Berman at Columbia and the Battle for Ideas

I was lucky enough to be able to bring Paul Berman to Columbia tonight, and apart from the fact that only a dozen people showed up—a symptom of what I see as a general apathy or burn out resulting from the feverish activism surrounding the War—it was an incredibly enlightening lecture. Berman outlined the rise of totalitarian philosophies, and defended the case he made in Terror and Liberalism, the book and the article, which is basically that Islamism is no more than the continuation of the totalitarian philosophies of the 20th century. But the point that he made which really struck a chord with me, one that will continue to resonate for some time I believe, is that there really is not intellectual argument coming out of any sector or wing of intellectual society debating the Islamist position.
Well, that is not totally true. The so-called neoconservatives are making pretty good arguments for democracy, but their arguments are more practical in their intent, if only because, as the party in power, they are forced by circumstance to put most of their energy into those positions that can be acted upon.
The real lack of argument, though, and one that Berman made a good case showing, is the lack of argument from the Left. As he pointed out, the Left played a huge part in defeating Communism by supporting dissident thinkers in the Eastern Bloc. The New York Review of Books published and reviewed almost all of the arguments made by Vaclav Havel and his contemporaries, and this threw him into the battle of ideas as a hero of Liberalism, giving those who might be inclined otherwise to be cynical of American intentions in the Cold War to at least back the idea that Communism should be defeated. No such activity is happening nowadays. Other than the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian dissident, the Left has been silent in the war on ideas.
Almost no coverage has been given to Egyptian dissidents such as Saad Eddun Ibrahim, the Egyptian democracy activist, or to renegade Mullahs from Iran. The New York Review of Books is too busy finding why Bush’s policies are the root of all evil to look the evil of terrorism in the face.
I think the reason for this silence is rooted in the intellectual paradigm of the day, postmodernism. It seems that the Leftist intellectuals of today are for the most part so beaten-down by the relativism inherent in postmodernism that they are unable to take a clear stand on this battle between Liberty and totalitarianism. And that is too bad. In order for Islamism to be defeated,
I plan on writing an article on this soon, but until then I wanted to throw this idea out there and see what you have to say.


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