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Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History First Edition Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 64 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0743257497
ISBN-10: 0743257499
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Editorial Reviews

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.
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From Booklist

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 Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (February 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743257499
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743257497
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #936,374 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The catastrophic event that has come to be known simply as 9/11 was unique in American history. We had been brutally attacked. But by whom? Not by another country, as we soon discovered. Not by some vile dictator or head-of-state, as we later discovered. So who? Who was the enemy? Then, of course, came the question: Why were the World Trade Center and the Pentagon attacked in the first place? Why would someone deliberately, maliciously murder thousands of ordinary, innocent people?

"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.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a rare combination of common sense, depth of thought, breadth of knowledge, originality, and analytical and logical sophistication. Harris writes well, and at times humorously, but (with the possible exception of the first chapter), this is not a predigested easy read. The first chapter offers a stimulating interpretation of the motivation of the perpetrators of 9/11; the attack was less a means to an end (e.g., strike terror in the US population as a means to cause US withdrawal from the Middle East) , than a theatrical demonstration, for the benefit of other Muslims, that Allah favors the triumph of Islam and the fall of the Great Satan. "Fantasy ideologies" are able to thrive because of the decline of political realism in states whose existence and wealth has not been earned by their own effort, but are (ironically) protected by the current international order.
The central theme of the book, however, is the concept of the enemy: why enemies must be overcome in the founding of a civil society as well in its maintenance, why rational self-interest cannot explain the origin of social order (contrary to Hobbes and many others), and why the category of the enemy itself tends to be forgotten or dismissed by successful societies. Such societies also forget the ruthlessness that was historically required to achieve their success and which, Harris argues, is also required for their continuing survival. By the same token, the enculturation of a non-rational, intuitive sense of shame and a similarly instinctive sense of trust are necessary for the suppression of internal violence, hence the survival, of all societies, including liberal ones.
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Format: Hardcover
It would be a shame if Lee Harris' Civilization and Its Enemies is dismissed as a partisan attempt to rationalize the War on Terror or if it gets lost among the masses of books that try to explain how 9/11 changed the world. Civilization and Its Enemies is a Physics and Politics for the 21st Century.
Like Walter Bagehot, Harris makes the argument that civilization's success can set it up for downfall. Sustained peace and prosperity leads to complacency, and the members of a successful civilization are apt to forget that the natural state of people in the world is neither peaceful nor prosperous.
Harris does for politics what Frederick Turner, in works such as Beauty: The Value of Values and The Culture of Hope, did for aesthetics. Like Turner, Harris argues for the importance and necessity of shame in shaping our cultural values. Like Turner, Harris creates a kind of counter-myth to challenge the classical, non-partisan liberal ideology that has dominated the West since the triumph of the Enlightenment. Harris deals with the origins of leadership, the importance of team spirit, the evolution of tolerance, along with many other forces that have shaped our current liberal democratic societies.
Harris interprets and synthesizes the work of a wide range of political philosophers, but the heart of the book focuses on a handful of Hegel's observations on the origins of civilization. Now, I've always found Hegel to be obscure and convoulted, so I can't speak to the accuracy of Harris' interpretation, but it seemed to me that, through Hegel, Harris gets to the unpleasant truth about our civilization. As members in good standing of enlightened societies, we repress the fact that our liberal democracies (and civilization in general) were formed through illiberal methods.
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