Skip to comments.Civilization and Its Enemies - The Next Stage of History
Posted on 10/28/2004 10:26:07 AM PDT by Noumenon
From the Preface of Civilization and Its Enemies The Next Stage of History by Lee Harris
The subject of this book is forgetfulness.
By this I do not mean our tendency to misplace valuable objects, or our inability to recall the name of he bosss dog, but the collective and cultural amnesia the over comes any group of human beings who have long benefited fro tm the blessings of civilization an amnesia first observed nearly eight hundred years ago by the Arab philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun, contemplating the rise and fall of those great feats of organized life that we call by such terms as societies, states and empires.
Forgetfulness occurs when those who have been long accustomed to civilized order can no longer remember a time in which they had to wonder whether their crops would grow to maturity without being stole or whether their children would be sold into slavery by a victorious foe. Even then it is necessary for parents, and even grandparents, to have forgotten as well, so that there is no living link between the tranquility of the present generation and those dismal periods in which the world behaved very much in accordance with the rules governing Thomas Hobbes state of nature, where human life was solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short. When parents have forgotten what that world was like, they can hardly be expected to teach their children how it was or what one had to do in order to survive in it.
Civilized people forget that in order to produce a civilization there must be what German sociologist Norbert Elias ahs called the civilizing process, and that this process, if it is to be successful, must begin virtually at our birth, and hence many long years before the child can have any say about the kind of training that he would have preferred. They forget that the civilizing process we undergo must duplicate that of our neighbors, if we are to understand each other in our day-to0-day intercourse. If you are taught to spit at a man who offers to shake your hand, and do when I offer mine, we will not easily get along.
Civilized people forget how much work it is not to kill ones neighbors, simply because this work was done by our ancestors so that it could be willed to us as an heirloom. They forget that in time of danger, in the face of the enemy, they must trust and confide in each other, or perish. They forget that to fight an enemy it is necessary to have a leader whom you trust, and how, at such times, this trust is a civic duty and not evidence of ones credulity. They forget, in short, that there has ever been a category of human experience called the enemy.
That, before 9/11, was what had happened to us. The very concept of the enemy had been banished from our moral and political vocabulary. An enemy was just a friend we hadnt done enough for yet. Or perhaps there had been a misunderstanding, an oversight on our part-something that we could correct.
Our first task therefore is to try to grasp what the concept of the enemy really means. The enemy is someone who is willing to die in order to kill you. And while it is true that the enemy always hates us for a reason, it is his reason and not ours. He does not hate us for our faults any more than for our virtues. He sees a different world from ours, and in he world he sees, we are his enemy. That is hard for us to comprehend, but we must if we are to grasp what the concept of the enemy means.
For Himmler, the Jewish children whom he ordered the SS to murder were the enemy because they would grow up to avenge the death of their fathers, who had been the enemy before them. We have killed their parents; they will want to kill our children. Hence we have no choice but to kill them first. The fact that they had done nothing themselves, and were incapable of doing anything themselves, was irrelevant.
This is how mankind always thought of the enemy- as the one who, if you do not kill him first, will sooner or later kill you. And those who see the world this way see it very differently from those who do not.
This is the major fact of our time. We are caught in the midst of a conflict between those for whom the category of the enemy is essential to their way of organizing all human experience and those who have banished even the idea of the enemy from both public discourse and even their innermost thoughts.
But those who abhor thinking of the world through the category of the enemy must still be prepared to think about the category of the enemy. That is, even if you refuse to think of anyone else as an enemy, you must acknowledge that there are people who do in fact think this way.
Yet even this minimal step is a step that many of our leading intellectuals refuse to take, despite the revelation that occurred on 9/11. they want to see 9/11 as a means to an end and not an end in itself. But 9/11 was an end in itself, and that is where we must begin.
Why do they hate us? They hate us because we are their enemy.
It is the enemy who defines us as his enemy, and in making this definition he changes us, and changes us whether we like it or not. We cannot be the same after we have been defined as an enemy as we were before.
