Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 23, 2009

The Liberal Defence of Murder

Filed under: antiwar,cruise missile left,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 2:37 pm

Richard Seymour’s The Liberal Defence Of Murder

by Louis Proyect

Book Review

Seymour, Richard: The Liberal Defence of Murder, Verso Press, 2008, ISBN-13: 978-1-84467-240-0, 358 pages.

(Swans – February 23, 2009)   To get straight to the point, Richard Seymour’s The Liberal Defence of Murder is a masterpiece of intellectual history and political agitation that is to the early 21st century what Julien Benda’s La Trahison des Clercs was to the post-WWI period. One supposes that as long as capitalist war continues to plague humanity, there will be a need for such a book every generation. Richard Seymour’s astonishing accomplishment is to rise to the occasion on his debut literary undertaking. Making a seamless transition from the blogosphere to the printed page, the young man associated with the popular Lenin’s Tomb blog proves that an old-fashioned book still has its uses.

In a sense, I am the ideal reader for such a book since I have had many of the same concerns as Seymour going back to the outbreak of war in Kosovo a decade ago. Some of the doubts I had about liberal opinion in the first Balkans war in Bosnia now came to a head as I saw one prominent intellectual after another cheering for the NATO bombing of the Serb republic. Many of them had come of age politically during the Vietnam War, including Michael Ignatieff. Despite having ostensibly learned to dig beneath their government’s justification for war after the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, many an ex-peacenik was now ready to join the bandwagon for war in the Balkans. They were now ready to believe that the Serbs had slaughtered Kosovar civilians in Racak, just as some intellectuals took LBJ at his word when he blamed the Vietnamese for attacking American destroyers without provocation.

As it turns out, the Michael Ignatieffs of this world were simply reverting to form as Richard Seymour ably demonstrates in a tour de force of intellectual history. As accustomed as I was to this sordid history after doing some of my own research over the past 10 years, I was not prepared for the examination of more than 200 years of imperialist apologetics of the kind we now associate with Ignatieff, Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen, Norm Geras, et al. The most startling revelation for me was how widespread this tendency was, even among writers I had always considered unblemished.

Take, for example, Alexis de Tocqueville who I knew only as a sharp commentator on American society in the 19th century who defended French colonialism’s right to impose its will on Algeria on the basis of its Arab citizens being “half-savage.” Tocqueville also dismissed American Indians and African slaves as being incapable of participating in a democracy for the same reasons.

full: http://www.swans.com/library/art15/lproy52.html


  1. Lou: You and Richard Seymour might be interested in Philippe Sands review of the book that appeared in the London Guardian, Sat., Feb. 21.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — February 23, 2009 @ 6:05 pm

  2. Richard replied to it here:


    Comment by louisproyect — February 23, 2009 @ 6:19 pm

  3. This i guess this is tipical marc cooper. He practicly wishes venezuela another military coup just show us all he knows how to NOT make the revolution.


    Comment by sebastian — February 23, 2009 @ 9:27 pm

  4. As Seymour himself suggests in response to Sands review, it’s clear that there really is a chasm between the assumptions and world views of liberals and Marxists. The overriding class interests of rulers everywhere drive their imperialist interventions but liberals just don’t get this at all. They show an amazing naivity and willingness to take propagandist justifications at face value. It makes me realise not only do most intellectuals reflect their own class outlook, quite a few of them are actually stupid! Superficial judgements of leaders seem to stoop to the level of giving the benefit of the doubt to people like Blair – after all he wears nice suits and talks with a middle class accent, he couldn’t possibly be a war criminal.

    Comment by Doug — February 24, 2009 @ 10:26 am

  5. Stupid indeed! And this is why, instead of warning what was to come, Seymour’s associates of the British SWP hustled votes for Blair and were then ‘over the moon’ when he was elected.

    Comment by Red Cloud — February 24, 2009 @ 5:27 pm

  6. Louis, in the full review you wrote:

    But for all-out propaganda on behalf of the contras, nothing could top Paul Berman, who used anarchist rhetoric to defend the Reagan-backed terrorists in the 1970s in the pages of the liberal Village Voice.

    Don’t you mean the 1980s there?

    Comment by Martin Wisse — February 25, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

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