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What's Left?

4.1  ·  Rating details ·  771 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
From the witty and excoriating voice of journalist Nick Cohen, a powerful and irreverent dissection of the agonies, idiocies and compromises of mainstream liberal thought. He comes from the Left. When he was a child, his mother would search supermarket shelves for politically reputable citrus fruit, and despair. Aged 13, when he learned his kind and thoughtful English teac ...more
Paperback, 1st Edition, 405 pages
Published 2007 by Fourth Estate
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Paul Bryant
Oct 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
This brave and (for me personally) difficult book begins with the following observation:

On 15 February 2003 about a million liberal-minded people marched through London to oppose the overthrow of a fascist regime. It was the biggest protest in British history. The scene was replicated throughout Europe as millions of liberals marched to oppose the overthrow of a fascist dictator called Saddam Hussain. To state the obvious : aren't liberals supposed to be against fascist dictators?

So Cohen begin
Ian "Marvin" Graye
A Message for You Nicky

Below is a blog I wrote in February, 2007 in response to the publication of extracts from the book in the Murdoch press.

Guardian or Turncoat?

It's been both amusing and thought-provoking to read extracts from "What's Left? How the Liberals Lost Their Way", by Nick Cohen.
To be honest, I can't understand what his point is from the extracts that I've seen.
I assume he is saying that Western left-liberals have so disappointed and embarrassed him, that he's going to cease being a
Nov 21, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
In What's Left, Nick Cohen takes the view that in the early twenty-first century 'the left' has lost its way. The main reason behind this, he argues, is that unbridled capitalism has won, market economies have proved themselves to be the best form of economic government and 'the left' is now consumed with hatred and bitterness over the death of socialism. As a reaction to this, 'the left' has now reshaped itself as fundamentally anti-American. Anything that America supports 'the left' must hate ...more
Jan 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
For some years now Nick Cohen has been tracking the troubling rise of a breed of notionally left leaning people, harbouring views which are incoherent and sit somewhere on the spectrum between offensive and repulsive. His Observer column has articulated this phenomenon more eloquently than I could hope to. Many is the article I have read and thought "that neatly encapsulates my own beliefs." Except whenever I try to express the viewpoint it comes out as "Nnngh", whereas Cohen has the gift of con ...more
Jan 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mind-blowing! What’s Left is a scathing criticism of today’s far left, the growing and increasingly mainstream faction of political activists who have gone so far left to come full circle and end up back on the right, supporting and apologizing for fascist regimes or any policy, individual or fanaticism as long as it is anti-Democratic and specifically anti-American. As someone with a strong liberal, left-wing identity (although I’ve never been politically active, just had lots of (in hindsight, ...more
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I was thrilled to read this book, discovering there are writers who feel like me about the moral rottenness of the post-modern left. I supported the war by President Bush and Minister Blair to free the Iraqi people from the genocidal Saddam Hussein's blood-soaked tyranny, a cruel despot who had killed with chemical weapons thousands of Kurds and Shia Marsh Arabs. I was incredulous and angry that millions marched around the world to protect this modern day Hitler claiming they were the custodians ...more
Erik Graff
Jun 04, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Workers' Revolutionary Party members
Recommended to Erik by: Michael Miley
Nick Cohen evinces the perspectives of Christopher Hitchens without his skill as a writer. While Hitchens primarily writes with a focus on the United States, his current residence, Cohen works primarily from the British standpoint.

Briefly stated, Cohen'a argument is that some persons and groups identified with liberalism and the left seem to have moved towards agreement with some persons and groups on the right over the last decade or so, particularly as regards foreign policy matters and especi
Aug 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
MyGod, but this is a remarkable book - a polemic in favour of a consistent, secular and humane left-liberalism which takes as its starting point the disarray of the Western left in the face of Islamist terrorism and the 2003 Iraq war. Cohen - dry, witty, impassioned - forensically examines the confusion of his fellow Leftists faced with the monumental bad behaviour of people they had been conditioned to consider oppressed.

