Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Lee Harris on the Pax Americana

Over the past few days I have been eagerly reading Lee Harris' Civilization and its Enemies: The Next Stage of History (2004). So many of my best book acquisitions have been from randomly browsing bookstore shelves.

Harris' book is based on three controversial articles he wrote for Policy Review that elicited much praise and dismissal (see the customer reviews at Amazon.com). While his thought is founded on pagan and secular political ideas, and is accordingly limited in its usefulness for Christian political theory, Harris lays out a sound framework for understanding our present place in the post 9/11 world. Arguing from a broad knowledge of ancient and modern history, Harris employs classical political theory to formulate good working definitions of civilization, legitimate government (based on his principle of neo-sovereignty), and the "enemies of civilization" (i.e., those who would overturn the established order to realize a new order based on fantasist ideology).

Here is Harris on the international role of the United States:

"There is one way of defending against an enemy who is prepared to use total war as a deliberate strategy of ruthlessness, and that is to have a nation whose military strength is equal or greater that is willing to use total war as a deliberate strategy against ruthlessness.

"This was to become the secret of the Pax Americana. America would be willing to use its entire resources, if necessary--indeed, even to suffer a nucear attack if need be--in order to make sure that no enemy was allowed to get away with a stategy of deliberate ruthlessness. Nowhere was this policy of ruthlessness against ruthlessness better displayed than during the Cold War, when the free world faced off against the threat of a ruthless regime armed with virtually instantaneously deliverable nuclear warheads on the tips of Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles. This is perhaps the ultimate in ruthlessness--to threaten not merely another Great War, but a nuclear holocaust. How do you call someone's bluff when they are bluffing that?


"Prior to MAD [Mutually Assured Destruction], ours had always been a government of checks and balances, one designed to force an automatic slowdown on any too-precipitate action on the part of any one branch of government. The president, it is true, was constituted as commander-in-chief, but this function was originally envisioned as requiring the deliberative approval of the Senate. With the advent of the threat of nuclear surprise attack, the United States faced a brutal and utterly unavoidable choice. Either it had to renounce any plausible deterrence against a surprise attack, or else it had to permit the president to exercize powers that were literally beyond human comprehension--not merely the power to launch a unilateral attack on a single nation but the unilateral power to annihilate vast sections of the planet.

"The Constitution did not grant such power, nor could the men who framed the Constitution possibly have envisioned such power. Indeed, the mere possibility of such power would, for these men, have almost certainly spelled the demise of the system they had envisioned, for how could anyone hope to restrain or check a man to whom such ultimate and absolute power had been given?

"The advent of the threat of nuclear surprise attack left us no realistic option other than to entrust such power to the President of the United States, and to do so in the face of all our previous ethical and political ideals...

"Dominance is not necessarily domination. The whole point and value of American supremacy is not to permit America to manage the world or impose its will or its own culture on others. Empire is most emphatically not what American power should be used for...

"Indeed, any such activity on the part of the United States would be counterproductive to its genuine purpose, which is to deter the renewals of the strategy of deliberate ruthlessnes through the world, for the good of both itself and the world. America, in short, must use its power, unilaterally if need be, to destroy and remove any group of people who are deliberately and consciously following a policy of ruthlessness, whether this group is a state against another state, a state against its own people, or an Al-Qaeda-like organization...

"[T]he United States represents the ultimate source of legitimacy in the world and that if its legitimacy is challenged, or subverted, then the world will enter into precisely the kind of legitimacy crisis that Europe entered into after the First World War, when cults of ruthlessness sprang up in the vacuum left by the collapse of four empires, and ending in the holocaust of the Second World War. All legitimacy crises in mankind's history, without exception, have provided the perfect environment for the incubation and rise of gang rule [i.e., like the Communists, Nazis and Fascists].

"This point must be stressed, because intellectuals instinctively believe that for legitimacy to be valid it must be based on a reason. It is not enough, in other words, to have people believe that an authority is legitimate for it to be legitimate by the standards of the intellectual. But in taking this position, the intellectual does not realize that he has already transformed himself into a revolutionary intent on subverting the accepted order of things...

"We are now living in a world where decent and sincere men and women attack the United States for removing Saddam Hussein, the archetype of the ruthless gang leader, who brutalized twenty million people for three decades. They condemn the United States for declaring a war on terrorism--which is simply the contemporary form of the age-old war on the cult of ruthlessness, a cult that is the enemy of all the diverse and distinct cultures of mankind.

"Here is a good way to tell whether you are standing on the right side of history. Do you want to see the rule by gang go the way of slavery and be driven from the fae of the earth, or do you believe that rule by gang is a natural right? Those who argue that the United States should not attack Saddam Hussein's Iraq because of the sacred right of national sovereignty should perhaps remember the reputation today of those who in the past justified the property rights of slaveholders. What is the difference, except scale? There may be good conservative reasons for preserving a wicked status quo, but there are no liberal progressive ones. And while it may well be prudent in some cases to try to contain ruthless gangs that are in power rather than to remove them, this can at best be an act of expediency, and never one of morality."

Lee Harris, Civilization and its Enemies, pp. 104-108, 110, 112
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?

And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now holdeth back will hold back, until he be taken out of the way.

And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all the deceit of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
St. Paul, 2 Thess. 2:3-15


Anonymous said...
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John said...

Hi Im from Melbourne Australia. I much prefer this assessment of the state of the world.



John said...

John again. Shorten the last reference to