December 28, 2003

Civilization and Its Discontents

Thoughts on Paul Berman (2003), Terror and Liberalism (New York: Norton: 0393057755).

This is a very good book, a very dense book, and a very strange book. From one angle, it is Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents and Fromm's Escape from Freedom brought up to date. Freud sought to explain how it was that modern liberal society did not appropriately channel human destructive impulses, and Fromm extended the argument with the claim that liberal freedom was the last thing that many people want. Berman reads all powerful anti-liberal movements--whether Lenin's, Mussolini's, Hitler's, Franco's, Castro's, Khomeini's, or bin Laden's--as expression of this same basic set of drives and impulses that must be fought and constrained or else catastrophe follows. From a second angle, Berman's Terror and Liberalism is an extended meditation on Camus's The Rebel and on Camus's critique of the literary intellectual who, from the sidelines, cheers on the doers of bloody deeds. And from a third angle Berman's book is a critique of all who won't settle for liberal peace and order but seek to build a New Jerusalem here and now.

Berman opens with a potted description of the nineteenth century as an era of wonderful human progress:

pp. 37-38: The whole experience of Europe and North America during an entire century... to the First World War... [was] one of visible progress, and progress makes strength. The ancient evils of suffering, poverty, and exploitation continued being ancient evils. And yet... the Western countries seemed to have discovered the secret of human advancement.... Science, rational thought, and general education.... Technology and industry... wealth... human rights... democracy and self-government.... It was an insistence on freedom of thought and freedom of action... freedom that recognizes the existence of other freedoms... liberalism--liberalism not as a rigid doctrine but as a state of mind, a way of thinking about life and reality...

And then a serpent enters the garden--the serpent of destructive revolt against liberalism and all its accomplishments. At first the deeds of serpent are confined to the colonies:

pp. 39-40: And yet Camus, in his study of rebellion and its peculiar evolution, took note of a few anomalies... imperialist crimes... India, Algeria, and South Africa.... King Leopold's campaign in the Congo.... What was the logic behind the slaughter of Congolese by Belgians?.... [T]here was no logic. The Belgians took up murder for murder's sake. The colonial slaughter was an insanity, not so different from the terrorist insanity that Conrad recorded in his other novel... about the nihilist radicals of London.... Those massacres showed that, even in the days when liberal rationality and human progress seemed to be making their greatest stries, an irrationalist cult of death and murder was already springing up.... The cult of death was springing up among Western Europeans in positions of responsibility and power... captains of civilization....

But it does not stay confined there: the cult of terror and death explodes into World War I:

pp. 39-40: [T]he First World War got underway... something was new. The tides of European irrationality and mass murder, which had been surging up and down Africa, now went pouring across the European continent... 9 million... killed... 21 million wounded.... And why did such things take place?... [W]hat was the logic behind the frenzy? There was no logic...

which is merely the appetizer for the main course that is twentieth-century totalitarianism:

pp. 41-43: And now the deepest disaster of all got underway. The old Romantic literary fashion for murder and suicide, the dandy's fondness for the irrational and the irresponsible, the little nihilist groups of left-wing desperadoes with their dreams of poetic death... the dark philosophies of the extreme right... loathing of progress... the anti-Semites of Vienna... demented scientists of racial theory. All this... began to metastasize and spread. The cult of death and irrationality now took hold of entire mass movements... movements "of a new type"... a single, all-consuming obsession... a hatred of liberal civilization.... Despiar was their desire.... They gazed across the landscape... the many achievements of democratic freedom, social justice, and scientific rationality. And everywhere they saw a gigantic lie... exploitation and murder... [liberal civilization] ought to be destroyed as quickly and violently as possible. And so, the newly mutated mass movements set out on a path of radical destruction.... Lenin was the first.... Everywhere the new movement displayed a weirdly frenetic dynamism... an emotional forcefulness tha tderived, ultimately, from the movements cheerful willingness to put Bolshevism's enemies to death... random crowds whose views on Bolshevism were utterly unknown [to death], and a further willingness to put to death the Bolsheviks themselves.... But that was... only the beginning... Mussolini... Franco... Hitler...

And Berman asserts a strong form of the totalitarian thesis: that there is a persistent common structure to anti-liberal thought, and that all of the twentieth century's totalitarian movements are at root the same thing:

pp. 45-47: The left-wing and right-wing movements of the "new type" loathed one another.... And yet... it was obvious enough, after a while... that... all of them, left wingers and right-wingers alike, [were] spinning variations on a single impulse.... Camus had noticed something real... a modern impulse to rebel... [that] had very quickly... mutated into a cult of death. And the ideal [it served] was always the same... the ideal of submission... to the kind of authority that liberal civilization had slowly undermined.... It was the ideal of the one, instead of the many. The ideal of something godlike. The total state, the total doctrine, the total movement.... Each of the mobements adopted the same set of rits and symbols... crowds chanting en masse... monumental architecture... personal renunciation... the insistence on unquestioning belief in preposterous doctrines.... And each of those theories... followed the context of a single ur-myth.... the Book of the Revelation.... There is a people of God... under attack. The attack comes from within... mounted by the city dwellers of Babylon.... These city dwellers have sunk into abominations.... The pollution is spreading to the people of God.... There is also an attack from without... by the forces of Satan.... The war of Armageddon will take place. The subversive and polluted city dwellers of Babylon will be exterminated.... The Satanic forces... will be fended off. The destruction will be horrifying. Yet there is nothing to fear: the destruction will last only an hour. Afterward, when the extermination is complete... the people of God will live in purity, submissive to God...

pp. 49-51: And every one of those states was governed in the same fashion, by a great living symbol, who was the Leader. The Leader was a superman... genius beyond all geniuses... man on horseback who, in his statements and demeanor, was visibly mad, and who, in his madness, incarnated the deepest of all the anti-liberal impulses.... He wielded the force of History... or the force of God... or the force of a biological race.... And, because this person exercised a power that was more than human, he was exempt from the rules of moral behavior.... Lenin was the original model of such a Leader--Lenin, who wrote pamphlets and philosophical tracts with the confidence of a man who believes the secrets of the universe to be at his fingertips, and who established a weird new religion with Karl Marx as God, and who, after his death, was embalmed like a pharaoh and worshipped by the masses. But Il Duce was no less a superman. Stalin was a colossus. About Hitler, Heidegger, bug-eyed, said. "But look at his hands." Those Leaders were gods, every one of them... someone who... could order mas executions for no reason at all.... For the Leader was always a nihilist.... For, in each version of the myth... there was always going to be the war of Armageddon... the Class War... or the Crusade... or the race war.... A war of extinction. "Viva la Muerte!" cried one of Franco's generals. For death was victory, in the new imagination. Those serveral European movements announced many highly imaginative programs for human betterment... impractical.... But death was practical. Death was the only revolutionary achievement that could actually be delivered. The unity of mankind, the reign of purity and the eternal--those goals were out of reach.... But unity, purity, and eternity were readily at hand, in the form of mass death. So the Leader issued his orders. "And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse..."

