Recovering the Concept of the Enemy

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  • 08/19/2022

Has John Kerry ever had an enemy?

This is not a frivolous question, or one about his charm as an individual, or his ability to maintain personal relationships. Lee Harris demonstrates in Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History, that the answer to this question lies at the heart of the pitched battles in the post-9/11 American public sphere: "Civilized people forget how much work it is not to kill one's neighbors, simply because this work was all 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 one's credulity. They forget, in short, that there has ever been a category of human experience called the enemy."

John Kerry, I suspect, along with many of his fellow Democrats, belongs in that category of forgetfulness. If America has any enemies at all, in their view, the problem can easily be solved with an infusion of American cash and compassion. Harris would demur. For him, the fact that Muslim radicals around the world count America as their foremost enemy means that the category of the enemy cannot and must no longer be waved away or fobbed off with well-meaning social programs. America's role in the post-9/11 world is to do nothing less than defend civilization - a civilization that "is not America's or even the West's; it is the civilization created by all men and women, everywhere on the planet, who have worked to make the actually community around them less addicted to violence, more open, more tolerant, more trusting."

To this struggle, the Left, because of its unwavering attachment to a "sham and racist multiculturalism," is contributing little or nothing. Indeed, it "has lost the ability to offer a genuinely useful critique of America's emerging role and has degenerated into what is dangerously close to a full-fledged fantasy ideology."

Behind this fantasy ideology - and the worldwide collapse of liberal societal ideals - Harris sees the palsied hand of Karl Marx, whose ideological influence persists among Western policymakers and intellectuals despite nearly a century of evidence that his theories are inimical to the flowering of the human spirit. The single flaw in Harris's analysis here is that he misdiagnoses, I believe, the sources and strength of the appeal of radical Islam, but his analysis of how the Islamic terrorist threat differs essentially from every previous threat to civilization is enormously illuminating.

Harris' range is broad. He sees in World War I a number of useful parallels for the situation in which we find ourselves today. Just as that Great War destroyed the prewar global order and instilled in postwar Europeans and Americans the sense that the world had changed forever in ways that they couldn't quite identify, at least fully, so now: after 9/11, the world has been utterly transformed, but in ways that we only dimly grasp as of yet. Harris demonstrates that many of these ways are quite similar to ways in which World War I transformed the political and social landscape of the 1920s. Also, just as in those days, "intelligent men of our time are stuck with grotesquely outmoded concepts and categories" - notably, Kerry's meta-ideological do-gooder statist liberalism and short-sighted multiculturalism.

One of the fundamental confusions of the modern world, he observes, has sprung from traditional concepts of warfare. "In Clausewitzian war," notes Harris, "the enemy has a set of political objectives which he tries to achieve through the use of organized force, including acts of terror. For example, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor because it was a large naval base and because the Japanese had the quite rational strategic goal of crippling the American Pacific fleet in the first hours of the war." But the age of Clausewitzian war has ended, or at least that model has gone into significant eclipse. "The fact," says Harris, "that we are involved with an enemy who is not engaged in Clausewitzian warfare has serious repercussions for our policy." Those repercussions have only been imperfectly explored thus far. Harris offers one primary observation: our radical Muslim enemies are not operating according to conventional ideas of victory and defeat. They see the world solely as the arena in which God executes His will; thus their faith is not shaken by defeat and their goals are not defined by realistic objective factors that military men can quantify and allow for.

Harris also brings a refreshing dose of realism - combined with a deep and comprehensive historical awareness - to his discussions of the nature of the new world order. America has the responsibility today to defend civilization, which means that America must lead. Of this, he maintains, there is nothing to be ashamed. "As Sancho Panza once wisely said, 'When two men mount a horse, one must ride behind.' It will be just as true in the community of all the men and women of the planet as it was in Sancho Panza's Spain. The struggle for superiority is not simply the manifestation of a psychological pathology, such as narcissism, but an unalterable aspect of the human condition. It is wired into our nature, not through the instinct of aggression or territoriality, but because the very logical structure of the world demands it."

But what would Sancho say to a man who refuses to ride in front, even though he is much more qualified to do so than his companion? This is the nub of the 2004 political choice in Bush vs. Kerry: will America take on this role in the world, or slough it off in the name of a misguided sense of multilateralism? For reasons that Harris eloquently and lucidly delineates in Civilization and Its Enemies, the choice could reverberate for decades, if not centuries.

Daniel Pipes has called Lee Harris "the reigning philosopher of 9/11." With good reason. This book is an unusually clear-eyed recapitulation of the core principles from which civilization must be depended today - principles which, if lost, will take that civilization down with them.


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