Here’s three on’s are sophisticated

There is sophistication and then there is sophistication.

In this age of terror fueled by the ideology of Islamic extremism, some old insights of the liberal historiography of the roots and nature of Nazism remain relevant. In works published in the 1960s and 1970s, two of Nazism’s preeminent historians…made a similar point about the political significance of ideological fanaticism…This underestimation, the refusal or inability to understand that Hitler meant what he said was thought to be a mark of political sophistication in the 1930s…The great classic of the postwar years which did take Nazi ideology seriously, Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, took specific issue with this liberal and left-wing reductionism. Arendt…redefined the meaning of political sophistication so that it came to mean a willingness to pay very close attention to the ravings and rantings of political fanatics. In so doing, she implicitly reversed the meaning of sophistication and naïveté.

I’ve been there. No doubt most of us have. It’s the old ‘behind the mask’ thing, the old appearance and reality thing. Ideas are just the frosting, just the superstructure, just the defense mechanism, just the wishful thinking, just the presentation of self; the reality, underneath, is money or sex or power or status. Sometimes that’s true, of course; there are oceans of pious platitudes offered up to veil the greed or self-aggrandizement or strategy that is really at work. But that doesn’t mean it’s always true, nor that the safest bet is to assume that it’s always true. Some ideas are a lot more dangerous than mere self-interest or lust.

It remains difficult for political and intellectual elites in liberal democracies to give fanaticism the causal impact it deserves…The traditions of liberal historiography of the Nazi era have powerfully addressed the problem of underestimation. Frank and frequent talk about what the radical Islamists are saying should not be primarily the preoccupation of right of center politicians and journalists…[I]n order that the history of radical Islam not again be the history of its underestimation, liberals should foster a kind of political sophistication that rests on the lessons of this most famous previous case of underestimation of political fanaticism.

It’s not all that sophisticated to fall asleep at the switch.

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