The Right Coast

March 12, 2004
Leiter on Berman
By Mike Rappaport

A while back I praised Paul Berman’s article in Dissent trying to explain why the Left opposed the Iraqi war. So it should not be surprising that Brian Leiter now criticizes that article.

Do take a look at Berman’s piece, and while your at it, glance at Leiter’s criticism. Berman argues that the Left has opposed a war against fascism, which they should have supported, for various reasons, including the Left's hatred of Bush, the Left’s prejudice that America is the source of most problems in the world, the Left’s excessive sympathy for anticolonial movements, the belief of many of the Left that Arabs may not really want democracy, the Left’s excessive attention on Israel and the accompanying view that the main problems in the region are caused by Israel, and the Left’s failure to realize that the Arab world’s antisemitism is part of its facism.

In the main, Brian’s critique is not really responsive. Berman is trying to explain why the Left has failed to see that the war is one against fascism. He is not trying to establish that it is a war against fascism. Presumably, to him, as to me, it is patently obvious that it is – Saddam Hussein was a fascist if anyone is, and the US is clearly attempting to install a democratic government. What one thinks the “real” motives for fighting the war were, or whether the attempt to establish democracy will be successful, are largely beside the point.

Brian attempts to show that the reasons Berman gives for why the left does not recognize the war is a justified one against fascism are not the stated reasons for their opposition to the war. (At other times, Brian simply asserts that the Left does not believe certain things.) But the stated reasons are largely irrelevant. Berman’s point is that the Left is fooling itself – that the reasons he mentions, even if largely unarticulated or unconscious, are nonetheless what is doing the work. Very little Brian says responds to the point.