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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new perspective into history
This book is a thoughtful, thorough and insightful study of totalitarian thought. Berman writes convincingly of his opinions and thoughts on totalitarian and how it is related to the Islamist movement that is raging through the Middle East. He writes about how the current Islamist movement came to being and why. He tells of the reasons why bin Laden is fighting the war...
Published on July 15 2004 by Busy Mom

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3.0 out of 5 stars Logic, Emotionalism and Totalitarianism
This book is a rather strange, but quick read, that is much like a rice cake, plain, not much substance and unfortunately not satisfying.
Mr. Berman tries to be a good leftist throughout most of the book, he makes broad sweeping statements that most everything that the left has done is good, and most everything the right has done is bad. Mr Berman has a 'through the...
Published on April 19 2004 by Enigma


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new perspective into history, July 15 2004
This review is from: Terror And Liberalism (Paperback)
This book is a thoughtful, thorough and insightful study of totalitarian thought. Berman writes convincingly of his opinions and thoughts on totalitarian and how it is related to the Islamist movement that is raging through the Middle East. He writes about how the current Islamist movement came to being and why. He tells of the reasons why bin Laden is fighting the war against us ~~ not because we're greedy corporate Americans but because we are a threat to his and his people's vision of utopia. He also delves into the Israel and Palestine's problems. He also explains the history behind communism, facism, and socialism. Berman also talks about Western Europe and their ideas on democracy as well as United Nation's ineptness in dealing with different problems.
This is perhaps one of the most rewarding reading I've done lately. I don't know much about Islam and what causes Muslims to declare a jihad against Westerners. Then again, I don't know much about the history of the last fifty years or so. And this book has whetted my appetite to know more and how liberalism is related to the current events going on today, even with the Bush's administration. It is also a great way to learn more about the Islamist movement that is going on in the Middle Eastern countries as well as Arabic countries. It is an eye-opener for me and it does help me understand current events better.
This is one book that I will definitely pass onto my friends and family. I think everyone who is curious about world affairs and likes essay-type writing, will enjoy this book. It will provoke thought and conversation among your friends and family. It will help you see the world in a different light, even if you don't agree with the author's perspective. But he makes his arguments in a convincing way ~~ and the book is easy to read, very well-written and with thoughtful, concise reasoning behind every word.
7-15-04
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars *Terror and Liberalism*: A Great Book for the Century, Sept. 28 2003
By 
Sam Condon (Triangle, VA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Terror And Liberalism (Hardcover)
Paul Berman's *Terror and Liberalism* might very well be the first "great" book of the 21st Century, since it's probably the first book that really captures what the 20th Century was about, and what we have carried over into the 21st as unfinished business. But the book may not get the attention it deserves, because it isn't a very scholarly work. It manages to discuss totalitarianism without referencing Hannah Arendt even once, and it doesn't have so much as a minimal Index. What it has, instead, is a coherent thesis. Consider the following passage:
"He [Albert Camus] had noticed a modern impulse to rebel, which had come out of the French Revolution and the nineteenth century and had very quickly, in the name of an ideal, mutated into a cult of death. And the ideal was always the same, though each movement gave it a different name. It was not skepticism and doubt. It was the ideal of submission. (p. 46)"
This is an enormous insight, and to be frank it does not appear with such clarity in Arendt's work. Her explanation, that loneliness has become an "everyday experience," seems grossly inadequate. Surely the notion that it's all a matter of loneliness appeals to a sense of profound irony, but couldn't we all just get a puppy? This was the payoff for all that scholarly zeal and industry?
Moreover, Arendt never makes the connection between terror as an organizing principle for a 20th Century form of government, and terrorism as a strategy of totalitarian movements that are out of power. And so she did, in fact, miss something important.
And of course even if Arendt had not completely missed the seeding of the Middle East with the totalitarian ideas of the Nazis and the Stalinist,s she never would have guessed that Islam itself could become the excuse for such a movement. She, herself, had been a product of the German Counter-enlightenment. Her mentor, Martin Heidegger, made a vain bid to become the philosopher of National Socialism, and would have succeeded had not the Nazis been too clever. So she has no excuse for missing the role that the Counter-enlightenment plays the writings of the Ba'ath founder, Michael Aflaq, and the Islamist founder, Sayyid Qutb.
