In his essay on "political renegades", David Edgar informs us that he "became interested in the politics of defection in the late 1970s". No one could accuse him, on the evidence of this article, of having used the intervening three decades to acquire mastery of his brief.
The name of the former Ramparts editor turned aggressive rightwing activist is David Horowitz, not Horovitz. The critic of welfare provision whom Edgar names as Robert Nesbit is, in reality, the late sociologist and historian Robert Nisbet. Edgar castigates the opposition of the educationalist Nathan Glazer to affirmative action for ethnic minorities, yet lacks the candour or possibly the knowledge to add that Glazer - fearing a resegregation of the academy - outspokenly changed his mind on the issue in the 1990s. The social theorist Daniel Bell, whose seminal writings might profitably be consulted by those who imagine Noam Chomsky to be a leading public intellectual in the field, is in no identifiable sense a neoconservative. Bell broke politically with his friend Irving Kristol, the founding father of neoconservatism, in 1972, when Kristol backed Richard Nixon for president while Bell supported George McGovern. To my knowledge, Bell has never amended his ideological self-identification (in his most famous book, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism), as a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics and a conservative in culture.
If you want an informed account of the political literature and personalities of an earlier generation, Edgar is not your man. Turning to Edgar's treatment of more recent debate, I cannot be so generous. As Andrew Anthony states, if you consider Ed Husain's rejection of the theocratic, misogynist and antisemitic organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir as part of the literature of rightwing defection, then your political bearings are severely awry. I make merely two additional points to Andrew's critique.
First, while complaining that "there is a tendency to see the world in stark, binary terms" on the part of those he tendentiously designates defectors, Edgar is either heedless or ignorant of the political heterogeneity of the people he is dealing with. Melanie Phillips, for example, decries what she calls the libertine (ie, permissive) society, praises Vladimir Putin's opposition to Kosovan independence, and writes sympathetically of intelligent design. These views are - I understate on a grand operatic scale - not widely held among the rest of Edgar's targets. Nor are they held by me.
Second, Edgar outdoes himself in risible equivocation when he observes: "No one on the progressive liberal left can be comfortable with any of the religions of the book, particularly when literally applied." Edgar counts so many unexceptionable positions as rightwing apostasy that he will probably do the same with this one. But I insist that secularism is essential to progressive ideals. By secularism, I mean not "discomfort" with organised religion, but the complete relegation of religious authority from public life.
As it happens, Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain - who has not been backward in inveighing against the "Zionist-controlled" nature of the British media - is not quite the dreamy idealist that Edgar imagines. But even if he were, the MCB would remain merely a sectional interest with no specialist knowledge in public policy and nothing to contribute to it. Progressive politics is committed to the defence of religious liberty, not to granting a respectful hearing to religious authority. Religious observance is a matter for the private sphere alone. The only civic arrangement progressives recognise is common citizenship under a single, secular and universal rule of law.
While purporting to describe historical parallels among leftwing defectors, Edgar noticeably omits the most significant of such figures in American intellectual life in the last century. This was the pragmatist philosopher and socialist Sidney Hook. Hook supported the Communist party's candidate for president in 1932, William Z Foster, yet later became a fierce opponent of communism and a supporter of the west in the cold war. What Hook - a brilliant and sympathetic interpreter of the thought of Karl Marx - never did was to abandon his belief in social democracy, the welfare state, steeply progressive income tax, secular humanism, and free choice on abortion. He did not fit Edgar's own law of the "tendency of ex-radicals to become very conservative indeed", unless you assume that anti-totalitarianism is by definition a conservative position.
In an address entitled "A Critique of Conservatism", delivered to a conference of social democrats in 1976, Hook described the challenge for adherents of a free society:
"The differences between conservatives and liberals, when the terms are reasonably construed, are family differences among adherents of a free society, defined as one whose institutions ultimately rest on the consent of those affected by their operations. When the security of a free society is threatened by aggressive totalitarianism, these differences must be temporarily subordinated to the common interest in its survival. There is always the danger that in the ever-present and sometimes heated struggles between liberals and conservatives, each group may come to fear the other more than their common enemy. If and when that happens, the darkness of what Marx called 'Asiatic despotism', in modern dress to be sure, will descend upon the world."
This is almost a prophetic description of the state of politics in the early 21st century. Those of us who share Hook's concerns are not the ones reneging on progressive politics.