Three ear-splitting cheers from an old radical to Bhaskar Sunkara for “Letter to The Nation From a Young Radical”! [June 10/17] There is no better statement about the futility of liberal moderation in the battle against the oligarchic juggernaut than Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” In defense of radical action in the streets, King wrote: “I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s greatest stumbling block toward freedom is not the White Citizens Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice…who constantly says ‘I agree with the goals you seek but cannot agree with your methods of direct action.’”
Nation, I have long loved you, and have longed for your analysis to head further left. Toward more “coherence and punch”: Is there any chance Bhaskar Sunkara could write a regular column?
New York City
When I was growing up, my parents’ subscription to The Nation helped shape my politics, leading me to a life of organizing, and when I left home, I bought a Nation subscription for the active liberal-left dialogue I found there. But about a year ago, I let my subscription lapse.
The Nation’s liberalism seemed increasingly, as Bhaskar Sunkara writes, “well-intentioned but inadequate.” The left is bursting with energy and ideas right now, but that is not reflected in this magazine. The renewed labor movement and struggles around climate justice, police brutality and austerity erupt with voices of every kind—young, working-class, female, queer and people of color, writing on blogs or speaking at teach-ins in our union halls and schools.
These young radicals are asking questions The Nation doesn’t ask. We fight and think so hard because we want a better future and know that it requires transformation. The Nation can be a magazine that young radicals like Bhaskar and I are excited to read. But it has to stop asking how to reform capitalism or save the Democratic Party and ask old, radical questions—and welcome the new answers.
DAVE W. IRWIN
New York City
I am sympathetic to critiques of liberalism and defenses of socialism. But Bhaskar Sunkara neither makes an argument nor takes a political position. His dismissal of Enlightenment debates as “a salon discussion between polite people with competing ideas” may be fashionable, but it is grossly inaccurate. More important, nothing in his essay actually explains how liberalism has failed. If he suggests welfare liberals have failed, he should tell us how. If he argues that radicalism provides an alternative, he should explain what that is. Political positions are meaningful only insofar as they can solve real-world problems.
Sunkara notes that liberalism is a “slippery” term. His use of socialism is just as slippery. Unless he has some non-Marxian variant of socialism in mind, it makes little sense to suggest that socialism provides answers without mentioning that those answers rely on the critique of capitalism developed by Marx. Still, one does not necessarily have to be a socialist to oppose austerity, debt or environmental degradation and support the rights of the working class, women, people of color, members of the LGBT community or immigrants. Many liberals have done all that quite well. So, if that’s what the fight is about, why the polemics about the failure of liberalism? Why bother calling yourself a socialist as opposed to a progressive liberal?