24 August 2012

For the late great Alex Cockburn

Very strong praise yesterday from an (on its face) unlikely corner, The American Conservative’s publisher, Ron Unz - including a favourable comparison with William F Buckley, Jr. Indeed, the fact that a dedicated ‘left-contrarian’ like Mr Cockburn could attract to his fine publication CounterPunch a number of equally dedicated conservatives, even of the movement variety who had grown disgruntled with the ideological rigidity and the changes that were taking place under their feet, as it were, says a great deal about the man. Even more so when one considers that he also has been defended by anti-establishment left-liberal thinkers of a more recent vintage, like Corey Robin.

I won’t do my readers the intellectual disservice of making the point that every supposedly Very Serious left-of-centre commentator and his mother thought it necessary after his death to drive home with a sledgehammer about Cockburn’s apologetics (if they can be so called) for Stalin, long past when it was fashionable for leftists of any stripe to do so, at least in public. Knowing right from wrong is easy in such a case; I feel no need to pile on yet more sanctimony. What is more important and noteworthy about Alex Cockburn (and of the political project of CounterPunch more generally) is that he was one of the ‘old socialists’ who, to quote Dr John Milbank, ‘[began] to realise that [they] should talk with traditionalist Tories’, and did not, unlike his former colleague Chris Hitchens, decide to slide uncritically in with the New Right (which itself was made up mostly of Trots). He provided a much-needed forum for classical conservatives, socialists, radical liberals and the like to compare notes and to critique the mushy centrism of the Powers That Be. Anyone who can make space for a synthesis between, and who can be fondly remembered by, the likes of both Ron Unz and James Wolcott, is certainly worthy of adulation on those grounds alone.

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