Sunday, February 01, 2004

A Good Read

In the spirit of great debate without resorting to name-calling, read this article by Paul Berman about the antiliberal movement in the 20th and 21st century. Berman uses liberal in the sociological context (a society based on rationality and order), and contrasts that with the various movements that grew after World War I in what was widely perceived as the death of such liberal societies. T.S. Eliot, J.R.R. Tolkien, James Joyce, and Hemingway were all influenced by what they saw as the ultimate extension of the horrors of the liberal society, a battleground where men vomited their own lungs because of gas and disease killed more people than the newly-created machineguns.

But the opposite of this - that something is wrong with society, be it the Jews (the Nazis), the bourgoiese (the Communists) or the Masons (the Spanish fascist movement that attempted to re-establish the Reign of Christ. No, I'm not kidding) - the opposite is equally bad, and the worst atrocities of the last century were committed in the name of making a society where the worst atrocities of the societies based on rationality and reason could no longer happen.

Berman's point, and it's a good one, is that this is the reasoning behind the motivations of radical Muslims like bin Laden. It's also one we've heard from the Israelis from time to time, and from both sides in our own country (Ann Coulter pops into my mind, as does Noam Chomsky). After reading his article, I'm not convinced that he's correct that this justifies invading Iraq, because many of the reasons for doing so are more of this antiliberal stuff as well.

We had societies based on reason, and we threw them away. I suspect historians will one day look back on the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries as the height of our "Roman" empire, and the hundreds of years we're in now as the decline and fall of it. Maybe.

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