That is why those who uphold the values of the Enlightenment so often refuse to recognize that those who are trying to kill us are their enemy. They hope that by pretending that the enemy is simply misguided, or misunderstood, or politically immature, he will cease to be an enemy. This is an illusion. To see the enemy as someone who is merely an awkward negotiator of sadly lacking in savoir faire and diplomatic aplomb is perverse. It shows contempt for the depth and sincerity of his convictions, a terrible mistake to make when you are dealing with someone who wants you dead.
We are the enemy of those who murdered us on 9/11. And if you are an enemy, then you have an enemy. When you recognize it, this fact must change everything about the way you see the world.
Once someone sees you as the enemy, then you must yourself deal with this category of human experience, which is why societies that have enemies are radically different from those that do not. A society that lacks an enemy does not need to worry about how to defend itself against him. I does not need to teach its children how to fight and how not to run when they are being attacked by men who want to kill them. I does not need to appoint a single man to make instant decisions that affect the well-being of the entire community, and it does not need to train the community to respond to his commands with unthinking obedience.
But societies with enemies must do all of these things, and do them very well, or else they perish.
Yet there is a problem with each of these various things that must be done to protect a society against its enemy. They are illiberal and they a re at odds with those values that civilized life has to offer tolerance, individual liberty, government by consensus rather than by fiat, and rational cooperation. Thus it is not unnatural for those who prize such values to be reluctant to acknowledge the existence of an enemy serious enough to require illiberal measures and the yare correct to feel this way.
Thos who argue that war is not the answer are almost invariably right, and if civilization can be said to inhere in any one characteristic more conspicuously than in any other, it must certainly be in the preference for peaceful over violent methods of resolving conflict. To be sure, civilization consists in more than this, but this more is always dependent upon prereflective certainty that the people you must deal with will not resort to force or threat or intimidation when they are dealing with you.
The first duty of all civilization is to create pockets of peaceableness in which violence is not used as a means of achieving ones objective, the second duty is to defend these pockets against those who would try to disrupt their peace either from within or without. Yet the values that bring peace are the opposite values from those that promote military prowess, and this poses a riddle that very few societies have been able to solve and then only fitfully. If you have managed to create your own pocket of peace - and its inseparable companion, prosperity how will you keep those who envy you your prosperity from destroying your peace?
There is only one way; you must fight back; if your enemy insists on a war to the finish, then you have no choice but to fight such a war. It is your enemy, and not you, who decides what is a matter of life and death.
Once you have accepted this reality, however, you are faced with the problem of how to fight. If the enemy is composed of men who will stop at nothing, who are willing to die and to kill, then you must find men to fight on your side who will do the same. Only those who have mastered ruthlessness can defend their society from the ruthlessness of others.
This was the plight faced by the peasants in Kurosawas masterpiece, The Seven Samurai and by the dirt farmers in the American remake, The Magnificent Seven. Men and women who knew nothing of battle, the impoverished peasants of a remote village found themselves at the mercy of a gang of ruthless bandits who each year came at harvest to steal what the peasants had managed to eke from the soil. In their desperation, the farmers turned to the seven samurai, all of whom had fallen on hard times. But then, once the samurai had defeated the bandits, the question immediately arose in the peasants minds: Now how do we rid ourselves of he samurai?
Such ahs been the lot of most of mankind: a choice between the gangsters who come across the river to steal and the gangsters on this side of he river who do not need to steal because they have their own peasants to exploit. How else could it be? Given what we know of human nature, how could we expect there to be a government that wasnt, in the final analysis, simply a protection racket that could make laws?
Yet this is not how Kurosawas movie ends. The samurai do not set themselves up as village warlords but instead move on, taking only the wages due them for their services. How was this possible? It was possible only because the samurai lived by a code of honor.
Codes of honor do not come cheap, and they cannot be created out thin air upon demand. The fact that you need samurai and not gangsters is no guarantee that you will get them; indeed, you will almost certainly not get them when you need them unless you had them with you all along.
