In the LRB, Tony Judt looks at the erosion of America’s liberal intellectuals, especially in the wake of the war on terror.
For what distinguishes the worldview of Bush’s liberal supporters from that of his neo-conservative allies is that they don’t look on the ‘War on Terror’, or the war in Iraq, or the war in Lebanon and eventually Iran, as mere serial exercises in the re-establishment of American martial dominance. They see them as skirmishes in a new global confrontation: a Good Fight, reassuringly comparable to their grandparents’ war against Fascism and their Cold War liberal parents’ stance against international Communism. Once again, they assert, things are clear. The world is ideologically divided; and – as before – we must take our stand on the issue of the age. Long nostalgic for the comforting verities of a simpler time, today’s liberal intellectuals have at last discovered a sense of purpose: they are at war with ‘Islamo-fascism’.
Thus Paul Berman, a frequent contributor to Dissent, the New Yorker and other liberal journals, and until now better known as a commentator on American cultural affairs, recycled himself as an expert on Islamic fascism (itself a new term of art), publishing Terror and Liberalism just in time for the Iraq war. Peter Beinart, a former editor of the New Republic, followed in his wake this year with The Good Fight: Why Liberals – and Only Liberals – Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again, where he sketches at some length the resemblance between the War on Terror and the early Cold War. Neither author had previously shown any familiarity with the Middle East, much less with the Wahhabi and Sufi traditions on which they pronounce with such confidence.
But like Christopher Hitchens and other former left-liberal pundits now expert in ‘Islamo-fascism’, Beinart and Berman and their kind really are conversant – and comfortable – with a binary division of the world along ideological lines.