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.