Paul Berman’s new book,
soon to arrive.
I noted on your blog that you referred favorably to Paul Berman’s essay on anti-anti-Americanism in France. You might also be interested in his new book which we just published. The book does two things which seem to dovetail somewhat with your blog. It says 1) why would anyone want to adopt a position of liberal interventionism. And 2) why have the liberal interventionists fallen out with one another over the peculiar instance of Iraq.
He presents these two points in the somewhat indirect fashion of describing a strictly Western European debate and political history — the story of Fischer and others in regard to Kosovo (based on a TNR piece in 2001), which is chapter one, one third of the book; and the story of Fischer and various other Europeans, above all Bernard Kouchner, in regard to the post-9/11 debate, where it turns out that everyone disagrees (which is the next two thirds).
Somebody could look at all this and suppose that he’s written a recondite history of far-away people. But we feel he’s actually have done is both tell the European story and to find a way to air America’s own debates in a fresh way — not as a polemic but as a narrative about people who are not ourselves in a landscape different from our own.
Two years ago, The Economist discussed Berman’s essay “Terror and Liberalism”, calling it
a fluent and lucid essay by one of America’s best exponents of recent intellectual history
The Economist also said,
Mr Berman, a contributor to the New Republic and the New Yorker, writes as an American liberal with fundamentalist foes of his own to contend with on the far left and the hard right. Looked at his way, extreme Islamism is neither a reaction to American imperialism, as left-wing thinkers like Noam Chomsky argue. Nor is it the result of an inevitable clash between civilisations or religious faiths, as certain popularisers of Samuel Huntington would have us believe. Instead, Mr Berman sees it as a pathological response to the encroachments of modernity, and in particular to the spread of liberal, democratic values. Plunging us back into the world of Islamic ultras in the 1930s and 1940s, he shows how closely their ideas resembled those of nihilists, fascists and communists.
It’ll be ineteresting to read about how this relates to what Thomas Jefferson wrote on March 28, 1786, referring to the ambassador of Tripoli’s request for monetary tribute,
The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in the Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners.
(Thomas Jefferson, Author of America, by Christopher Hitchens, chaper 7, page 128)
The Berman book sounds fascinating, and I ordered it yesterday.