Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Terror and Liberalism

Terror and Liberalism

5.0 1
by Paul Berman
A manifesto for an aggressive liberal response to terrorist attacks.One of our most brilliant public intellectuals, Paul Berman has spent his career writing on revolutionary movements and their totalitarian aspects. Here he argues that, in the terror war, we are not facing a battle of the West against Islam—a clash of civilizations. We are facing, instead, the


A manifesto for an aggressive liberal response to terrorist attacks.One of our most brilliant public intellectuals, Paul Berman has spent his career writing on revolutionary movements and their totalitarian aspects. Here he argues that, in the terror war, we are not facing a battle of the West against Islam—a clash of civilizations. We are facing, instead, the same battle that tore apart Europe during most of the twentieth century, only in a new version. It is the clash of liberalism and its enemies—the battle between freedom and totalitarianism that arose in Europe many years ago and spread to the Muslim world. The author considers the wars against fascism and communism from the past, and draws cautionary lessons. But he also draws from those past experiences a liberal program for the present—a program that departs in fundamental respects from the policies of the Bush administration.

Author Biography: Paul Berman is a contributing editor of The New Republic and a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute. He has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. His books include Debating P. C. and A Tale of Two Utopias.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Berman is aware of the many differences between the two principal political forces in the contemporary Muslim world: radical Islamism and secular-nationalist despotism. Indeed, he writes quite sharply on those differences in his long discussion of Sayyid Qutb, the mid-century guru of Islamism who was imprisoned, tortured and eventually put to death by Egypt's secular pan-Arab President Gamal Abdel Nasser. But despite their points of divergence, for Berman there is something essential that makes the fundamentalist rage of bin Laden and the secular ethnic ambitions of the Ba'ath party "two branches of a single impulse": a shared and extreme antipathy toward liberalism. Both of these branches are antidemocratic, intolerant and authoritarian to the core. And in their nihilistic celebration of death, Berman argues, they are ideologies of terror. — Danny Postel
The New York Times
Berman is reluctant to describe the present crisis as a ''clash of civilizations.'' Samuel Huntington (who popularized the phrase) may have been prescient when he noticed, a decade ago, that ''bloody borders'' marked every point of contact between Muslim and non-Muslim peoples, but Islam itself, in Berman's view, explains only part of the problem. The Middle East's tyrants, terrorists and raving ayatollahs owe their nastiest qualities less to their own traditions, he believes, than to ours. They are, in a word, totalitarians. — Gary Rosen
Publishers Weekly
Berman puts his leftist credentials (he's a member of the editorial board of Dissent) on the line by critiquing the left while presenting a liberal rationale for the war on terror, joining a discourse that has been dominated by conservatives. The most original aspect of his analysis is to categorize Islamism as a totalitarian reaction against Western liberalism in a class with Nazism and communism; drawing on the ideas of Camus in The Rebel, Berman delineates how all three movements descended from utopian visions (in the case of Islamism, the restoration of a pure seventh-century Islam) into irrational cults of death. He illustrates this progression through a nuanced analysis of the writings of a leading Islamist thinker, Sayyid Qutb, ending with some chilling quotations from other Islamists, e.g., "History does not write its lines except with blood," the blood being that of Islam's martyrs (such as suicide bombers) as well as of their enemies, Zionists and Crusaders (i.e., Jews and Christians). Berman then launches into his most provocative chapter, and the one he will probably be most criticized for in politically correct journals: a scathing attack on leftist intellectuals, such as Noam Chomsky, who have applauded terrorism and tried to explain it as a rational response to oppression. Berman exhorts readers to accept that, on the contrary, Islamism is a "pathological mass political movement" that is "drunk on the idea of slaughter." A former MacArthur fellow and a contributing editor to the New Republic, Berman offers an argument that will be welcomed by disaffected progressives looking for a new analysis of today's world. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
Berman, one of America's leading public intellectuals, has written the first significant ideological contribution to the United States' war on terror. This short and controversial survey introduces readers to the historical and intellectual links between the fascism of fanatical Islamist terrorism today and the totalitarian movements of the twentieth century. Assembling evidence to show that the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood were steeped in the antiliberal ideologies that shaped so much of twentieth-century history, Berman argues that the West faces yet another challenge from a pathologically irrational, blood-drunk ideology of hatred and reaction not unlike the Bolshevik and fascist outbreaks of evil. Looking back to anticommunist classics such as The God That Failed, in which leading ex-communists tell their stories of increasing disillusion, Berman attempts to reconstitute the tradition of Cold War liberalism in the context of the war on terror. The book's criticism of the Bush administration and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is scathing, but for Berman, Bush's shortcomings only go to show that the war on terror is too important to be left to conservatives alone. Berman's uncompromising attack on the Islamist death cult will not win him any friends on the Upper West Side, and his exposure of the moral failings and logical contradictions of many of Israel's fashionable critics will further alienate him from what remains of the organized American left, but this book will be remembered as an important contribution to the effort to understand the war on terror. It is not perfect, but it deserves, even demands, to be read.
Library Journal
So new that at press time the publisher's sales reps had yet to hear about it, this work considers how liberals can respond to the threat of terrorism. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A timely cri de guerre-or perhaps antiguerre or autre guerre-from a distinguished student of liberalism and its enemies. World Policy Institute fellow Berman (A Tale of Two Utopias, 1996, etc.) locks horns with Samuel Huntington's once ignored but now widely cited "clash of civilizations" thesis, which pits the Islamic against the Western world. The terms are a little off, he argues, especially given that "in all of recent history, no country on earth has fought so hard and consistently as the United States on behalf of Muslim populations-a strange thing to say, given what passes for conventional wisdom." Why, then, after our efforts in defense of Islamic Kurds, Islamic Marsh Arabs, Islamic Bosnians, and Islamic Kosovars, do Islamicists and terrorists hate Americans so roundly? Perhaps, Berman writes, the battle is not so much between Islam and the West as it is between different strains of Western thought that have been transported around the world: "the totalitarian cult of death" and the classically liberal view of freedom and of free people. That's not such a strange thesis, given that "an amazing number of the Arab and Muslim terrorists turn out to have second and even primary identities as Westerners," among them the suicide warriors of 9/11, who schooled in Germany, Belgium, England, and the US and had little evident desire to use their energies at home. (The author notes in passing that members of Osama bin Laden's immediate family do business today with George Bush the Elder.) Ranging from Camus to Lukacs to Marx to Arafat, Berman explores these conflicting ideologies and their implications, finding time to insert a few kind words about the current president's successes inAfghanistan and to urge his fellow liberals on in the war against fascism, whatever its other names. "Some aspects of a war against totalitarianism and terror can be fought even by people who cannot abide George W. Bush," he argues. Full of good, smart moments, even if its governing idea is tough to pin down.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.88(w) x 8.48(h) x 0.88(d)

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >