Tag Archives: Fred Siegel

150 Years of Contempt for Free Markets

Alan S. Kahan has cast new light on an ongoing conflict with origins in classical antiquity if not earlier. Kahan’s Mind vs. Money: The War Between Intellectuals and Capitalism is a learned and engaging account of the tension between the amorality of the marketplace and the moralism of would-be priestly authorities. Until the Enlightenment, merchants were forced to bow before the courtly classes of the aristocracy, which staffed the military, and the clergy, which surveilled the public morality of the peasantry. But the Enlightenment, in challenging the authority of the aristocracy and the priesthood, opened up space for unbowed commerce, and hence the merchant middle class, to thrive. There are those, once largely on the right, today largely on the left, who have never forgiven the Enlightenment for this sin against the would-be guardians of morality.
The book’s central themes were laid out in 1834 by the German poet Heinrich Heine. Heine, who had nothing but contempt for American money-making, spoke of the United States as “that big pig-pen of freedom/Inhabited by boors living in equality.” Heine’s romantic ambitions yearned to transcend mere material freedom. He saw the intellectuals as the basis for the new aristocracy of virtue. “It is no longer a matter of destroying the old church,” he explained, “but rather building a new one, and far from wanting to annihilate the clergy, today we want to make ourselves priests.” But while Heine hoped a clerisy would remake the world he also saw an abyss ahead. “A drama will be performed in Germany,” he prophesied, “in contrast with which the French Revolution will seem a mere peaceful idyll.”

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Troublemaker

“Each successive generation since the mid-60s has read less, mastered a smaller body of knowledge, and possessed a more meager vocabulary than its predecessors. What makes the members of the current generation different is that they appear unembarrassed by their ignorance. The products of a school system devised and maintained by the processed-oriented professors of the education schools, they are all, in effect, postmodernists: for them, everything is a matter of opinion, and no one’s opinion is better that anyone else’s.”

– Fred Siegel, reviewing Troublemaker, Chester Finn’s history of modern school reform, in the June issue of Commentary.

Trying To Answer Paul Berman

On June 4th of this year Paul Berman published an extraordinary 28,000 word New Republic essay on contemporary Islamic philosopher Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University and his liberal apologists, Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash, who write for the New York Review of Books. Berman’s essay was criticized by some for being too long, too meticulous, for being too concerned with ironing out any misunderstanding that might be wrung from his words. But the just published tepid reply by Scottish Malise Ruthven, a Scottish historian of Islam, for August 13th issue of the New York Review of Books suggests that, for now, Berman’s tack has cornered his would be critics.

Ruthven finds the US denial of a visa for Ramadan to teach at Notre Dame in 2004 inexplicable. The only mark against Ramadan, says Ruthven, is that he once donated money to a Palestinian charity later put on a terrorist watch list. This is disingenuous. Here’s Berman on some of Ramadan’s history:

As early as 1993, at the age of thirty-two, he campaigned in Geneva to cancel an impending production of Voltaire’s play Muhammad, or Fanaticism. The production was canceled, and a star was born – though Ramadan has argued that, on the contrary, he had nothing to do with canceling the play, and to say otherwise is a “pure lie.” Not every battle has gone his way. He taught at the college of Saussure, where his colleagues were disturbed by his arguments in favor of Islamic biology over Darwin. This time, too, Ramadan shaped the debate to his own specifications by insisting that he never wanted to suppress the existing biology curriculum – merely to complement it with an additional point of view. A helpful creationist proposal. But the Darwinians, unlike the Voltaireans, were in no rush to yield.

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“Liberal” Professorial Apologists For Radical Islam

Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash are two of the leading critics of Ayan Hirsi Ali whom they deride as an “enlightenment fundamentalist” for her defense of free speech in the face of violent Islamic intimidation. They are also two of the leading apologists for the sophisticated Islamism of Tariq Ramadan, the grandson and intellectual heir of his grand-father Hasan al-Banna the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood from which flows Al Qaeda and other variants of Sunni salafism.

Buruma, Garton Ash, and Ramadan all have something in common – they are all university professors. Garton Ash is, inappropriately enough, the Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St Anthony’s College, Ramadan is his colleague at St Anthony’s while Buruma is the Henry R. Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College. Free speech as evidenced by Buruma’s book on the murder of Hirsi Ali colleague Theo Van Gogh is evidently not a “human right” worth defending if it offends Muslims.

Fortunately Paul Berman, a writer in residence at NYU, has taken all three to the wood shed, in an extraordinary 28,000-word New Republic essay. Ramadan, Berman shows, is an expert at double speak. In a New York Times article in which Buruma served, unwittingly or not as Ramadan’s publicist, the Islamist theorist explained how his grandfather an admirer of the Falange and Mussolini , supported a politics entirely compatible with parliamentary democracy. Buruma’s response was to lie with silence. But then again, as Buruma explained it “we agree on most issues.”

Ramadan is at his best when he can prepare an elaborate explanation for why Islamist and liberal values are compatible. But when facing then French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, he stumbled when forced to respond on the spot. Sarkozy asked Tariq Ramadan if he agreed with his brother Hani Ramadan who had argued in line with Islamic law, that adulterous woman should be stoned to death. Asked to agree or disagree with his brother Tariq Ramadan said he favored a “moratorium” on such stoning. What was stunning about this exchange is that in the current intellectual climate established by multiculturalism, it was Sarkozy who was seen as regressive, even racist, for having forced the issue.

The parallels here with the Soviet apologists of the 1930s and 40s are striking. Then as now the argument is that Communists and liberals/Islamists and liberals are all in favor of human rights, they just have a somewhat different understanding of what they mean. Then to point out the differences was denounced as red-baiting, today it’s decried as racist. In the words of the Yiddish proverb, “A half truth is a whole lie.” Expect Buruma and his friends to reply to Berman’s direct hit.