Paul Berman, the New Left, Free Speech, Facebook, Nazis, Suicide Girls, and Me Elizabeth

Morning read.

I dug up this old, much re-read Paul Berman article because of a discussion on Facebook, and instantly got sucked into it again. It’s something close to the Platonic ideal of the cultural-political-historical critical essay and it basically knocked me sideways when I first read it in the New Republic sixteen years ago (and in many ways I’m still sideways.) It was later expanded into a book called Power and the Idealists that is well worth your time, if you’re at all interested in this stuff, by which I mean our political-cultural milieu, past and present.

Its worth reading for its own sake and on its own topic, but it’s also quite strikingly relevant today, as much of the contemporary campus-fueled disagreements about free speech and “social justice” have their roots in the New Left experience he explores.

e.g.:

This aroused a dread, finally, that pointed to the terrors of the past.

It was a fear, in sum, that in World War II, fascism, and more specifically Nazism, had not been defeated after all — a fear that Nazism, by mutating, had continued to thrive into the 1950s and 1960s and onward, always in new disguises. It was a fear that Nazism had grown into a modern system of industrial rationality geared to irrational goals — a Nazism of racial superstitions committing the same massacres as in the past, a Nazism declaiming a language of democracy and freedom that had no more human content than the old-fashioned rhetoric of Lebensraum and Aryan superiority. And so the New Left in its youthful anxiety found its way to an old and mostly expired panic from its parents’ generation, and bent over it, and fanned the dead embers, and breathed on them, and watched aghast as the ancient flames leaped up anew.

Much more where that came from. As usual, I’m having trouble resisting quoting it all (and it’s long.)

I will add only that, believe it or not, I was approached by Berman’s publicist or editor a ways back with the proposal that I interview him for Suicide Girls, where I was a blogger. He said he’d had a hard time explaining SG to him (didn’t we all) but said he described it as a kind of Playboy of the modern era. I was intimidated by the prospect but did some work researching his writing and began to formulate questions, but I was fired by SG before it ever had a chance to happen. If it had, well that would have been something wouldn’t it? Hard to imagine those comments.

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I am Dr. Frank. I write books and songs. Mtx Forever.

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