Chris Dillow has a characteristically thoughtful post up about Nick Cohen's What's Left?. Dillow thinks Cohen asks a good question but offers a bad answer. The good question, which Dillow thinks has been underplayed somewhat in the discussion the book has attracted, is this:
[W]hy has the left gotten itself into such a mess that some of it (how much is unclear) excuses fascism and totalitarianism?
So Dillow agrees with the diagonsis, but thinks Cohen is plain wrong when he writes that he doubts "if anyone can tell you what a society significantly more left-wing that ours would look like and how its economy and government would work." In Cohen's view, socialism as a political and intellectual project is dead. Dillow deals with that claim without ceremony: "The claim that socialism is dead is moronic" – because it ignores the work of political theorists and economists such John Roemer, Sam Bowles and Richard Arneson.
These figures certainly aren't discussed in Cohen's book, though it should be said that the passage that Dillow dismisses as "gibber" is obviously aimed at the left that's got itself in a mess – "anyone" there refers to those on the left whose mental contortions Cohen is describing. And, in any case, Dillow agrees with Cohen's broad point about the indifference of much of the left to serious economic thought – except he thinks "the crime of the left is actually greater than Cohen realizes". The "crime" in question being the squandering of the intellectual resources in the work of Roemer et al.
Dillow canvasses three reasons for this squandering, the third of which in fact rehearses one of Cohen's key points:
One legacy of the 1960s is that the left stopped thinking rigorously about consequences, preferring symbolism and self-righteousness. For me, one of the most offensive aspects of the anti-war demos were the placards reading "Not in my name" - as if evil were tolerable as long as one's own conscience were clear.
Cohen shares Dillow's distaste for the "Not in my name" slogan and everything it implies about the beautiful souls of the anti-war left. That's why I opened my piece about What's Left with that passage from Ian McEwan's Saturday:
Not in My Name goes past a dozen times. Its cloying self-regard suggests a bright new world of protest, with the fussy consumers of shampoos and soft drinks demanding to feel good or nice.