Cdn Politics, Global Issues

The review I wish I’d written

The best book reviews are those that avoid the easy shots, the type of superficial critiques that can be made of any book, and go straight for the gut. Such reviews don’t quibble with details, or point out obvious biases, but rather go after the central thesis of the work. They challenge the core principle.

Such a blow is struck in Leslie Campbell’s review of Naomi Klein’s new book, The Shock Doctrine, published in the Literary Review of Canada.

In much the same way Potter and Heath nailed it re. No Logo, Campbell’s review is so powerful because it fundamentally challenges the central tenant of Klein’s new work, that she is providing a progressive alternative to the conservative market forces driving, in her view, global inequality. Moreover, it does so from the heart of the left – The author is linked the to the federal NDP.

Campbell’s core critique is that Klein is not progressive at all, she is actually a conservative. As he puts it:

“A hankering for the old days (in Klein’s case, the era of John Maynard Keynes) and suspicion of change are the hallmarks of true conservatism. Reminiscent of the Canadian Tory wag who once quipped that the Magna Carta was “too much, too soon,” Klein’s admiration of Keynes and the “mixed, regulated economy that created the New Deal” can sound quaint and dated. New Deal economics transformed North America, but positive innovations since then, many based on encouraging entrepreneurial wealth creation and liberalizing trade arrangements, deserve more attention. Also, in critiquing selected international economic transitions—most notably Russia, Poland, South Africa and Iraq—Klein occasionally sounds nostalgic for a past that was, for many people, at least as negative as the present.”

This can of course be said of much of the left writ large, where nostalgia has in many regards replaced progressivism, in any meaningful and historically accurate sense of the term. Certainly in Canada, there can be little doubt that the NDP are the most conservative party in the country (save perhaps the Bloc’s view of Quebecois Nationalism).

Understandably, conservatives are not too pleased with their new bedfellows, but on the central point, Jonathan Kay agrees with Campbell:

Leslie’s got it right: As with many anti-corporate activists, Klein’s vision for the world is essentially old-fashioned and sentimental. She imagines workers organizing into small-scale collectivist cottage shops of the type that globalization and technology rendered obsolete generations ago. The economic model Klein wants for developing nations is essentially the same one our own grandparents eagerly cast aside when modern capitalism made them rich after the Second World War.

Kay goes on to provide some useful clarity on conservatism and capitalism re. the Klein review, but this is somewhat tangential to Campbell’s critique.

I will avoid the temptation to go further, only to say, there is an emerging progressivism that moves beyond the highly conservative restraints of the socialist left. Something these guys are early champions of. As Campbell concludes, it is tired and out of date:

The book winds down with a rather familiar defence of “democratic socialism” (good socialism as practiced by Hugo Chavez) as opposed to “authoritarian Communism” (bad socialism as practiced by Stalin) or social democracy (cheap sell-out of socialism practiced by Tony Blair, Gerhard Schroeder and their ilk). To those in left-wing circles this is a hoary and tired debate, but Klein resuscitates it as brand new, quoting 1970 memos from Kissinger to Nixon like newfound gems. To have the young and talented Klein, hero to a generation of wired, plugged-in idealists looking for a place in the world, concluding that the political future is “markets existing alongside the nationalization of the banks and mines” is almost as discouraging as having to fight the powerful, unaccountable multinationals she skewered so skillfully in No Logo.

Lest anyone think I, or I think I can safely say Campbell for that matter, are arguing in favor of conservatism. Quite the opposite, as it is the very drift of much of the left that concerns me. More on this later though…

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