The ToB, presented by Field Notes, is live!

It's the 2023 Tournament of Books, presented by Field Notes! Yay! It’s time to Rooster!


Birds Without Wings Redux

More palaver about Paul Berman's The Flight of the Intellectuals, some even entertaining.

As I have pointed out somewhere else, the intellectual dustup surrounding the varied reception of Muslim thinkers Tariq Ramadan and Hirsi Ali, mentioned in Paul Berman’s The Flight of Intellectuals, has taken place mostly in the rarified heights of our smarter periodicals. Carlin Romano has his say, commending Berman for raising difficult questions that Ramadan is obliged to answer: “It now behooves Tariq Ramadan to address his own praise of thinkers who make a mockery of his kinder vision if he wants readers and peers to continue to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Ron Rosenbaum, in a piece entitled “Bonfire of the Intellectuals,” rehearses the whole issue, but mainly from a point of indignation at the treatment of Hirsi Ali by progressives and other camp followers, concluding,
A certain kind of irreverent speech once valued in Europe since the time of Chaucer and Rabelais has been, it seems, powerfully threatened if not silenced, and the heirs to that intellectual tradition are too scared to speak out about that silence. Maybe Berman’s book will start intellectuals talking, and not just about each other. Maybe some of the previously silent will begin to speak out against the death squads rather than snark about their victims and targets. end quote
Of the writers joining this brouhaha, I have found Pankaj Mishra’s “Islamismism” the most enjoyable read (who said these issues can’t be fun?), perhaps because of Mishra’s citations, leavened with a subtle humor:
In light of these alternative histories, The Flight of the Intellectuals seems to be laboring merely to underline the obvious: that a Muslim with a political subjectivity shaped by decades of imperial conquest, humiliation, and postcolonial failure does not share the world view of a liberal from Brooklyn. Yet there has long been such a chasm between Western intellectuals and their counterparts in formerly subordinate countries, an incompatibility of historical memories.

Berman’s hopes for delivering reason and freedom at gunpoint have proved calamitous. Lamenting many similar flights of the intellectuals in the long twentieth century—their noisy ideological identifications and terrible political choices—the late Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski once pointed out that, however much intellectuals yearn to be both “prophets and heralds of reason,” those roles cannot be reconciled. “The common human qualities of vanity and greed for power” are particularly dangerous among intellectuals, he observed, and their longing to identify with political causes often results in “an almost unbelievable loss of critical reasoning.”
blog comments powered by Disqus