Who’s Right? Who’s Left? Who Cares?

But there is no treachery. Because he does not realize that his intellectual bugbears may well be his personal demons, Mr. Berman is not aware of the irony of calling his book The Flight of the Intellectuals. The only intellectual fleeing from reality is Paul Berman: His spaceship is The Flight of the Intellectuals. Ferocious paper lions like him have yet to learn that at a certain point, a critic either writes his autobiography or his autobiography writes him. Mr. Berman is that terrible nightmare of the New York Jewish intellectual: the luftmensch, the man who eats and drinks ideas and lives bereft of life. For in the end, Mr. Berman’s idea-besotted ignorance of the fate of other people has given his own ideas-such as they are-a rotten aspect. For years, he beat the drums of war like a misanthrope on amphetamines, and even now, seven years into the war in Iraq, after the deaths of thousands of Americans and the crippling of many thousands more Americans, and the death and maiming of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, this self-infatuated, foolish man is still beating the drums of war, without apology, and arguing like a medieval scholiast over “the expansive puddle of footnoted documentation that lies at the bottom of Fourest’s pages.”

In his brilliant review of Mr. Berman’s autoerotic classic Terror and Liberalism, Gary Rosen had to remind the warrior pedant that “war is an ugly business, an answer only to the gravest of threats.” Mr. Rosen continued: “Berman saw no such threat in Iraq. He advocated toppling Saddam Hussein not to destroy his fearsome weapons but, more grandly, to repudiate his vicious regime. This sort of idealistic posturing … makes him seem unserious, even reckless.” Mr. Rosen happens to be a prominent conservative intellectual; at the time that he reviewed Mr. Berman’s book, he was the managing editor of Commentary. It took a principled conservative to remind this liberal stalwart that waging war is not like a dormitory debate with expanded footnotes.

Then again, Mr. Rosen also happens to have (I know him) two young sons. When I read Mr. Berman, I don’t think romantically of those dreadful old Partisan Review “smackdowns.” Instead, I recall this line spoken by Dostoevsky’s Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov: “Suffering is the inability to love.” The problem with that kind of suffering is that it blinds you to everyone else’s. You become a hero in your own mind, the rest of the world be damned.

editorial@observer.com

Who’s Right? Who’s Left? Who Cares?