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Reading Letter

Let's cultivate common ground, Peter Berkowitz suggests--a sentiment I share. But, if we are to promote the "free and fair exchange of ideas," shouldn't Berkowitz acknowledge that my essay on Carl Schmitt dealt with the influence of this man's thought on the left as well as the right? And might he not point out that, while I mentioned a number of both Marxist and paleo-conservatives by name, I never once in the article mentioned any neo-conservative intellectual as under Schmitt's influence? (Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly, I hope Berkowitz agrees, are not intellectuals.) It is because his reading of my essay was so selective that I accused Berkowitz of distorting my argument, and his latest response continues, indeed intensifies, that selectivity. When Berkowtiz admits that my essay on Schmitt's influence included both Marxist and paleo-conservative thinkers, I will drop my claim that he is distorting my argument.

In this current response, as in his essay which began this exchange, Berkowitz insists that my essay was as "incendiary" as Dinesh D'Souza's book. This seems hardly the best way to promote the respectful dialogue that Berkowitz now claims he wants to have. My original Chronicle essay was an attempt to show how the ideas of an important thinker left their mark on American politics. Agree or disagree with its thesis, it was marked by qualifications, dealt with serious matters of intellectual and philosophical interest, and put forward ideas meant--evidently with some success--to stimulate debate. D'Souza's book, by contrast (despite his pronouncements to the contrary) accused specific people--by name--of aiding and abetting America's enemies. In its calls for treating the cultural left as "domestic insurgents," it does not offer what Berkowitz calls "competing interpretations of our shared belief in individual freedom and equality under law" but rejects those broadly liberal values in favor of an alliance with theocratic regimes. Surely, Peter, you can find some way to disagree with my thoughts on Schmitt without finding my argument no different than D'Souza's. So long as you continue to lump him and me together, your calls to find common ground sound a bit hollow. After all, if I am to be excommunicated, how can I debate you?

Finally, none of the other conservatives who published letters in response to my Chronicle essay accused me of irresponsibility the way Berkowitz has. (Indeed, two of them, unlike Berkowitz, acknowledged that I was writing about the left as well as the right.) If Berkowitz had only disagreed with my conclusions, as the letter writers did, this exchange would never have taken the tone it has. It is because he continues to charge me with things I never said, based on an unfair and biased reading of what I wrote, that I responded as I did to his Weekly Standard article and am responding to him again.

By Alan Wolfe