In truth, the ground for civilized debate has been shrinking progressively from September 11. The sharp animosity that has sprung up between the Left and Conservatives may be a kind of emergent behavior arising from the wide-ranging changes that have taken place since that fateful day. One could hardly expect that the end of the Cold War, the decline of Europe, the ascendancy of India and China, the collapse of the UN and the advent of terrorism would leave political relations between Left and Right unchanged. But it was the declining vigor of Marxist thought coupled with new conservative ideas that poured the most fuel on the flames. Discourse between Left and Right could only remain civil for so long as Conservatives remained meek or had no counter-pulpit. The weakening of the traditional media and the stresses caused by war have created a kind of 'play' in the system which now allow unchained weights to crash about. In that sense, there is nothing surprising about Juan Cole calling Jonah Goldberg names. One gets the feeling he has been calling people names all his professional life; and I think Mr. Goldberg can handle it. What has changed is that, with the decline of the MSM, there is nothing which prevents incivility from becoming a two-way street. And I'm not sure either the Left or the total system can contain the stress.
To a degree, the farther shores of left wing thought have always been more a religion than an actual program and, as Wretchard observes, a religion whose miracles have turned to dust.
The problem may be about asymetry. If you have believed that every single action taken by the United States since the end of WWII was part of an evil conspiracy and it turns out your belief is wrong, what do you do? the more moderate left gets on with the job of attempting to soften the hard edges of modern capitalist society. But the hard left has no such option.
To try a more rational approach would be to admit to the fact that the hard left analysis of America and the West's intentions and action in the the world is wrong. As the late Susan Sontang put it, "What if what the Reader's Digest has been publishing all these years turns out to have been true?"
Psychologically this would mean much more than a mere revision of previously held ideas in the light of new facts. It would mean the abandonment of a spiritual organizing principle which has sustained the hard left through every crisis - from the collapse of the Berlin Wall to the success of the Iraqi elections - and that will not be easy.
In downtown Vancouver, upstairs on a grungy bit of Hastings Street there was for many years, and may be still, a bookshop, not Spartacus, another one. The folks who ran it were "true believer" Enver Hoxha communists. The stocked, but I rather doubt sold, the albanian Communist's life works in several beautifully bound volumes. And they kept doing it well after Hoxha had died and the really evil, nasty and weird nature of his regime had been revealed.
They kept the store going simply because not to would have been to admit they had voluntarily spent their lives, wasted their lives, following the every dictate of a man and a Party which was deranged.
That is an awfully tough admission to make.