Book Review: Civilization And Its Enemies

Civilization And Its Enemies:  The Next Stage Of History, by Lee Harris

This book is a blunt-spoken and insightful book written shortly after 9/11 and containing striking insights concerning the class of civilizations that has marked the last fifteen years and shows no sign of abating.  One of the aspects that makes this book particularly worthwhile, even if what the author says are matters many readers will not want to accept, is that the book is simultaneously a defense of Hagel’s critique of abstract reason and the tendency among many intellectuals to pit the real against the ideal and to be continually dissatisfied by the real and simultaneously a Hegelian dialectic examining the two sides of enemies of civilization, both among ivory tower intellectuals without a streak of ruthlessness in self-preservation and among the ruthless terrorists who can destroy in order to enact their dark political fantasies but who have not really created anything except for misery and destruction.  To be sure, the subject matter makes this a tough read, but for those with an interest in insightful political philosophy, this is an excellent book, one of the best I have read on the subject, and both intellectually satisfying as well as intensely, even ruthlessly, practical in nature.

The contents of this book are laid out in a thematic fashion with chapters of about 20 pages in length that end up being slightly more than 200 pages of core material.  The chapters of the book begin by looking at the riddle of the enemy and the nature of the gamble that Western civilization made in seeking liberal democracy, before giving a firm definition of enemy and the grand illusion of political fantasy that unites terrorists and many intellectuals.  After this, Harris speaks of ruthlessness at the origin of civilizations, the birth of patriotism and the historic role of the United States, before a thoughtful contrast between liberal and team cosmopolitanism, the way that reason goes wrong, a case study of tolerance, the origin of the enemy, the rare virtues of the West in the course of global history, and a conclusion on the next stage of history.  The book is, as a whole, a brave exploration of self-deception and illusion, and a recognition of the delicate tension between family and team, between civility and ruthlessness, between intellect and pragmatism, that is required to remain free in a world full of violence, and the difficulty societies have in achieving and maintaining this balance.

Given the author’s relentless push in terms of practically directed reason, it is of little surprise that this book should be so widely practical for those readers who are willing to read a passionate Hegelian dialectic that aims at equipping its readers with the ruthlessness to help aid the survival of the West against its enemies, and to have the sort of respect and regard for institutions that allows for the preservation and improvement of society.  The author has set before him a difficult task, in giving readers valuable insight into what makes people enemies, and what has to be done with those who do not wish to play well with others.  As someone who has often tended to be an outsider, and someone who has tended to be forced into situations where a certain degree of ruthlessness was required for survival, this book was more like a theoretical examination of something that I had already worked out in a less concise and pointed fashion from my own experience and broad reading and native temperament.  Of particular importance if the author’s reminder that tolerance, a key aspect of contemporary discourse [1] came out of the experience by which everyone was tolerated who was willing to tolerate others.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: Civilization And Its Enemies

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Idea And Practice Of World Government | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Introduction To World Peace Through World Law | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Rationality And The Analysis Of International Conflict | Edge Induced Cohesion

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