August 16, 2005

Power and the Idealists

Paul Berman’s new book Power and the Idealists will be published this Fall.

power and the idealists.jpg

I can’t vouch for this book because I haven’t read it. But I can certainly vouch for his last book Terror and Liberalism. It is by far the best I’ve read yet about the Terror War. (It was Berman, I think, who coined the phrase “Terror War,” which I have stolen from him and used myself ever since. It’s at least a minor improvement on “War Against Terrorism.”)

Here’s the description of his new book from Amazon.com:
In January 2001, a scandal erupted when a series of photos from 1968 emerged showing German foreign minister Joschka Fischer and a group of leftist street toughs assaulting a cop. Paul Berman, one of the leading essayists and intellectual historians of the New Left, uses this event as a springboard to reflect on a crucial question for Western democracies today: was the violence-tinged radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s a force for social good or for social ill? This wide-ranging history of anti-totalitarianism explores the Left’s response to human rights abuses around the world, tracing the intellectual evolution of figures as various as Polish dissident Adam Michnik and Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran) to argue that liberals willing to use power to protect human rights are the true heirs of the radical sixties, and that the Islamic totalitarian impulse he identified in the New York Times bestseller Terror and Liberalism must be opposed with vigor.
If you haven’t read Terror and Liberalism yet, read the essay by the same name he published in The American Prospect right after 9/11. If anything is required reading, this is it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2005 08:20 PM

Comments

"the Warriors of Christ the King"

"the people of Christ"

"Reign of Christ the King"

"Crusade"

wtf is this guy talking about. He appears to have invented an entire chapter of 20th century history out of whole cloth.

Posted by: spaniard at August 16, 2005 08:31 PM

Spaniard,

He's talking about General Franco and the Falangists. Maybe you've heard of them.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2005 08:34 PM

Google "Warriors of Christ the King" and "Franco" at the same time. Berman isn't making anything up.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2005 08:37 PM

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2005 08:37 PM

"Google "Warriors of Christ the King" and "Franco" at the same time. Berman isn't making anything up."

I did and Berman's article came up. My understanding of the Spanish Civil war was that leftist (such as anarchists) started murdering priests and nuns in large numbers pushing the church to the fascists out of protection.

Despite the Church's social conservatism I think it has always been a myth that it is economically conservative (re: naturally hostile to the left / actually 'right wing')...

Posted by: Thomas at August 16, 2005 09:00 PM

Michael,

the Spanish civil war was a passion of mine a little more than ten years ago and I honestly don't remember anybody using that kind of language. Berman's article took me a bit by surprise. I'll look into it though.

Posted by: spaniard at August 16, 2005 09:09 PM

But we are dealing with movements of millions, who can only be persuaded, not forced.

I remember the day after 9/11 the first muslim apologist I heard (a Saudi, I believe) was desperately trying to convince the listening audience that these fanatics were a "tiny minority" that did not represent islam, in the same way, he said, "David Koresh" does not represent christianity. How deluded he was.

I take no pleasure in saying that in the same way it took the utter destruction of Germany and Japan to dissuade the true believers, so will it take a major catastrophe in the muslim world for them to turn away from this radicalism. But that wouldn't happen until our own hand was forced by a major catastrophe in our own country. This will not turn out well.

Posted by: spaniard at August 16, 2005 09:35 PM

Berman appears to have used some license in his use of these "warriors of the Christ King" for his article, and it's no longer a surprise to me that I haven't heard of them. And the reason is because they were a group that was very late coming to Francoist Spain during the 60s when the Catholic church had begun to turn against Franco. These "warriors" were a reactionary group of catholics whose primary target appears to have been reformist anti-Franco catholics. These "warriors" were not falangists, and they had nothing to do with Franco's war against the Republicans. Franco was an anti-communist, not a religious "crusader".

Posted by: spaniard at August 16, 2005 09:58 PM

Spaniard: I take no pleasure in saying that in the same way it took the utter destruction of Germany and Japan to dissuade the true believers, so will it take a major catastrophe in the muslim world for them to turn away from this radicalism. But that wouldn't happen until our own hand was forced by a major catastrophe in our own country.

