WWII would loom large in the
calculations of somebody like Walzer. Along with the
European Social Democracy, they cheered on the bombing of
It is particularly galling to see Walzer conclude his hatchet-job with a recommendation of CLR James (among others)as a positive alternative to Zinn. Supposedly, "their work makes one wiser about the obstacles to change as well as encouraged about the capacity of ordinary men and women to achieve a degree of independence and happiness, even within unjust societies."
If CLR James knew that somebody as oily as Walzer was praising his work, I am sure that he would begin to spin in his grave at such a high rate that a dynamo attached to his corpse could satisfy the electrical needs of a medium sized American city for the next 5 years. For, in fact, this was how CLR James viewed the New Deal:
"In 1932 the Negroes, like the rest of the labor
movement, followed the New Deal program with its vast promises of a new order
Finally, it is of some interest to consider that James was a
passionate supporter of Ethiopian anti-colonialism. If you apply the same kind
of yardstick to
imperialism does not govern only the colonies in its own interests. It governs
the British people in its own interests also, and we shall see that imperialism
will win. It will talk a lot but it will do nothing for
Mussolini, the British
government and the French have shown the Negro only too plainly that he has got
nothing to expect from them but exploitation, either naked or wrapped in bluff.
In that important respect this conflict, though unfortunate for