A code of honor, to be effective when it is needed, requires a tradition that is blindly accepted by the men and women who are expected to live by this code. To work when it must, a code of honor must be the unspoken and unquestioned law governing a community; a law written not in law books but in the heart something like an instinct.
A code of honor cannot be chosen by us; it can only be chosen for us. Fro if we look on it as one option among many, then we may opt out of it at will. I which case, the community will never be quite sure of us when the chips are down.
All of which explains why those who subscribe to the values of the Enlightenment find the existence of eh enemy so distressing.
The enemy challenges the Enlightenments insistence on the supremacy of pure reason by forcing us to respect those code of honor whose foundation is far more visceral than rational, a fact that explains the modern intellectuals hatred for such codes in whatever guise they lurk. The enemy requires the continued existence of large groups of men and women who refuse to question authority and who are happy to take on blind faith the traditions that have been passed down to them. The enemy necessitates the careful cultivation of such high-testosterone values as brute physical courage and unthinking loyalty to a leader. The enemy demands instinctual patriotism and what Ibn Khaldun calls group feeling, that is, the sense of identification with ones own people. The enemy propels into positions of command men who are accustomed to taking risks and who are willing to gamble with the lives of others, and shuns aside those who prefer the leisure of contemplation to the urgency of action. Lastly, the enemy shatters the Enlightenments visions of utopia, of Kants epoch of perpetual peace and of the end of history. And this is why so many European and American intellectuals refuse to acknowledge today even the possibility of the enemys existence, concocting theories to explain the actions of Al-Qaeda as something other than what they were.
This is why all utopian projects are set either on a distant island or in a hidden valley: they must exist in isolation from the rest of the world, to keep even the thought of the enemy at bay. Otherwise, they would have to deal with the problem of how to survive without abandoning their lofty ideals.
This is the problem that confronts us today.
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. They are the values appropriate for a world in which everyone plays by the same rules, and accepts the same standards, of rational cooperation; they are fatally unrealistic in a world in which the enemy acknowledges no rule except that of ruthlessness. To insist on maintaining utopian values when your society is facing an enemy who wishes only to annihilate you is to invite annihilation. And that is unacceptable.
The only solution is for us to go back and unforget some of what we have forgotten, for our very forgetfulness is an obstacle to understanding the lessons of the past, so long as we insist on interpreting the past in ways which give comfort to our pet illusions. We want to believe that civilization came about because men decided one fine morning to begin living sensible, peaceful, rational lives; we refuse to acknowledge what it sot to achieve even the first step in this direction. Unless we can understand this first step, none of the rest will make any sense to us, and we will fail to see what is looming right in front of us.
The Greek way of expressing past and future differed from ours. We say that the past is behind us and the future is in front of us. To the Greeks, however, the past was before them, because they could plainly see its finished form standing in front of them: it was territory they had passed through and whose terrain they had charted. It was the future that was behind them, sneaking up like a thief in the night, full of dim imaginings and vast uncertainties. Nothing could penetrate the blackness of this unknown future except the rare flash of foresight that the Greeks called sophos, or wisdom. Yet even these flashes of wisdom depended entirely upon the capacity to remember that which is eternal and unchanging-which is precisely what we have almost forgotten.
The past tells that there can be no end of history, no realm of perpetual peace, and that those who are convinced by this illusion are risking al that they hold dear. The past tells us that there will always be an enemy as long as men care enough about anything to stake a claim to it, and thus enmity is built into the very nature of things. The past tells us that the next stage of history will be a tragic conflict between two different ways of life, which both have much that is worthy of admiration in them but which cannot coexist in the same world. But the past does not, and cannot, tell us how it will end this time.
That is why it is impossible simply to stand by and not take sides. No outcome is assured by any deep logic of history or by any iron law of human development. Individual civilizations rise and fall; in each case the fall was not inevitable, but due to the decisions or lack of decision of the human beings whose ancestors had created the civilization for them, but who had forgotten the secret of how to preserve it for their own children.