Major catastrophes have already taken place in the Muslim world. The Iranian revolution of 1979, for example. That taught most Iranians that Islamism has to go.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 16, 2005 10:27 PM

That taught most Iranians that Islamism has to go

That sounds like some heavy wishful thinking! Most? What evidence is there for that?

Posted by: at August 16, 2005 10:40 PM

i agree with spaniard that berman's terminology in regards to franco and the falangists is unnecessarily obscure.

otherwise, the article, reread now after the intervening years, is still acutely relevant to our concerns.

these days if i want to keep up with what's going on in the war i prefer to read something like michael yon, who is on the ground in mosul, or the iraqi blogs, rather than allow myself to be caught up in regarding the war as a political phenomenon... because it at this point nobody in america is changing their mind. no arguments persuade. (though maybe the bombings in london troubled a few.)

i don't understand -- or rather, i have little sympathy with -- the constant second-guessing some wallow in, which seems to me to help create a miasma of negative psychic energy that is unhelpful. and there are some who frankly hope "they" (meaning bush and his administration) lose... as if "they" are not "us."

Posted by: Todd Grimson at August 16, 2005 10:45 PM

Thanks for the heads-up, Michael -- looks interesting.

Just curious: Any reason why you link to the book's Amazon entry instead of the one on Powells.com? You know, supporting local (Portland) biz and all. Not a criticism; just curious.

Haven't seen you at the NW Glisan World Cup lately, by the way -- are you still blogging there?

Posted by: Sokrates at August 17, 2005 12:24 AM

Sokrates,

Sheer habit, nothing against Powell's.

I was at the cafe today, actually. Missed you, I guess.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 17, 2005 12:33 AM

Vietnam & Nixon polluted the US media. The media feel they were successful in booting Nixon (a liar who I think should have been impeached -- but who had many excellent policies); and they were successful in getting America out of Vietnam.

I have said before America lost Vietnam, but that's not quite true. When a country loses a war, it means their country's gov't is subject to the will of the winning country; and likely the people are murdered and raped and their property is looted.

S. Vietnam and Cambodia lost, America just stopped fighting.

But the Left thinks they won -- without accepting that their "victory" meant SE Asian genocide.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 17, 2005 12:45 AM

My view is that Berman has overlooked the second dynamic from WWI and WWII. In the first we did not march on Berlin, and the German public could reasonably believe in the "stab in the back" lie by Hitler and the Nazis. After almost literally one brick not standing atop the other in May 1945 that claim was idiotic. No German could seriously doubt that Militarism and Nazism had led to the ruin of the nation, and to German's relief (and the world's) German Militarism is gone.

That same sense of overwhelming military defeat and the total destruction at home cementing the point that Salafist Islam / Jihad to establish the Caliphate is idiotic and will only result in the destruction of the Ummah is not present yet, and I fear how it might come.

Right now, many in the Ummah can reasonably accept bin Laden's thesis that the West and in particular the US is weak and corrupt and lacks the will to act decisively and that they are winning. That "Mother Sheehan" and the other Peace campaigners will force us out of both Iraq and Afghanistan (as "Mother Sheehan" demands) and that the US will can be broken by less than 2,000 casualties.

If that is the case, why not Jihad? Why not hijack a Fedex Jet and crash it into the Coliseum on USC home game and kill 40,000-50,000 people? Why not set off one or three borrowed nukes from Pakistan courtesy of ISI? Has not bin Laden proven right in all things?

THAT is the Great Danger I see, a fatal miscalculation by Jihadists encouraged by the "Mother Sheehans" of the West. I mean, imagine a world where LA, San Diego, and San Francisco were all just gone.

The counter-attack would be Dresden, Tokyo, and Hiroshima times a million. I don't see the Left/Liberals even comprehending the threat of this dynamic. Serious people like William Perry and Sam Nunn are dismissed as kooks for thinking that the Nuclear Threat is real. It can't happen here.

