Alex Massie's attack on the narcissistic left has been quite widely praised. But I'm in two minds about it.
To some extent, he has a point. As Phil says, there is an element in the left of "individuated identity politics...that can justify petty, spiteful, bellicose, moralising behaviour toward groups one doesn't like": he cites some atheists, but we could add that recent row about transsexuals.
My gripe with this type of politics is that the focus on individuals distracts us from power relations; it's an application of the fundamental attribution error. For example, capitalists dodge taxes and exploit workers not so much because they are greedy and immoral people but because doing so is the logic of capital; capitalists are "capital personified."
Similarly, the rich are rich not (just) because they work hard or are talented, but because they have the power to extract money from others*. And the unemployed are unemployed not (just) because they are lazy but because "unemployment is an integral part of the 'normal' capitalist system."
This point also applies to the matter in hand. The complaint from Laurie and Owen, among others, that the two million antiwar protestors were ignored or "betrayed" under-emphasizes the fact that those two million lacked power. This might have been legitimate - they were in fact out-numbered at the time. Or it might be more questionable; support for the war might have been based in part upon a lie and as Phil acutely notes, MPs' attitude to public opinion varies peculiarly.
Let's concede, for the sake of argument, that the protestors had morality and reason on their side. So what? Morality and reason matter only to the extent that they are sources of power.
In this way, the narcissism of degraded leftist identity politics serves an anti-leftist function, of blinding us to pervasive inequality. The non-Marxist left is as much a product of capitalist ideology as anyone else.
So far, I sympathize with Alex - albeit for reasons he might not like. I part with him for three reasons:
1.Laurie is groping towards a recognition that it is power structures that matter more than individuals' qualities: "We have to make sure that we are listened to – and we’re still working out how to do that."
2. It's not just the left that's narcissistic. We live in a narcissistic age, and the narcissism of the powerful has much nastier effects than that of the left.
3.Complaining that MSM columnists such as Owen or Laurie are narcissists is rather like noting that basketball players are tall. A degree of narcissism is necessary for success in their career, as it is in many others. As someone said, "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness."
* The distinction isn't so sharp, as "talent" can be a way of achieving power.