Commentary Magazine


Topic: Paul Berman

Required Reading

In the New York Times Book Review, Anthony Julius reviews Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals – a book Michael Totten calls “your required reading this month.” (I would add Julius’s remarkable book on anti-Semitism, Trials of the Diaspora.)

The “flight of the intellectuals” is Berman’s phrase for Western public intellectuals running away their own heritage in the confrontation with a totalitarian Islamist threat. In a valuable interview with Totten, Berman has summarized the thinking as follows:

We look at ourselves in the Western countries and we say that, if we are rich, relatively speaking, as a society, it is because we have plundered our wealth from other people. Our wealth is a sign of our guilt. If we are powerful, compared with the rest of the world, it is because we treat people in other parts of the world in oppressive and morally objectionable ways. Our privileged position in the world is actually a sign of how racist we are and how imperialistic and exploitative we are. All the wonderful successes of our society are actually the signs of how morally inferior we are, and we have much to regret and feel guilty about.

Julius’s judicious review contains an even shorter summary of the elements of the contemporary intellectual’s thinking:

the false identification of liberal values with an oppressive West, and of political Islamism with an oppressed third world; an unreflective, unqualified opposition to every exercise of American power; a certain blindness regarding, or even tenderness toward, contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism.

Berman’s book extends a debate that began in Europe four years ago with French writer Pascal Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt, which has just been published in English. Bruckner argues that:

In Judeo-Christian lands, there is no fuel so potent as the feeling of guilt. … From existentialism to deconstructionism, all of modern thought can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West, emphasizing the latter’s hypocrisy, violence, and abomination. In this enterprise the best minds have lost much of their substance. … Remorse has ceased to be connected with precise historical circumstances; it has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency.

As the Europeanization of America proceeds — under an administration featuring apology tours, rejections of American exceptionalism, and an inability even to utter the words “terrorism” or “Islamofascism” (substituting “man-caused disasters” and refusing to acknowledge that “radical Islam” might be involved) — Bruckner’s book is an even clearer description of the intellectual collapse coming our way. Put it on the required reading list as well.

In the New York Times Book Review, Anthony Julius reviews Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals – a book Michael Totten calls “your required reading this month.” (I would add Julius’s remarkable book on anti-Semitism, Trials of the Diaspora.)

The “flight of the intellectuals” is Berman’s phrase for Western public intellectuals running away their own heritage in the confrontation with a totalitarian Islamist threat. In a valuable interview with Totten, Berman has summarized the thinking as follows:

We look at ourselves in the Western countries and we say that, if we are rich, relatively speaking, as a society, it is because we have plundered our wealth from other people. Our wealth is a sign of our guilt. If we are powerful, compared with the rest of the world, it is because we treat people in other parts of the world in oppressive and morally objectionable ways. Our privileged position in the world is actually a sign of how racist we are and how imperialistic and exploitative we are. All the wonderful successes of our society are actually the signs of how morally inferior we are, and we have much to regret and feel guilty about.

Julius’s judicious review contains an even shorter summary of the elements of the contemporary intellectual’s thinking:

the false identification of liberal values with an oppressive West, and of political Islamism with an oppressed third world; an unreflective, unqualified opposition to every exercise of American power; a certain blindness regarding, or even tenderness toward, contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism.

Berman’s book extends a debate that began in Europe four years ago with French writer Pascal Bruckner’s The Tyranny of Guilt, which has just been published in English. Bruckner argues that:

In Judeo-Christian lands, there is no fuel so potent as the feeling of guilt. … From existentialism to deconstructionism, all of modern thought can be reduced to a mechanical denunciation of the West, emphasizing the latter’s hypocrisy, violence, and abomination. In this enterprise the best minds have lost much of their substance. … Remorse has ceased to be connected with precise historical circumstances; it has become a dogma, a spiritual commodity, almost a form of currency.