Judging from news reports and the portrayal of villains in our popular entertainment, Americans are bedeviled by fantasies about terrorism. They seem to believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to the United States and that it is becoming more widespread and lethal. They are likely to think that the United States is the most popular target of terrorists. And they almost certainly have the impression that extremist Islamic groups cause most terrorism.

"None of these beliefs are based in fact. ... While terrorism is not vanquished, in a world where thousands of nuclear warheads are still aimed across the continents, terrorism is not the biggest security challenge confronting the United States, and it should not be portrayed that way."

--Larry C. Johnson, "The Declining Terrorist Threat," New York Times, July 10, 2001. Johnson, a former CIA officer, was deputy director of the U.S. State Department's Office of Counterterrorism from 1989 to 1993.

Full report here

You can read Larry C Johnson's report and see that the mindset of Liberals has not changed.

Terror is a just a "nightmare" ala the BBC's Power of Nightmares, cooked up by Evil Chimpy McHitler BushCo to control us all in a fascist state. Or it's something that as Mother Sheehan says, is unknowable and within our power to stop by merely apologizing, withdrawing from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the entire Muslim world, and erasing Israel.

Uniformly except for a very few prophets without honor, almost every Leftist and Liberal denies that terrorism even exists, and thinks that Bush is the bigger threat.

If you cannot even comprehend the threat, how can you even address it?

Michael I'm just in complete shock at the death of Liberalism and the and the replacement by New Age Hippie-dom. That's what passes for serious discourse, yourself excluded of course.

I'd have to put you in the Prophet without honor category, along with Sam Nunn and William Perry.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at August 17, 2005 01:21 AM

Michael,

Thanks for clarifying. Hopefully our paths will cross again sometime soon.

Posted by: Sokrates at August 17, 2005 03:22 AM

and that the Islamic totalitarian impulse he identified in the New York Times bestseller Terror and Liberalism must be opposed with vigor.

Fair enough, but opposing with "vigor" involves what precisely?

Perhaps we should oppose with "vigour", instead? ;-)

Posted by: Benjamin at August 17, 2005 04:27 AM

By the way, who's that bloke on the front cover?
Looks a bit pissed off.

Yeah, and it's Autumn not "Fall", Michael ;-)

Posted by: Benjamin at August 17, 2005 04:31 AM

Terror War? Why not call it the Islamic Wars? Terror is just a tactic.

Posted by: John Sobieski at August 17, 2005 05:31 AM

Terror is just a tactic.

It would probably be more accurate to say islamism is just a tactic, a recruiting and motivational tool, used by the terrorists.

This is one of the issues Marx was right about - base determines superstructure, how you live your life determines your verbally expressed opinions, not vice versa.

If you choose to be a terrorist, you will find something to believe in that will justify terror.

Terrorism is fundamentally a career, if it is available as a choice, then just like soldiering or meat packing, some will choose it.

soru

Posted by: soru at August 17, 2005 05:52 AM

From Berman's essay: For one day the liberty that we enjoy will be enjoyed also in those portions of the Arab and Islamic world that lack it now, and liberty for them will mean safety for us.

Uh, didn't we try this in Iraq and look at that disaster.

He reads like a confused leftist to me (I'm a leftist, slap, no, I'm a conservative, slap, I'm a leftist). Bashing America for 'wrongs' done to Islam in one section then recognizing another the Islamists for the maniacs they are. I personally am tired of Americans who always have to throw in a jibe at America as though much of the world's problems are our fault. Sure we have done a lot of stupid things. It comes from not understanding Islam and how to defeat it. We shouldn't provide aid to Islamic states (Egypt, Palestinians, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan) and we should work undercover to create anarchy and hatred among the Islamic states. Let them destroy each other.

Posted by: John Sobieski at August 17, 2005 05:52 AM

Tom Grey-

You might want to rethink your statement because America definitely "lost" Vietnam. I don't know how else to characterize 55,000 dead Americans with nothing gained as a result.

