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Charlie Hebdo

Bill Moyers: This barbarism we see today, the rise of radical elements of Islam. What good is humanism against it?

Clive James: Well, the constant message of my book is that you must pursue humanism for its own sake. A utilitarian view won’t work. You’ve got to know and love these things for its own sake.

There’s no guarantee that civilization will continue. It’s always shown fairly robust signs of being able to overcome any kind of totalitarian organization. The interesting thing about World War II was that the Nazis were quite well organized and the Japanese were quite well organized — compared with, say, the U.S. and Britain at the start of the war, which weren’t organized at all. I mean, the U.S. had a smaller armed forces than Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s.

But within a very short time the democracies organized themselves better. There’s something about the creative force of liberal democracy which gives you hope that it can overcome any challenge including terrorism.

I’m sure terrorism can punch very large holes in western civilization and probably will. Let’s be fatalistic: yeah, it’s very hard to stop a bomber who’s ready to kill himself — very hard. But there’s every reason to think that civilization is simply too strong to be brought down by terrorist activity. But I don’t want to foist on you any false hopes; and it would be a false hope to say that if you learn enough, if you love Botticelli enough, if you listen to Beethoven enough then the enemy will retreat. It’s not going to happen.

Clive James 2


Clive James and Bill Moyers, talking on Bill Moyers Journal on August 3rd, 2007.