Sands of Empire

Anne-Marie Slaughter's review of my book, Sands of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy and the Hazards of Global Ambition, reviewed alongside volumes by Clyde Prestowitz and George Weigel (Book World, July 17), was about what one would expect from the dean of an institution as soaked in political correctness as Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. Unforeseen, though, was the offensive cover art and headline employed to caricature the authors' views.

Slaughter recoils at the thought that the cultures of the world's distinct civilizations could be sufficiently powerful and cherished by the peoples of those civilizations that they could generate cultural conflicts around the world. She is not alone. But her particular ideological fervor is manifest in this sentence: "Arguments about the inevitable clash of civilizations . . . have an ugly essentialist quality, running directly counter to the American creed that liberty, democracy and human dignity are universal values." Parse this lack of analytical rigor: If you hold dear the political ideals of your country and the West, then you couldn't possibly think that those from other civilizations would want to harm you. Been to London lately, ma'am?

The cover art showed panicked people fleeing saucer-like Muslim turbans descending from the skies, with the headline: "The Muslims are Coming!: Anne-Marie Slaughter on the New Fear-Mongering." I have no idea what aspects of the three books under review this is designed to capture. The immigration issue? My 320-page book, which calls for an appreciation for the essentials of other civilizations, devotes all of six paragraphs to that subject. The threat of Islamist attacks on American soil? Then it is simply tasteless. Either way, this display doesn't reflect even a semblance of good faith in seeking to capture these books honestly. It besmirches The Post far more than it does me or the other authors.


McLean, Va.

Anne-Marie Slaughter makes the puzzling point that there is no preferential option for Christianity as the basis of Western civilization. Pointing to the slow American evolution from early Calvinism to enlightened pluralist democracy, she says that such democracy is achieved "only by taking Christianity, or any other religion, completely out of public life." Leaving aside the larger question of how much vestigial Christianity keeps American society civilized, one cannot fail to notice that it is precisely the Christian respect for persons that made the American republic possible.

While Slaughter urges Weigel to review his American history, she would do well to look closely at the origins of her own university. At Princeton's founding in 1746, the Calvinist theocrats she disdains wrote a charter containing this sentence: "The most effectual Care is taken in our Charter to secure the Rights of Conscience; persons of all persuasions are to have free access to the Honours & Privileges of the College, while they behave themselves with Sobriety and Virtue." It has been 260 years since those words were written in the college where she is a dean. I wonder whether she would find a similar statement in the universities of the Islamic world.


Chevy Chase, Md.

Anne-Marie Slaughter replies:

As I predicted, daring to suggest that an insistence on an inevitable clash of civilizations can easily slide into racism immediately brings countercharges of political correctness and a refusal to face reality. Robert W. Merry has obliged on both fronts, accusing not only me but Princeton's Wilson School of political correctness and referring us all to the London bombings as proof of his thesis. This insistence on reducing any effort to discuss the deeper issues underlying an argument about Islam versus the West to an American partisan debate unfortunately obscures a debate we need to have about the intersection of culture and politics.

As Americans, our love of country is deeply connected to the notion that our values of liberty, democracy and equality are not simply an artifact of American or even Western civilization; they are universal. Perhaps we are wrong, but if so, the implications will create shockwaves at home as well as abroad. Moreover, looking at London as intra-civilizational warfare obscures the far greater number of deaths from terrorism occurring weekly in Iraq -- a war within Islam. It also denies the possibility that the London bombings had as much to do with the failure of British society to live up to its own principles of equality and opportunity in integrating Muslims as it does with unquenchable religious fervor.

With respect to Joseph R. McCleary's letter, I could not be prouder of Princeton's heritage of tolerance and interaction of all faiths and all races in pursuit of learning, although I would note that it took the university more than two centuries to extend to Jews and African Americans of any faith the tolerance that John Witherspoon was prepared to accord other Protestant sects. This tradition of tolerance was best preserved for all of Western civilization by the Islamic world. When Ferdinand and Isabella cast the Jews out of Spain in 1492, thereby ending the extraordinary civilization that gave us the Alhambra, among other treasures, the exiled Jewish scholars took refuge at Islamic universities in Morocco, Constantinople, and throughout the Islamic world, as did Protestant scholars fleeing the Inquisition. These universities had long welcomed Jews, Christians and Muslims as equal participants in the advancements of science, law and mathematics for which Islamic civilization is justly celebrated. That Mr. McCleary seems unaware of this tradition emphasizes one of the dangers of stereotyping civilizations too readily. It may well be true that many Islamic universities today are less tolerant than our own. If so, we can only hope that just as Islam preserved and advanced human progress during what Westerners regard as our own pre-Renaissance "Dark Ages," Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian civilization may return the favor today.

Remembering Lincoln

Thank you for the reviews of three books on President Abraham Lincoln (July 3). On the occasion of the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, I am reminded of one of Lincoln's greatest disappointments of his presidency. Following the battle and subsequent retreat of Gen. Robert E. Lee and his army, Union commander Gen. George G. Meade and his victorious Army of the Potomac pursued Lee to Williamsport, Maryland. When Meade hesitated to attack Lee, the Confederate general was able to get his forces across the Potomac River back to the safety of his home territory.

When Lincoln heard that Lee had escaped, he was inconsolable. The president had given orders that Lee's army should be pursued and destroyed. Meade, however, took the advice of his subordinate commanders not to attack Lee's strong defensive position at Williamsport.

Lincoln proceeded to write a scathing letter to Meade expressing his profound disappointment in his failure to crush Lee's army once and for all. But Lincoln, as was sometimes his habit, placed the letter in a drawer and never sent it to Meade. Instead, the president reconciled himself to the reality that the war would continue, which it did for almost two more years.

This was an example of how the expectations of presidents are sometimes compromised by the realities of combat forces and commanders in the field.


Bethany Beach, Del.

Detail from Book World