A more appropriate way of putting it might be that there were no winners. Period.

BTW... regarding Berman... he does tend to get a little fast and loose with his rhetoric from time to time (I think the Spanish Civil War example is a perfect one), but his contribution to the post-9/11 discourse has been invaluable. Its a damn shame there aren't more- on the right and left- who think like him.

Posted by: Chris at August 17, 2005 06:18 AM

To some extent, this goes back to Lee Harris' point about Lockean tolerance. Should we tolerate any sect that openly espouses the idea that no other sect's existence can be tolerated? Locke didn't think so, and in his time the Protestants did not tolerate Catholics for this reason. Eventually, the Catholics were forced to accept the principle of Lockean tolerance (by accepting that Protestants had the right to exist), and thus were themselves tolerated thereafter by the Protestants.

The Islamic terrorists' motivations are closely tied to this kind of intolerable intolerance.

Posted by: TallDave at August 17, 2005 06:36 AM

I think America's big mistake was not forcing the S Vietnamese to hold elections and put together a responsible government right from the start, as a condition of military assistance. That would have rallied support both from the Vietnamese peasntry and here at home.

Instead we did crazy shit like assassinate our own allies, and eventually Americans decided the game wasn't worth the candle.

Posted by: TallDave at August 17, 2005 06:41 AM

Chris, the guy who claims "no genocide" in Darfur based on definitional technicalities, please. Re-read my post. I claimed that when a country loses in a war, it's gov't must accept conditions of control by the winning gov't.

Winning and losing aren't based on how many deaths. I'm proposing a definition, gov't under control by another gov't, and applying it. (What's your definition?)

This is important, because we also didn't lose in Rwanda, nor are we losing in Sudan -- and we can't lose in Iraq. Only Rwandans, Sudanese, and Iraqis can lose. I did rethink this: in fact, prolly only last week or so, I agreed with you, that the US "lost." Now, I don't -- and you offer no new insight to support another reversal.

Saddam, after GW I, claimed he "won" since he was still standing. By his definition, he did win. The Left is already claiming we've "lost" in Iraq. The US can not "win" in Iraq, either. Only Iraqis can.

If Berman's book as a: "history of anti-totalitarianism explores the Left’s response to human rights abuses around the world" the exploration should include a definition for "winning" and "losing" a war.

In Korea, the US "won" a half victory -- for S. Korea; it was actually the S. Korean people who could live in a US supported dictatorship with some human rights and some capitalism.

Comparing Cuba and Chile, the US lost & won; but actually the Cubans "lost" with Castro and the Chileans "won" with Pinochet (whose theiving family is about to be tried).

What did the Left support in Vietnam? Anti-war = US leaving = evil commie genocide.

In Iraq, it's likely that less than ideal amounts of human rights, and more than ideal amounts of Islam, will be in the new constitution. Is this winning or losing?

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 17, 2005 07:11 AM

From David Adesnik: "Perhaps it is not wise for the United States to commit so much blood and treasure to the struggle for democracy in Iraq. Perhaps. But it most certainly is noble."

It was noble, too, for Vietnam -- despite Johnson & Nixon & military general lies and terrible promises of early victory; and despite My Lai, Cambodia bombing, and other atrocities I don't know details about -- it was noble of America to fight evil communism there, to fight against genocide.

And the Left hates nobility, especially if it comes from a classless society.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 17, 2005 07:18 AM
John Sobieski, how long do you think it would take to make a democracy of a country that:
  • has just experienced at least two generations of a fascist police state
  • is imbued with rivalry/bigotry between three major religious/ethnic populations (said rivalry and bigotry nurtured by the aforementioned police state)
  • has been occupied with humiliating ease by another culture (even assuming the occupiers to be of benign intent)
  • and is being infiltrated by "neighbors" who want nothing more than to see any steps toward pluralistic democracy go down in literal blood and flames.

