Recent Reading

November 2, 2008

Power and the Idealists, by Paul Berman

This book presents the story of the 1968 generation of leftist radicals. The book well-written and generally quite sympathetic to the ideas of the radicals Berman describes, though the author clearly finds some radicals more principled and consistent than others (e.g. some leftists’ support for authoritarian regimes, Che idolatry, tendency towards knee-jerk anti-Americanism).

The question at the heart of the book is to what extent idealism can bring about positive changes in the world, and what compromises are necessary to bring those changes about. Joschka Fischer, a radical who became Germany’s foreign minister, acts as the focal point of the discussion. Has, for example, Fischer’s support for the intervention in Kosovo come from a refinement or a repudiation of his former ideals? It’s an interesting discussion for people who think that much of what government does is fundamentally flawed but believe that the only way to change government is to become a part of it.

As a bonus, the book contains an atavistic defense of the War in Iraq (remember when that used to be seriously discussed?). Berman seems to believe that Germany and France could have gotten over their anti-American sentiments if only Bush had made the case for removing Saddam because he was evil. Fun!

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