So if Berman lacks some background, he does manage to get to the heart of a matter that deflected more scholarly minds. And he stands as the first to make this leap. Even today people don't appear to see the connection between Jurgen Habermas' "Lifeworld vs. System World" typology, inherited from Husserl and Heidegger, and the philosophy of Qutb, which simply maps the same concepts into the religious framework of Islam. The insight that man had become alienated from his own nature, whether through the "false consciousness" of Marx or by our "deluded faith in the power of reason," makes virtually the same diagnosis as Qutb. So it's not really that surprising for Arendt to identify loneliness (alienation) as the culprit. Of course, it had to be. There is not such a great distance, philosophically, between Qutb's "hideous schizophrenia" of modern life, and the nostalgic longing for the "Lebenswelt" that drives much of modern European philosophy.
Liberalism did not evolve as a cure for the condition of man. It evolved as a cure for the tendency of mankind to become dogmatic. Hence it looks nothing like a cure for mankind's inherent ills. It doesn't regard mankind as "alienated" from himself. One side sees the human condition as tragically fragmented, and seeks a remedy in unity. The other sees the longing for a remedy as the problem, a compulsion to worry the patient to death.
Berman reflects this insight in his critique of Noam Chomsky, whom he views as "the last of the 19th Century rationalists." But this analysis, though informative, doesn't quite capture the slipperiness of Chomsky, whose philosophy is ultimately counter-rational. While Chomsky does, in fact, tend to see the world in the simplistic terms of a "greed vs. freedom" dialectic, his main problem is that he really has no program for calamity. Berman is probably more clear about totalitarianism than liberalism, which may be why his great book ultimately reaches a sort of impasse.
Why is it the Americans who recognize the necessity? Why is the American faith that the sovereignty of others means security for themselves so exceptional? Why are the Americans so uniquely disinterested in perfecting mankind? Perhaps we need to be as canny as those Germans were, about communicating the antidote to their philosophies of "revolutionary nationalism and totalitarianism?"
Ultimately Berman gets it. The problem lies in the habit of wishful thinking that afflicts most of America's historical allies, and some of its own deluded clan. Without any capacity to confront calamity the natural tendency is to deny it. Pretend it doesn't exist, or is an exaggeration and you need not change your worldview, or your mind. (But you may be obligated to hate the bearer of bad news.) Thus Chomsky's obsessive unwillingness to be impressed by 9/11, an attitude also affected by Michael Moore, and by Derrida and Habermas recently. And it's only this resistance to the horns of the dilemma that represents the impasse. How could there be any problem that can't be resolved by a trick of the tongue or the eye? Oh, I mean by revealing the tricks, of course. It was all just a trick of the eye that day in early September. Don't be alarmed.
But thanks to Berman's eloquence we are able to see such pretense for what it is. We are at last able to perceive clearly the continuity of the beast that replaced chattel slavery as the world's consummate evil, and is destined to one day join it on the ash heap. It is alarming. But not beyond us.
...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative and insightful arguments, May 19 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Terror And Liberalism (Hardcover)
Ah, if only more liberals wrote like this. Berman emphasizes and elaborates on issues other lefties will not simply because it would mean identifying with American (liberal) society and principles, and that just simply wouldn't do for some (i.e. Noam Chomsky).
Berman's analysis of totalitarian roots shines new light on just what the United States is dealing with in fanatical Islam, comparing elements of terrorism with the cults of death inherent in German nationalism, Spanis facism and Soviet communism. One of his central arguments is that the United States has too many influential intellectuals who simply refuse to believe terrorism is an irrational act and would rather excuse it as "understandable" and an act of freedom. He offers a persuasive argument that the world is not governed by logic and that a cult of death has more to do with nihilsm and fanatical, irrational belief than it does in anything else. He sights the French socialists prior to Hitler's occupation as the embodiment of such naivete. Also, he shows how U.S. economic hegemony and foreign policy are not central to the terrorists' rage. Rather, it is secular culture we live in, and the separation of church and state and the way we live without God overseeing everything in between--that's what makes us infidels. Indeed, the central anxiety of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyption Islamist philosopher who influenced Saudi Wahhabism, is the temptation that western, liberal ideas of government and culture will influence his and other Arabs thinking and pull them away from what they ultimately strive for.
This book has changed my thinking drastically in some areas. I have tried to remain optimistic about Dubya over the past year, but Berman's no nonsense analysis of Bush and how he has carried out this war are so spot on they cannot be ignored. His Bush criticisms are new and fresh, and aren't blatantly ideological and partisan like every other Bush-basing book floating around on Barnes and Noble's New Non-Fiction shelf.