Personally, I expected all these factors to make rebuilding Iraq (which includes nurturing a pluralistic democracy there) at least a decade long project. (My hosting provider went belly-up, and I haven't gotten a new one yet, or I'd post the link backing up my prediction. But anyone who's paid attention to my posting here would probably vouch for me.)

My dad was stationed in West Germany in the mid-50s. We were prepared to go to the hottest kind of war there right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I think a committment to Iraqi freedom is at least as moral, and at least as pragmatic, as our committment to a Democratic West Germany.

So my advice to serious Liberals is to suck it up and help stop the advance of blood and flames.

Posted by: Mark Poling at August 17, 2005 08:39 AM

I still say the phrase "War Against Global Jihad" is the best way to describe it.

Posted by: Fred at August 17, 2005 08:48 AM

I'm looking forward to the book. Berman puts the left in historical context that few others do--the "left" is not a spontaneous outbreak of idealism or youthful fervor! WWII begat the Cold war, which begat the PLO, the Euro terrorists, which begat the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, today's anti-Americanism...

Schroeder as a young lawyer represented violent protestors, and Fischer was allied with other violent movements as well. Fischer only renounced Arafat when he finally realized the whole national liberation aspect of the PLO was bunk and an excuse to kill Jews. Baader-Meinhof folks ended up hijacking planes with Islamists (until Entebbe shut them down). BTW Netanyahu's commando brother died there and inspired Bebe to go into politics.

So, history is a chain and Berman knows how to connect the links.

Posted by: Patricia at August 17, 2005 09:17 AM

Tom- you wrote: "Winning and losing aren't based on how many deaths. I'm proposing a definition, gov't under control by another gov't, and applying it."

"Saddam, after GW I, claimed he "won" since he was still standing. By his definition, he did win."

There are two trains of thought in your argument. In the first one, you propose a definition of winning or losing warfare that could be applied as a constant to any military conflict: the loser becomes the loser when they sue for peace or when their government is destroyed completely, and the winner is the conqueror who is in a position to apply conditions to the loser as a condition of the ceassation of military combat. Correct me if I misunderstand you up to this point.

In your second thought, "victory" is a condition that exists when stated objectives or goals are met, and "failure" is a condition that exists when stated objectives or goals are not met.

Based on the first definition, the US could not have "lost" Vietnam, because the VC and the N. Vietnamese were not going to cross the Pacific and march from California to D.C. Since your statement is an obvious one that cannot be refuted, that makes your statement a "truism," and therefore invalid in parliamentary debate. A proper definition of "victory" or "failure" in warfare necessarily sets the conditions for the corrolary. Because your definition does not do this- or because the corrolary is so impossible to imagine that it is beyond the pale of consideration- I reject this definition. Even if one plays devil's advocate, the US certainly didn't "win" the Vietnam War.

I like the second definition you use better: success/failure is determined by whether or not stated goals are accomplished. Saddam set the bar for himself pretty low after GWI, but by that measure he did "win." [Based on the rhetoric he used in the runnup to the conflict, however, he definitely lost]. The goals that US policy makers set publicly for the Vietnam War- namely, preventing Communism from spreading to South Vietnam- were not met. Based on the second definition, the US lost.

So, if we used your first definition (which, from a debating standpoint is like trying to argue that the sky is blue), then then the US "didn't win," and if we used your second definition, the US "lost."

BTW... the reason I use the definition of genocide to claim there is not one going on in Darfur is because "genocide" has a definition that must be satisfied to use the word. If you are willing to concede that the legal/rational definition of genocide is not satisfied by the circumstances of the conflict in Darfur, then why would you use it? Because everyone else is?

I'm not a holocaust denier, if that's what you're getting at. Roses smell just as sweet by any other name, and the violence in Darfur is just as offensive. Go back and read through my now defunct blog, if you want... I've always argued that it was a horrible, gruesome scene... I just happen to favor a different way of dealing with it than you do.