But what, you ask (I was asking by page 50) does all this have to do with Osama bin Laden? Hitler has been dead for nearly sixty years, and Stalin has been dead for more than fifty. Why is all this early twentieth century history relevant? It is relevant, Berman says, because the modern-day Islamism of the Ayatollah Khomeini and Osama bin Laden is the very same thing as Bolshevism or Nazism or fascism:

pp. 98-100: Shariah was, in a word, utopia for Sayyid Qutb. It was the abolition of servitude. It was freedom.... It was equality. It was social welfare. It was morality. But that was going to be in the future. Meanwhile... jihad.... I have to add, given the course of action followed by some of Qutb's folowers... that jihad in his conception contained an ethical dimension.... Abu Bakr... told his army, "Do not kill any women, children, or elderly people." Qutb quoted the Koran... "Fight for th ecause of God those who fight against you, but do not commit aggression. Gold does not love aggressors."... Qutb's revolutionary program... [is not] hard to recognize. Qutb entertained his grand vision of Islam and its desperate predicament and its utopian destiny, but... each of the totalitarian movements entertained a grand vision of modern civilization and of desperate predicaments and utopian destinies. Each... [told] a version of... Armageddon. So did Qutb. With him, too, there was a people of God... under insidious attack... by the forces of corruption and pollution... backed by sinister and even cosmic enemies from abraod.... There was going to be a terrible war.... Victory was, as always, guaranteed... a perfect society, cleansed of its impurities and corruptions--as always in the totalitarian mythologies. Qutb's doctrine was wonderfully original and deeply Muslim, looked at from on angle; and, from another angle, merely one more version of the European totalitarian idea. And if his doctrine was recognizable, its consequences were going to be predictable... a cult of dealth. For how were any of Qutb's goals to be achieved? What coul dit possibly mean to treat the entire Muslim population of the world, apart from the followers of his own movement, as jahili barbarians who were bringing about the extermination of Islam?... The successes of the Islamist revolution were going to take place on the plane of the dead.... Lived experience pronounced that sentence... each of the totalitarian movements proposed a total renovation of life, and each was driven to create the total renovation in death...

And as it is the very same thing, it is going to have the very same consequences for those who must suffer its rule or its enmity: death.

And as it is the very same thing, we need to view those who apologize or excuse its actions as we viewed--or should have viewed--those who apologized or excused the crimes of Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, and so forth:

pp. 132-4: But what was the logic of the suicide attacks? It was easy to see how the young suicide terrorists had ended up agreeing to kill themselves.... Saudi princelings... Iraqi and Syrian Baath... instituions of Arab journalism told them to do so... paid them.... Clerics and schoolteachers advised suicide. But what were those clerics and the other adults thinking? that was not so easy to identify.... [T]o widen the borders of the proposed new state.... Or... as Hamas and Islamic Jihad forthrightly proclaimed, to abolish Israel altogether.... [N]one of th eimaginable purposes had any chance of being realized, and especially not after 9/11.... Suicide terror against the Israelis was bound to succeed in one realm only, and this was the realm of death... in which a perfect Palestinian state could luxuriate in the shade of a perfect Koranic tranquility, cleansed of every iniquitous thought.... Is the world truly a place where mass movements bedeck themselves in shrouds and march to the cemetery?... This seemed unthinkable... And so, in a fashion that was all too familiar... people... rushed to suggest ways in which... terror was reasonable and explicable and perhaps even admirable. Some people convinced themselves that... Hamas... was not Hamas.... Some people convinced themselves... that Israel had no right to exist... and suicide terror advanced a just cause.... Some people suggested that Israel's religious fanatics... settlement colonies... the suicide terrorists were... crazy, but their enemies and not their leaders and their own doctrines were to blame...

pp. 139-142: Jose Saramago... caused a stir in Ramallah by invoking Nazism.... Sharon's siege of Arafat in his compound was, Saramago said, "a crime comparable to Auschwitz," though no one was killed.... Saramago expressed himself more fully and eloquently in [his] essay.... He offered one additinoal thought.... He reflected that some people might be wondering about the suicide bombers. Saramago deployed a splendidly expressive ellipsis to address this matter--a marvelous display of contempt and disdain at a calculated pitch: "Ah, yes, the horrendous massacres of civilians caused by the so-called suicide terrorists.... Horrendous, yes, doubtless; condemnable, yes, doubtless, but Israel still has a lot to learn if it is not capable of understanding the reasons that can bring a human being to turn himself into a bomb."... [T]he rationalization of suicide terror sunk at last to the levels... [of] the anti-war faction of the old French Socialists, and the beautiful souls of the European literary class found themselves once again deposited willy-nilly on the rhetorical soil of the traditional extreme right, fulminating about Judaism, its obsessive hatefulness, its spirit of vengeance, its effort to reduce the rest of the world into docile echoes of its will, and its bloody crimes--all this, in a desperate effort to show that mass pathological movements do not exist, except when conjured into being by sinister oppressors...

pp. 142-144: The reaction... to the wave of suicide bombing... was remarkable in one other respect. The high tide of the terrorist attacks... proved to be the very moment when, around the world, large numbers of people felt impelled to express their fury at the Israelis. Then something curious happened. The Israeli repression settled in for the long haul... the Palestinian situation grew more desperate... [and] the wave of protest... began to recede.... Why was that?... Perhaps these people merely fell into exhaustion. But I can hazard a couple of other explanations.... The protests against Israel, by putting the onus for suicide terror on Israeli shoulders, served a rather useful purpose.... The protests explained the unexplainable.... But when the Isareli repression had grown sufficiently severe to stifle at least some of the suicide attacks... the impulse to drape Israel with images of Nazism, apartheid, and the hatefulness of Judaism consequently subsided.... The sinister excites, Camus observed. The transgressions of suicide murder arouse a thrill.... As long as the suicide bomb campaign was at its height.... The brazen called foreth the brazen, and demonstrators ran into the street to commit their verbal or sartorial transgressions, and the heroes of the pen rushed into the newspapers clad in a shockingly small number of tropes.... I concede that [this theory] might well be wrong and unfair. I can see why Jose Saramago might find it insulting. Still, there was something peculiar in the way the protests rose and fell around the world in tandem with the suicide bomb attacks...

What do I think of Paul Berman's argument? I think it is remarkably powerful and extremely interesting. But I think it takes too narrow a view of human history. It is not just anti-liberal movements that see themselves as John the Theologian on the Isle of Patmos, waiting for God's mighty hand to punish the wicked and build the New Jerusalem. In the old days--before Locke replaced Habakkuk--liberal movements used the same template: whether Rousseau's promises of the end of chains for humanity, or Cromwell's New Model Army, or the weak-tea version of Francis Fukuyama, liberalism can be messianic and apocalyptic too. And the same pattern goes way, way, way back. What were the zealots doing back in the year 70, slaughtering each other inside the walls of Jerusalem in the hope that if they could make their own society perfect enough God would come to their aid and scatter the legions of Titus Flavius Vespasianus besieging the city?