As the Europeanization of America proceeds — under an administration featuring apology tours, rejections of American exceptionalism, and an inability even to utter the words “terrorism” or “Islamofascism” (substituting “man-caused disasters” and refusing to acknowledge that “radical Islam” might be involved) — Bruckner’s book is an even clearer description of the intellectual collapse coming our way. Put it on the required reading list as well.

Read Less

A Most Disturbing Moment of Clarity

Following David Horowitz’s talk earlier this month at the University of California, San Diego, was one of the most chilling brief conversations I’ve heard in a while.

A semi-polite yet coldly hostile student in the audience introduced herself during the question period as Jumanah Imad Albahri of the Muslim Students’ Association, and she refused to condemn either Hamas or Hezbollah when Horowitz asked her to clarify her position. He has faced a number of students just like her before, and he’s well-practiced in the art of drawing them out, so he asked her a point-blank question that couldn’t be easily dodged.

“I am a Jew,” he said. “The head of Hezbollah has said that he hopes that we will gather in Israel so he doesn’t have to hunt us down globally. For or against it?”

“For it,” she said.

No sooner was the video of this exchange posted when one of the student’s teachers rushed to defend her.

“This girl is actually my student,” A. Casavantes wrote in the comments’ section of Horowitz’s NewsReal blog. “I know her to be an intelligent, moral young woman who believes in peace. I do not support any organization that advocates violence against any specific group, nor do I believe that my student would do so. As a peace loving, Catholic teacher, I’m saddened that this speaker — her elder — manipulated the conversation in this fashion to make her look like someone she isn’t, out of an egotistical desire to prove his own point, rather than engaging in a constructive dialogue.”

This teacher of hers is a character straight out of Paul Berman’s important new book The Flight of the Intellectuals, who, when confronted by a person with a clearly and explicitly stated genocidal ideology, prefers to lambaste that person’s rational critics.

It’s a phenomenon as peculiar as it is disturbing, motivated in large part — Berman and I both suspect — by fear. “Too many very intelligent people are running away from looking at some very influential and pernicious doctrines of our own time,” he said to me in an interview I published earlier this week. “They don’t want to look. They prefer to shut their eyes and hope for the best.”

Following David Horowitz’s talk earlier this month at the University of California, San Diego, was one of the most chilling brief conversations I’ve heard in a while.

A semi-polite yet coldly hostile student in the audience introduced herself during the question period as Jumanah Imad Albahri of the Muslim Students’ Association, and she refused to condemn either Hamas or Hezbollah when Horowitz asked her to clarify her position. He has faced a number of students just like her before, and he’s well-practiced in the art of drawing them out, so he asked her a point-blank question that couldn’t be easily dodged.

“I am a Jew,” he said. “The head of Hezbollah has said that he hopes that we will gather in Israel so he doesn’t have to hunt us down globally. For or against it?”

“For it,” she said.

No sooner was the video of this exchange posted when one of the student’s teachers rushed to defend her.

“This girl is actually my student,” A. Casavantes wrote in the comments’ section of Horowitz’s NewsReal blog. “I know her to be an intelligent, moral young woman who believes in peace. I do not support any organization that advocates violence against any specific group, nor do I believe that my student would do so. As a peace loving, Catholic teacher, I’m saddened that this speaker — her elder — manipulated the conversation in this fashion to make her look like someone she isn’t, out of an egotistical desire to prove his own point, rather than engaging in a constructive dialogue.”

This teacher of hers is a character straight out of Paul Berman’s important new book The Flight of the Intellectuals, who, when confronted by a person with a clearly and explicitly stated genocidal ideology, prefers to lambaste that person’s rational critics.

It’s a phenomenon as peculiar as it is disturbing, motivated in large part — Berman and I both suspect — by fear. “Too many very intelligent people are running away from looking at some very influential and pernicious doctrines of our own time,” he said to me in an interview I published earlier this week. “They don’t want to look. They prefer to shut their eyes and hope for the best.”

Read Less




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