Any serious reflection on life in the City leads one to the realization that there can be no philosophy of politics without a theory of consciousness. Indeed, unless informed by the insights of metaphysics and philosophy of mind, the discourse of political philosophy remains inconclusive and incomprehensible. For consciousness is the cipher that decrypts the secret code of every political philosophy. And so it is with the discourse of our own times: the duelling postures of modernity and postmodernity become less confounding and more intelligible when examined against the backdrop of the history of modern consciousness. To chart the metaphysical landmarks of modern political consciousness, then, is a legitimate project of Muslim self-understanding. Indeed, a metaphysical approach to the study of political philosophy can provide valid insights into the intellectual and moral disposition of our times.
The metaphysical theory of politics is premised on the insight that political consciousness itself is grounded in a more fundamental, pre-noetic, view of reality. Prior to any rational theorization, the political philosopher has to prepare a metaphysical ground in order to construct the edifice of his theory. And this ground is nothing but a dialectic of the transcendent and the immanent, a tension between one belief that 'all that is' is here and now and the other that the ultimate is beyond all heres and nows. It also follows that a political order attuned to a transcendent reality will differ significantly from the one which merely caters to an immanent scheme of things. Order, temporality, governance all acquire different meanings and assume disparate shapes when viewed through the one or the other prism of metaphysical cognition.
Looking back at the genealogy of western consciousness, within which our modern civilization consciously stands, we find that Plato was the first and the greatest philosopher of transcendence. He distilled a vision of man and the universe which was secure and timeless and which no heres and nows could ever match. Even the polis, 'Man writ large against the sky', was for him no more than a cave. He wanted the polis to be an ordered cosmos, but not at the price of man. Thus, whatever one may say of his Republic, Plato is the greatest repudiator of the purely political view of the world. Politics, whether conceived as vita activa or vita contemplativa, does not solve the problem of man's ultimate destiny. The City exists for Man, not Man for the City. The 'political' order that the Platonic consciousness is heir to bespeaks eternity and not history. The Republic of Plato is a polity which belongs not to this world but to the realm of ideas.
With Hegel, another master metaphysician of
the West, immanence and transcendence loose their antagonism and contrariety.
Reason, which throughout the Christian interregnum had retained its transcendence,
now comes down to earth as universal history (Weltgeschichte) and
works for the realization of freedom. With the 'incarnation' of Reason,
thus, human history acquires a goal, a purpose and a meaning but it is
a meaning and a goal which is 'secular' and temporal to the core. History
refers to no norm outside of itself and passes judgement on its own accomplishments.
Indeed, the Final Judgement, which religious faith places at the end of
time, now takes place within the flux of history itself. For, as Hegel
makes no bones about it: 'world-history is world-tribunal' (Weltgeschichte
ist Weltgericht). Immanence and transcendence become so infused in
each other that the philosopher can now confidently proclaim that 'what
is rational is actual and what is actual is rational' (Was verünftig
ist, das ist wirklich; und was wirklich is, das ist vernüftig.)
In sum, Hegel ovrecomes the antinomies of Enlightenment, viz. Norm
and History, Reason and Experience, Noumena
and Phenomena, by abolishing them, by positing their identity!
UMMAH or NATION?: Identity Crisis in Contemporary Muslim Society. By Abdullah Ahsan. The Islamic Foundation, Leicester, 1992. Pp 158. ISBN 0-86037-219-7.
The End of History
and the Last Man. By Francis Fukuyama. Free Press (USA) &
Hamish Hamilton (UK), 1992. Paperback by Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wright Lane,
London W8 5TZ, 1992. Pp 418. £5.99. ISBN 0-14-015419-1.
Hegel's philosophical system, it is hardly surprising, is notoriously ambiguous and paradoxical. It affirms the idea of both morality and power, both reason and experience, both freedom and necessity. Hence, Hegel may be characterized as the philosopher of immanent-transcendence. He is a spokesman for modernity which has not yet completely forsaken the Enlightenment's commitment to a (transcendent) reason. (In postmodernity, this purposive and meaningful reason is replaced by a derelict and meaningless contingency.) Hegel's political philosophy also retains the ambiguity of his metaphysical system: the Hegelian state is a moral community and a power-polity at the same time.
The ambiguity of Hegelian metaphysics invites disparate, even mutually contradictory, interpretations of his texts. Thus, though Hegel is pre-eminently a moral thinker, he may be apprehended in a triumphalist vein. One such reading of a notoriously difficult Hegelian claim about the 'end of history' has caused enormous furor in the Anglo-Saxon world. Francis Fukuyama's original article that he wrote for The National Interest in 1989 and the present book achieved overnight notoriety and sparked an explosive debate about 'the future of the post-Cold war era'. Fukuyama's supposedly autonomous reading of Hegel, a reading further removed from the original by the Stalinist lens of Alexandre Kojéve one may hasten to add, results in the insight that History (Weltgeschichte) has ended in the sense that there is no more room for debate on the fundamentals of governance. There are no ideological alternative to liberal democracy which constitutes "the end-point of mankind's ideological evolution" and the final form of human government."!
