Wrong End of the Telescope

This week’s Writer’s Choice at Normblog is Nick Cohen on Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman. Don’t miss it.

Although I like to present myself as an open and rational chap, I can remember very few times when I’ve admitted being in the wrong. Not wrong in detail, but wrong in principle. In my experience the politically committed rarely do that. We change imperceptibly and grudgingly, while all the time pretending we haven’t changed at all but merely adapted to altered circumstances.

Hmm. I don’t know – sometimes those ‘wrong in detail’ admissions can add up to ‘wrong in principle’ ones. But that’s a mere quibble.

The only time I realised I was charging up a blind alley was when I read Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism. I didn’t see a blinding light or hear a thunder clap or cry ‘Eureka!’ If I was going to cry anything it would have been ‘Oh bloody hell!’ He convinced me I’d wasted a great deal of time looking through the wrong end of the telescope. I was going to have to turn it round and see the world afresh. The labour would involve reconsidering everything I’d written since 11 September, arguing with people I took to be friends and finding myself on the same side as people I took to be enemies. All because of Berman.

The bastard.

Yes, one knows the feeling, or feelings. That ‘oh bloody hell’ thing (in my case it was more like ‘God I’m stupid’), that wrong end of telescope thing, that twitchy stuff about friends and enemies.

Terror and Liberalism is an essay rather than a history and its arguments come from the almost forgotten tradition of the anti-totalitarian left. Its central point is that Islamism and Baathism are continuations of Nazism and communism, not only in their fine points – founders of the Muslim Brotherhood and Baath Party were admirers of Hitler and Franco – but in their fundamentals.

A chapter – ‘Wishful Thinking’ – explains why so many are reluctant to see clearly and in their blindness end up on the far right.

Now that really fascinates me, because we have a chapter called ‘Wishful Thinking’ in Why Truth Matters. I’ve been meaning to read this book; obviously I have to hurry up about it.

Obviously, the socialists couldn’t begin to show solidarity with the German socialists who were being persecuted by Hitler. How could they protest at their treatment or organize parliamentary debates calling attention to their plight when they were making excuses for the Hitler who was doing the persecuting?…To see the old process at work, one only has to look at how a large chunk of the world’s liberal opinion has got itself into the position where it can’t support Iraqi and Afghan liberals, socialists and feminists.

There is a lot more; a must-read.

10 Responses to “Wrong End of the Telescope”