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Will civilization decide to fight the enemies of civilization?

Will civilization decide to fight the enemies of civilization?

Civilization and the ruthless

Lee Harris’s book Civilization and its Enemies: The Next Stage of History first came out in 2004. 2004 seems like a long time ago. And in a sense it is: ten years. But Harris’s book has only grown more topical every day.

That’s unfortunate, because it’s not a book that offers a lot of comfort. But his writing is insightful, so thoughtful and yet compressed that it’s one of those books where the reader would do well to pause every paragraph or so in order to contemplate and digest what has just been said.

Here’s an excerpt. In the passage that follows, Harris has previously defined his use of the word “ruthlessness” as meaning “dreadfulness, frightfulness, horror, horribleness, terror, terribleness, atrociousness, atrocity”:

…[T]he more the spirit of commerce triumphs, the closer mankind comes to dispensing with war, the nearer we approach the end of history, the greater are the rewards to those who decide to return to the path of war, and the easier it will be for them to conquer. There is nothing that can be done to change this fact; it is built into the structure of the world…

People who have been trained in the practice of civility, and who find it second nature, will be reluctant to challenge the conduct of another on the ground that he is lacking civility The ruthless party therefore knows that he will be able to push very far before a break point is openly acknowledged Because once the break point is acknowledged, all bets are off and you no longer can be sure of the next step.

Before the break point, the civil party thinks that the ruthless party can be accommodated to civilized standards by means of patience and forbearance, much in the same way that we might try to domesticate a feral animal. We are convinced we will bring him around. We attribute his ruthlessness to some defect in is psychology. Perhaps he has an inferiority complex and is acting out with us. (Who knows, he may have had a wicked stepfather somewhere in his childhood.) We may blame ruthlessness on someone’s religion or culture or economic status. We never dream of identifying it for what it is—a strategy that works.

Every society, every culture, every civilization has produced exponents of ruthlessness; none has a monopoly on it. None will ever find a way of eliminating those who are prepared to resort to ruthlessness, as long as it continues to work, and it will continue to work so long as men civilize themselves, and to work all the more effectively whenever a civilization has succeeded so well in its civilizing task that it believes itself within sight of the end of history, because at no time is ruthlessness more effective. It works in some cases because its victims are easy to cow, in some cases because they genuinely can’t fathom ruthlessness, and in some cases because their idealism refuses to countenance such an illiberal truth.

Harris’ point is not just about Islamic terrorism, although that was the impetus for his book and it fits it quite well.

He is saying that in a world of civilized, peace-loving, westernized nations who have put aside their own ruthlessness or at least come to disapprove of it and be reluctant to use it, the ruthless group which is willing to stop at nothing will wield an inordinate amount of power, and that the rest of the world will be very slow to meet it with enough ruthlessness to stop it.

The paradox is that, if we want to preserve a so-called civilized world, we must be prepared to be bloody-minded at times, and to remember the laws of the copybook headings:

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

It originally seemed that 9/11 might have been such a breaking point.

The rise of ISIS and its eagerness to use (and revel in) extreme brutality could be another.

But there is a possibility that the western world has now become so “civilized” and so resistant to thinking ill of other cultures that even ISIS is not enough to get us to defend ourselves and the civilization and civility we profess to prize.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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the Left, like the headbangers, hate western culture, so they see the moose slimes as their allies.

they won’t figure out what’s wrong with that picture until the knife is cutting their throat.

Doug Wright Old Grouchy | September 2, 2014 at 7:03 pm

Nah, not with our President Obama leading from Martha’s golf courses. What the heck, nothings going to negatively effect Obama’s perks and benefits, will it?

The dictionary defines ‘ruth’ as a feeling of pity, distress, or grief.

Ruthless is therefore without pity, feeling, remorse and without conscience.

As the Jewish character in a Bible film said, watching ancient Islamists thrash a thief and cut off his hand, “There is no mercy or forgiveness with them.”

I’ve decided Islam is an institutionalized, trained, conditioned ‘ruthlessness’ – a sociopathological condition in which the patient does not, cannot feel pity, empathy or love.

    Uncle Samuel in reply to Uncle Samuel. | September 2, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    Perhaps Obama’s apparent detachment and ability to skip off to the golf course or fund raiser while Americans are under threat or dying, is a symptom of ‘ruthlessness’ too, an inability to care, feel empathy for the suffering, torture, deaths of people in the paths of the Arab Spring, which is when all the slaughter and torture of Christians began.

    Muslim Brotherhood were doing the same vile things as ISIS (on a smaller scale) in Egypt before the Egyptians threw them out. Islamists killed, shot, stabbed, burned, bombed, raped, kidnapped and crucified Christians from one end of Africa to the other during the Arab Spring.

    ISIS is Islam and Islam is ISIS.

    I’ve decided Islam is an institutionalized, trained, conditioned ‘ruthlessness’ – a sociopathological condition in which the patient does not, cannot feel pity, empathy or love.

    That has been my experience with mohammedan society from when I worked in the Middle East. Individuals vary, but the trend to apathetic coldness was palpable.

They won’t figure it out even as the knife goes deep into their necks. They are willing to perish and take all with them rather than abandon their beliefs. They “study war no more” to the point of not knowing what it takes to war against… gasp…. “evil”. Pericles talked of good men having to go to war to be able to return to peace. Life is too dear these days that chains are becoming comfortable.

Those of us who insist on living in Realville CONDITIONALLY will live in “civilization” so long as the CONDITIONS for our forbearance are met. We ARE, after all, the AUTHORS of “civilization” in its best, highest expression. We fought, died, and killed for it, and then we extended to to all the rest of humanity. CONDITIONALLY.

But we maintain the ability and the RESOLVE to put that resolution aside when a nation or an individual seeks to impose barbaric coercion against us.

We understand that the change of a millennium never changes human nature. Which is why we laugh grimly when we hear Pres. ScamWOW talk about how Putin is acting like someone from a former century. We know he is acting like a human being who has no commitment to “civility” in any time. We know that Ham-ass has embraced a barbarism today that they derive from ancient barbarity, and they simply have to be stopped. There is no “civilizing” people who have chosen to eschew it. They have called the tune, and we cannot pretend otherwise.

This separates us from the Collective, who believe that all people are as good as we are…or much better. And we have no moral right to oppose them by arms. They simply need to be understood and accommodated.

And this is a fatal, dangerous delusion that somehow persists after it has been repeatedly demonstrated to be just that.

    Walker Evans in reply to Ragspierre. | September 3, 2014 at 12:21 am

    That “collective” seems to think that if enough Red Lines are drawn it will make a difference … and it probably will. The only problem is it is the Islamic State that that is now drawing those lines – in blood.

    We should immediately recognize the Islamic State as a sovereign country. Then, since they would be a real country making war on us, we could take the appropriate steps to declare a real, legal war and wipe their barbaric selves off the planet!

    redc1c4 in reply to Ragspierre. | September 3, 2014 at 1:19 am

    well, if we get a chance to play a round of two of Cowboys and Moose Slimes, it could be very educational for whatever survivors are left on the other side…

We know the plan…Time for another speech!

IMO a lot of this pc civility crap can be traced back to our deciding to never really fight a war to win just after we dropped 2 weapons that worked.
korea was the first example.
then vietnam
and now.
there are evil people out there.
they need to be killed.

Powerful observations, thank you. Adding to this,the ruthless party is willing to say anything that works, while the civil party is willing to believe anything that’s said, so the breaking point doesn’t arrive until the civil party’s gullibility is exhausted. That can be a long time, depending on how self-deluded the civil party has trained itself to be. In the present case, that looks like it may be quite some time.

Unfortunately, we refuse to see how such fights were waged in the past.

We didn’t fight “extreme Naziism”; we fought ALL Naziism.

We didn’t say that “moderate Nazis” are not a threat.

We didn’t try to avoid saying the word “Nazi.”

We didn’t try to “Liberate the German people from their government”; we just plain went to war. (And think of Japan! If we had tried to liberate the Japanese people from their government, we’d still be fighting that war today.)

We didn’t have a massive sector of our population who “respect Naziism, because, y’know, the Germans have contributed a lot to civilization, and you’re just a racist!”

    Deodorant in reply to RKae. | September 3, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Unfortunately, you understanding of history stopped with the fairy tales you were taught in grade school.

    The US, especially conservatives, were unwilling to fight Naziism at all until Pearl Harbor was attacked and then Hitler declared war on us.

    We had a massive sector of our population (conservatives) that didn’t want to get involved except to sell materiel to both sides.

    “America First”

Harris seems to have missed the fact that there are benefits in remaining civilized. 2000+ were killed in 9/11. In our desire to fight back, we killed many more innocents. We also invaded the wrong country. The current situation can be directly traced to the bumbling that followed that.

It might also be worth considering that bin Laden did not attack us until after we had stationed troops in Saudi Arabia to free that great paragon of freedom, Kuwait. We did need the oil and we were unwilling to considere alternatives. Very civilized. High principles.

Is this tape of you?

Serious question…