Fukuyama's 'Hegelian' insight rests on certain sociological observations: 1) Modern science is the great leveler. It defines the boundaries of technological innovations and hence, directs the flow of all human societies towards a universal, liberal-democratic, society. 2) Totalitarian systems of government are weak because they suffer from an irremediable crisis of legitimacy. 3) The crisis of legitimacy arises not due to any economic or political dissatisfaction but because of certain basic psychological drives in man which cannot be satisfied by totalitarian régimes. Following Hegel, Fukuyama contends, that the ultimate right that a citizen, indeed any person, demands is the right to recognition. 4) Liberalism, which is mindful of the human longing for recognition, provides a more sounder insight into human nature and, consequently, offers a more practical solution to the problem of social order. 5) Democracy and egalitarianism, however, do not satisfy another, equally basic, human urge, namely, the urge to challenge the other, to dominate, to excel. In democratic societies, both the master and the slave are vanquished by the non-descript citizen. Thus ends the utopia of liberal democracy not with the bang of a superman but with the whimper of men without backbones! (The last, dystopian, note on which Fukuyama's book ends may be regarded as the postmodernist Nietzschean blow to the modernist Hegelian thesis.)
Fukuyama, it goes without saying, surveys the panorama of universal history from the citadel of Eurocentrism. Thus, while he is fully cognizant that 'Islam constitutes a systematic and coherent ideology, just like liberalism and communism, with its own code of morality and doctrine of political and social justice. The appeal of Islam is potentially universal, reaching out to all men as men, and not just to members of a particular ethnic or national group', yet he cannot refrain from expressing some very gloomy thoughts about the future of Islam. 'Despite the power demonstrated by Islam in its current revival', he feels, 'it remains the case that this religion has virtually no appeal outside those areas that were culturally Islamic to begin with. The days of Islam's cultural conquests, it would seem, are over: it can win back lapsed adherents, but has no resonance for young people in Berlin, Tokyo, or Moscow. And while a billion people are culturally Islamic - one fifth of the world's population - they cannot challenge liberal democracy on its own territory on the level of ideas. Indeed, the Islamic world would seem more vulnerable to liberal ideas in the long run than the reverse, since such liberalism has attracted numerous and powerful Muslim adherents over the past century and a half. Part of the reason for the current, fundamentalist, revival is the strength of the perceived threat from liberal, Western values to traditional Islamic societies.' (pp 45-6). Some self-fulfilling prophecy!
As a philosophical theory, Fukuyama's book represents a feeble and incoherent attempt at a synthesis of Hegel (the right to recognition) and Nietzsche (the Will to Power). Hence, all the moral and intellectual problems of reconciling a public and a private philosophy, the Achilles heel of liberalism, remain unsolved. As a theological reflection - the philosophical query about the goal, purpose and meaning of history remains after all a secularized version of the theological problem of salvational history (Heilsgeschichte) - Fukuyama's statement is either disingenuous or naive. For he does not recognize the theological dimensions of his chosen theme. Then, as a theory of geopolitics it remains a case of pure 'wishful thinking'. Fukuyama does not take into account all the empirical anomalies that he himself is aware of, and hence, depletes his theory of all methodological rigour. His theory can have no reasonable claim to the predictability of human history which is its essential feature. Further, Fukuyama is not sufficiently alert to liberalism's failure to engender communitarian ethics which is a notable feature of Hegel's philosophy.
Obviously, Fukuyama is entitled to his dreams
and his nightmares. Nor can there be no quarrel with his loyalty to a vision
which, by assuring him of living in the best of worlds, puts no moral demands
on him. However, such a blatantly deterministic and amoral theory, which
makes a mockery of the ethical responsibility of the individual as a free
agent, merits no attention from the side of the Muslim who is unnegotiably
committed to upholding the moral view of the world. Even as an empirical
insight into the problem of legitimacy, Fukuyama has nothing to say to
the Muslim for whom the problem of legitimacy, ultimately, is not an issue
of democratic representation but that of fidelity to the revelation. Because
of all this, Fukuyama's thesis deserves to be cast in the 'dustbin of history',
the dustbin standing at the end of history out of which nothing may be
If Fukuyama's book is indicative of the cultural hybris of a triumphant West, Abdullah al-Ahsan's study conveys a mood of cultural despair, even if it ends on a hopeful note. Essentially, it is an earnest-minded historical inquiry into 'the problematic relationship between European secular thought and traditional Islamic ideas' which has 'created an identity-crisis in contemporary Muslim society.' The title of the work, if not always its contents, would also suggest that Ahsan's study is as much concerned with the psychology of contemporary Muslims as it is with the history of their intellectual ideas. (That history and psychology are basically irreconcilable in the same system of inquiry is not a point of reflection with al-Ahsan. Alas, al-Ahsan does not define or elucidate his pivotal concepts, 'identity' and 'identity-crisis', either. As these are by no means self-explanatory terms (indeed, an 'ontological' conception of 'identity' is extremely difficult to grasp), it is my fear that the uninitiated reader will not always be able to apprehend the text in the manner intended by the author!)