In short, I think that rather than viewing violent religious insurrections as a variant of twentieth-century totalitarianism, Berman might have done better viewing twentieth-century totalitarianism as a variant heretical branch of violent religious insurrections. Totalitarianism--in all its variants--needs a leader. Totalitarianism--in all its variants--needs control of a state. What we are now fighting doesn't have a leader, and doesn't seem to need to have control over a state. So I think that viewing our current predicament as analogous to that of the Europeans facing Hitler in the late 1930s or the West facing Stalin in the late 1940s may well lead us astray, and leads Berman astray. A better set of analogies, I think, would come from thinking about the Age of the Reformation...


Quotes:

pp. 37-38: The whole experience of Europe and North America during an entire century... to the First World War... [was] one of visible progress, and progress makes strength. The ancient evils of suffering, poverty, and exploitation continued being ancient evils. And yet... the Western countries seemed to have discovered the secret of human advancement.... Science, rational thought, and general education.... Technology and industry... wealth... human rights... democracy and self-government.... It was an insistence on freedom of thought and freedom of action... freedom that recognizes the existence of other freedoms... liberalism--liberalism not as a rigid doctrine but as a state of mind, a way of thinking about life and reality...

pp. 39-40: And yet Camus, in his study of rebellion and its peculiar evolution, took note of a few anomalies... imperialist crimes... India, Algeria, and South Africa.... King Leopold's campaign in the Congo.... What was the logic behind the slaughter of Congolese by Belgians?.... [T]here was no logic. The Belgians took up murder for murder's sake. The colonial slaughter was an insanity, not so different from the terrorist insanity that Conrad recorded in his other novel... about the nihilist radicals of London.... Those massacres showed that, even in the days when liberal rationality and human progress seemed to be making their greatest stries, an irrationalist cult of death and murder was already springing up.... The cult of death was springing up among Western Europeans in positions of responsibility and power... captains of civilization.... [T]he First World War got underway... something was new. The tides of European irrationality and mass murder, which had been surging up and down Africa, now went pouring across the European continent... 9 million... killed... 21 million wounded.... And why did such things take place?... [W]hat was the logic behind the frenzy? There was no logic...

pp. 41-43: And now the deepest disaster of all got underway. The old Romantic literary fashion for murder and suicide, the dandy's fondness for the irrational and the irresponsible, the little nihilist groups of left-wing desperadoes with their dreams of poetic death... the dark philosophies of the extreme right... loathing of progress... the anti-Semites of Vienna... demented scientists of racial theory. All this... began to metastasize and spread. The cult of death and irrationality now took hold of entire mass movements... movements "of a new type"... a single, all-consuming obsession... a hatred of liberal civilization.... Despiar was their desire.... They gazed across the landscape... the many achievements of democratic freedom, social justice, and scientific rationality. And everywhere they saw a gigantic lie... exploitation and murder... [liberal civilization] ought to be destroyed as quickly and violently as possible. And so, the newly mutated mass movements set out on a path of radical destruction.... Lenin was the first.... Everywhere the new movement displayed a weirdly frenetic dynamism... an emotional forcefulness tha tderived, ultimately, from the movements cheerful willingness to put Bolshevism's enemies to death... random crowds whose views on Bolshevism were utterly unknown [to death], and a further willingness to put to death the Bolsheviks themselves.... But that was... only the beginning... Mussolini... Franco... Hitler...

pp. 45-47: The left-wing and right-wing movements of the "new type" loathed one another.... And yet... it was obvious enough, after a while... that... all of them, left wingers and right-wingers alike, [were] spinning variations on a single impulse.... Camus had noticed something real... a modern impulse to rebel... [that] had very quickly... mutated into a cult of death. And the ideal [it served] was always the same... the ideal of submission... to the kind of authority that liberal civilization had slowly undermined.... It was the ideal of the one, instead of the many. The ideal of something godlike. The total state, the total doctrine, the total movement.... Each of the mobements adopted the same set of rits and symbols... crowds chanting en masse... monumental architecture... personal renunciation... the insistence on unquestioning belief in preposterous doctrines.... And each of those theories... followed the context of a single ur-myth.... the Book of the Revelation.... There is a people of God... under attack. The attack comes from within... mounted by the city dwellers of Babylon.... These city dwellers have sunk into abominations.... The pollution is spreading to the people of God.... There is also an attack from without... by the forces of Satan.... The war of Armageddon will take place. The subversive and polluted city dwellers of Babylon will be exterminated.... The Satanic forces... will be fended off. The destruction will be horrifying. Yet there is nothing to fear: the destruction will last only an hour. Afterward, when the extermination is complete... the people of God will live in purity, submissive to God...

pp. 49-51: And every one of those states was governed in the same fashion, by a great living symbol, who was the Leader. The Leader was a superman... genius beyond all geniuses... man on horseback who, in his statements and demeanor, was visibly mad, and who, in his madness, incarnated the deepest of all the anti-liberal impulses.... He wielded the force of History... or the force of God... or the force of a biological race.... And, because this person exercised a power that was more than human, he was exempt from the rules of moral behavior.... Lenin was the original model of such a Leader--Lenin, who wrote pamphlets and philosophical tracts with the confidence of a man who believes the secrets of the universe to be at his fingertips, and who established a weird new religion with Karl Marx as God, and who, after his death, was embalmed like a pharaoh and worshipped by the masses. But Il Duce was no less a superman. Stalin was a colossus. About Hitler, Heidegger, bug-eyed, said. "But look at his hands." Those Leaders were gods, every one of them... someone who... could order mas executions for no reason at all.... For the Leader was always a nihilist.... For, in each version of the myth... there was always going to be the war of Armageddon... the Class War... or the Crusade... or the race war.... A war of extinction. "Viva la Muerte!" cried one of Franco's generals. For death was victory, in the new imagination. Those serveral European movements announced many highly imaginative programs for human betterment... impractical.... But death was practical. Death was the only revolutionary achievement that could actually be delivered. The unity of mankind, the reign of purity and the eternal--those goals were out of reach.... But unity, purity, and eternity were readily at hand, in the form of mass death. So the Leader issued his orders. "And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse..."

pp. 98-100: Shariah was, in a word, utopia for Sayyid Qutb. It was the abolition of servitude. It was freedom.... It was equality. It was social welfare. It was morality. But that was going to be in the future. Meanwhile... jihad.... I have to add, given the course of action followed by some of Qutb's folowers... that jihad in his conception contained an ethical dimension.... Abu Bakr... told his army, "Do not kill any women, children, or elderly people." Qutb quoted the Koran... "Fight for th ecause of God those who fight against you, but do not commit aggression. Gold does not love aggressors."... Qutb's revolutionary program... [is not] hard to recognize. Qutb entertained his grand vision of Islam and its desperate predicament and its utopian destiny, but... each of the totalitarian movements entertained a grand vision of modern civilization and of desperate predicaments and utopian destinies. Each... [told] a version of... Armageddon. So did Qutb. With him, too, there was a people of God... under insidious attack... by the forces of corruption and pollution... backed by sinister and even cosmic enemies from abraod.... There was going to be a terrible war.... Victory was, as always, guaranteed... a perfect society, cleansed of its impurities and corruptions--as always in the totalitarian mythologies. Qutb's doctrine was wonderfully original and deeply Muslim, looked at from on angle; and, from another angle, merely one more version of the European totalitarian idea. And if his doctrine was recognizable, its consequences were going to be predictable... a cult of dealth. For how were any of Qutb's goals to be achieved? What coul dit possibly mean to treat the entire Muslim population of the world, apart from the followers of his own movement, as jahili barbarians who were bringing about the extermination of Islam?... The successes of the Islamist revolution were going to take place on the plane of the dead.... Lived experience pronounced that sentence... each of the totalitarian movements proposed a total renovation of life, and each was driven to create the total renovation in death...

