Re: Preface - a discussion!
I enjoyed Harris' preface and look forward to how he develops his ideas. I especially liked how he points out that we do not choose our own agenda in the world in relation to who or why we have an "enemy". This is a point that I think that we often forget. The other things in the preface that struck my attention are:
1) Harris says that mankind has always thought of the enemy as someone who if you do not kill first will kill you. Has he left out a second category of the enemy? What about those who decide someone is their enemy because they want to kill them to get something they have, despite the fact that they are in no danger that the enemy will ever kill or attack them? (e.g., Hitler's decision to attack in the east to create "living space". The Germans, no doubt, thought of the Czechs and Poles as the enemy although they were not in danger of either state killing them in the future.)
2) In defending itself against the enemy, Harris says that a community needs "... a single man to make instant decisions" and it needs to be trained to "... respond to his commands with unthinking obedience". Does this preclude the community from reflectively thinking about and making judgments on this leader's decisions after the necessities of immediate obedience have been met? (i.e., Is it better for a community to be able to replace a leader it has decided is incompetent or mediocre with a superior leader or continue with unquestioning obedience?)
3) Harris defines the highest values that civilized life has to offer as: tolerance, individual liberty, government by consensus, and rational cooperation. He seems to assert this as if it is inherently obvious. Is that so? Many Western critics of democratic capitalism seem to suggest otherwise; not to mention those in the East.
4) I wonder about Harris' use of peasant dilemma presented by 'The Seven Samurai'. Here, Harris seems to presuppose the need for a trained, specialized warrior class and standing army. In his scenario, the peasants would have no need of the samurai if they were capable of defending themselves against the raiding gang of bandits. If they were capable of such self-defense, then the problem of developing and controlling your own "gangsters" goes away.
This is important because throughout history societies have not normally required, or at least used, professional standing armies. The dilemma he presents is definitely a real one (exhibited by our own founding fathers' debate over the need and size of a standing army and its inherent dangers), but one not necessarily faced by all civilizations at all times in human history. I can see Harris potentially drawing incorrect conclusions from his view that this choice "... has been the lot of most of mankind".
5) From the above, Harris also seems to make a jump to the "code of honor". He says that the code of honor must be an unquestioned law governing the community. But why does the code of honor have to govern the community? Is it not enough for the code of honor to only govern the warrior class (if one is even needed)?
To take Harris' example: it does not matter if the peasants in 'The Seven Samurai' live by and follow the samurai code -- they don't have the arms and training necessary to dominate their neighbors; it is only important that the samurai follow it. And this has potentially important implications. Harris says that a code cannot be chosen by us because then we may opt out of it since we see it as an option. But if only our warriors need the code, then can't the civilian population rationally chose which code to implant into them. The example of the US military comes immediately to mind. The military has explicitly chosen a code to follow (and it even explicitly acknowledges the underlying reasons for their code). When someone joins the US military, they often do not follow anything close to that code; but our experience shows that through rigorous training and promotion we can embed this code of honor within them.
6) Lastly, Harris states that the enemy requires the cultivation of "unthinking personal loyalty to a leader", at least among our warriors. But is this so? It seems that in our society we have been successful in cultivating an "unthinking personal loyalty to an IDEAL". Many in our military may not have any sense of personal loyalty to our leader, in fact, some may even dislike/hate him (e.g., the opinion of some in the US military during the Clinton Presidency); but they still unquestionably follow his orders base upon a higher/more important loyalty to the idea of the United States of America.
This seems important because not only does it open up other potential directions for the development of a communities code of honor, but it might also be far less dangerous than that suggested by Harris. (I can't stop thinking about all the civil wars of the Roman Empire that could have been avoided if her soldiers were more loyal to Rome than to their particular general.)