In accordance with al-Ahsan's intentions, however, the study starts with a sustained discussion of the meaning of the term Ummah in the Qur'an and its usage in early Muslim history. It is a commendable effort, even if methodological problems are never adequately addressed. Further, while much insight has been acquired from the writings of orientalists, no classical works of tafasir are ever cited. The next chapter deals with the emergence of nationalist ideas in three key Muslim countries, viz Turkey, Egypt and Muslim India. It is followed by a more recent survey of the same lands. The most informative chapter, however, is concerned with the formation and development of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and its various agencies. al-Ahsan has been closely studying this organization for some time and his analyses display all the sophistication of an initiated observer. The final chapter, somewhat more polemical in tone than the rest of the book, pleads for the adoption of the 'Ummah identity' by contemporary Muslims, especially the intellectuals.
al-Ahsan's principal insight is that, despite all the emotionality of Blut und Boden (blood and soil), the parochial loyalties of nationalism have not been able to suppress the moral basis of Muslim identity which is central to an uncompromisingly universalist Islam. However, the goal is to develop a secure sense of a supreme identity, a loyalty to subsume all other loyalties, which is based on the Muslim's membership of a universal brotherhood, the Ummah of Islam. Moreoever, al-Ahsan argues his case with sincerity and conviction and expresses irenic sentiments towards other civilizations, all of which make his work quite attractive and useful.
On the conceptual level, the most crucial issue with respect to any understanding of the term Ummah is: In which sense is Ummah an empirical concept? If so, what are its sociological and political attributes? Can it be identified with the totality of Muslims, or does the concept possess certain normative sense from which it can never be fully depleted? I believe that a purely historical - immanentist - view of the Ummah exposes Muslim thought to many insurmountable moral and religious problems. After all from such an empirical perspective, even the universal community of Muslims is nothing but a parochial body-politic. Consequently, why must the Islamic solidarity not have a purely human basis transcending the parochialism of the confessional community? Nationalist exclusivism, after all, can be easily matched by religious exclusivism and the outrageous thought 'My Ummah, right or wrong!' may also arise within the hearts of believers!
al-Ahsan maintains time and again that it is the creation of the nation-state in colonial times which is the cause of the identity crisis in the Muslim soul. It is my contention that not only the nation-state but any state (excepting the Prophetic régime and the khilafa of the four rightful successors) comes in conflict with the Muslim's absolute loyalty to Islam. Ummah and statehood are based on disparate principles. Further, personal and collective identity is not a matter of purely psychological and philosophical factors as al-Ahsan seems to think. Identity is articulated first and foremost through actions and institutions (Cf the hajj). The nation-state does not, indeed cannot, control the supreme loyalties, the hearts and minds, of men. Hence, it is not the supreme identity of modern man but his most paramount ('sovereign') institution. al-Ahsan has taken note of the 'secular' institutional arms of the Ummah (OIC and its agencies); he has paid no attention to the religious institutions which are supremely instrumental in reinforcing the Islamic identity of the Ummah. A discussion of the juristic aspects of Islamic identity would have enriched this study.
The immanentization of political consciousness which is the sum and substance of modern secularism, unfortunately, has started affecting, or rather infecting, Muslim minds as well. The problem of expressing religious truth in terms philosophical vocabulary, the cause of much debate in Classical Islam, has become an actual concern in our times. The idea of the Islamic State, which is always a problematical idea, is a case in point. Earlier, statehood was conceived in Platonic, idealistic, terms. For instance, the Virtuous Polity of Al-Farabi had no resemblence with any actual city: it was beyond the world of time and place. //Today, the 'Islamic state' is conceptualized as an immanent entity struggling for world supremacy at 'the end of history'!//
What needs remembering, however, is that neither the Platonic nor the Hegelian philosophy does justice to the Islamic conception of the 'End' which presupposes a 'transubstantiation' of immanence into transcendence, the world into the here-after, time into eternity. Certainly, the Hegelian State connotes an ethical community and as such exhibits some phenomenological affinity with the Islamic notion of the Ummah. However, the ethics that the Hegelian community is committed to is merely the force of habit, the morality of custom (sittlichkeit) and not that of the revelation. Islamic politics, on the other hand, cannot abandon its transcendent moorings - whatever the exigencies of history and world-order! History is the handmaiden of Islamic consciousness, not its mistress.
