Jeffrey c. isaac is a generous and provocative critic, yet I fear our disagreement may perplex some readers. He is right when he says that I still identify myself as “left” because of values—most simply, liberty, equality, solidarity. Where he calls for a “politics of democratic ambivalence,” I uphold a “left politics,” which, as I explained it, means favoring equality-friendly democracy—a society in which it is inequalities that must be justified. Readers may wonder: OK, but Isaac and Cohen are actually on the same side of many matters—they’re not quarreling about the respective merits of, say, vibrant trade unionism or gender equality or racial justice—so what’s the real substance of their disagreement? Didn’t Cohen argue in “Why I’m Still ‘Left’ ” for a pluralistic left that combines “discrimination and openness in its intellectual conversation,” unwed to canons?
I think there is, first of all, a “metadisagreement” between us, to use a current way of characterizing these things. It is captured by Isaac’s contrast between his “ambivalence” and what he calls my “binary” left imagery. His objections are not to “left values,” only to claiming for them a political “space” and then centering one’s politics there. He protests that things are more complicated than any single category allows; political space, for him, has now become too deep for a term like “left.” The political universe, he warns, has changed....
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