Arguing against Evil: Liberal hawks and Neocons’ Congress for Cultural Freedom delusion

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Up now, at The New Republic:

President Barack Obama’s proposed nuclear deal with Iran has prompted concerns from conservatives who say its government can’t be trusted to adhere to the negotiated terms. But leftist hawk Paul Berman had a different reaction. He praised the deal for thawing relations, thereby creating the conditions for “an ideological de-toxification campaign” like those of the Cold War, when, he writes, “the liberal journalists and intellectuals in the old Committee for Cultural Freedom and the Congress for Cultural Freedom used to put up serious arguments against the totalitarian currents of the day, and there is no reason why this couldn’t be done in our own day.”

Berman is not the only thinker in recent years who has hoped to reproduce the Congress for Cultural Freedom, an anti-totalitarian organization founded in 1950. Late last spring, then-New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier and some of his friends, such as the Yale historian Timothy Snyder, converged on Kiev for a conference called “Ukraine: Thinking Together,” with the premise that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was “one of the proving grounds of principle in our time.” Intellectuals must make a stand against the tyranny of Putin, in the manner that the CCF stood against Stalin in the early 1950s, Wieseltier said, noting that the idea for the conference came about when he realized that he had “Congress for Cultural Freedom envy.” And ten years ago, after the release of the 9/11 Commission report, David Brooks wrote in his New York Times column that in order to confront the ideology of Islamic jihadism, “We need to set up the sort of intellectual mobilization we had during the cold war, with modern equivalents of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, to give an international platform to modernist Muslims and to introduce them to Western intellectuals.” It is a trope that resembles the product pitch of “Uber, but for [insert un-disrupted industry here]”: “The Congress for Cultural Freedom, but for [insert hostile regime here].”


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