This is a superb book and should be read by everyone as a companion to Berman's 'Terror and Liberalism'. If you are interested in the evolution of the 68ers political thinking, of the foreign policy decisions of Germany under the Red-Green coalition, in humanitarian intervention or simply looking for explanations of the positions taken by people such as Dr. Bernard Koucher, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Regis Debray and Joschka Fischer (as most of their recent writings are currently only avaliable in French or German) on totalitarianism and related issues, especially the recent invasion of Iraq to topple the Baathist dictatorship, then you should read this book. I feel this book could become something of a classic for the left.
Bermans book takes as its point of departure the scandal of German foreign minister Joschka Fischer in 2001. Fischer, before entering the Green party and becoming a minister in the government, had been an activist in the 1960s, and in 2001 photos circulated of him beating up a cop during a demonstration. The first part of the book describe Fischers career, but then Berman moves on to cover a lot of ideological aspects of the evolution of the New Left, from the 1968 demonstrations and on to Vietnam, Baader-Meinhof, Maoism, Cuba and then Kosovo. And the invasion of Iraq, and of course 9/11.
In the 1960s there were three fractions of the marxist Left: the pro-Soviets, the New Left (of the Frankfurt School) and anarchists. Violent activists could be found within all groups, and Fischer seemed not to be above using violence. The important thing was to combat Nazism in it's new guises, like the German liberal state, Capitalism, USA, Israel or the West in general. You were either a resistance fighter or a collaborator. But later, in the 70s and 80s, things started to go really bad when some Leftist groups collaborated with terrorists, like the PLO murdering the Israeli OS-team, killings of politicians or businessmen, or murdering jews on a highjacked plane in Uganda. The "resistance" and the anti-Nazism became suddenly very much like Fascism or Nazism... The violence became an eye opener for Fischer, and he left politics disillusioned, to return later as a Green.
Berman portrays this ideological evolution, not just in Fischer but in the New Left as a whole. He describes New Left front figures like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Adam Michnik and Gerard Kouchner. And the rise of the New Philosophers like André Glucksmann and Bernhard Henry-Levy. In the 80s Glucksmann formulated a criticism of the Left andintroduced some new tenets: (1) Humanitarian action instead of revolution; (2) Anti-totalitarianism instead of Marxism, and, (3) a shift towards the benefits of NATO, compared to the societ Union. Glucksmann accused Fischer and his friends for demonstrating against the US presence ion Europe, but never against Soviet - but who was actually occupying half of Europe and placing nuclear missiles pointed towards the West?
In the 1990s and during the Kosovo intervention, Berman sees how Fischer and his leftist friends had actually turned anti-totalitarians like Glucksmann, and how they suddenly was for the NATO intervention. This evolution is logical if you take into account the 68ers swearing to fight Nazism in all its guises, to prevent another Auschwitz. Here they had the chance, and took it.
Things got more complicated during the war of Iraq after 9/11. And here Berman have more to say about Bernard Kouchner, the 68er and doctor who founded 'Doctors without borders'. Kouchner was pro-intervention and saw it as a moral plight to get rid of Saddam. The "right" that Iraq as a national state had was surpassed by the right of its victims of genocide and torture. Berman discusses differens Leftist views on Iraq, from Kouchner to Cohn-Bendit and Fischer. What Kouchner found lacking in the Bush administration was the moral argument for intervention - the weapons of mass destruction was a secondary argument. You have to choose: Resistance or Collaboration? And in the rotests against the US and the war in Iraq, Kouchner saw too much of collaboration.
If you are the slightest interested in these kinds of ideas, you should read not only "Power and the Idealists" but Bermans other books as well, like "Terror and Liberalism".
What Berman has done is phenomenal. I have long found it difficult to say who my natural comrades are in the realm of foreign policy. I could never truly sympathise with Newt Gingrich and co. on the far right and had to cling to Christopher Hitchens, David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen for the support of 'my kind of left'. However, Berman rolls out the story of Joschka Fischer, Daniel Cohn- Bendit as well as the brilliant Bernard Kouchner and finally the nota-chord I had before could develop into a firm backbone of intellectual fortitude, passion as well as blunders at times. The most perspicacious remark surely came from the anti-fascist struggle of what would one want to be, if this were France in the 1940's. Resistance or collaborators? everything on from thereon made me develop a much more confident case for liberal interventionism. I also thoroughly enjoyed the re-telling of the Fischer comments to Rumsfeld "I am not convinced," which is more poetic than anything for me. The case of the right simply didn't hold tight for the kind of case which Fischer would have supported and Kouchner did support. I really cannot rate this book highly enough!