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"Civilization and Its Enemies" is an attempt by Lee Harris to answer these and other questions. The work is a brilliant analysis of the current geopolitical situation and how it came to be what it is. More significantly, it provides an insight into the historical precipitates and intellectual foundations and foibles which may account for the 9/11 tragedy.
"The subject of this book," says Harris on the opening page, "is forgetfulness." Modern civilization has forgotten how it became civilized in the first place; it isn't knowledgeable of the long period of cultural evolution involved; and it doesn't remember the tremendous amount of labor, cultural and intellectual, that went into the development of civil society. Moreover, modern civilization has forgotten about a category called "the enemy." This concept of the enemy -- someone who is willing to die to kill another -- had been discarded from our moral and political discourse. And that fact, according to Harris, has left modern civilization vulnerable to attack by those who are the enemy of civilized society.
This is an interesting thesis and, at first glance, may appear to be an implausible explanation for the 9/11 tragedy which was, according to the author, an end in itself and not a means to some other political or social end. Many contemporary observers may find this latter statement problematic since we are so accustomed to thinking in terms of warfare as a means to an end. Harris suggests that our ordinary understanding about what wars are and why they are fought is not applicable to the current conflict with terrorism. The nature of the game, so to speak, has changed and so has the enemy, and 9/11 was a manifestation of that change.
So, who is this enemy and what is his intent? How did civilization get itself into this situation where it became so vulnerable to this enemy? What is the historical backdrop? What were the social and cultural influences? Who or what is really responsible? What can modern civilization do, if anything, to protect itself? Harris's discussion of these questions takes the reader on a tour through the development of civilization from antiquity to the present day, forming the framework with which he analyzes our current dilemma and providing a rationale for his conclusions.
One of the most interesting of his discussions has to do with what Harris calls "fantasy ideology" and the related "transformative belief." He also points out the difference between abstract reasoning and concrete reasoning and discusses the "fanaticism" of abstract thought, important elements in the presentation of his argument. His concept of fantasy ideology is familiar to me because, while I use a different term to describe the phenomenon, it appears to be a subcategory of what I have called "intellectual insanity" in my own writings. Modern intellectuals are particularly susceptible to this type of thinking, which eventually leads them into the irrational abyss of moral and cultural relativism, epistemological subjectivism, metaphysical idealism, politicism, and scientism.
Harris does more, of course, than just provide us with the historical background and intellectual underpinnings which have led to our present situation. He deals with the practical matter of our current conflict with "the enemy," giving us his prescriptions about how we should meet and confront the problem in the very real context within which we have to deal with it. Many intellectuals, especially those in the academic enterprise, will recoil at some of his suggestions.
But the problem we face today, the author says, is this: "The ideals that our intellectuals have been instilling in us are utopian ideals, designed for men and women who know no enemy and who do not need to take precautions against him." These utopian ideals are dangerous because they are out of touch with the situation as it really is. The new enemy of civilization does not play his "war" game according to the rules we are used to; indeed, as far as he is concerned there are no rules at all. Our intellectuals and those who influence our social and political policies must come to realize this. Our old categories of thought and analysis will no longer suffice. And this brings Harris to what may be his most controversial conclusion as far as the academic intellectuals are concerned.
Only the United States can play the sovereign in today's world. And if the use of force is necessary to defend civilization, then America will have to use it. At the same time Harris realizes the responsibilities involved in this type of action and points out the necessity, and dilemma, of being ruthless in the defense of civilization while not succumbing to ruthlessness itself. However, because it has produced, over a long period of time and through many sociopolitical conflicts, a practical design for solving and settling problems without resorting to massive ruthlessness, the United States is the only nation which can do the job required if civilization is to be defended and the enemy defeated.
This is an important book that every American citizen should read. It should be required reading for our college and university students who are so desperately in need of intellectual guidance through the realities of the current geopolitical conflict which puts civilization itself in jeopardy. My only criticism of the book is that Harris needs to recognize there are some intellectuals around who don't subscribe to utopian fantasies and the fanaticism of abstract thought. I like to think I'm one of them.Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History Overview
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