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Civilization and its Enemies: The Next Stage of History    by Lee Harris order for
Civilization and its Enemies
by Lee Harris
Order:  USA  Can
Free Press, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

It's rare to find a book that gives significant new insights or shifts one's perspective of the world. Lee Harris' Civilization and its Enemies is such a work. Its author warns us against 'the forgetfulness that is the nemesis of every successful civilization', and reminds us of being '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.'

Harris introduces the notion of 'fantasy ideologies', with many historical references as well as a discussion of how America was a prop in Al-Qaeda's fantasy on 9/11. He warns that 20th century fantasy ideologies 'spread like a virus in susceptible populations.' He explains his view of the end of classical sovereignty in which states developed and disappeared based on viability, and a new 'honorific sovereignty' assigned by the late 20th century liberal world order. The author describes the 21st century world order as one in which 'bit players may well be in a position to bring down the house - literally' through their willingness to deploy ruthlessness to gain power against those who have civilized themselves to the point of disbelieving in its application. He proposes the concept of 'neo-sovereignty', and the exclusion from consideration as sovereign states of those nations unable or unwilling to control 'gangs who have acted with conspicuous ruthlessness'. He warns that the 'cult of ruthlessness' both creates and destroys civilizations.

There is a fascinating discussion of Western civilization being rooted in the modeling of Spartan society on 'a boys' gang', with the resultant emphasis on team, rather than family, values and priorities. The author supports the 'legitimacy of the Pax Americana' as something that will keep intact world civilization against its 'common enemy ... the eternal gang of ruthless men.' He quotes global surveys in which the majority felt the world would be more dangerous 'if there were a rival to the American superpower.' He also discusses the danger inherent for a civilization in 'the existence of an enemy serious enough to require illiberal measures', and the importance of an ingrained 'code of honor' in a civilized society's leaders. While I share with many others a strong preference for a world dominated by the power of a democratic community like the United States rather than a ruthless bunch of mysoginists like the Taliban, I also worry about the potential danger that such 'illiberal measures' might erode Western civilization from the inside.

Though I'd have liked to see more discussion of the latter from someone with as profound an understanding as Lee Harris, I highly recommend Civilization and its Enemies as a rich source of ideas and brilliantly defended points of view, to anyone concerned about the stability of the current world order.

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