Civilisation and War

Probably he didn’t recall Napoleon’s invocation ‘Gentlemen we are introducing the Egyptians to civilisation’ during the battle of the Pyramids in 1798, just before a French cannonball ripped through the nose of the Sphinx. Napoleon brought with him 200 savants – professors and intellectuals whose task was to map out the country intellectually. ‘Donkeys and professors to the rear,’ the command went out whenever the advancing French columns were attacked by the Mameluk horsemen en route to Cairo. Civilisation was a word that had only recently been coined. Behind the very concept, wrote Bernard Williams, lay the general spirit of the Enlightenment; it carried a moral purpose which was quite new: history as the story of Progress. And civilisation from the very beginning has been associated with two other concepts: barbarism and war. Taming the barbarians has been one of civilisation’s many tasks.

If only we h...

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Christopher Coker

Professor i internationella relationer vid London School of Economics.

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