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BOOK REVIEW:

The Real Menace is 'Thinkers' Like Claire Berlinski

Review by John Hickman
Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis Is America's, Too
by Claire Berlinski
New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006, 2007.
ISBN 978-1400097685 (Hardcover), ISBN 978-1400097708 (Paperback)

Berlinski’s explanation for her frustration and anger with Old Europe is a grab bag of café cultural criticism and sociological analysis.
A better example of the essential emptiness of neo-conservatism than Claire Berlinski’s Menace in Europe would be difficult to find. Sometimes descending to the level of invective heard on right-wing talk radio in the United States, Berlinski’s explanation for her frustration and anger with Old Europe is a grab bag of café cultural criticism and sociological analysis. She condemns Western Europeans as morally bankrupt, weakened by the entitlements granted by their social welfare states, and unwilling to defend their societies or Western Civilization from threat. The Dutch in particular are derided for responding to home-grown Islamist terror with what she describes as the same sort of “bargaining with depravity” she claims they exhibited during the Nazi Occupation. Beyond the ugly vituperation expressed in sweeping generalizations, the most salient problem with her book is in failing to make methodologically defensible comparisons.

First, Berlinkski compares apples and oranges. For example, in support of the claim that Western Europeans are bellicose, she lists 88 wars fought in Europe among Europeans since the fall of Western Roman Empire as against a single war fought in the United States among Americans: the American Civil War. Comparing Western Europe with all of North America rather than just the United States would have made more sense. So too would counting wars waged in North America between the Britain, France, Spain, the United States and Mexico and their many wars against Native Americans. Add all of the U.S. military interventions in the Caribbean and Central America to the list and North Americans appear every bit as bellicose as Western Europeans.

Berlinski cherry-picks her evidence.
Second, Berlinski cherry-picks her evidence. For example, to support the claim that Muslim minorities in Europe pose a national security threat, she points to findings from a December 2002 ICM Research poll that 44% of British Muslim respondents agreed with the statement that al Qaeda’s attacks (of September 11, 2001) were justified as a response to American aggression. The exact wording of that survey item was as follows: “Some people have said that the attacks by Al Qaeda and associated organizations are ‘a reaction undertaken by sons of Islam who are zealous in the defence of their religion and in response to the order of their God and prophet’.” It would have been fairer of Berlinski to note that the wording of the survey item fairly begs respondents to endorse the more extreme statement and that it is therefore surprising 48% of respondents disagreed.

Berlinski might also have looked at subsequent ICM Research polls of British Muslims. In a March 2004 ICM Research poll, British Muslims were asked the following question: “Would you regard further attacks by Al Qaeda, or similar organizations on the USA, as justified or unjustified?” While 13% of the respondents said further attacks would be justified, 74% said that they would not be justified. In a February 2006 ICM Research poll only 7% of British Muslim respondents agreed with the following statement: “Western society is decadent and immoral and Muslims should seek to bring it to an end, if necessary by violent means.” Instead, 80% agreed with the following alternative statement: “Western society may not be perfect but Muslims should live within it and not seek to bring it to an end.” The better portrayal these findings offer is of a British Muslim community with a rather smaller minority of the profoundly alienated.

Berlinski's Leo Straussian approach is eerily similar to the intellectual technique of fascist intellectuals who made mid-Twentieth century Europe a chamber of horrors.
Third, Berlinski gets her facts wrong. After stating that French agrarian populist José Bové was born in Bordeaux, 29 pages later Berlinksi writes that it was “no accident” that Bové “was being born in Cathar country.” The Cathars, or Albigensians, were a heretical Christian sect in 12th century southeastern France. Bordeaux is in southwestern France. For a part-time resident of France, Berkinski’s grasp of its geography is poor. She also makes the mistake of describing the crusade against the Cathars as “genocide,” when that description is no longer accepted by historians of the period.

Fourth, Berlinski writes about ‘national character’ as if it was real. After “analyzing” the lyrics and stage performance of the German band Rammstein, Berlinski concludes that fanaticism is “a German quality.” Elsewhere in the book she describes adultery as the “traditional French pastime.” In what is surely the most atavistic comment in the book, Berlinski describes hybrid relationships as “genetically” diluting culture.

Expressing contempt for objective truth—truth claims derived from the application of ordinary logic applied to empirical fact—is common among neoconservatives.
What at first appears to be intellectual sloppiness in reality may be intellectual technique. Expressing contempt for objective truth—truth claims derived from the application of ordinary logic applied to empirical fact—is common among neoconservatives. So too is agonizing about the moral and spiritual bankruptcy of society, which is then used to endorse traditional religion not as truth but as a crucial instrument of social control. These are both elements of the critique of modernity of University of Chicago political philosopher Leo Strauss. The problem for Berlinski is that Straussian technique is eerily similar to the intellectual technique of fascist intellectuals who made mid-Twentieth century Europe a chamber of horrors. They also sought to protect Western Civilization by articulating a vital anti-modernism against a range of often exaggerated internal and external threats. The inability to identify such an obvious contradiction reveals the hollow core of intellectual neo-conservatism.
John Hickman is associate professor of comparative politics at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. His published work on electoral politics, media, and international affairs has appeared in Asian Perspective, American Politics Research, Comparative State Politics, Contemporary South Asia, Contemporary Strategy, Current Politics and Economics of Asia, East European Quarterly, Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans, Jouvert, Legislative Studies Quarterly, Political Science, Review of Religious Research, Women & Politics, and Yamanashigakuin Law Review. He may be reached at jhickman@berry.edu.

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This story was published on March 20, 2007.