Berman's point is that America does have a role in promoting liberal and democratic societies througout the Middle East. It's just that Bush does not have the intellectual background, nor the character, to frame the debate as it should be. Instead of selling the war based on fear, it should've been sold for humanitarian and moral reasons.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good analysis .. what to do about it lacking, Jan. 9 2004
By 
N. Wallach (Pittsburgh, PA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Terror And Liberalism (Hardcover)
Terror and Liberalism is a very interesting book. The author starts out by citing his leftist credentials in a chapter attacking Nixon, Kissinger, and George Bush (the elder) for their treatment of Iraq in the first Iraqi war. Then he goes to provide an analysis of the rise of a series of nihilistic popular mass movements that are a direct attack against the liberalism of the western civilizations. In this series he places Communism, Fascism, Nazism, and the current version: Islamism.
The book provides a chilling description of how easy it is for liberals to fall under the sway of such movements by pointing out the ominous parallels between France's descent into supporting the Nazis during World War II and Europe's currenct descent into blaming Israel for the Islamist problem.
Whilst the book's analysis is first rate and is measured in tone and backed up by formidable research, I was left a bit dissatisfied. The vast majority of the book is taken up with the analysis but I would have liked to have seen, and expected, some sort of reasoned approach to a solution. And that, is sadly lacking in this book. There are a few paragraphs that airily talk about having a "third way" but not anywhere near the substance of how to create it to combat the current evil.
So, that is why I slightly downrated this book. However, it is a very thought-provoking read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful discussion on totalitarianism, July 5 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Terror And Liberalism (Hardcover)
Got this from one of my liberal friends...a Michael Moore lefty with a whole shelf of Chomsky in his library. Told me Berman's book is a good framework for redirecting the discussion about the nature of our enemy.
After reading it, I share my friend's veiw. Berman does a wonderful job of laying out some of the internal battles facing the West in first defining what it is we are at War with.
Definitely worth buying.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Making sense of madness, Sept. 5 2003
This review is from: Terror And Liberalism (Hardcover)
Terror and Liberalism
It seems like most every generation of progressives undergoes a brutal test of faith. The Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 was too much for many; Khrushchev's 1956 speech denouncing Stalin and his invasion of Hungary the same year were the last straw for others. For the present crop, 9/11 is in the process of separating the lockstep lefties from the genuine friends of humanity. Which way will Paul Berman, the author of _Terror and Liberalism_, break?
It is refreshing to hear an unequivocal condemnation of both Islamist terrorism and progressive anti-semitism from a non-silly Leftist. The first time I ever encountered the writings of Paul Berman was in the late Eighties, during his jousts in _The New Republic_ with David Horowitz and Peter Collier, over the latter duo's book _Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties_. Now here comes this book, which hardly seems like the work of the same thinker. I haven't been paying too much attention to him in the past decade, so I probably missed a lot of changes in these eventful times.
The tone of the book verges on the sonorous in passages, as if he were half-consciously minding the cadeneces of his sentences. There are some errors of fact-it was Army Rangers and not Marines who were attacked in Mogadishu, and Arab terrorists have never excluded Israeli civilians from their range of targets--which are not serious barriers to following his points.
Unlike some other recent writers who have attempted to answer the question, "Why do they hate us?", Berman looks not to clashing civilizations, or to Islam's commands to wage perpetual holy war, but to a single Egyptian scholar, Sayyid Qutb. After taking a tour through the 19th century anarchists, the 20th century totalitarian systems, and Albert Camus' parsing of those movements, Berman trace's Qutb's influence in the pan-arabist movement, and thence in the modern Islamic terrorist organizations. (The tyrant-hero of Berman's generation of Sixties radicals, Fidel Castro, does not figure here, nor does the mercifully truncated Sandinista regime. Irrelevant to his thesis, or too close to home?)
The main body of the book is devoted to asserting that the modern jihad is a mass pathology, as were those previous movements. Rational onlookers can rarely believe the madness unfolding before their eyes, and so proceed to make excuses for the madmen. This is why progressive voices ululated ever louder against Israel the more grievously Israel suffered from suicide bombings. There are several fine passages in these sections illustrating this phenomenon, and are the book's main value, to me.

He rolls a gutter ball in the final part, calling for a revival of the post-WWII "Third Way" of the European non-Communist Left, and how it headed off deeper Communist inroads into Western European nations. Yeah, the "Third Way", together with umpty-bajillion dollars from the American Marshal Plan, and a half-century of costly military commitment from the United States (which was borne in spite of all the insults, free-loading and ingratitude from the allies from time to time), did just that. "As we go ploughing along" as the fly said to the ox...
