Old Left Revisited

, Sean Grindlay, Leave a comment

You know that political correctness has gotten out of hand when even leftist stalwart Marcus Raskin conveys his distaste for some of the excesses of PC language. Raskin is a cofounder of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), which bills itself as “the nation’s oldest multi-issue progressive think tank.”

“I happen to be against politically correct language because of civil liberties concerns,” Raskin said.

Although Raskin agreed with the notion that political correctness has gotten out of hand in some places, he offered a defense of PC by claiming that “ritual notions of language usage” have always restricted what civilized people may say in social situations.

In the 1960s Raskin co-authored The Vietnam Reader and A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority, two influential texts that condemned the Vietnam War and urged young men to dodge the draft. Raskin (along with some of his IPS colleagues) even traveled to Hanoi to give assistance to the Communist government of North Vietnam, against which American soldiers were then fighting.

In a panel discussion on Western values, Raskin defended multiculturalism and took a more pessimistic view of American history than did his fellow panelists, Lee Edwards of The Heritage Foundation and David Kelley of The Objectivist Center, the organization that sponsored the forum. Citing slavery and war as primary examples, Raskin contended that U.S. history has been “predicated on struggle.”

One might argue that the U.S. has been a “military expansionist power” from the beginning, Raskin said; from the taking of Indian lands to the Mexican War to the war in Iraq, America has always attempted to extend its influence and might. In addition to his position at IPS, Raskin is a professor of policy studies at The George Washington University.

Although Raskin sees nothing wrong with patriotism per se, he cautioned against confusing patriotism with self-deception and urged Americans to re-examine the militarism that he says pervades our society. Raskin is the author of several books, the latest of which is Liberalism: The Genius of American Ideals (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).

The last seventy or so years have been characterized by warfare and bloodshed, Raskin added, and during that period the U.S. has been “the biggest purveyor of violence.”

In contrast to his fellow panelists, Raskin rejected the notion that American values are universal and timeless; citing educator John Dewey, Raskin argued that a society’s creed must be based on a dedication to progress rather than to unchanging principles.

During his remarks, Raskin made the comment that conservatives, when pressed on the matter, do not truly believe in the freedom to control one’s own body—an apparent reference to the abortion issue.

Sean Grindlay is the managing editor of Campus Report.