pp. 132-4: But what was the logic of the suicide attacks? It was easy to see how the young suicide terrorists had ended up agreeing to kill themselves.... Saudi princelings... Iraqi and Syrian Baath... instituions of Arab journalism told them to do so... paid them.... Clerics and schoolteachers advised suicide. But what were those clerics and the other adults thinking? that was not so easy to identify.... [T]o widen the borders of the proposed new state.... Or... as Hamas and Islamic Jihad forthrightly proclaimed, to abolish Israel altogether.... [N]one of th eimaginable purposes had any chance of being realized, and especially not after 9/11.... Suicide terror against the Israelis was bound to succeed in one realm only, and this was the realm of death... in which a perfect Palestinian state could luxuriate in the shade of a perfect Koranic tranquility, cleansed of every iniquitous thought.... Is the world truly a place where mass movements bedeck themselves in shrouds and march to the cemetery?... This seemed unthinkable... And so, in a fashion that was all too familiar... people... rushed to suggest ways in which... terror was reasonable and explicable and perhaps even admirable. Some people convinced themselves that... Hamas... was not Hamas.... Some people convinced themselves... that Israel had no right to exist... and suicide terror advanced a just cause.... Some people suggested that Israel's religious fanatics... settlement colonies... the suicide terrorists were... crazy, but their enemies and not their leaders and their own doctrines were to blame...

pp. 139-142: Jose Saramago... caused a stir in Ramallah by invoking Nazism.... Sharon's siege of Arafat in his compound was, Saramago said, "a crime comparable to Auschwitz," though no one was killed.... Saramago expressed himself more fully and eloquently in [his] essay.... He offered one additinoal thought.... He reflected that some people might be wondering about the suicide bombers. Saramago deployed a splendidly expressive ellipsis to address this matter--a marvelous display of contempt and disdain at a calculated pitch: "Ah, yes, the horrendous massacres of civilians caused by the so-called suicide terrorists.... Horrendous, yes, doubtless; condemnable, yes, doubtless, but Israel still has a lot to learn if it is not capable of understanding the reasons that can bring a human being to turn himself into a bomb."... [T]he rationalization of suicide terror sunk at last to the levels... [of] the anti-war faction of the old French Socialists, and the beautiful souls of the European literary class found themselves once again deposited willy-nilly on the rhetorical soil of the traditional extreme right, fulminating about Judaism, its obsessive hatefulness, its spirit of vengeance, its effort to reduce the rest of the world into docile echoes of its will, and its bloody crimes--all this, in a desperate effort to show that mass pathological movements do not exist, except when conjured into being by sinister oppressors...

pp. 142-144: The reaction... to the wave of suicide bombing... was remarkable in one other respect. The high tide of the terrorist attacks... proved to be the very moment when, around the world, large numbers of people felt impelled to express their fury at the Israelis. Then something curious happened. The Israeli repression settled in for the long haul... the Palestinian situation grew more desperate... [and] the wave of protest... began to recede.... Why was that?... Perhaps these people merely fell into exhaustion. But I can hazard a couple of other explanations.... The protests against Israel, by putting the onus for suicide terror on Israeli shoulders, served a rather useful purpose.... The protests explained the unexplainable.... But when the Isareli repression had grown sufficiently severe to stifle at least some of the suicide attacks... the impulse to drape Israel with images of Nazism, apartheid, and the hatefulness of Judaism consequently subsided.... The sinister excites, Camus observed. The transgressions of suicide murder arouse a thrill.... As long as the suicide bomb campaign was at its height.... The brazen called foreth the brazen, and demonstrators ran into the street to commit their verbal or sartorial transgressions, and the heroes of the pen rushed into the newspapers clad in a shockingly small number of tropes.... I concede that [this theory] might well be wrong and unfair. I can see why Jose Saramago might find it insulting. Still, there was something peculiar in the way the protests rose and fell around the world in tandem with the suicide bomb attacks...

pp. 155-9: The Islamists were positively ecstatic in 1989.... The cream had defeated the Red Army. The Soviet Union was teetering. And if the mujahadeen could undo the superpower of the East, what couldn't they achieve in the future. The Red Army was enormous, but the Israeli Defense Force was not, and Israel was surely doomed.... by 1989 the Sunni of Afghanistan were visibly gliding toward an Islamic state of their own.... In Algeria, the Islamic Salvation Front seemed on the brink of victory.... In that same 1989, Khomeini issued his fatwa against Rushdie, commanding... "all the intrepid Muslims in the world" to murder not only the novelist but his publishers "wherever they find them".... Gilles Kepel and some of the other regional specialists... have made the argument that in the late 1990s Islamism... entered into an irreversibnle decline.... Change was in the air... it became easy to imagine that... the ferocious old Islamist movements might soften.... During the 1970s and 1980s... old-time Stalinist parties... subsided into democratic parties of the left... Franco's... movement... quietly melted into a democratic party of pious and Catholic conservatives.... the prospect that Islamism... might evolve... into something genuinely different and better... should fill us with a soothing hope.... Meanwhile, we have all the evidence in the world... to conclude that Islamism in its radical version of the present poses every imaginable danger... gushers of Saudi wealth... unreformed Shiite mullahs of Iran... officers in the Pakistani army... Pakistan's secret police... terrorist networks... recruits and money...

Posted by DeLong at December 28, 2003 10:45 AM | TrackBack

Comments

The "More" link & permanent link appear broken.

Great discussion, though--I've added this puppy to my wish list.

Posted by: Stoffel on December 28, 2003 11:30 AM

____

Indeed this is an excellent post that may require a separate blog to flesh out all the issues.

But you build part of your counterargument to Berman on Cromwell representing a strain of liberalism. Perhaps. But given his anti-Catholicism and his descent into quasi-monarchical rule himself, I have a hard time rationalizing a truly liberal side to him, his Republicanism notwithstanding.

Posted by: P O'Neill on December 28, 2003 11:58 AM

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I haven't read your whole post carefully, much less Berman. My first imprssion is that he's doing a tremendous amount of lumping. To me Franco, Castro, and Bin Laden are three pretty different things, except that they are not liberals. It seems like a genteel form of demonizing all of our opponents at once, rather than a sharp analytical tool.

WWI is the hinge. Despite all the bad things said about Kaiser Wilhelm, most of the major participants in this war were liberal societies. Even Austria-Hungary and Russia were moving slowly that way. This seems to have been the hinge of modern history, and none of the explanations make sense. At least, they do not explain why such a high proportion of the populaces involved went into the war with such enthusiasm, when really nothing possibly could have been gained by it. It put an end to what had been a really wonderful period of history. Why did people want that?

I usually am hostile to depth-psychological and critical-theoretical attempts to find deep psychic causes for big political disasters, but WWI seems to demand that.