We ourselves are dangerously near this point, which is all the more remarkable considering how close we are still to 9/11. It is as if 9/11 has become simply an event in the past and not the opening up of a new epoch in human history, one that will be ruled by the possibility of catastrophic terror, just a previous historical epochs were ruled by other possible forms of historical catastrophe, from attack by migratory hordes to totalitarian takeover, from warrior gangs to the threat of nuclear annihilation.
Our journey of recollection must therefore begin with 9/11, for was the moment when one epoch closed, and another opened. With 9/11 commenced the next stage of history, one whose direction will be determined by how the world responds to the possibilities that it has opened up.
And yet, have we even begun to understand it?
[S]edentary life becomes the last stage of civilization and the point where it begins to decay. It also constitutes the last stage of evil and of remoteness from goodness.... [S]edentary people have become used to laziness and ease. They are sunk in well-being and luxury. They have entrusted the defense of their property and lives to the governor who rules them, and to the militia which has the task of guarding them.... They are carefree and trusting, and have ceased to carry weapons. Successive generations have grown up in this way of life. They have become like women and children, who depend upon the master of the house."
-- Ibn Khaldûn, Muqaddimah, 1377
Wow, a great read! Bookmarked and printed out! Thanks. You are right, imagine this guy and VDH together on a talk show or something..
Wisdom is where you find it.
Pretty much sums up the modern American liberal mindset, doesn't it?
We're on the verge of throwing our own civilization away. This is one of history's great watershed moments. And as Harris points out, it is the decisions - or lack of them - made by individual men that determine the rise and fall of of cultures and civilizations.
In other words, it is up to us - it always was.
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.
-Ronald Reagan 40th president of US (1911 - 2004)
Some of us - no - a lot of us Get It. Will it be enough, in this time and in this place? We're going to find out and soon. War is coming, and not just from the Islamofascist front.
"That is why it is impossible simply to stand by and not take sides. No outcome is assured by any deep logic of history or by any iron law of human development. Individual civilizations rise and fall; in each case the fall was not inevitable, but due to the decisions or lack of decision of the human beings whose ancestors had created the civilization for them, but who had forgotten the secret of how to preserve it for their own children."
That's one of the most telling insights of the preface. There is no neutral ground - morally, philosophically or otherwise. That's the gist of, "you're either with us, or wit hthe terrorists."
The AQ threat is not seen as a threat by a large portion of our population because they are not part of our civilization. They are outsiders, barbarians inside the gates. They are the enemy within.
Even if AQ is not totally successful it's unclear we will survive the contining 'velvet revolution' of the left.
"If the enemy is composed of men who will stop at nothing, who are willing to die and to kill, then you must find men to fight on your side who will do the same. Only those who have mastered ruthlessness can defend their society from the ruthlessness of others."
Fell deeds await...
That is where the citizens give up and don't care anymore. It not a matter of entrusting, it's a case of despair.
You keyed this in yourself, didn't you?
I've started reading it, but not finished yet.
He has told me how he and all his friends used to take shotguns and .22s to school every day and lean them up in a corner so they could hunt something for supper after school.
He walked all the way from Florida to NY and slept under bridges, etc. just to get a job. Never had to show ID and never got rousted for vagrancy.
...and many more eye-openers.
My long-departed Father ( born 1890, Cape Hatteras ) told me of many such things-- we really have let a lot of freedoms slip away. We won't be seeing them return, either.
These days, you go out for a Sunday drive in your Aeronca, and people (including many FReepers) want to shoot you down.
Jeez! My Mom- the old Master Sergeant- learned to fly in an Aeronca back in WWII, at Caspar, Wyoming. I've never been sure if her tale of lashing the prop back on with baling wire and then taking off was true, or just a wee exaggeration.
Yes I did. I felt that it was that important. The book itself is quite interresting. More on that after I've finished it and had time to digest it.
That assumes that events don't overtake us over the next week or so.
I'm impressed. Your Mom invented safety wire! ;-)