If one is not actively trying to convert the other, professing good and evil, pushing revelation, is one having a political conversation? and can politics ever approximate an ideally-disinterested academic discussion, with its ways of mixing disinterested commentary and particular confessional statements?
A political conversation implies interests – so there’s an initial fundamental contradiction between any disinterested search for truth (philosophy) and politics.
I’m attempting to apply insights from a recent reading of ON TYRANNY here:
The exception, or axis of exception, would arise if we presume, along with Kojève/Hegel, that in fact the most fundamental determinations have already been reached, in which case the only remaining question is advancing the realization in time, through politics, of those determinations, on the way to what Kojève defines as the “universal homogeneous state” embodying the “rights of man.” In that sense there would be no essential philosophical argument (or conversion) still to be sought, while any radical critique of the Islamic tradition will simultaneously undermine the Judeo-Christian or any other tradition wherever it contradicts the final, fundamental, unchanging determinations which also equate with a dissolution of the philosophy/politics opposition.
Put differently: If we’re engaging in a political discussion with reference to Islam (always an Islamism, rather than the whole of Islam), in the interest of conversion, what precisely are we seeking to convert each other to? If it’s not a shared commitment to universal freedoms, then it’s the substitution or superimposition by force of one arbitrary, contingent ideological or pre-philosophical set of interests in place of another – the familiar tyranny in place of the foreign one, two mutually alien creeds, deformed by the struggle until broken in blood and violently readied for the determinedly resisted synthesis.
guilt to be productive needs to be freely accepted as part of one’s understanding of a shared covenant. Does it also have to be freely offered?
Perhaps at some point you can expand on this question and why you see guilt as fundamental conceptually or practically.
And yet, at the end of the day, one has to be able to acknowledge on some level that the Nazi movement was some kind of perversion of the Christian (or Judeo-Christian) tradition. But to be confident in calling it a perversion, I have to have some decided sense of what Christianity (or the Jewish model of nationhood) properly entails. On what grounds might I claim such? Are broad brush strokes only to be allowed or encouraged of charitable interpretations?
On this example, I want to note that there’s probably at least as good an argument – historical, theological, philosophical – for placing Islam within the Judeo-Christian tradition as there is for placing Nazism within it. When we speak of Judeo-Christianity, are we referring to a vast and complex body of often (extremely, pervasively) violently contradictory interpretations, or are we presuming that we have in hand an essence of Judeo-Christian philosophy and ethics? If the latter, then how, after subsuming all of those contradictions, can we possibly exclude an Islamic essence from the same unity on the basis of the same willingness to set aside mountains (mountain ranges, continental shelves, asteroid belts, galaxies…) of inconvenient particulars?
The theoretical unity of the Abrahamic faiths will end up coinciding with the propositions of the universal homogeneous state – and will include “secular humanism” and “liberal democracy.” At some point, we will even discover (or re-uncover) and merely accept the universal dimensions of Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, and other forbidden ideologies: Currently, we prepare ourselves for the acknowledgment in the ever-lessening shock response to self-consciously provocative satire, bizarre jokes and uncomprehended fads (e.g., human-annihilating zombie and vampire culture, “post-human” science fiction); the outbursts of artists and other societal mavericks (possibly including political bloggers, too); and possibly even the acts of terrorists, whose (an)nihilistic acts are if nothing else ecumenical (they kill everyone without regard for ethnicity, religion, profession, caste), and are offered explicitly on behalf of (another) utopian universalism.
[Y]ou seem to allow for what you reject elsewhere (at least in the domain of political speech): generalization about the nature of Islam “as such”.
I wasn’t advocating generalization about Islam as such, though I was explicitly pointing to a post-Islamist discourse in which “characteristics” of Islam could be usefully invoked. In that sense, we would be indirectly invoking the essence, but I would never claim that we could avoid doing so. When I pet my dog Annie, humanity offers affection to the canine, but, all the same, it’s my dog that’s getting petted, not yours. In some contexts, the abstraction is relevant, in others not. See above discussion for the problems that arise when we climb too high up the ladder of essences.
To be clear, I’ve never advocated that we avoid discussion, at whatever appropriate levels of abstraction, of historical Islam or particular interpretations of Islam, only that we take care about oppressively over-generalizing/collectivizing, especially when the very nature of our political claim against Islamism is its oppressively collectivizing character. (I don’t know how many different ways I can come up with for saying the same thing – I fear I could spend the rest of my life doing so.)
I suppose you recognize that on some level we must be able to talk about an Islam “problem” – the very nature of the Koran as a response to pre-existing forms of monotheism constitutes the problem which Islam generally discusses in terms of the turning away of historical Jews and Christians from the eternal truth of Islam.
Like Judaism, with its impressively “jealous” and frequently genocidal deity? Like Christianity, which, once it had made sufficient use of Judaism during itw own formative period, defined itself with often overwhelming aggression and cruelty towards Judaism (likewise deniers of the “truth” who should have been the first to affirms it), as well as toward, b) heretics, and c) all other competitive (primitive, atheist, etc., etc.) faiths and traditions? The xenophobic, exclusionary impetus is likely an inherent feature of any revolutionary would-be universal ideology. What the Islamophobes most hate about Islamism is what they forget and actively suppress in their own heritage and operative self-definitions, and now, in the usual pattern, compulsively re-enact. In this sense, Islamophobia is self-hatred.
But just how can we begin to imagine a world in which Islam – and I think the vast majority of Muslims would recognize that Islam has at least some political dimensions – is not politicized, least of all in a country founded as a self-ruling republic with a deep populist impulse…?
Again, I’m not arguing that we pretend that there is no “politicized Islam” to deal with. I am arguing that we should – for good intellectual, moral, and strategic reasons – consistently identify what we are dealing with as “politicized Islam” (by uniform and player number), not “Islam as such.”