He also gives in to Bush-bashing at the end. And the mock-moral aura of internationalism finally proves too much to resist, too. But when the allies would rather cozy up to Saddam, and transnational progressives are fist-pumping over the massacre of Israeli civilians, just how big a sin is Bush's cultural tone-deafness? If moral dryrot has eaten out the heart of Europe, it's hardly Dubya's fault for not further abasing ourselves, trying to get into their good graces. Especially after what we've suffered! Let them examine themselves. Let *them* grow spines!
But this non sequitur ending to this informative book need not stop anyone from profiting from Berman's readings and insights. It's obvious that, unlike so many other progressive cheerleaders for terrorism, he is in full possession of a living soul, and that 9/11 was no 1939 for him.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terror and Liberalism, Aug. 5 2003
By 
Leonard P. Bazelak "retired English teacher" (Dayton, Ohio United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Terror And Liberalism (Hardcover)
Paul Berman is a cultural critic on the left of the political spectrum. In his "Terror and Liberalism" he presents a cogent argument as to why liberal democracies need to fight Islamic terrorism more with arguments than swords. Human rights, women's rights, separation of church and state, a politics against racism and anti-semitism, a politics to fight oppression and poverty, a strong advocacy of freedom--these are the weapons (i.e., the liberal faith) needed to defeat totalitarianism whether from the right or the left. He calls this a "new radicalism." This is a worthy cause and it is stated in limpid prose. Unfortunately, he says little about internal societal changes that need redressing and for which Western culture is criticized: rampant technology at odds with human values, pornography, militarism, racism, crass materialism, unilateralism, political corruption, etc. In short, he gives a masterful analysis regarding America's role in the international arena, but says little about America's need to put its own house in order. We need to be respected around the world, not only for our military power, but also for our ethical and moral values, including those related to liberalism. We should not be seen by the world as a barbaric nation, yet, for example, our continued use of capital punishment for murder smacks of the Middle Ages. Even our neighbors to the north, Canada, have moved beyond that antiquated moral position. In any case "Terror and Liberalism" is a well-written, thought-provoking book and well worth the time it takes to read it.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Logic, Emotionalism and Totalitarianism, April 19 2004
By 
Enigma "Cheers" (Constantly Moving) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Terror And Liberalism (Hardcover)
This book is a rather strange, but quick read, that is much like a rice cake, plain, not much substance and unfortunately not satisfying.
Mr. Berman tries to be a good leftist throughout most of the book, he makes broad sweeping statements that most everything that the left has done is good, and most everything the right has done is bad. Mr Berman has a 'through the looking glass' perspective of programs. If it works it was obviously a liberal idea and if it fails it was a conservative idea. For example he rallies along the false notion that Hitler was a right wing conservative, yeah right. Lets see, he was the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NAZI) and all one has to do is read Hitler's speeches to find out that he was a totalitarian socialist.
The substance of the book though is the inescapable fact that there can be no peace with an ideological entity that believes you are evil and they have an edict to kill you. What is shocking to this reader is the naiveté that those on the left, especially the author posses. He shows just how immersed he is in his circles of left-ism that he and many others like him have left reality. Mr. Berman was shocked that 9/11 would happen, as a matter of fact he has the temerity to say that nobody imagined such an event. This viewpoint only shows the ignorance of the intelligentsia of the left, for there were many books, articles, and the plethora of attacks on the Unites States that preceded this act proved the threat that radical Islam posed for the world. Of course, the radical appeasement minded left pooh-poohed this notion and implied that this was the conservative ramblings of the war-mongering right.
In the end Mr. Bearman gets it partially right, radical totalitarian Islam and the standard chamberlain-esque approach of appeasement does not work. Therefore at least this liberal writer has figured out that Islam with its goal of conquering the world is a dangerous construct. The two problems that Mr. Bearman never addresses are just how to convince others on the left that this form of totalitarianism is bad while their brand is good. And appeasement has never and will never work against a despotic dictator. Perhaps Mr. Bearman will continue to ponder these questions and come up with the answer. One can only hope so.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Very edifying and thought provoking, but not convincing, July 28 2003
By 
Jerry Brito (Washington, DC USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Terror And Liberalism (Hardcover)
Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism is a wonderfully written little tome. The prose is poetic and emotive and makes for an engrossing read.
Berman's thesis is that contrary to what Fukuyama has said, the Twentieth Century is decidedly not over. The Western totalitarian regimes that took root after World War I in Europe may all have been vanquished, but their Eastern counterparts-namely radical Islamism and Baathi pan-Arabism-are still around and becoming more dangerous. He draws striking parallels between the different ideologies and finds that their main intersection is a rejection of liberal thought and society.