And certainly the possibility has to be considered that in 1914 there was a flaw withing liberal Europe itself. Because Marxists, Islamicists, Fascists, etc., played no significant role in bringing the war on.

Posted by: Zizka on December 28, 2003 12:17 PM

____

From your post, one gets the impression Berman thinks anti-liberalism is some kind of Romantic predilection that forms in the midst of progress and prosperity. But it was when liberal states were faltering most between the world wars that extremism got the most political traction. So many intelligent people in the '20s and '30s (guys like Huxley, for example) were preaching "stability at whatever cost". The same situation exists now in the Arab world where liberal progress is not a plausible answer. Where it is a plausible answer you only have a bunch of harmless dandy nihilists.

Posted by: Paul Kelly on December 28, 2003 12:42 PM

____

From your post, one gets the impression Berman thinks anti-liberalism is some kind of Romantic predilection that forms in the midst of progress and prosperity. But it was when liberal states were faltering most between the world wars that extremism got the most political traction. So many intelligent people in the '20s and '30s (guys like Huxley, for example) were preaching "stability at whatever cost". The same situation exists now in the Arab world where liberal progress is not a plausible answer. Where it is a plausible answer you only have a bunch of harmless dandy nihilists.

Posted by: Paul Kelly on December 28, 2003 12:43 PM

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From your post, one gets the impression Berman thinks anti-liberalism is some kind of Romantic predilection that forms in the midst of progress and prosperity. But it was when liberal states were faltering most between the world wars that extremism got the most political traction. So many intelligent people in the '20s and '30s (guys like Huxley, for example) were preaching "stability at whatever cost". The same situation exists now in the Arab world where liberal progress is not a plausible answer. Where it is a plausible answer you only have a bunch of harmless dandy nihilists.

Posted by: Paul Kelly on December 28, 2003 12:45 PM

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From your post, one gets the impression Berman thinks anti-liberalism is some kind of Romantic predilection that forms in the midst of progress and prosperity. But it was when liberal states were faltering most between the world wars that extremism got the most political traction. So many intelligent people in the '20s and '30s (guys like Huxley, for example) were preaching "stability at whatever cost". The same situation exists now in the Arab world where liberal progress is not a plausible answer. Where it is a plausible answer you only have a bunch of harmless dandy nihilists.

Posted by: Paul Kelly on December 28, 2003 12:47 PM

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From your post, one gets the impression Berman thinks anti-liberalism is some kind of Romantic predilection that forms in the midst of progress and prosperity. But it was when liberal states were faltering most between the world wars that extremism got the most political traction. So many intelligent people in the '20s and '30s (guys like Huxley, for example) were preaching "stability at whatever cost". The same situation exists now in the Arab world where liberal progress is not a plausible answer. Where it is a plausible answer you only have a bunch of harmless dandy nihilists.

Posted by: Paul Kelly on December 28, 2003 12:48 PM

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From your post, one gets the impression Berman thinks anti-liberalism is some kind of Romantic predilection that forms in the midst of progress and prosperity. But it was when liberal states were faltering most between the world wars that extremism got the most political traction. So many intelligent people in the '20s and '30s (guys like Huxley, for example) were preaching "stability at whatever cost". The same situation exists now in the Arab world where liberal progress is not a plausible answer. Where it is a plausible answer you only have a bunch of harmless dandy nihilists.

Posted by: Paul Kelly on December 28, 2003 12:50 PM

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From your post, one gets the impression Berman thinks anti-liberalism is some kind of Romantic predilection that forms in the midst of progress and prosperity. But it was when liberal states were faltering most between the world wars that extremism got the most political traction. So many intelligent people in the '20s and '30s (guys like Huxley, for example) were preaching "stability at whatever cost". The same situation exists now in the Arab world where liberal progress is not a plausible answer. Where it is a plausible answer you only have a bunch of harmless dandy nihilists.

Posted by: Paul Kelly on December 28, 2003 12:51 PM

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Read Remarque, "All Quiet on the Western Front," and this remarkable post becomes all the more clear. Remarque understood.

Truly a brilliant over-whelming post!

Posted by: anne on December 28, 2003 12:53 PM

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From your post, one gets the impression Berman thinks anti-liberalism is some kind of Romantic predilection that forms in the midst of progress and prosperity. But wasn't it when liberal states were faltering most between the world wars that extremism got the most political traction? So many intelligent people in the '20s and '30s (guys like Huxley, for example) were preaching "stability at whatever cost". The same situation exists now in the Arab world where liberal progress is not a plausible answer. Where it is a plausible answer you only have a bunch of harmless dandy nihilists.

Posted by: Paul Kelly on December 28, 2003 12:55 PM

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From your post, one gets the impression Berman thinks anti-liberalism is some kind of Romantic predilection that forms in the midst of progress and prosperity. But wasn't it when liberal states were faltering most between the world wars that extremism got the most political traction? So many intelligent people in the '20s and '30s (guys like Huxley, for example) were preaching "stability at whatever cost". The same situation exists now in the Arab world where liberal progress is not a plausible answer. Where it is a plausible answer you only have a bunch of harmless dandy nihilists.

Posted by: Paul Kelly on December 28, 2003 12:57 PM

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Did any one observe a difference between the rate of school shooting incidents before and after 911?

Posted by: Bulent Sayin on December 28, 2003 12:57 PM

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From your post, one gets the impression Berman thinks anti-liberalism is some kind of Romantic predilection that forms in the midst of progress and prosperity. But wasn't it when liberal states were faltering most between the world wars that extremism got the most political traction? So many intelligent people in the '20s and '30s (guys like Huxley, for example) were preaching "stability at whatever cost". The same situation exists now in the Arab world where liberal progress is not a plausible answer. Where it is a plausible answer you only have a bunch of harmless dandy nihilists.

Posted by: Paul Kelly on December 28, 2003 12:58 PM

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"At least, they do not explain why such a high proportion of the populaces involved went into the war with such enthusiasm, when really nothing possibly could have been gained by it."

My theory is that there is something terrible within the human psyche that reacts against an excess of peace and prosperity. Europe had known an entire century of tranquility since the Congress of Vienna, and that was more than enough time for the cults of War and the Great Man, as propounded by Hegel and Carlyle, to saturate all levels of European society, fomenting a revolt against mere "bourgeois" prosperity and the gemütliche, "Biedermeier" values.

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on December 28, 2003 01:48 PM

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Abiola Lapite writes:

"My theory is that there is something terrible within the human psyche that reacts against an excess of peace and prosperity. Europe had known an entire century of tranquility since the Congress of Vienna, and that was more than enough time for the cults of War and the Great Man, as propounded by Hegel and Carlyle, to saturate all levels of European society, fomenting a revolt against mere "bourgeois" prosperity and the gemütliche, "Biedermeier" values."

Peaceful, compared to WWI maybe. Don't forget the Crimean war, the Franco-Prussian wars, the Italian war for independence, not to mention the internal struggles going on inside of countries as a result of the social changes occurring during the industrial revolution. And in the opening statement Berman states that the US had been at peace for a century as well. I suppose his focus on international history has led him to forget a small skirmish called the American Civil War. Not to mention the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars, the forcible opening of Japan by Adm. Perry, The Boer war of the British in South Africa, the extremely bloody Boxer rebellion in China, and yes, all of the colonial rape and pillage going on at the same time. And France had experienced the agony of several violent revolutionary uprisings during this period. Anyone remember the alamo? The Indian wars?

South America had wars all over the continent for control of vital resources and finalizing the current borders, which resulted in the formation of Paraguay and Uruguay, the land locked isolation of Bolivia, and of course, many violent revolutions against Spanish rule. Not to forget the war of the triple alliance, where a crackpot dictator of Paraguay decided he was going to build a "greater Paraguay" extending to the sea and declared war against Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia. This resulted in the mass slaughter of the male population of Paraguay, such that by the end of this brutal and nasty war, only 10% of the male population of Paraguay survived.

Frankly, I don't think there was ever a really peaceful time. What made the 20th century different, if you will, were "weapons of mass destruction". High powered repeating rifles, Armored Motorized vehicles, machine guns, nerve gas, etc. Perhaps it took two such colossal calamities of this nature to finally change the basic nature of Western society. We might only hope this is the case.

Posted by: non economist on December 28, 2003 02:17 PM

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You know - all the numbers I've seen show that suicide bombers are a lot less effective at killing people than Israeli tanks, choppers, infantry and bulldozers. Funny how the the "death cult" of the Palestinians kills a lot less people than the Israeli democracy that has occupied them for over 30 years. And yet the condemnation from people like Berman tends to go one way - towards those despicable suicide bombers. Because killing people with your armed forces is so much more moral.

When people have real and significant issues - to reduce them to being nothing more than a "death cult" is not only insulting - it is stupid.

During the Great Depression turning to Communism and Fascism may have been a cure worse than the disease - but there is a reason why Keynes feared for Capitalism - it was failing - and failing badly.

Turning to the modern day: when a people are under occupation, when their land is being taken from them, when they have insufficient armed forces, when settlers continue to pour in, when they are in danger of being killed at any time for being in the wrong place (collateral casualties due to assassination operations), when they are under curfew constantly - when all of these things are going on - there is a reaction. There is especially a reaction amongst those who have grown up knowing nothing else.

For those who wish to actually think - look at a demographic profile of the Palestinian population. Look at it and THINK about what it means.

The current Israeli strategy is worse than immoral - it is a mistake. It will not work. Soon Israel will be faced with either doing full scale ethnic cleansing - or with being destroyed - or with no longer being a Jewish state. Demographics allow no other solution if they will not give up the occupied territories.

None.

So - who is marching towards death? The Palestinians or the Israelis? Both? Well, I'd guess, in completely ruthless realpolitik calculus that the Palestinians are going to win. It may take a few more decades - but things that can't go on, don't. They will win - and the Israelis will lose.

Posted by: Ian Welsh on December 28, 2003 02:38 PM

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One is divine - Roman Empire.

Two is dialectic -- the Cold War.

Three or more is chaos -- rest of history.

What about "zero"?

Posted by: Bulent Sayin on December 28, 2003 02:58 PM

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"Frankly, I don't think there was ever a really peaceful time."

Globally speaking, you'd be correct, but the thing about nearly all the conflicts between 1814 and 1914 was that they either occurred on the periphery of "civilized" Europe (the Crimean War), or in far-off outposts like South Africa and the then United States. Even the Austro-Prussian war of 1866 and the Franco-German conflict of 1871 were relatively short, decisive and bloodless by comparison either with the Napoleonic wars that came before them or the Great War that was to come afterwards.

All of the above considered, it is meaningful, even blindingly obvious, to say that hardly any Europeans alive in 1914 really knew what all-out war was like, even amongst the military classes.* The illusion at the time was that modern science had "solved" the military problem once and for all, and the war would "all be over by Christmas." Why not rush, then, to get a piece of the "manly" fighting action that was to be had, before the whole show was over?

I blame reactionary intellectuals like Hegel, Carlyle and Heinrich von Treitschke for the Great War and all that followed from it, as their poisonous formulations helped poison the minds of entire generations of Europeans that there was something decadent about peace and middle-class commercialism. Even when we look at individuals like Lenin, with his commitment to a revolutionary vanguard, or Hitler, with his belief in the importance of Great Men like Frederick of Prussia, Bismarck and (of course) himself, it is the same elitist, anti-rational, philosophies of violence and strength peddled long before by these men that we see being translated into political programmes.

*I don't consider colonial policing actions against outgunned natives, of the sort characterized by the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, or Kitchener's Sudanese campaign of 1898, to have been "wars" in the modern sense; "lop-sided slaughters" would be a more accurate description in my view.

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on December 28, 2003 03:09 PM

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This book inspired me to reread The Rebel, and The Myth of Sisyphus last summer. The key to understanding Camus is to realize that he split from support of the Communist party much earlier than Sartre. The cause seems to be that the Communists were the only organizers of resistance in Vichy France. Camus realized that the Communists were only interested in the Russian Party. He say the relation between this and the Algerian drive to independence.

The Rebel is Camus' effort to explain his early break from the Party. I read it to say that the true danger to humanity is ideology, particularly the Hegelian and Marxist notion of the drive of history to the perfectability of society.

This is the point of comparison between European totalitarianism and religious fundamentalism. Both have millenial aspirations, both believe that there is a point of perfection in the near future, and that we can drive to that point by violence.

Camus flatly rejects that view, and argues that fighting is the only proper step for rebels, and by extension for all of us.

Berman thinks we have to fight Islamist terrorists for the same reasons we had to fight Communism and Nazism, namely that their ideological fervor is an effort to justify killing anyone who disagrees with them.

Posted by: Masaccio on December 28, 2003 03:38 PM

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From your post, one gets the impression Berman thinks anti-liberalism is some kind of Romantic predilection that forms in the midst of progress and prosperity. But wasn't it when liberal states were faltering most between the world wars that extremism got the most political traction? So many intelligent people in the '20s and '30s (guys like Huxley, for example) were preaching "stability at whatever cost". The same situation exists now in the Arab world where liberal progress is not a plausible answer. Where it is a plausible answer you only have a bunch of harmless dandy nihilists.

Posted by: Paul Kelly on December 28, 2003 04:02 PM

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I hate the yawp abut the information revolution being a 21st century event: the economy has been information driven for at least the last 8,000 years, ever since hunters and gatherers compared seeds and captured animals with each other to estimate their relative values.

Still, it does seem to me that the wars and mass movements of the 20th century are very largely epiphenomena of the new media of that century, the telegraph, the radio, the planetary postal system, and so forth. Thus it seems to me false to dismiss fascism, Leninism, BinLadinism, etc. as merely current versions of age-old frictions and hates. They are masses of peoples' attempts to function under new informational conditions.

Much of fascist doctrine can be traced to the corporatism of 13th century Portugal and to other medieval times and places. The difference now is that radio and the telegraph-fed mass press brought about the conditions which both made populations ready for fascism and made fascism capable of being tried out.

"Fundamentalist," i.e. romantic and reactionary, Islam on the Bin Laden program, similarly, seems to me to be both made attractive and made plausible by a world of television, in which the Arab masses can see what they are missing and demand that they too have their Heaven on Earth.

