"Outside Agitator: Naomi Klein and the new new left." By Larissa MacFarquhar
Read the complete article from the December 8, 2008 issue of The New Yorker.
After the death of Milton Friedman, in 2006, the University of Chicago decided to set up an institute in his honor. The institute was opposed by many professors, who formed a group to protest it. Klein offered to debate someone from the institute’s board, but nobody would do it, so she agreed to go to Chicago and talk about her own objections to the project.
The evening was sponsored in part by the Platypus Affiliated Society—a student-teacher reading group that focusses on the Frankfurt School and the Second International period of Marxism—and a few of Platypus’s members, tall, thin, pale young men, had set up a table out front. Platypus was founded on the idea that the left didn’t have a proper sense of its own history, especially the bad bits, and that a study of that history would help it emerge from the troubled state in which it found itself. (“Protest has devolved into an insular subculture of self-hatred, frustration, and anxiety derived from a pathological attitude towards social integration,” a typically morose editorial in the Platypus Review declares.) Given its emphasis on self-criticism, Platypus was not a natural constituency for Klein’s work, but because she was coming to the campus the group read “The Shock Doctrine,” and also Hayek and Friedman. “The conservatives engage the questions of freedom and utopia directly,” Ian Morrison, the editor of Platypus’s newsletter, said. “We were very struck that Klein seemed to back away from utopianism, because we feel that the left has liquidated itself in part because it’s conceded talk about freedom to someone like Bush.” Platypus’s interrogation of the past has led it in a variety of directions. Several of its members also belonged to the new Students for a Democratic Society, a revival of the new-left group from the sixties. In August, Platypus participated in a historical reënactment, in Grant Park, of the 1968 Democratic Convention, minus the police. “As a group of young, largely inexperienced activists it was the only organizing framework we could find which emphasized active participation,” read a writeup of the event in the Platypus Review. “Other forms seemed linguistically and ideologically flaccid. . . We didn’t want to view our history—our radical history—as if from a riverbank, we wanted to jump in and splash around in it. . . . We debated, for instance, the ethics of nominating a live pig for the presidency: what should we feed it, and where would it stay?”
Laurie Rojas responded in the January 12, 2009 issue of the New Yorker that,
MacFarquhar, in referring to the article “Reenacting ’68,” creates a bit of confusion: although the Platypus Review did publish the piece, Liam Warfield, its author, is not a member of our organization, and Platypus did not participate in the reënactment. MacFarquhar’s excellent Profile of Klein illustrates many aspects of the complex and problematic legacy of the left, regarding which Platypus seeks to cultivate a critical understanding. As MacFarquhar suggests, Klein’s work points up the kinds of obstacles faced in reconstituting a left for the future, following a history of failures.