Apart from this interesting idea, the great value of this book is its brilliant explanation of radical Islamist philosophy and its origins. Less inspiring is one of Berman's key premises: that all totalitarian systems-including Islamism-incorporate a cult-like mass death wish. Although this behavior might be self-evident from history, he doesn't seek to explain it. He merely chalks it up to human irrationality and proclaims that liberalism's failure is not accepting that masses can act outside of reason.
Perhaps I'm just too liberal, but he didn't convince me. I also find it ironic that after criticizing liberals for desiring neat, little explanations for everything, it is in fact such a tight package that he presents in this book. But Berman must be given credit for being an honest (and consistent) leftist. Unlike his pacifist brethren, once he spies an illiberal, nihilistic, totalitarian menace half-way around the world, he wants to destroy it with government's might.
Berman applauds the invasion of Iraq, but not its justification. He prefers preemptive war in the name of Wilsonian internationalism over a realist response to an actual threat. To me this seems like pax Americana under another name. We can invade and impose our values abroad, Berman seems to say, as long as we impose the "right" values.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful Examination of Contemporary Islamic Terrorism!, July 24 2003
By 
Barron Laycock "Labradorman" (Temple, New Hampshire United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Terror And Liberalism (Hardcover)
Paul Berman is what one could fairly describe as a thinking man's pundit, unafraid of alienating either his more sympathetic supporters from the left, and sometimes drawing praise and agreement from the conservative right. The author of many provocative and thought-inspiring essays, Berman found himself surprised and befuddled by the turn of events on 911, which he watched with dismay from his perch on his apartment house roof in Manhattan. Quite quickly he became much more aware of the radical threats pulsing through the city as, for example, a Yemeni cleric was indicted and subsequently convicted of laundering and forwarded tens of millions of dollars to Al Quaida.
In "Terror And Liberalism " he turns his penetrating wit and intellectual powers to a consideration of the nature of, and threats emanating from, what he has come to describe as "Islamic Totalitarianism" Far from flying with the angels of either the right or the left, Berman indicates understanding the rise of such radical organizations requires abandoning these kinds of simple dichotomous paradigms, and in examining the ways in which the terrorism of the 21st century finds its roots in the violent and reactionary movements of the 20th century. Berman shows how the recent episodes of terror committed by such Islamic groups finds its origins in a continuation of the historical struggle between reactionary fascist and totalitarian groups such as the Nazis on the one hand, and the Soviet, Chinese and Cuban communists on the other against the entrenched liberal cultures of the Western democracies.
Seen in this perspective, self-described Islamic fundamentalist groups like Al Quaida and Hamas are less the exclusively pure religious rejections of the Christian West as they are a violent and ultimately secular ideology camping under the tent of a highly bastardized Islamic fundamentalism that finds its rage and purpose by rebelling against what they see as the "hideous schizophrenia" of modern society. This is all documented in a relatively obscure set of voluminous texts written by Egyptian scholar and intellectual Sayyid Qutb and entitled "In The Shade of the Qur'an", which Berman believes provides the theoretical underpinnings of the Islamic totalitarian movements now assailing the West.

So, while Berman admits the philosophical musings of Outb to be sophisticated, intellectually profound, heartfelt and deeply nuanced, he also finds reason to criticize the more radical interpretation which spokespersons for radical Muslim fundamentalism such as Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden approach the kind of crypto-fascist critique of post-modern Western societies, and indeed now constitute the same sort of grave threat to the continuation of our culture. Arguing quite persuasively, Berman posits that the radical forms of Islamism and Baathism (which is the variation of Islamic thought that ideologically propels Saddam Hussein's former ruling party) stem from the same kind of reactionary counter-revolution against the rising forces of liberalism that a century ago created the conditions for the First World War. Therefore, he argues, we must marshal our resources to combat this ideological challenge that such violent ideologies arising within the Muslim world today.

This makes great sense in trying to piece together a workable strategy for working through the issues and concerns being raised by our interventions in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and will give rise, Berman believes, to a more sophisticated and comprehensive world view than those offered in the overly simplistic liberal or conservative frames of reference in current vogue. He suggest perhaps amore enlightened liberalism will recognize, just as FDR did at the outset of World War Two, that there is great merit in rising to the international challenge and combating the tyrannical forces of radical Islamic totalitarianism. This is a terrific book, and one that will stretch and prod those old brain cells into active work. Enjoy!
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