January 13, 2006

Good Talk

There's a terrific interview with Paul Berman in the current New York Press.


I regard myself as of the left, and my complaint about a great many other people on the left is that they are stuck in the past. They are seeing events now through lenses that were ground in the 1960s, and lenses that were ground in the 1960s were partly derived from lenses that were ground in the 1930s that were partly derived from lenses ground in the 19th century.

Thereís a way today in which thereís nobody more conservative than a standard leftist. My argument is that a standard leftist is someone to be avoided at all costs. Iím in favor of unstandard leftism, or anti-standard leftism. That ought to mean asking oneself these very fundamental questions, which the people I write about in Power and the Idealists are asking themselves, that have to do with this question of resistanceóďWhat is the real oppression of our time?Ē Not what some ism tells us is the oppression of our time, but what is actually happening, who are the people that are actually suffering, and can something actually be done to help them?

What I know from having published Terror and Liberalism is that all over the world there are people who share the ideas in that book. There is a kind of sleeper political tendency that could be conjured into existence. Youíre talking about clusters, but these clusters exist in every country, and Iíve been in touch with them. There is a kind of hidden continent of an alternative political view that exists. The great disappointment is that Tony Blair hasnít articulated it better than he has. Bush has made things very confusing by using some of the language that this new tendency would use, but in a very disappointing way, because he talks the talk but he doesnít walk the walk. He combines some of these principles with other principles that are dreadful and have nothing to do with a renovated left.

I get accused all the time on the left of not being any different than Bush and the neocons, but thatís not true because I think Iíve laid out some alternative principles that are very different. In Terror and Liberalism I called for a third force or a new radicalism, and thatís asking people to step forward and offer an alternative to Bush and the neocons on the right wing on the one hand, and the antique or conservative left on the other hand. I have to admit I havenít gotten very far with that.

Posted by Dr. Frank at January 13, 2006 04:35 PM | TrackBack

Frank, I think you and others (including Paul Berman, if he has not yet, and Clive Davis as well) might profit from studying the two volumes on Karl Kraus (1874-1936) by Edward Timms: Karl Kraus, Apocalyptic Satirist, the first volume published in 1986 and the second late in 2005 by Yale University Press. The second is subtitled "The Post-War Crisis and the Rise of the Swastika", the first having brought the story from 1900 through to the end of the "Great War" in 1918. Amazing work by Timms. Kraus very much deserved such a detailed study. The time set aside to do the reading and learning will be rewarded many times over. And do read as well Curzio Malaparte's Kaputt (1944) republished in 2005 in a fine translation from the original Italian. You, Berman and Davis will find yourselves in good company (not to forget Eric Voegelin's, too).

Posted by: paul at January 13, 2006 07:36 PM

I don't get it. What is it that actually differentiates the "left" from the "right"? If I believe in helping the poor, but I recognize that the way to help the poor is through globalization, and unadulterated free trade, does that make me left or right? I like gay people just fine if that helps.

Posted by: josh at January 13, 2006 08:35 PM

Berkeley main library report: They don't even have the book. And Berman's last book, "Terror and Liberalism" had only been checked out once.

Posted by: drydock at January 16, 2006 07:01 AM

Thanks muchly for the tip. I did my own (longer) excerpts, with only a bare few comments here:

Posted by: Gary Farber at January 25, 2006 06:37 AM