Left Implosion

A debate I attended at the Oxford Literary Festival highlighted growing tensions between classical Enlightenment thought and postmodernism—tensions that threaten to cause a fissure on the British left.

Hosted each year by the Sunday Times, the festival affords authors the opportunity to discuss and tout their recently published works.  This year’s lineup included Richard Dawkins, John Julius Norwich, P.D. James, Philip Pullman, Niall Ferguson, and David Starkey, along with a host of lesser-known writers.  Not surprisingly, given the state of British culture, the presentations were of varying quality, with talks on, for example, Kingsley Amis and W.H. Auden competing with lectures bearing such titles as “Filthy Shakespeare” and “The Dirty Bits—For Girls.”

The festival’s final day featured a debate between Nick Cohen and Christopher Hitchens.  Cohen, a columnist for the Observer and New Statesman, has been making waves among British liberals since his book What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way was published in February.  Americans are more familiar with Hitchens, who now lives in the United States and is a frequent contributor to Slate and many other publications.  Since defecting from orthodox Marxism (though not from the left) some years ago, he has enjoyed a rather bizarre popularity among neoconservatives...

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