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Terror and Liberalism

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  498 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
One of our most brilliant public intellectuals, Paul Berman has spent his career writing on revolutionary movements and their totalitarian aspects. Here he argues that, in the terror war, we are not facing a battle of the West against Islama clash of civilizations. We are facing, instead, the same battle that tore apart Europe during most of the twentieth century, only in ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published May 17th 2004 by W. W. Norton Company (first published April 1st 2003)
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¡Viva la Muerte! (Long live death!)
-Popular Slogan of the Spanish Fascists

Onward, Christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before.
-English hymn, lyrics by Arthur Sullivan

I cannot help but be conflicted over this book.

The main idea here is that Islamic fundamentalism bears the same intellectual history and shares many similar traits to European totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century. On the one hand, it's an interesting idea, and it least attempts to say that Isl
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Berman on The Charlie Rose Show, discussing this book in 2003:

This is an extremely sound-bite-ish "scarcely mammalian noise" of a fraction of a sliver of a byproduct of a spark of a blurb regarding this book:

I can’t say enough about Berman’s book, really. He lays out a very interesting and condensed yet comprehensive historical analysis of fascistic movements and the mythology based death-cults that fuel them. He carries this out by drawing from political
Oct 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Paul Berman wrote Terror and Liberalism in 2002, heady days when a large percentage of the American populace fully expected to be hit by another terrorist attack, and the invasion of Iraq was starting to become the subject of a (lopsided) heated debate. It helps to keep this in mind when reading Berman's passionate, well-written and thoughtful book-length essay.

The principal theme that Berman wishes to expound upon is his belief that Islamism (not the same as the religion itself) represents anot
May 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read this book, admittedly more of a pamphlet... almost a diatribe... than a book, when it was first published in 2004, and thought it was quite good. It is an attempt by a left-leaning liberal to expose what he sees as the essentially fascistic undertones in Islamism, and thus an attempt to block the apolegetics for Islamism and for Islamic terrorism that has long been issuing from the Left. I fully accept his indentification of Sayyid Qutb with fascism. Berman cites extensively from Qutb's o ...more
Oct 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
I recently wrote an article which made what I thought was a fairly germane point about radical Islamism's ideological links with contemporary European revolutionary and totalitarian movements. Traditionalist Islamic scholars had been making this point for a long time, so I was surprised at the outrage over this argument (from leftists). Among other things I was accused of lifting ideas from this particular book, which I had in fact scarcely even heard of. And so, I decided to give it a read.

Worthless Bum
Aug 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
In this fascinating and eloquent work by "the Philosopher King of the hawkish left", a diverse array of literary, political, philosophical, and especially historical elements are brought to bear upon the appropriate reponse of liberalism to fascism and totalitarianism. Berman discusses the historical development of modern radical Islamism, citing the influence of Sayyid Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood, the philosophy of Pan-Arabism, and the unexpected influence of European literature, Nazism, and C ...more
Feb 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Extraordinary in scope, remarkable in its erudition, this is nothing less than a courageous, probing study of human nature. Berman, on top of everything a writer's writer, is unfazed by the necessity of posing extremely basic questions about individual and social character; he exposes logical and tragic dichotomies without oversimplifying the political events he cites. Bravo.
Sep 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing
there is probably no better -- and less recognized -- writer regarding the state of the world than paul berman. this book should really be required reading for all americans.
Mar 02, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished
I followed the threads of this essay without a sense of where I was being led, but when I had finished it, I did feel that I had learned something, even though I am unsure of how much I agree with Berman. Berman offers a new angle of analysis of the so-called War on Terror without proposing a definitive or detailed solution.

The author refers to "liberalism" in the sense of Western democracy, an ideology that unites Americans and Europeans; the word is not used at all in reference to the politica
May 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those interested in Terror War and global radical Islamism
Paul Berman's work is enlightening and interesting. It is more of an essay on the philosophies behind radical Islamism and its various iterations. It also compares radical Islam to totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century (communism and fascism). He calls them all ideologies of death and says they are a continuum of hatred and death that try to knock out liberalism (democracy and the like). This is all very interesting in that his thesis is that liberalism (the philosophy on which Americ ...more
Joseph Stieb
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A striking book written in between 9/11 and the 2003 Iraq War about the nature of the extremist Islamic threat and where it fits in broader strains in history. The central argument is that extremist Islam is best understood as one of the mass totalitarian pathologies or death cults that we have seen before in the 20th century: Fascism, Nazism, some forms of Christian extremism. I've heard this argument before but no one brings it home better than Berman.

The main mechanism by which political mov
Sep 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
There's a lot I could say about this book, but I'm saving it for MFSO. We'll need something to chat about in those languid, post-coital moments.
a good illustration of my teardrop theory...that the far left and the far right are not polar opposites but rather meet, pulling the political spectrum into a bulging teardrop.
Jordan Sheppard
May 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history-politics
Berman writes actually rather generously about an early leading thinker in the Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyid Qubt of Egypt. You might say he even compelled me to wade through his Qu'ranic commentaries In The Shade of the Qu'ran which I did not expect from this book in the least. Berman also seems to understand to a certain extent the connectivity between the need for rebellion and social/regime change and the unfortunately terrible consequences that can come fr
Rasmus Vibild
Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting take on the origin of islamic absolutism, it's close connection to European ideas and philosophies and its connection to present day terrorist organisations. Definitely worth a read.
Phil Dyess-Nugent
Aug 16, 2009 rated it liked it
I haven't re-read this since it was published soon after the invasion of Iraq, but as I remember it, Berman makes a strong case for the use of military intervention against terrorist states as being in keeping with a liberal political tradition. If the book hasn't held up as well as Berman might have hoped, that may have less to do with any flaw built into the theoretical arguments than with a couple of places where reality intruded, especially in Berman's clincher that liberals should support w ...more
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
At once riveting and alarming, Paul Berman's book on the origins of Islamic terrorism (and the Western world's response to it) traces the roots of this worldwide phenomenon back through the twentieth century and all the way back to what he calls "the ur-myth" - the Book of Revelation.

