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Odd Friends, Indeed


I have to sympathize with Chris Bertram’s comment on Scott McLemee’s Solidarity Forever. The post is in reference to McLemee’s interview with Danny Postrel at Inside Higher Ed. The substance of the interview is the argument that the American and European Left is insufficiently sympathetic to Iranian dissidents because either a) the Left can’t get worked up over anything that’s not anti-American, or b) the Left is afraid that complaints about Iranian human rights practice will give ammunition to neocon hawks. Lindsay Waters, apparently, has lots of friends who believe that John Rawls is as evil as George Bush. As Bertram notes, he must have some odd friends. I realize that, somewhere, there are probably a dozen people or so who believe that Theory of Justice caused the Iraq War and so forth and what not, but time would be better spent ignoring those people instead of suggesting that they have an inordinate influence over the rest of the Left.

Yglesias does a good job with this; it’s hardly the first time that this nonsense has been trotted out. The first response is the left wing American and European organizations have consistently expressed concern over and solidarity with dissent in Iran, as well as in the much more repressive autocracies (like Saudi Arabia) that are tolerated by the United States. The second is that the assistance of American leftists is not, after all, an unqualified good. It’s hardly certain that the condemnation of Iranian human rights abuses by a group of earnest American lefties actually helps the human rights situation in Iran. While in and of itself a good, in the context of the rest of American foreign policy such action may actually work to discredit reformers and dissidents within Iran, as the neoconservative right does, in fact, use the same language to advocate for war. As Matt and Garance note, American threats towards Iran have quite likely set back the cause of democracy.

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