Just how can the problems you recognize – “valid and inevitable responses getting channeled into counterproductive pathways” – be mediated productively by those with the kinds of bona fides you seem to desire?
A theme to be developed – or are you pointing to a systematic conceptual flaw?
As we seek to inflect the valid and inevitable response, do we not have to defer more to the kind of polarized world in which we now live?
Does “defer” mean “give in,” or does it mean “be aware of”? Either way, can the “polarized world” be an objective fact, or is it merely a perception?
You do seem to want to hold us to high standards by which a liberal society functions, to demand observance of a shared covenant for protecting the other’s freedom, a covenant which should produce in us a high degree of guilt that we may sustain our responsibilities.
What would you say to the hypothesis that the only way we are going to get a renewal of shared covenants by which civil society can evolve and mediate present tensions is if we all learn to affirm a good deal of guilt and that this must entail all of us, including Muslims, better seeing and recognizing (our) victims and the potential for victimization in the very founding revelation and forms of our religious and political faiths? If one allows for some such hypothesis, one must then return to the question of what kind of politics will be more likely to produce it in a (populist) constitutional democracy like the USA. I am not convinced that your seeming ode to the era of liberal experts centering public discussion has still the means to create new iconic persons and memorable events that will redefine civil society and make personal what ultimately must become personal.
I’m not convinced that “guilt” has to be the Big Enforcer. Why not “enlightened self-interest” or “non-zero sum” negotiation? I’m not sure where I composed an ode to liberal expertise. As for “iconic persons and memorable events,” I doubt that it’s within any individual’s means to set about creating them, or to know for sure who or what creates them or would more likely or more quickly bring them forward. Isn’t the agency collective, if it’s an agency at all, operating in historical and culturally evolutionary time? If it is political, then it would be politics stepping beyond politics to re-define the terms of politics. That’s either a double bind, a paradox, a logical fallacy, or an operation that would take place at the extreme limit of (current) politics, at maximum instability and reversibility – liberal universalism instantaneously reverting to reactionary parochialism. That danger may be unavoidable, but negotiating it, if possible at all, would call for thinking and action at a “very high standard.”
Scruton does refer to the situation in the UK and the problem of Islamism but it’s unfair to write him off because he seeks some general application for an understanding of core Islamic concepts like the waqf.
Not writing him off – just not feeling ready to discuss his work usefully.
Whatever the diversity in the ways of being an Islamic society, it’s surely the case that one can identify much which is generally characteristic of Muslim-dominated societies, in comparison to others.
Possibly, but, where lacking a radical and comprehensive re-examination of the general characteristics of non-Muslim dominated societies, very highly likely to be a merely contingent and ideological attempt to advance particular interests.
And surely it is important to note and discuss these things, politically and otherwise.
Maybe – not proved – but dangerous to the precise extent it’s important. At the same time, to presume the urgency of the discussion also seems to presume our unreadiness for it.
I presume that the larger discussion, our discussion in particular, may well be completely pointless – not political – though that wouldn’t be a reason against pursuing it, in the absence of something better to do. It may be that a firmer basis for going forward is to resist the imposition of bad objectives on our political and intellectual lives – that the perversion of free inquiry is a much greater danger to us than, for example, any aspect of Islamism that could possibly be effectively addressed by a direct intellectual assault on its perceived manifestations.
Can you in any way begin to imagine what this [universalized, absorbed] Sharia (sacred) law would look like?
Sure. I can imagine that it would be absorbed into the Kojevian universal homogeneous state through the same synthesizing, simultaneously ambiguating and clarifying, self-interested and mystical re-articulation of text/context that has been performed repeatedly and ever more pervasively in regard to the sacred texts (and tests) of every other faith, including especially the Abrahamic faiths.
How will it get around the problem that Islam, I think we can generalize, does not have an easy time thinking of itself as a historically-unfolding revelation?
Similarly to the manner in which the other faith traditions have been progressively compelled to confront/synthesize their own historicity.
As far as I am aware no school of fiqh allows for continual reinterpretation of its classical jurisprudence. Rather Islamic law evolves not so much by secularization – representing the old sacred in some distinctively new dress – but rather through the “Islamization” of new knowledge, through attempts to maintain the sacred forms of the original revelation and its classical interpretations. Or is this just another false generalization – but how could you prove it if so (what measure of sameness or difference could convince me? must you not offer also a politicized faith?)
The particular tends to disprove the false generalization: The lack of a central Islamic authority that you point to in other contexts (representation) and that others point to in relation to other difficulties (every Tom, Dick, and Osama firing off a fatwa), would mean that Islamic practice would be on one level highly vulnerable to self-interested re-generation. The actual lives of actual Muslims in non-Sharia societies or from within Sharia societies interacting with non-Sharia societies already requires one trillion compromises every day – whatever Imam #35711 chooses to say about any of them today or tomorrow. For that matter, the actual lives of Mohammed and of every other figure deemed worthy of emulation, as well as their sayings and writings, will also always and inevitably be comprised of and recapitulate such compromises.
Totalitarian Sharia is just as impractical – that is, impossible – as every other totalizing ideology, which is why committed totalitarians sooner or later always destroy themselves. Totalitarianism can be tried, but it never comes into existence, and collapses as the dawning awareness of its impossibility becomes inescapable to all but a psychopathic remnant: The “child grows up and becomes just another adult” (the Nazi turns his attention to the surer solaces and rewards of larceny).
The universal homogeneous state has also been associated with totalitarianism, but totalitarianism as attempted has been another set of exercises in naive literalism-fundamentalism, annihilating violence being the by-product of the energetic effort to realize the absurd and impossible direct and remainderless conformation of text to context.