From Publishers Weekly
Harris seems to have burst on the scene with a series of articles in the Hoover Institution's Policy Review. These articles, according to the publisher, created a tremendous buzz, and they form the basis of this book, arguing that in the aftermath of September 11, America must regard itself as the legitimate defender of world civilization. Because Americans are so highly civilized, Harris maintains, they "forget" the realpolitik truths of enmity and barbarianism, and he has come to sound the alarm. Western "liberal left" intellectuals mislead, Harris says, by mistakenly dignifying al-Qaeda as political activists instead of dismissing them as a gang of ruthless "fantasists" who don't share any of our assumptions about how the world should work. Generally ignoring the lessons of other countries' experiences of terrorism, Harris dwells instead on the failures of WWI-era liberal internationalism and on the fantasist ideologies of Hitler and Mussolini. Seeking throughout to boost the notion of American cultural superiority, he turgidly presents Greek and Roman models of social stability that he claims inform the civilizing "team player" patriotism of Americans, as opposed to the weaker structures of tribal loyalty of the "old world." Stale assertions apart, Harris is suspiciously defensive when deriding a nebulously drawn figure of the contemporary Western intellectual, whom he sees as sustained by dreamy cosmopolitan utopianism. Choosing not to engage much with such thinkers, Harris instead tries to hoist them by their own postmodern petard. His reasonable-sounding dismissal of the [pst-Enlightenment reign of reason and his assumption that his reader, an American, can be rallied through a potted education in civilization prevent this deeply rhetorical extended essay from accomplishing much true intellectual work.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Unlike those who see the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as the outbreak of a new war between radical Muslims and modern Americans, Harris views those attacks as the decisive reemergence of an ancient cultural conflict stretching back to Sparta and Rome. Elaborating on three controversial articles originally appearing in Policy Review
, Harris argues that terrorists struck against the U.S. not so much to wage war as to act out the histrionic script of a fantasy ideology in which religious zealotry enforces the kind of cruel tribal conformity that daring Greek and Roman thinkers long ago challenged. Though this ideology is astonishingly disconnected from economic and political realities, Harris warns that it holds real-world peril for the residents of a cosmopolitan civilization premised on freedom and tolerance. Indeed, Harris perceives profound peril for sophisticated intellectuals addicted to their own fantasies incubated not in religious fervor but rather in amnesiac utopianism. Many may complain that Harris demonizes foes he has not fully understood, but others will welcome his vigorous if contentious voice in a critically important policy debate. Bryce ChristensenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved