Stone Mountain, 2003
Even if I disagree with his conclusions, it is always a pleasure to read a Lee Harris book. I never fail to learn something new. After reviewing The Next American Civil War in August, I decided to go back and read Civilization and Its Enemies, an earlier book published in 2003 which has been sitting on my bookshelf for several years.
I’ve made no secret of my belief that most intellectuals a complete waste of time. In Civilization and Its Enemies, Harris explains how misguided intellectuals can be transformed into enemies of civilization. This is a theme he greatly expands upon in his most recent book. It was helpful to go back and read his earlier work to see how his thinking has evolved on the subject.
At first glance, Civilization and Its Enemies is about 9/11, Islam, and American foreign policy. A crude reader might pick up this book and dismiss it as neocon boilerplate after reading it for a few minutes. Likewise, The Next American Civil War was ostensibly about the Tea Party movement, but it was really a much deeper philosophical rumination on the origins and history of liberty.
According to Harris, civilizations die because of what he calls “forgetfulness.” White Nationalists will be inclined to agree with this analysis. Civilizations are built by tough, virtuous, practical men. They are lost by their degenerate, effete descendants who lose touch with reality and their own natural instincts.
In the West, the triumph of liberalism has led to a dangerous situation where intellectuals refuse to acknowledge the existence of that primordial category of men known as “the enemy.” The postwar liberal international order has collapsed from within. The primary cause is the unwillingness of the Islamic world to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Pax Americana.
The West has become the victim of its own success. It has established a liberal international order in which trade (as opposed to theft) is the preferred method of resolving disputes over natural resources. The willingness of the West to pay the Islamic “honorary states” for petroleum (as opposed to simply taking it with military force) has transfered fabulous wealth into the hands of religious fanatics.
Flush with Western cash, the Islamic world has lost touch with reality, and is lashing out against its own principal economic benefactor. Money comes out of the desert as if by magic. This has trapped millions of Muslims in a medieval state of mind. Unlike the West, the Islamic world never had to adapt to modernity to reap the benefits of modern science and technology.
Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are in the grips of what Lee Harris calls a “fantasy ideology.” This fantasy ideology is what enables them to overcome their own middle class inhibitions and resort to ruthless violence to realize their objectives. Fantasists treat others as props and weave reality into an all encompassing symbolic narrative. Their actions only acquire significance in terms of their own particular fantasy.
In the Second World War, the Japanese attacked the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor because of its clear strategic relevance to thwarting Japanese foreign policy objectives in East Asia. In contrast, al-Qaeda attacked the Pentagon and World Trade Center, not because of their strategic importance, but because those targets were prominent symbols of American power.
The purpose of the 9/11 attacks was for Muslims to demonstrate to other Muslims that Islam was capable of hobbling the Great Satan. No strategic objective was accomplished in the attacks. As Harris points out, if the goal was simply to instill enough fear into the American public to change our foreign policy, it could have been much easier – and far more terrifying – to blow up innumerable soft targets in the American Heartland, say, a Burger King in Arkansas or a Wal-Mart in Ohio.
That’s not what happened.
Harris believes that America must use its enormous military power to crush ruthless gangs of fanatics and uphold the liberal international order. This is necessary if the world is to reach the “next stage of history”: a “utopia that works.”
The “utopia that works” is a world organized along the American lines of “team cosmopolitanism” in which sources of division like race, religion, ethnicity, class, nationality, and ideology are contained and mollified. It is a world in which the “pockets of peacefulness” extend across the entire globe, protected by American military power, and the “cardinal virtues of civilization” such as “stability, spontaneous cooperation, tolerance of their neighbors, and abstention from violence as a way of settling conflicts” are allowed to flourish everywhere.
Harris identifies three major challenges to moving forward to “the next stage of history”:
1.) The United States cannot permit itself to become the arrogant empire its critics fear. Otherwise, it will lose its legitimacy to act as a “neo-sovereign” and contain threats (i.e., ruthless gangs driven by fantasy ideology) to the spread of civilization. It must act as a “first nation among equals.”
2.) Intellectuals in America and Europe must abandon the pursuit of abstract utopias and fantasy ideologies and return to the real world. They must cease their attack on the cultural foundations and real communities of the West. Otherwise, the “culture war” will discredit the Left and degenerate into civil war.
3.) Westerners must struggle to overcome the collective tendency of civilized men and women to “forgetfulness.” Otherwise, the Western civilization will lose touch with its own moorings and degenerate to the point of collapse.
Clearly, Lee Harris has become preoccupied with the second scenario in recent years, as the internal tension within America between Reds and Blues, Whites and non-Whites, is much greater today than it was in 2003.
All of this is fascinating.
I largely agree with this analysis. If civilization is to be extended across the world, then clearly the external and internal threats to that project must be contained.
It is the guts of the book, which could easily stand on their own, that I found the most relevant and fascinating. Harris takes the reader on a long winding history course from Sparta to the Roman Republic to Protestant Europe to the United States. The purpose of this history lesson is to show how “the team principle” gave birth to republican government and the modern business corporation.
The origins of liberty and property are discussed. There is an insightful discussion about the inherent antagonism between “the team principle” and the family that sheds considerable light on why intellectuals have pushed the former to such extremes.
Of all the useful concepts introduced in the book, I found the discussion about fantasy ideology and the illiberal underpinnings of liberal civilization to be the most fascinating.
White Nationalism is recognizably a “fantasy ideology” under the definition provided. It is a transformative belief. It is based on the pursuit of an abstract ideal – the White ethnostate. Reality is judged on the basis of that ideal and found lacking in various ways. Ordinary White people are judged negatively. Real White communities are seen as imperfections of the timeless Platonic ideal.
White Nationalists clearly desire to close the gap between reality and their abstract ideal; reality is assigned the task of adjusting. They are willing to resort to ruthless methods to separate the races. Countless examples come to mind of White Nationalists treating other as props and their unwillingness to communicate with people in terms of their own experience.
White Nationalism and Fantasy Ideology
Fantasy ideology cuts both ways. It has positive and negative aspects.
People whose minds are in the grip of an abstract ideal are capable of doing incredible things. It was “fantasy ideology” that drove Revolutionary France to victory on battlefields across Europe. The 9/11 hijackers were willing to die for their beliefs. Communism and National Socialism were able to motivate millions and change the course of history.
White Nationalists are willing to put racial altruism above their own immediate self interest. Some have given their lives in pursuit of their ideal racial utopia. In the grips of a fantasy ideology, White Nationalists are able to see serious flaws in the established liberal order that mainstream commentators are unwilling to acknowledge, namely the reality of racial differences, or the negative aspects of Jewish influence on White America.
Seeing White Nationalism as a “fantasy ideology” enables White Nationalists to take a step back and reexamine their own rhetoric. It allows them to see the shortcomings of their own perspective (i.e., unrealistic short term goals, the inability to communicate with moderates, unwillingness to engage the system) and adapt their methods to be more effective in accomplishing their goals in the real world.
The ideal would be to maximize the pluses of fantasy ideology while minimizing the minuses. Speaking for myself, I have profited from reading this book. I suspect you will too.