The Left at War

349 pages

1 illustrations

July, 2011

ISBN: 9780814799857

$25

Paper

Also available in

Subjects:

Cultural StudiesAnthropology

Part of the Cultural Front series

Author

Michael Bérubé is Paterno Family Professor in Literature at Pennsylvania State University, and the author of several books, including What’s Liberal about the Liberal Arts, The Employment of English, and Life As We Know It, which was a New York Times notable book and NPR book of the year. He is general editor of NYU Press’s Cultural Front series, has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers, and writes a popular blog, American Airspace, at michaelberube.com.

All books by Michael F. Bérubé

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and Bush’s belligerent response fractured the American left—partly by putting pressure on little-noticed fissures that had appeared a decade earlier.

In a masterful survey of the post-9/11 landscape, renowned scholar Michael Bérubé revisits and reinterprets the major intellectual debates and key players of the last two decades, covering the terrain of left debates in the United States over foreign policy from the Balkans to 9/11 to Iraq, and over domestic policy from the culture wars of the 1990s to the question of what (if anything) is the matter with Kansas.

The Left at War brings the history of cultural studies to bear on the present crisis—a history now trivialized to the point at which few left intellectuals have any sense that merely "cultural" studies could have something substantial to offer to the world of international relations, debates over sovereignty and humanitarian intervention, matters of war and peace. The surprising results of Bérubé’s arguments reveal an American left that is overly fond of a form of "countercultural" politics in which popular success is understood as a sign of political failure and political marginality is understood as a sign of moral virtue. The Left at War insists that, in contrast to American countercultural traditions, the geopolitical history of cultural studies has much to teach us about internationalism—for "in order to think globally, we need to think culturally, and in order to understand cultural conflict, we need to think globally." At a time when America finds itself at a critical crossroads, The Left at War is an indispensable guide to the divisions that have created a left at war with itself.

Reviews

  • “The most important book I have read in the past fiver years.”

    —John McGowan

  • “Indefatigably clear-minded and relentlessly researched, Bérubé’s The Left at War offers an invaluable excavation of just what has gone wrong, and occasionally right, with the academic/intellectual left in America. Anyone concerned with its future will be relying on this work for many years to come.”

    —Eric Alterman, author of Why We’re Liberals

  • “A rigorous, hard-hitting, and impressively detailed critique and account of the United States left during wartime—and at war with itself. It is far and away the most thoroughly reasoned and researched brief for a middle way between a predictably anti-imperialist left and a revoltingly hawkish liberalism, and in this it is immensely useful both as a guide to recent debates and as a sort of internationalist handbook. Rousing, engrossing, principled, and brave.”

    —Eric Lott, author of The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual

  • “Bérubé is the kind of critic, and the kind of advocate, that the Left desperately needs. I sometimes disagree with him, and then I argue with him in my head. I strongly recommend this practice: read him, learn from him, argue with him. It is a wonderfully bracing experience.”

    —Michael Walzer, editor, Dissent Magazine

  • “Bérubé’s new book delivers an incredibly timely message of tough love to the American Left. On issue after issue—from Afghanistan to Iraq to the domestic front—he separates progressive myth from progressive reality. In the process he distinguishes good reasoning from bad among the major political writers of the last generation and gives us a fresh agenda for future work.”

    —Cary Nelson, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  • “An incisive critique of the excesses of the political and academic left. Bérubé is uniquely positioned to diagnose the relationship between policy debates over the Iraq War and the fate of cultural studies in United States. The result is a fog-clearing argument for a new left internationalism centered on human rights and supranational institutions, and a timely reconsideration of Stuart Hall’s rich analysis of the rise of Thatcherism in England. This is an important and bracing book.”

    —Amanda Anderson, author of The Way We Argue Now: A Study in the Cultures of Theory

  • “Bérubé links progressives’ inability to control the conversation on national security during the Bush administration to cultural studies’ failure to deliver on its promise of a vibrant New Left. And in the process, he also tries to imagine a newer and better one—a left that both knows what is worth fighting for and how to fight for it.”

    American Prospect

  • “You’ll rejoice that there’s such an intelligent and even-minded critic of the left who takes his principles seriously enough to challenge those who threaten to destroy them from within.”

    Bookforum

  • “If Berube succeeds in making leftists, from center-left politicians like Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank all the way out to the most radical anarchists, ponder the question of violence seriously, he will have done an inestimable service. That he attempts to do just that makes the most important book I have read in the past five years.”

    —John McGowan in Symploke

  • “[E]ngaging and provocative. [Aims] to stimulate the Left through an injection of new ideas. To the extent that these ideas challenge what some see as core Leftist convictions, some on the Left - those who are content to stay the course and await the coming revolution - will not welcome them. But those who see the Left at a critical crossroads, who believe that its recent political failures have amplified the need for the Left to reinvent and revitalize itself, will certainly find these ideas worth consideration... [Berube has] done valuable work in clearing the way for a more intellectually innovative and politically effective Left.”

    Marx & Philosophy