Reader DL sends an excerpt from Paul Berman's recent Terror and Liberalism who "puts his liberal credentials on the line ... by critiquing the left while presenting a liberal rationale for the war on terror". Berman believes the Left should have arrived at a logical opposition to radical Islamism independently because:
... Islamism (is) a totalitarian reaction against Western liberalism in a class with Nazism and communism ... 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.
In a word the Left would logically be expected to oppose Osama Bin Laden because it represents everything Berman thinks the Left has fought against since it's inception. The question Berman tries to answer is why the precise opposite has happened. To get a handle on the problem he dissects the failure of the 1930s French Left to resolutely oppose Hitler. On pages 124-128 Berman says:
Blum and his supporters regarded Hitler and the Nazis with horror ... But mostly they remembered the First World War ... They grew thoughtful, therefore. They did not wish to reduce Germany in all its Teutonic complexity to black-and-white terms of good and evil. ... And, having analyzed the German scene in that manner, the anti-war Socialists concluded that Hitler and the Nazis, in railing against the great powers and the Treaty of Versailles, did make some legitimate arguments ... Why not look for ways to conciliate the outraged German people and, in that way, to conciliate the Nazis? ...
The anti-war Socialists of France did not think they were being cowardly or unprincipled in making those arguments. On the contrary, they ... regarded themselves as exceptionally brave and honest. They felt that courage and radicalism allowed them to peer beneath the surface of events and identify the deeper factors at work in international relations-the truest danger facing France. This danger, in their judgment, did not come from Hitler and the Nazis, not principally. The truest danger came from the warmongers and arms manufacturers of France itself ... who stood to benefit in material ways from a new war. ... But the political arguments rested on something deeper, too -- a philosophical belief; profound, large, and attractive ... that, in the modern world, even the enemies of reason cannot be the enemies of reason. Even the unreasonable must be, in some fashion, reasonable.
The belief underlying those anti-war arguments was, in short, an unyielding faith in universal rationality. ... And, stirred by that antique idea, the anti-war Socialists gazed across the Rhine and simply refused to believe ... in a political movement whose animating principles were paranoid conspiracy theories, blood-curdling hatreds, medieval superstitions, and the lure of murder. At Auschwitz the SS said, "Here there is no why."
That grimly hilarious punchline was not exclusive to Auschwitz. Piers Brendon recalls in Dark Valley, his history of the 1930s, that the most common scrawl left by doomed Old Bolsheviks at Lubyanka prison were the words "What For?" But more poignant yet was the refusal of some Party members, exiled to Magadan, the worst camp of the Gulag, to smuggle news to their comrades of their fate. One said, 'at least now they still have hope in Communism. If I let them know the truth then they will have nothing'. Even in Magadan the Left's deepest need was to believe. Having abolished the God of their forefathers and finding themselves prostrate before the false god they fashioned for themselves, as between extinction and despair they chose extinction. But back to Berman.
... among the anti-war Socialists, a number of people, having voted with Petain, took the logical next step and, on patriotic an idealistic grounds, accepted positions in his new government, at Vichy. Some of those Socialists went a little further, too, and began to see a virtue in Petain's program for a new France and a new Europe-a program for strength and virility, a Europe ruled by a single-party state instead of by the corrupt cliques of bourgeois democracy, a Europe cleansed of the impurities of Judaism and of the Jews themselves, a Europe of the anti-liberal imagination. And, in that very remarkable fashion, a number of the anti-war Socialists of France came full circle. They had begun as defenders of liberal values and human rights, and they evolved into defenders of bigotry, tyranny, superstition, and mass murder. They were democratic leftists who, through the miraculous workings of the slippery slope and a naïve faith in the rationalism of all things, ended as fascists. Long ago, you say? Not so long ago.