Skip to content

Noted: Crossing Berman off the A-list.

By DAVID RIEFF [The National Interest] – A number of European and North American intellectuals—some self-identified neoconservatives, others “reformed” leftists who would of late call themselves antitotalitarians—have found in The Treason of the Intellectuals a template for explaining what they view as the incapacity of their contemporaries to stand up for the Enlightenment values currently under assault by a resurgent Islamism. As Roger Kimball, a coeditor of the neoconservative magazine The New Criterion, put it in his preface to a 2006 edition of Benda’s book, this betrayal has rendered us powerless against the “depredations of intellectuals who have embraced the nihilism of Callicles as their truth.” And claims to be the inheritor of his mantle have come from the Left as well. For example, Edward Said, toward whom neoconservative intellectuals bear more animus than perhaps anyone except my late mother, was a huge admirer of The Treason of the Intellectuals and discussed it at length in his 1993 Reith Lectures for the BBC. It is by no means clear why polemicists on either the left or the right believe that they can discern what Benda, with his idealization of dispassionate, “universal” thought at odds with political passions of every kind, would have made of the attitudes of Western intellectuals confronted by militant Islamism in their own countries as well as in the Muslim world itself.

Nevertheless, Paul Berman, a writer who, having started on the Democratic left is by now probably America’s best known and certainly its most unrepentant liberal interventionist, clearly believes that he can. For, though he mentions Benda only once in his new book, the title he chose for it, The Flight of the Intellectuals, is such a clear echo of Benda’s own. Berman’s mimicry has the added advantage of being an I’m-assuming-the-mantle-of twofer in that it also echoes, though he mentions neither the book nor its author, the great French political theorist Raymond Aron’s The Opium of the Intellectuals, published in 1955, which Roger Kimball (again!) accurately summarized as being an indictment of leftist intellectuals who were “merciless toward the failings of democracies but ready to tolerate the worst crimes as long as they are committed in the name of proper doctrines.”

Continued at The National Interest | More Chronicle & Notices.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *