Skip to comments.Our new epoch in history ... 10 minutes with philosopher/political thinker/novelist Lee Harris
Posted on 02/24/2004 11:45:52 AM PST by Tolik
Lee Harris is the author of "Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History," a book that argues that the war on terror is not a clash of religions but a renewal of the nasty, aeons-old struggle between the forces of civilization and "anti-civilization." (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)
A philosopher/political thinker/novelist who defines himself as "an enlightened populist," Harris has done a lot of deep thinking and writing on the implications of 9/11 and the rise of ruthless new enemies who will never play by our rules, accept our values or be persuaded by our logic.
His book is drawn from three widely read and highly praised articles Harris originally wrote for Policy Review, the public policy quarterly now affiliated with the Hoover Institution. I talked to him Thursday by telephone from his home in Stone Mountain, Ga.:
Q: Why do you say 9/11 is such an important historic event, like World War I or the French Revolution?
A: The importance is the fact that it was something that came completely out of the blue, and for which no existing categories of analysis were adequate. It was something that most intellectuals in America rushed immediately to classify. Most of them said, "Listen, I know exactly what took place. It is the beginning of a war," or, like (Noam) Chomsky, "It's the beginning of the counter-revolution of the oppressed."
So you had all these people coming in with their own particular theories explaining it, as if it fit into things we knew and could compare with before. But the more I thought about that, it didn't make any sense. From the word go, there was something mysterious about 9/11.
One of the factors being that there was no preparation for it, there was no diplomatic exchange. There were no demands. It simply just erupted one day.
The second thing is that by that time it became obvious there was no systematic strategic follow up, it began to occur to me that what we were dealing with here was not, in fact, the beginning of some kind of well-orchestrated military operation. But, in fact, it was a violent eruption of what I called "a fantasy ideology."
That is, a group of people got together and decided they wanted to change the course of history. They wanted to do something dramatic. They wanted to do something that symbolized the purity of Islam against the corrupt satanic America. They chose this act as a symbolic representation of their superior ethos. They showed that they could put themselves above material things, above fear of death, and they could make this enormous sacrifice to show us how hollow we were. It was really an act more for their sake than our sake.
Q: Who is the enemy and where do we find him?
A: Well, to me, the use of the word "enemy" is a problem that I had actually thought about before 9/11. For a long time, I've been very interested in the problem of liberalism that is, how a liberal society can come into existence and how it can keep in existence. We in America tend to take it for granted that when people get together, the first thing they're going to do is construct a nice little society. Well, that simply isn't the case.
Q: What do you mean when you say "civilization"?
A: In "civilization" I tried to pick a word that is value-free. That is, "civilization" does not mean us versus them, first of all. "Civilization" I define as basically being a state of social organization that is exemplified by tolerance, by cooperation, by and this is extremely important a lessening reliance on violence as a way of getting things done. And, of course, perhaps most importantly, stability.
It also must be a transgenerational project, so the values of your grandchildren will more or less reflect your values. You hope that they won't be setting up concentration camps or things like that. You hope that they will not fall below the ethical baseline you have set for them. When Samuel Huntingdon uses "civilization," he means civilization as a particular entity, like American civilization or Chinese civilization. I don't mean it that way. I mean, for example, that America has reached a certain point of civilization and so has France.
Q: When you say "enemies," is this specifically al-Qaida? Muslims?
A: No. The concept of the enemy is the critical problem for liberalism because liberalism is good-natured. It presumes that anybody it meets it can persuade or buy off or somehow get them to work with us and not use violence against us.
The problem is, what happens when you encounter a genuine enemy who does not care anything for any compromise with you, but who literally wants what you have and ruthlessly acts to take it from you?
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(Excerpt) Read more at jewishworldreview.com ...
His articles at the TechCentralStation are archived here: http://www2.techcentralstation.com/1051/searchauthor.jsp?Bioid=BIOHARRISLEE
If you want to bookmark his articles discussed at FR: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/k-leeharris/browse
Lee Harris classics. If you have time, read these articles:
His new book: Civilization and Its Enemies : The Next Stage of History
As opposed to the government, it is societal norms, leading us to be self-governing people which is key.
Where are we now, considering the refusal of government officials to obey the law, rather than to set themselves up as the law ?
The problem, of course, needs counter-measures that also avail of means that were not available in 1900. But that, also, is not conceptually new in the human experience. With each advance in the means available to the lawless, the forces of order must adapt their means of defense.
I realize the idea of some dramatic revelation has appeal to people suddenly made fearful by the unexpected. But it would be far more practical to simply round up the lawless element, using whatever innovations may be necessary to that end, and not imagine that the basic issues in the human experience have really changed. As for the civilization and anti-civilization aspect: Has that not always been involved in dealing with the lawless elements in every age of man?
The issue is basically the same, whether we are dealing with people who do not respect our borders, our sovereignty, our property, our lives, etc.. The methods of the lawless may vary, as must our responses. But the ideological issue is the same as it would have been 1,000 years ago, when knights had to ride out to protect the tillers of the soil from maurauding brigands--the masterless men, who acknowledged the rights of no order of other men.
William Flax Return Of The Gods Web Site