The absurdity of self-proclaimed Leftists - nominally supporters of human
Aug 27, 2007 rated it liked it
Cohen's thesis: the Western left has lost its center in the foreign policy arena and is now merely oppositional. We oppose anything the US does, and we support, or make excuses for, any regime that's "anti-Western", even if that regime is totalitarian, theocratic, or reactionary. He's correct. At present, for example, one can hear lots of apologies and excuses from the "radical" left for the regime in Iran, even though they're privatizing the oil industry, allowing (if not participating in) viol ...more
Apr 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Over the last few years, I've gotten pretty annoyed by the social justice warriordom & cultural relativism of Tumblr and Twitter and the ideological authoritarian world of the millennial-and-their-allies hive mind.

That dissatisfaction has prompted me to check out authors, thinkers and social media personalities who span a wide range of political and ideological beliefs, but have at their core an attachment to Enlightenment values. Cohen gives the reader a history lesson in the evolution of t
Jan 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Nothing terribly surprising here. Cohen has three main themes:

1) The far left are nut jobs.
2) Be critical of your fellow lefties because you really aren't all on the same page.
3) If you're going to criticize someone don't look for moral equivalences

These are all things I already knew.

Besides that Cohen overplays his hand in a number of places, at one point saying that the Baathists were fascist right from the word go (they were nationalist/independent way back when and the fascism sprouted lat
Apr 16, 2016 added it
Shelves: dnf, social-science
I thought it was a different kind of book and, as a leftist person as I think of me, I read the first 20pgs totally disbelieving what Cohen was saying. Just as an example, at pg17 he wrote: "why will students hear a leftish post-modern theorist defend the exploitation of women in traditional cultures but nothing a crusty conservative don?"
Why he wrote so, when femminists lobbies put President Clinton under pressure to stop courting the talebans and go fight them in 1992?
Aug 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Very interesting to go back to this, which covers a large swathe of the left's disgusting moral double standards during George W's time in office. I hit the wall with engaging with the madness of supporting jihadis and blaming small-town Americans for all the ills of the world about two years ago. I worried while reading the book that I was reading it to merely reinforce my existing prejudices, but Cohen is clear and rational enough that this doesn't become an indulgent polemic.
Jul 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Cohen says everything I wanted to say, but didn't have the guts at the time. The real pleasure here is to see a man turning his sights against his 'own' political comrades over a matter of principle.
Cohen lays out a sickening litany of symptoms that add up to a depressing tendency of left-wingers to abandon all principles just when they matter most.

A must read for any who think that American/Western power is the worst of all possible worlds.
George Millo
Jul 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
One of those books where you put it down and look around at a world that makes several shades more sense than it used to. And you feel amazed that you didn't realise all of this sooner, and you wonder how you ever coped when you were too naïve and innocent to know the truth of Cohen's words.
Daniel Laskowski
It's now a good few years old, this book, but the problems with the Left so presciently identified here have gone only from bad to worse. It's an essential read for anybody who still scratches their head over what the hell has gone wrong in the politics of the Western world.
Feb 23, 2016 added it
An excellent read for those disillusioned with the lunacy of the political Left.
May 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm not "into politics" - I've never seen the point of listing politics as a hobby or an interest. It's all around us, affecting every part of our lives, whether we like it or not - having it as a hobby would be like calling breathing a hobby.

Possibly because of this, there is as much drivel written on politics as on any other subject around, across printed and social media, and let's not leave out academia - after all the problem with social science, is that it's not a science at all.

Trying to
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A decimating critique of the illiberal Left by a passionate, and angry, actual liberal – who really knows how to write, and think. So, what’s left of the Left after Nick Cohen’s scathing analysis? Only the increasingly maligned principles (see and Enlightenment values that the Left has forgotten it’s supposed to stand for. Much of the Left now hates these (and the people who still stand for them) almost as much as it hates white people, especially the wo ...more
Mars Cheung
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"The contempt for universal standards of judgement suited the liberalism of the late twentieth century which placed an inordinate emphasis on respecting cultural difference and opposing integration even if the culture in question was anti-liberal and integration would bring new freedoms and prosperity. It fitted neatly with a form of postcolonial guilt that held that not only were we 'wrong to force western rationality or western science down other people's throats, but that their rationality or ...more
Apr 27, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The first 3 chapters were interesting. Then it turned into shambles. The rest of the book is spent rambling and insulting the left and the liberals and the liberal left (whatever that means) and any group or organisation you can think of. And because they were all wrong (in many ways, but mainly in their disregard for the many Iraqis Saddam killed) he must be right, which means the Iraq war was right in principle. This is all you get as an argument. Apart from the author’s own disregard for the ...more
Alistaire King
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The problem of the Left

Nick Cohen dissects the mess the Left has got itself into. For too many on the left they seem to be full of self loathing of their own western values and a blind anti-Americanism. A belief in relativism which is used to negate universal rights which the Left is supposed to uphold. For some it's better to be supporting a dictator or reactionary theocratic regime just because they oppose the United States. I consider myself to be politically to the Left of centre so to see m
Martin Berman-Gorvine
Essential Reading on the Moral Bankruptcy of Contemporary Left-Liberalism

As a disillusioned man of the Liberal Left myself, I find Nick Cohen's Britain-centric account compelling. If you want to know why the "liberals" have been so helpless in the face of the populist-racist threat, here is an excellent if dispiriting place to start.
Daniel Picard
Mar 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am not heavily interested in politics and before reading this book I knew that left was liberal and right was conservative but that was about it. After traversing numerous significant political and global events, I have a deeper understanding of the left and right and how the extremes of each side are quite similar.
Benjamin Hill
May 28, 2017 rated it did not like it
Too dry.
Joel Mellinger
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Essential reading

It's almost as though people on the left are reading this as a script. It's brilliantly observed.
A tour de force.
Chris Quartly
Jan 22, 2018 rated it liked it
A very well written book which gives one (or, rather, should give one), pause for self-reflection on staying consistent with one's principles.
Apr 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
From a former Labour supporter, penetrating analysis of the problems on the left
Sep 04, 2012 rated it liked it

I'm not sure how best to edit down 1600 words I've written on What's Left to a more concise review.

I'd consider myself on the left, so the book's critique is personal, but I'm also uninvolved enough to be able to (to have the luxury of?) not being too committed.

Cohen's main thesis goes something like this. The left has forgotten that there are worse things than liberal democracy. I would include, though Cohen doesn't, that there are worse things than war. The left has lost the ability to critici

Joanna b
Feb 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Trying to figure out how things went so far up the creek so I read this. Didn't agree with everything here, but he asks some solid questions and makes some good points.
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Nick Cohen is a British journalist, author, and political commentator. He is currently a columnist for The Observer, a blogger for The Spectator and TV critic for Standpoint magazine. He formerly wrote for the London Evening Standard and the New Statesman. Cohen has written four books: Cruel Britannia: Reports on the Sinister and the Preposterous (1999), a collection of his journalism; Pretty Stra ...more
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“separate cultures that couldn’t be criticized or understood by outsiders applying universal criteria. Nor, by extension, could any other culture, even if it was the culture of fascism, religious tyranny, wife burning or suicide bombing. Each separate cultural group was playing its own ‘language game’, to use the phrase the postmodernists took from Wittgenstein, and only players in the game, whether feminists or Holocaust deniers, could determine whether what was being said was right or wrong. As epistemic relativism infected leftish intellectual life, all the old universal criteria, including human rights, the search for truth and the scientific method, became suspect instruments of elite oppression and Western cultural imperialism.” 1 likes
“By the Eighties socialism was dying even in the poor world, and there was nothing left to do for those who hated the status quo but embrace the programme of the anti-democratic far right, as Foucault had done, or more usually, just refuse to come out against radical reactionary forces on the grounds that any movement that was against the West couldn’t be all bad.” 1 likes
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