Posted by: Chris at August 17, 2005 10:16 AM

"Major catastrophes have already taken place in the Muslim world. The Iranian revolution of 1979, for example. That taught most Iranians that Islamism has to go. "

The Iranian revolution was a good thing, a process that led to the removal of an american puppet dictator. unfortunately the revolution was appropriated by a reactionary, but the US never showed any sympathy with democrats or leftists in the revolution process. That only helped Khomeni come to power and secure power. Most Iranians supported the revolution against the shah and his US supporters and even do to this day, even the strongest critics of Khomeni's religious dictatorship.

Posted by: royoiko at August 17, 2005 11:43 AM

"unfortunately the revolution was appropriated by a reactionary, ...."

Ain't it amazing how often that happens? "Good thing"? Or a cure worse than the disease?

Just sayin'....

Posted by: Mark Poling at August 17, 2005 12:54 PM

Paul Berman is writing another book! Yea!

Seems he's one of about only 5 liberals with a good amount of influence these days that doesn't have his head up his ass. If I were Hillary Clinton right now, I would hire Berman in a heartbeat.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at August 17, 2005 05:01 PM

Appropriated by a reactionary? The revolution was LEAD by reactionaries. The Iranian revolution was carried out by backward religious extremists. Any liberals and leftists who thought better of these people have no one to blame but themselves. The result was replacing a mildly autocratic, increasingly wealthy country that supported women's rights, to one of the most backward theocartic totalitarian countries on the earth. On some level, all I can say is 'Be careful what you wish for...'

"but the US never showed any sympathy with democrats or leftists in the revolution process."

Don't you just love how the leftist blame game works? First the United States is criticized for meddling in another country's affairs, placing a favorable leader their and not letting the people of Iran determine their own fate. After said American backed leader is deposed by angry Iranian theocrats and leftists angry at the American influence in the country, it becomes the U.S.'s fault that they now refused to interfere in the country's affairs or stop the people from propping up their theocratic figurehead.

It's the U.S's fault through actions that Iranians overthrew their leader

It's the U.S.'s fault through inaction that Iranians propped up a theocratic tyrant to lead the country.

Norm Geras is right "...oppoisition to the U.S., come what may."

Posted by: Dustin Ridgeway at August 17, 2005 09:41 PM

Guy on the cover is Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Doctors Without Borders. Kouchner is quite central to the book's thesis; one of the book's chapters is entitled "Doctor Guevara vs. Doctor Kouchner"

Posted by: Richard Nash at August 18, 2005 10:44 AM

The naive thought that you can complete a revolution with groups that openly state totalitarian beliefs has been the downfall of 'revolutionary" governments in the 20th century. The Russian socialists and non-monarchists joined with totalitarian marxists and thought they could control them. Lenin was far wiser and while the liberal and leftists were discussing theory the followers of Lenin were taking power, then they eliminated their "brothers." The Iranian left , and many in America and Europe, ignored the written and spoken words of Khomenei that he would set up a theocratic dictatorship and then were suprised when he did it. The chaos of modern revolutions often lead to the strongest and most doctrinaire acting while the intellectuals discus things. The Czar was terrible, the Soviets were brutal. Ditto the Shah and the Mullahs. If the conservatives in America took in David Duke as a partner they shouldn't be suprised if he shoved them out and set up a racist fascist state. If Duke says he has changed you can assume that he is a liar. Sometimes you have to read what people write and assume thats what they want. People who espouse radical theories on the right or the left are rarely changed by eloquent logic and hold anyone, right or left, in equal contempt. During the Weimar period the commintern German communists called the Socialists fascists and worked in league with the Brownshirts to disrupt their political meetings. They saw no difference between the Democratic Socialists and the fascists. They would participate in Democratic elections but the moment they ever got power they would eliminate them. The moderste democratic socialists correctly feared the fascists but naively thought their brothers on the left would treat them differently then Hitler eventually did.

Posted by: kevinpeters at August 20, 2005 02:14 PM

Berman puts the left in historical context that few others do--the "left" is not a spontaneous outbreak of idealism or youthful fervor! WWII begat the Cold war, which begat the PLO, the Euro terrorists, which begat the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, today's anti-Americanism...

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