Sunday, January 07, 2007

Jeffrey Herf explains "American Liberalism and the Euston Manifesto"

In September 2006 the historian (and former sociologist) Jeffrey Herf was one of the drafters of the US companion statement to the Euston Manifesto--an initiative that I had described, back in April 2006, as:
a statement of principles for a genuinely democratic, egalitarian, humane, and libertarian progressive politics put together by a group of people belonging, in one way or another, to the British democratic left.
For some further explanation and advocacy of the Euston Manifesto, one of the best discussions is Shalom Lappin's In Defence of the Euston Manifesto. For some further background on its US counterpart, see Euston USA - "American Liberalism and the Euston Manifesto".

I'm a signer of both of these manifestos. As I've indicated in the past, while I might quibble with elements of each, I think there's no doubt that their central thrust and animating spirit are definitely right and very important.

In the piece below, which is both concise and substantial, Herf explains the concerns that gave rise to this pair of manifestos and highlights some crucial issues that he thinks a revitalized progressive politics in the US needs to confront.

--Jeff Weintraub
Jerusalem Post
January 4, 2007
The First Word: American Liberalism and the Euston Manifesto
By Jeffrey Herf

On March 29, 2006, a group of British intellectuals posted "The Euston Manifesto" at Evoking the traditions of the anti-fascist and anti-totalitarian democratic Left, they defended liberal democracy and Enlightenment values while denouncing anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, terrorism and the radical Islam that inspired it. They called for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Euston Manifesto struck a nerve. More than 2,700 people, mostly in Britain but also in the United States, Europe and around the world, signed the manifesto on-line.

In August, a group of liberals and centrists in the US decided to write and circulate "American Liberalism and the Euston Manifesto" in an effort to continue the effort begun in London. I wrote a draft which was debated and discussed by my co-authors Russell Berman, Thomas Cushman, Richard Just, Robert Lieber, Andrei Markovits and Fred Siegel. On September 12, we posted our statement on the Euston Manifesto Web site. The full statement and a list of more than 200 prominent signers are also available at the Web site of "New American Liberalism" at

Signers of our statement included Ronald Asmus, Daniel Bell, David Bell, Omer Bartov, Eliot Cohen, Gerald Feldman, Saul Friedlander, Daniel Goldhagen, Walter Laqueur, Will Marshall, Benny Morris, Martin Peretz, Gary Smith, Leon Wieseltier, Gerhard Weinberg and James Young.

The authors of both the British and American statements hope to influence the political and intellectual debates about how liberal democracies can best confront and defeat the threats posed to us by radical Islam and the terrorism it inspires.

The American statement evokes the legacies in foreign policy of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. We wrote that "the key moral and political challenge in foreign affairs in our time stems from radical Islamism and the jihadist terrorism it has unleashed. We favor a liberalism that is as passionate about the struggle against Islamic extremism as it has been about its political, social, economic and cultural agenda at home. We reject the now ossified and unproductive political polarization of American politics rooted as it is in the conflicts of the 1960s, not the first decade of this century. We are frustrated in the choice between conservative governance that thwarts much-needed reforms at home, on the one hand, and a liberalism which has great difficulty accepting the projection of American power abroad, on the other. The long era of Republican ascendancy may very well be coming to an end. If and when it does, we seek a renewed and reinvigorated American liberalism, one that is up to the task of fighting and winning the struggle of free and democratic societies against Islamic extremism and the terror it produces."

IN LIGHT of the success of the Democratic Party in this fall's elections, this last sentence has even greater relevance.

We called anti-Americanism "a low and debased prejudice, not the mark of political sophistication or wisdom," and rejected "all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism." We invoked the leaders of the American civil rights movement "who won great political victories because they understood that hatred and terror would produce only more of the same."

Especially in view of "the retrograde attitudes about women and homosexuals emerging from the Islamic fundamentalists," we reaffirmed the need for equality for women and gays. While making clear our disagreement with much of the Bush administration's domestic policies and its conduct of foreign policy, we argued that some facts about international politics were not a matter of Left and Right. Knowledge about how to develop and deploy chemical, biological and most importantly nuclear weapons has been spreading around the globe more rapidly than liberal democracy and respect for human rights.

Indeed, the experience of fascism and Nazism showed us that it was possible for Germany, Italy and Japan to develop modern technology yet at the same time reject liberal democracy and embrace policies of racism, chauvinism, aggression and mass murder. We pointed to this paradoxical embrace of technological and scientific modernity that coincided with rejection of liberal democracy and human rights among radical Islamists, including those in the government of Iran.

The authors viewed "the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran with alarm. Such a state with these weapons would be a grave danger for the Middle East, Europe and the United States. It would increase the danger that such weapons might wind up in the hands of radical Islamist terrorist groups immune to the calculations of nuclear deterrence.

"In contrast to the communists during the Cold War, who wanted to change, not depart from this world, the cult of death and martyrdom of the terrorists inspired by Islamic fundamentalism raises deeply troubling questions about the prospects for peace and security in the future. We take very seriously and find utterly repugnant the threats of Iran's political leaders to 'wipe out' the State of Israel. We will not remain silent in the face of these genocidal threats to implement what would amount to a second Holocaust.

"We note as well that the vast majority of victims of the jihadist fanaticism have been other Muslims. Yet the passions of too many liberals here and abroad, even in the aftermath of terrorist attacks all over the world, remain more focused on the misdeeds and errors of our own government in Iraq than on the terrorist outrages by Islamic extremists. Anger at the Bush administration, however justified, should not trump opposition to all aspects of jihadism."

SINCE THE publication of our statements, we think and hope more liberals and centrists are reflecting on the disasters that would ensue if political support in the US for the long war against the radical Islamists of various persuasion were to erode. Now that the Democrats are in a more powerful position to influence American foreign policy, we hope they will read and ponder the arguments made by anti-totalitarian liberals in Britain and the US in the spring and fall of 2006. The co-authors and signers will be making efforts to continue the momentum begun by our first initiatives.

The writer is professor of European history at the University of Maryland and the author of The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust.