If you’re an American man of letters of the sort that currently gets called upon by places like The New Republic and The New York Review of Books to diagnose European philosophers, you have a fairly easy job laid out for you. Step one: Read the book, preferably with no prior familiarity with the philosopher’s work, influences, or academic milieu. Step two: search the text, as well as any biographical resources you can find, for any indication that the philosopher has/had radical political commitments or might have ever made comments about Hitler or communist regimes that are difficult to understand at first glance. If so, you’ve already got the main theme for your review. Step three: do your best to come up with a few paragraphs of summary of the philosopher’s biography and general outlook before transitioning into your main disquisition about whether or not they have apologized for ever having radical ideas and, if not, cluck disappointedly about their lack of intellectual responsibility. If you’re feeling a little bold, insinuate that they are anti-Semitic. For good measure, throw in a few concluding bromides about the temptations and risks of being an intellectual.
This is obviously a caricature. But if we have a problem in American ideas, it’s something like this: intellectuals of a very narrow, almost comically American political perspective lecturing Europeans about their intellectual vices to the point that it’s virtually impossible to find any good-faith debate about European thought anywhere most smart, nonspecialist readers would ever look.