Alex calls for the end of "call for"
In the midst of a splendid takedown of David Hare's onemanshow on Berlin, Alex Harrowell articulates his disdain of the phrase "to call for":
There is a broader issue here; the phrase “to call for” repels me more and more. Its function is to get you out of responsibility for your opinions. I didn’t want war - I merely called for solidarity with the US in fighting terrorism. It also acts as a way of escaping the healthy discipline of detail. It is telling that it is fashionable with the neoconservatives, the Decents, and the hard left all at once - all the retailers of the goods dream-hungry youth demand, according to Leszek Kolakowski.
I call for action on Darfur! But I say nothing of the mountainous problems of projecting force into the roadless and railless interior of western Sudan, nothing of whose infantry are to actually go and get killed there, nothing of who exactly they are meant to kill or threaten effectively to kill, or for what aims. I just called for. Let’s decommission this phrase, like a worn-out nuclear power station - switch it off gracefully, sever the lines and fill the damn thing with concrete, and watch it carefully for a hundred years to see nothing leaks out.
One minor quibble is that by and large the socalled "hard left" (which in any case usually sems to mean whomever is to the left of the speaker) isn't the main offender in this. Socialists, anarchists, communists all have a healthy, historically validated distrust of relying on the state to further their projects. Social democrats and liberals on the other hand have a history of enthusiasitc support for state intervention. If Iraq and Afghanistan are too obvious, take a look at who the main cheerleaders for intervention in Yugoslavia were.
UPDATE: Interesting discussion of Alex's post over at Aaronovitch Watch in which ejh takes exception to Alex's thesis:
The problem comes not when people without power express principle, provided they don't do so ungenerously: it's when people do have power and piss about. This is why it's problematic (though not necesarily entirely wrong) to suggest that Macmillan should have called for an uprising against the bulding of a Berlin Wall, because it would quite likely have been writing a cheque he couldn't cash*. Geroge Bush Sr wrote a cheque in Iraq 1991 that he probably could have cashed, but then didn't: that was worse still. But to be honest, in just saying "Stop Apartheid Now" ("Now"? What does that mean, "now?") more than half my life ago, I wasn't writing any cheques or taking any risks.
Except the risk of becoming Andrew Anthony. Well, yeah, I've met a few. But there's an opposite but equal risk, that many have also fallen victim to, that people who want to concentrate on practicals to the exclusion of ideals turn into New Labour. That's what that particular movement in politics was and is all about. Lots of the Anti-Apartheid people ended up like that - and I don't think I'd err in detecting a large crossover between the people who were most keen to follow the ANC line in toto in the Eighties, and those who were the keenest Blairites ten and twenty years later. I think there are as many ill consequences in going one way as in another.
Posted by Martin Wisse Permalink End of post.