THEY DON'T MAKE 'EM LIKE THAT ANYMORE
By: Justin Raimondo
of Alexander Cockburn, columnist for the Nation and author of many books, is an
irreplaceable loss not only personally, for those who knew him, but for the broad
progressive movement, where his populist brand of anarcho-syndicalism
the leftist equivalent of crunchy conservatism
set him apart from the bullhorn-shouters and sloganeering ideologues of the haute
cuisine Left. His passing, after a two-year battle against cancer, marks nearly
the end of what remained vital and interesting about the American left in this country.
There is simply no one even remotely like him. As Jesse Walker described his first
encounter with Cockburns prose: I had never read anything like this
Whats particularly poignant about his passing is that well never read
anything even remotely like it again. With his death, a certain current in American
politics, with its roots on the left, has lost its only remaining voice.
Accounts of Cockburns career in the obituaries describe him as a radical
leftist, but this is only half-true. He was a radical, all right, but as for the
leftist I have my doubts. And so did his readers at the Nation,
with whom he engaged in a long-running debate over what constituted proper left-wing
orthodoxy. This debate included his editors: one Beat the Devil column
in the Nation bears this footnote:
The Nation's editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, wishes it to be on record that she
takes exception to the description of Dissent as obscure. I suggest a poll of
the American people.
There was a running tension between vanden Heuvel and Cockburn over the Obama Question,
and his other deviations from the lefts party line: approached by his
critics, vanden Heuvel averred I
dont read Counterpunch Cockburns feisty newsletter
which featured material far too radical for the Obama-worshipping respectable Nation.
Then there was the
Bush/Hitler debate, and the climate
change controversy the latter brouhaha the final straw for the kind of
lefties who still read the Nation. After all, Cockburn was a shameless recidivist:
when Bill Clinton was targeting the alleged danger posed by the militia movement in the
1990s, Cockburn defended them, likened them to the Zapatistas, and described one militia
rally he attended as amiable: he was also staunchly opposed to gun control, a
classical leftist position long-forgotten by todays paladins of political
correctness and federal control of everything.
His Press Clips column at the Village Voice in the 1970s carried on
for nearly a decade, and gave him a platform from which to challenge the conventional
wisdom on nearly every conceivable topic. He wrote, not with the pen of an ideologue, but
with an eye to the telling detail, the humorous aside, that made his prose stand out from
the usual automatic writing
that substitutes for real political commentary. In 1983, however, he was fired after the
Anti-Defamation League released a booklet detailing the efforts of the Arab
lobby to influence American journalism. Edward Saids Institute for Arab
Studies had awarded him a $10,000 grant to write a book, his accusers averred, a
fact Cockburn had failed to disclose to his editors and readers.
The Israel lobby had pulled off yet another successful hit against a critic of Israeli
government policies, but they hadnt gotten rid of Cockburn: he was immediately
offered a gig by Victor Navasky, then editor of the Nation, and Beat the
Devil named after one of his fathers novels commenced. In a
clever marketing ploy on the part of both the editors and the writer, he was even taken in
by the editors of Wall Street Journal, where he wrote a regular column for a while.
The end of the cold war, which sparked a major re-thinking of old dogmas
on the American right, had less emphatic consequences on the left, which had long ago
replaced the old Marxist shibboleths with new ones: identity politics, the climate change
religion, and, more recently, a firm belief in the divinity of Barack Hussein Obama. Yet
for Cockburn, an old-fashioned leftist, the implosion of the system his father a
Communist party member had so consistently defended had a profound effect on his
thinking. While the rest of what used to be called the left in this country drifted into
Democratic party politics and from there were recruited into the Obama cult, Alex Cockburn
stood aloof: scathing in his indictment of Obamas
and the current regime, he deviated from
contemporary leftist cant in important ways, such as his critique
The liberals are howling bout the unfairness of these attacks, led by Sarah
Palin, revived by her Death Panel talk and equipped with a dexterous new
speech writer who is even adding footnotes to her press releases.
But what is a conservative meant to think? Since the major preoccupation of
liberals for 30 years has been the right to kill embryos, why should they not be suspect
in their intentions toward those gasping in the thin air of senility? There is a strong
eugenic thread to American progressivism, most horribly expressed in its very successful
campaign across much of the twentieth century to sterilize imbeciles. Abortion
is now widening in its function as a eugenic device. Women in their 40s take fertility
drugs, then abort the inconvenient twins, triplets or quadruplets when they show up on the
What is a conservative meant to think, indeed. If he had lived, I believe Cockburn
would be having his paleoconservative
moment: he was, after all, a paleo-radical who had survived long enough to be
considered a reactionary. At the end of his long career as a luminary of the left, he
found himself, like H. L. Mencken and Albert Jay
Nock, denounced as an enabler of right-wing extremism. This was due not
only to Cockburns defense of the militia movement, his caustic comments on the
abortion issue, and his climate change denialism, but to his dalliance with I
would say outright sympathy for libertarianism. He admired Ron
Paul, and had been friendly to libertarians since at least the 1990s, when we invited him to speak at our first
and, sadly, only national
conference. We ran an exclusive column by him for a while,
but his fees were higher than we could manage, unfortunately. I saw him at antiwar events
in the Bay Area, and we also appeared at
some libertarian-sponsored events together.
His appearance at our conference caused a mini-controversy
on the left, where prim-and-proper commie types denounced him for joining the Devil: their
big objection was that Pat Buchanan was the conferences keynote speaker
oddly, the same objection the more politically correct libertarians expressed at the time.
Cockburn, and penned endless
polemics against his deviations. Cockburn didnt care: the caviling of
his PC critics amused rather than deterred him.
For all his pedigree as the son of a celebrated Stalinist a point
the right-wing obit writers are underscoring Cockburn was the exact opposite of a
party-liner in every sense: I wont insult his memory by referring to him as a
contrarian as if he was simply trying to draw attention to himself. He
may have been born into one of Britains most distinguished literary families, but
there was something quintessentially American about his brand of anarcho-left populism,
more akin to the Wobbly tradition than the Leninist and social democratic currents that
have dominated the modern American left.
Cockburns was almost a lone voice on the left raised against the centralizing,
dehumanizing, humanitarian war-making trends of modern liberalism. Its a
telling indictment of that movement when I can say with certainty that we shall not see
his like again.
Justin Raimondo is Editorial
Director of AntiWar.Com.
He is a regular columnist for Ether Zone.
"Published originally at EtherZone.com :
republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact."
Justin Raimondo may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
24, 2012 issue of Ether Zone.
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