There really are some things new under the Sun, and the mass media are several of them.

Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones on December 28, 2003 04:16 PM

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Human morality understands divine rule - one is divine - Roman Empire.

Human morality understands dialectics as well -- the Greek followers of Jesus invented dialectics long before Karl Marx -- good and evil, God and Devil, Christ and Anti-Christ... -- two is dialectic -- the Cold War...

I never understood how Lester Thurow (spell?) could fail to see this to the extent of proposing " a Three Pole World" -- three or more is chaos -- rest of history...

What about a "Zeropole World", then? I asked myslef that quesiton in 1995, 1996... and soon realized that human morality was simply not up to understand and accept that...

But there is still hope:

Zeropole world is equivalent to a world with a "very large" number of "poles", so large that it is practically infinite, say this number is about six billion...

You don't run out of solutions in democracy.

Just don't stop upholding democracy.

Posted by: Bulent Sayin on December 28, 2003 04:18 PM

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Berman seems to think that the most interesting thing about ANY movement that is not liberal (as he defines it) is that it is not liberal (as he defines it). Thus he merrily lumps together as anti-liberal fanatics Lenin, Hitler, Mussolini, Castro, Bin Laden and anyone else who kills or otherwise sins without espousing a liberal ideology, while completely ignoring all those who have killed or otherwise sinned while espousing a liberal ideology.

Arguably, the 'neoliberal' economic ideology (exemplified in the Washington Consensus of reforms forced onto other countries through the IMF and World Bank) fits Berman's typology of an anti-liberal totalitarian movement: individuals submitting to a rarified, abstract 'greater good' that will be delivered not now but at some undefined point in the future, and only after a period of sacrifice and painful adjustment, levelling all playing fields and clearing the way for a brave, new, pure society.

What was missing from the neoliberal ideology was the idea of real democracy: whether people actually wanted to endure the painful reforms in return for a promised future paradise was simply irrelevant. Power was its own excuse, as it has been in so many of the terrible movements Berman describes and the ones he ignores.

Posted by: Jim on December 28, 2003 04:43 PM

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Berman seems to think that the most interesting thing about ANY movement that is not liberal (as he defines it) is that it is not liberal (as he defines it). Thus he merrily lumps together as anti-liberal fanatics Lenin, Hitler, Mussolini, Castro, Bin Laden and anyone else who kills or otherwise sins without espousing a liberal ideology, while completely ignoring all those who have killed or otherwise sinned while espousing a liberal ideology.

Arguably, the 'neoliberal' economic ideology (exemplified in the Washington Consensus of reforms forced onto other countries through the IMF and World Bank) fits Berman's typology of an anti-liberal totalitarian movement: individuals submitting to a rarified, abstract 'greater good' that will be delivered not now but at some undefined point in the future, and only after a period of sacrifice and painful adjustment, levelling all playing fields and clearing the way for a brave, new, pure society.

What was missing from the neoliberal ideology was the idea of real democracy: whether people actually wanted to endure the painful reforms in return for a promised future paradise was simply irrelevant. Power was its own excuse, as it has been in so many of the terrible movements Berman describes and the ones he ignores.

Posted by: Jim on December 28, 2003 04:48 PM

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Just a comment. It's now generally accepted that the war of the triple alliance was started or provoked by Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. At least here in Uruguay nobody thinks that Solano Lopez started it and we are ashamed of the genocide. Certainly not one of our proudest moments.

Posted by: Carlos on December 28, 2003 07:24 PM

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Interesting, but I have a problem with how Berman seems to dismiss how his golden age of liberalism was based on the control of large stretches of Asia, Africa, etc. Berman believes that these imperialistic excesses can somehow be cleanly divorced form liberalism itself. That may be true for us in the West, but for the rest of the world to come into contact with "liberalism" in the shadow of a gunship, that must surely had a great impact on what they felt liberalism to be. Also, I think Berman is ignoring how a rejection of liberalism may be based on the fact that it was simply alien to those not of the west.

Posted by: tronbonne on December 28, 2003 07:25 PM

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Brad DeLong wrote: "liberalism can be messianic and apocalyptic too".

Huh? If it is messianic and apocalyptic, how can it still be liberalism? Cromwell certainly was not a liberal. Nor is Fukuyama.

And by the way, the main thesis of the book is neither new nor astonishing at all.

Just re-read good old Sir Karl (Popper). Or Hannah Arendt on totalitarism.

Posted by: Gerhard on December 29, 2003 02:35 AM

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I'm only 27, so my perspective is probably different from most folks on this board. I play these multiplayer empire-building computer games, and they all follow similar patterns -- the players will seek one another out, skirmish a bit, and then concentrate on creating a power base. If the players are reasonably good (or if the game happens to emphasize defense), they will all create stable power bases more or less at the same time. Then they will begin horse trading and little border wars at the peripheries to try to gain small advantage. All the while, each side will build up an army large enough to garrison the core area and field a sizable expeditionary force.

At some point, all hell will suddenly break loose. Some psychological switch will be tripped, and half the board will decide that they are essentially impervious to assault but their neighbors are not, and we will get a period of war; generally, some countries will grow, some will die, and some will keep their core areas but lose a lot of little colonies.

WWI feels just like that to me, like the European nations had been viewing the world as a game to be played for a while, and the time had come to actually use all the resources which had until then been built up. And the results were just like in the games . . . I don't know if that's because the games are similar or if that's just how people work when they view the world as something to be played, rather than something to be lived in.

Posted by: Kimmitt on December 29, 2003 03:32 AM

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Brad DeLong writes, "Totalitarianism--in all its variants--needs a leader. Totalitarianism--in all its variants--needs control of a state."

So far, so good. :-)

"What we are now fighting doesn't have a leader,..."

Osama bin Laden is/was not a leader? Mullah Omar is/was not a leader? Saddam Hussein was not a leader?

"...and doesn't seem to need to have control over a state."

It DOES need to have control over a state. Totalitarians are nothing more than thugs and assassins--and scraggily old men hiding in holes--without control over a state.

That's why the totalitarian Taliban and their totalitarian friends in Al Qaeda are less dangerous to us now that they no longer control the central government in Afghanistan.

That's also why the totalitarian Ba'athists (especially Saddam Hussein) in Iraq are less dangerous to us now that they no longer control the government of Iraq.

That's why the government of Iran, when it is overthrown and replaced by a democracy, will be less dangerous to us. That's why the communists in North Korea will be less dangerous when they eventually no longer control the government of North Korea.

Totalitarians are far less dangerous when they do not control a government. It is only when they control a government that their totalitarianism can be implemented.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on December 29, 2003 03:51 PM

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Without the time to read the comments, but I hope someone has trotted out "Joseph de Maistre and the Origins of Fascism", an extraordinary article by Isaiah Berlin in his CROOKED TIMBER OF HUMANITY (Vintage 1959, 1992). It's an enduring because necessary read for everybody, maybe forever. De Maistre (1753-1821) was the original anti-Enlightenment, anti-Liberal, anti-Romantic philosopher, and he called for absolute reign by classicism, monarchy, and the church, in the face of man's eternal irrationality.

