A Civics 101 treatise on why we’re good and terrorists and their pals are bad.
Once upon a time, human societies—oh, say, Sparta—found it necessary to declare certain humans enemies, chase them down, and kill them, maybe enslaving their women and keeping their toys in the bargain. But then, over time, certain soft, pampered, and overindulgent societies came to discover that they had forgotten that, in Woody Allen’s resonant phrase, even paranoiacs have enemies. “They forget, in short, that there has ever been a category of human experience called the enemy,” intones independent pundit Harris, whose recent articles in Policy Review prefigure this extended essay. “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.” Well, perhaps, except that recent presidents up to and including the much-despised Bill Clinton identified plenty of enemies for us to worry about, not least of them the Soviet Union. The notion that anyone really imagined that the world was a safe and flower-paved place is arguable enough, but Harris nonetheless likens us dumb, hapless latter-day Americans to the ancient Aztecs, who had no way of explaining what happened to them when old Cortez came along; just so, the awful sight of civilian airliners flying into tall buildings confronted us with a baffling enigma that put our language and thinking all out of whack. It makes your head hurt, after all, to imagine fighting a just war against people who don’t play by the rules. Harris offers, by way of a remedy for our confusion, a tour through the pages of Plato and the “gang ethos” of ancient Greece, a crash course in Roman ideas of patriotism and Hegelian logic, a discourse on al-Qaeda symbology and the virtues of the free market and, to boot, a few asides on the Imperial training in Frank Herbert’s Dune—all apparently meant to reassure readers that we are civilized and they are not, and that the US represents the last best hope of all who would be civilized in the future, “a practical design for the next stage of human history: a utopia that works.”
If Bushite cheerleading mixed with sort-of-learned allusion is your bag, then this is for you.