He explores how militant Islam found a friend in Nazi Germany, and how much of Nazi ideology (and methods) was absorbed into the modern Islamist movement.

And he explores the bizzare roots of the 19th and 20th centu
Jun 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
Presents an interesting case for liberals to back the Iraq invasion in 2003. I like that he took the path less traveled, but in trying to argue something that one might agree with (namely: that radical Islamists following Sayyid Qutb and others really mean what they say, and that Salman Rushdie in The Satanic Verses was actually addressing the dueling reality of living in modernity and the past at once), he loses a lot of nuance.

There's practically sleight of hand if not outright falsification a
Oct 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Berman gives us a bird's eye history of the intellectual currents that drove totalitarianism across the globe. From the ashes of WWI, to the fall of the Berlin Wall, totalitarianism was thought to have been defeated, but Berman shows us that these movements are alive and kicking in modern mutations. Baathism, Islamsism, Wahabbism, Salafism etcc are all descendants of European totalitarianism. The depressing tendency of the liberal minded to excuse, deny, or otherwise fail to oppose these ultra-v ...more
The American Conservative
'Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism is a wide ranging, sometimes witty, and often incisive polemic for the idea that the fate of the free world depends on a decisive Western victory over fundamentalist Islam. It is more subtle than the writing of many of the hawks who (recognizing the utility of an ally from the Left) have embraced his book, and a far better argument for pre-emptive war than President Bush makes himself. Terror and Liberalism has much to interest those who might disagree with i ...more
Brent Jones
Mar 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Berman shows totalitarianism, its causes, and impact on society, in a way that leaves liberalism as a more reasonable and, in comparison,a more conservative solution. He describes "liberal" in the philosophical sense based on liberty. His point is that it is the liberal societies that have prospered in the last centuries and that have produced successes. On the opposite side, or maybe both sides, of this success have been extremes that by their very nature all are totalitarian. Connecting those ...more
Jan 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Paul Berman is a deeply challenging academic, thinker and writer. This work, published in the wake of 9/11 is a bracing demanding work forcing the reader to confront serious notions of possible accomodation when others exhibit and practice intense intolerance. A thorough history of anti-western thought as well as a well argued indictment of fashionable trends in modern 'liberal' thinking. He is of course confronting radical islamist beliefs and practices and wondering how religious impulses can ...more
Jul 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A cogent look at the world view and history of extremists in Islamic society, referenced by fascist violence in European history. Done in essay form, incredibly insightful.

Essential reading if you want examine more about modernity, religion and world politics with a specific emphasis on relationships between the Middle East and Western countries.

Note - liberalism here is not defined within the American conservative/liberal lables, but within the larger picture of a 'democratic' society.
Христо Блажев
Пол Бърман описва вековната битка между “Терор и либерализъм”

Нищо ново под слънцето. Това е изречението, което синтезира цялата книга на Бърман. С лек и увлекателен стил той се опитва да докаже, че съвременният ислям не е нищо повече от продължител на тоталитарните традиции на фашизма, нацизма и комунизма. Не се свени да се разхожда практически из цялата човешка история, черпейки аргументи от всеки нейн период, за да онагледи тази си идея.
Jul 30, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: game-theory, politics
When I picked up Berman's book called Terror and Liberalism, I stupidly thought that's what he would be addressing. Instead he makes the almost factual correlation of terror and Islam as well as the incongruous association with right wing rhetoric with liberalism. When he suggests that the "Terror War" is not an imperialist war nor a clash of civilizations, I hoped he would of come to a more evolved asertation, which is that it is purely a war over resources and whoever has those resour
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting and provocative book that puts totalitarianism into historical perspective during the late 19th and 20th century Europe. Then the author goes on to explain how this manifests itself in acts of terrorism today.
It is important to note that Liberalism in the title is not synonymous with political liberalism as we know it in the United States. The title has to do more with economic liberalism, neo-liberal or laissez-faire economic policies in Europe.
Thomas Mccutcheon
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An interesting look at a possible non-rational explanation for Islamic terrorism. I enjoyed the explanations of Islamist academic Qutb's ideology, and how it relates to modern extremist terrorists. The history of nihilist murder-suicide in Russia as well as the history of Palestinian and Israeli relations around the turn of the century was also interesting. A good read that will probably keep me thinking for quite a while.
Wesley Hill
Oct 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
A good companion to more historical books on terrorism, such as Lawrence Wright's. Berman's argument is that there is no "clash of civilizations," at least as we tend to think of it: radical Islamism recapitulates the ideologies and tactics of all irrational totalitarian regimes, Western ones too (or especially).
Nov 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: incomplete
It's disappointing to see how much research Berman has overlooked to simplify a complex issue. Also, dedicating two chapters to Qutb is not the best way to explore 'Islamism'. Some of Berman's own opinions were presented as facts as well. I don't recommend this book for those seeking an in-depth analysis of radical Islam especially if you are not familiar with the history behind it.
May 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
*Essential Reading*

If you want to understand the outrageous response from much of the political left to the emergence of totalitarian movements in the world, such as the non-stop apologia and protection offered to the violent, theocratic extreme right wing in the islamic world - this book is required reading.
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Paul Lawrence Berman is an American author and journalist who writes on politics and literature. His articles have been published in The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review and Slate, and he is the author of several books, including A Tale of Two Utopias and Terror and Liberalism.

Berman received his undergraduate education from Columbia University, from which he graduated in 1971 with a B
More about Paul Berman