In Egypt, what Hussein Ibish calls “accommodation” would for Islamists, as well as for the felool, equate with capitulation, under the longer term prospect of extinction. This prospect is deemed intolerable, just as the proposed or traditional “accommodations” of liberal or other minority aspirations under Islamist or nationalist-authoritarian regimes may be perceived as intolerable to those “accommodated.”
As long as the liberal-seculars and the Islamists in Egypt view their belief systems as mutually exclusive except under the ultimate and effectively permanent neutralization of the adversary – as long as each sees the other as evil – the decision between them will be determined as a matter of the violent conversion of the errant believer that is for each held to be a foundational impossibility, so must develop under a mutually external power or authority. The connection might otherwise be a beginning point, an at least half-shared location of the sacred, if it did not remain invisible amidst the teargas, and unheard among the shouting. It will still be there, nowhere, whoever happens to be declared the winner.
In discussions at this blog I will generally employ the word “liberalism” to refer to a political-philosophical doctrine, rather than to liberalism as restrictively understood in contemporary American politics. In short, I am using the historically expansive but conceptually narrow definition of “liberal” to describe the doctrine of rights or freedoms of the individual human being as crystallized by early modern metaphysics, but under a practical awareness of the evolution of politicized liberalism to include “liberal democracy,” “social liberalism,” and “welfare state liberalism” as well as the pure or pre-socialized liberalism of “libertarianism” and the de-socializing orientation of “neo-liberalism.” American “constitutional conservatism” and “neo-conservatism” also lie within this same historical horizon, though they, like all other “real existing” liberalisms if perhaps sometimes more self-consciously, often seek to integrate diverse pre- or extra-liberal contents, such as traditional religion or a quasi-religious American nationalism, within a broadly liberal, modern, and democratic project: In the present era even those who seek to situate themselves beyond the liberal and chiefly liberal democratic horizon, but within the horizon of the evolving international system, must do so in relationship to liberalism, not merely as a philosophical or intellectual task, but in response to the political-economic and cultural influence of the liberal democratic states.
On, appropriately enough, July 4 of this year, via Twitter as @hhassan140, Hassan Hassan (“HH” below) offered a provocative summary of an article on Islamists and the Arab Spring by Hussein Ibish (@ibishblog, “HI”). A colloquy between Hassan, Ibish, and myself (“CM”) ensued, its terms anticipating the same arguments, and the same situation, that informed that tweet of Hassan’s at the head of my “1st Précis.”
Michael Neumann, Professor of Philosophy (emeritus), writing at his personal blog “Insufficient Respect,” has put together an unusually thoughtful and balanced discussion of the Egyptian situation: “Has Morsi overthrown the rule of law?” Neumann explains the fundamental constitutional problem in clear terms (without relying on references to controversial German legal philosophers), and also notes in passing the contradictory positions and conduct of the self-styled liberal democratic forces – the proponents of rule of law and consensual decision-making who have responded to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood with vitriol, maximalist demands, and the torching of political offices.
Forcing or persuading Morsi and his movement to compromise will not by itself solve the Egyptian problems. It may however help to constitute a new Egyptian sovereignty along broader lines than purely Islamist ones, supply the deficits in the Islamist theory of the modern nation-state, and preserve a liberal democratic opening.
One could easily – the liberalist Twitterati have shown little hesitation on this one – compare Morsi’s assumption of the right to rule by decree with acts by Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, or a wide range of autocrats including Morsi’s immediate predecessor. If inclined, however, to support or excuse Morsi, one might instead invoke Franklin Roosevelt after or even before the 1941 American Declarations of War, or Abraham Lincoln suspending the Constitution to save constitutional order: Each was called tyrant, traitor, dictator by his political enemies, even amidst undoubted states of emergency. Now they are, generally but not universally, called “great.”
Regardless of where we come down in the end on the wisdom and justifiability of the administration’s war policies, criticism that does not take the full debate and its real subject into consideration, that merely repeats what we already know – that war is awful and morally, culturally, and politically deforming; that it exceeds the terms of normal, lawful policy; that it makes us act like “barbarians” all on the way to Hell – does not deserve to be and likely will not be taken seriously.
From Schopenhauer through Strauss and beyond, the rebels fail to grasp Hegel's thought on its own terms, or, if they grasp it at all, they soon discard or conceal it. This claim may also seem like a large one, but the most ambitious and unlikely claim of all, it turns out, is not the claim of a complete or comprehensive philosophy, but the claim that the Hegelian is precluded from making: to have created a new philosophy, to have stepped philosophy beyond philosophy's own shadow.
In light of the ritualized sacrifice of a single man, on the altar of what we cannot help but believe - no possible justification - the many may be revealed to us as allies, as "with us," perhaps first symbolically, but now also practically. Put simply, Foley's death marks if it does not itself restore American re-engagement on behalf of those we had all but abandoned in the region.
A difficulty with the question of the public intellectual at this time, a sense of a non-integral and irrelevant public discourse or discourse of discourses seems to typify the present conjuncture or global moment of the disappearance of a political-cultural concept in its own hyper-extension.
TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.
For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.
The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.
Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.
[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.