No doubt some of these types are among the Islamic terrorists.

For the most part though, our Muslim brethren should've come right along with us. They're smart, they love technology and trading and a good laugh. I think we can blame American foreign policy in this area in the twentieth century. Or more correctly, an unavoidable postcolonial oil situation in which we were unavoidably the hegemon. We made deals and gave guns to their kings and thugs, virtually gutting the possibility for any liberal mass society by neutralizing its intellectual validity among the populace--after all, aiding their oppressors was the U.S., the paramount Western liberal example. The only other thing left in public discourse is the Jim Joneses, and the stingers we sold them. We also don’t understand suiciders who will jump to lions or take the kool-aid, except to note religious martyrdom.

Further adverting to irrationality, I think World War One is in fact rather EASY TO EXPLAIN. War is lots of fun to a life nasty, brutish, and short. Up to well into the nineteenth century bear-baiting was public entertainment, and you laughed at cripples because such was their lot. European identities were/are evolving out of vicinal isolation, and the races and nations had never trusted next-door. Then it would be easy to believe a string of reasons to go to war. (These days they're still a little sniffy.) Besides, a lot of the Western liberal types had emigrated--to the promise of where?

The same place where, for a half dozen reasons in a string, you have now invaded Iraq.

Posted by: Lee A. on December 29, 2003 05:23 PM

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Carsten, F. L.: The Rise of Fascism

Hamilton, Alastair: The Appeal of Fascism

Pulzer, Peter G. J.: The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria

Hofstadter, Richard: The Paranoid Style in American Politics

Special note to Mark Bahner: I know totalitarianism when I see it. I think we all do.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on December 29, 2003 06:31 PM

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Frank Wilhoit writes, "Special note to Mark Bahner: I know totalitarianism when I see it. I think we all do."

??? I wasn't questioning anyone's ability to recognize totalitarianism.

Brad DeLong wrote that (Islamofascist) totalitarianism "...doesn't seem to need to have control over a state." But he's wrong.

The scraggily totalitarian Saddam Hussein who was found hiding in a hole was no different from the totalitarian Saddam Hussein who ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands, and who was primarily responsible for wars that killed 100s of thousands. The only difference between the two is that the piece of slime hiding in a hole had no control over a state.

That's also why many people were wrong about Afghanistan. Many people said the U.S. government should find and kill Osama bin Laden. That's not what the U.S. government should have done. The U.S. government needed to take out the Taliban government.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on December 29, 2003 08:02 PM

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Frank Wilhoit writes, "Special note to Mark Bahner: I know totalitarianism when I see it. I think we all do."

??? I wasn't questioning anyone's ability to recognize totalitarianism.

Brad DeLong wrote that (Islamofascist) totalitarianism "...doesn't seem to need to have control over a state." But he's wrong.

The scraggily totalitarian Saddam Hussein who was found hiding in a hole was no different from the totalitarian Saddam Hussein who ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands, and who was primarily responsible for wars that killed 100s of thousands. The only difference between the two is that the piece of slime hiding in a hole had no control over a state.

That's also why many people were wrong about Afghanistan. Many people said the U.S. government should find and kill Osama bin Laden. That's not what the U.S. government should have done. The U.S. government needed to take out the Taliban government.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on December 29, 2003 08:03 PM

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The obvious mistake in Afghanistan was supporting the fundamentalists in their war against the secular but Soviet supported government in Afghanistan. We destabilized the only progressive rule of law in the country and let it be replaced by the force of arms of feuding warlords. For many Afghanis, the Taliban was preferable to the warlords. In its current state, a supreme but benevolent warlord would be preferable to the feuding warlords.

The US works as a democracy/republic because force of arms has always been subservient to rule of law. In the 1860s, secession and the Civil War that followed threatened to destroy democracy because the force of arms was used to resist the rule of law for over four years. The rule of law finally won or we would not be a democracy today.

The relative peace of post WWII Europe was established through the ascendance of international law. Peace has been threatened only when the force of arms was used to try to overturn international law as in the Balkans.

The problem with modern terrorism stems from the injustice and lack of law that exists between the modern states and the Arab world. Justice would prevent force of arms from appropriating Arab lands and give citizens of Asia the same rights and freedoms that are enjoyed elsewhere in the world. In this model, the carrot of following the law and using negotiations to make changes is balanced by the threat of force applied for breaking the law unilaterally. Accepting of the bargain of rule of law requires that the benefits of agreement to abide by rule of law must to be greater than the consequences of breaking the law.

The rise of dictators such as Stalin or Hitler are examples of the rule of law being overturned by force of arms. Unless checks and balances are available to prevent rulers from being “above the law”, the temptation is always there to use force of arms to seize power for personal benefit.

Posted by: bakho on December 30, 2003 06:08 AM

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Brad sez: "Totalitarianism--in all its variants--needs a leader. Totalitarianism--in all its variants--needs control of a state"

But, not a very COMPETENT leader nor a very BIG state. Jim Jones of the People's Temple or David Koresh of Mt Carmel in Waco were, for a time, perfectly totalitarian in their leadership of their movement.

The saddest thing is that their followers are the first and worst victims. The next most sad thing is that other leaders, totalitarian or otherwise, are usually so busy securing their own hold on power among their own movements, that they can't be bothered helping victims of their neighboring despots.

Only when a totalitarian leader is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a threat to the sucessful liberal states that he is leading his movement against, (in reaction to, in reformation of, in revolution for ... however the particular dialectical lyric is constructed, the drumbeat keeps the movement marching all the same) does that liberal state intervene. The U.S. has been perfectly willing to let Nazi Germany fight the Communist Russians, or the North Vietnamese to fight the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, or the Bathist Iraqis to fight the Ayatollah's Iranians.

But this doesn't seem to be the best long term strategy.

So, should the U.S. pursue a new policy? Suppose we refuse the recognize the soverignity of totalitarian governments, akin to the way we refuse to honor "odious debts". This may not require overt war ... we managed to keep Libya "unrecognized" for decades with few actual military incursions. (Do it right, and one may be enough!) What would the social-liberal-democratic philosophy be, with regard to totalitarianism?

Posted by: Pouncer on December 30, 2003 10:02 AM

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Agree with the last two and extend: we MUST follow the letter of intenational law WHILE WE ARE the all-powerful hegemon, because this is the only thing we can do to prevent a world-government from being power-mad, about ten generations from now. And tease-out George Bush's strongest appeal to Western liberals: that the old way of enabling evil ends HERE AND NOW. But this means: NOT taking out scumbag dictators WITHOUT widest multilateral consent, --unfortunately.

Posted by: Lee A. on December 30, 2003 03:23 PM

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Taking out dictators who are violating the rule of law is not a problem. The problem is establishing a rule of law to replace dictatorial law. Removing the dictator is easy. Re-establishing rule of law is difficult. Multilateralism helps to set the boundaries for the dictators's replacement. The replacement laws have to gain acceptance. It is easier to pressure a single occupier country than a multilateral coalition.

Posted by: bakho on December 30, 2003 08:04 PM

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And those who are asked to accept the new rule of law are assured of entering a wider community of peace.

Posted by: Lee A. on December 30, 2003 08:12 PM

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