Modernity's understanding of the political is problematic, especially when it comes to its relationship with temporality. On the one hand, we learn that 'the existence of man in political society is historical existence; and a theory of politics, if it penetrates to principles, must at the same time be a theory of history.' (Eric Voegelin: The New Science of Politics. Chicago, 1952, p 1.) A consciousness of historicity, indeed of transience and contingency, of existence, then, is a pre-requisite of political societies. On the other hand, it is also argued, not without justification it would appear, that 'if the world is to contain a public space, it cannot be erected for one generation and planned for the living only; it must transcend the life-span of mortal men.' Indeed, 'without this transcendence into a potential earthly immortality, no politics, strictly speaking, no common world and no public realm, is possible.' (Hannah Arendt: The Human Condition. Chicago, 1958. p 55. Emphasis added.)
Echoing the same sentiment, namely that premonitions of permanence and durability are necessary for the construction of any political order, a modern scholar of Islam says without hesitation that 'Muslim piety never gave much thought to the possibility that an ideal state can be set up in this world.' It was so, he believes, because 'the Qur'an is not concerned with developing any sort of ideal political model to be adopted by all Muslims.'(Franz Rosenthal: 'Political Justice and the Just Ruler', in Religion and Government in the World of Islam, Ed by Joel L. Kraemer & Ilai Alon. Tel Aviv, 1983. p 93. Despite the professed unity of Din and Dawla in the doctrine of the jurists, then, the weltanschauung of fiqh can only be described as 'anti-political'. (The ulama, of course, were not interested in theorizing about any 'ideal' polity, or in the formulation of any universally binding constitutional theory. For the best régime, according to them, was the actual, historical, rJgime of the Prophet and his Rightly-Guided successors.)
We must then realize that the proclaimed unity of din and dawla was never more than a pious hope or a juristic axiom. The discussion among jurists about the necessity of imama, and their initial uncertainty about it, implied that 'the possibilities of the existence of an ideal political organization was undermined by the theologians.' (Rosenthal, F: op. cit. p 93). Hence, it is safe to claim that the civilization of Islam never really developed any clear vision of (secular) politics or any (formal) theory of the state. All it possessed was a doctrine of religious authority and an image of the ideal community of faith, the Firqa Najia of the jurists' parlance. Politics, within the traditional worldview, signified a quest for guidance far beyond the authority of temporal rule and well beyond the `sovereignty' of political order. The doctrine of Khilafa/Imama connotes neither a theory of power, nor a vision of politics but it represents a reading of the revelation as worked out in the actual history of the founding Community, a superimposition of Divine will on an existential matrix as it were.
While fiqhi reason displays a feeling towards historical existence that borders on the political, it is not a doctrine of politics as such. And whereas it certainly has its own stake in the outcome of human history, it is not a theory of Weltgeschichte. The theory of Caliphate/Imamate idealizes a historical moment (the time of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs) but it does so only for the sake of delegitmizing all political authority. The classical vision of the Islamic state is a religious utopia that is a critique of all political views of the world and not a sacralization of temporal order. Indeed, not unlike the Hegelian state, which seeks a mysterious end transcending the welfare of its members altogether, Islamic polity pursues no rational goals. It is simply there as a consequence of the Revelation. Hence, it is arguable whether the ideal polity of classical juristic thought represents a 'state' at all. All this is important to bear in mind, because in our eagerness to formulate a 'political' theory, we are reading juristic texts 'politically' and 'discovering' immanentist structures that were never intended to be there in the first place.
Secularism in political theory starts with Machiavelli. The moral dilemma that is associated with Machiavelli's name, the ethical riddle which is `not merely unsolved but insoluble', 'the dagger that is thrust in the body politic of the West', alludes to the problem of order in history, to the existence of man as a body-politic. Any world-view that does not inhere an existential ethic and does not yield a workable theory of political power, Machiavelli realized correctly, either violates the integrity of human morality or betrays the imperatives of his earthly existence. Muslims thinkers, who were as cognizant of the 'Machiavellian' nature of politics as anyone else, however, did not draw from this insight the 'Machiavellian' conclusion about the autonomy of politics and the legitimacy of the raison d'état. For even the temporal necessity of raison d'état does not prove its legitimacy which has to take the eternity of the Akhira into account. The problem of Machiavellianism is the problem of an Either/Or metaphysics, that one must derive all values from a transcendent beyond or an immanence here. Thus, the corrective to the Machiavellian temptation, that of regarding politics as the be-all and end-all of human existence, is the subjugation of politics to revelation. Only, the revelation can break the spell of immanentism, and along with it the idol of Machiavellian politics.
Estranged from the desacralised world, the Muslim today looks for a master solution and finds it in a modernized version of politics. Politics, which in traditional Islam has the function of attenuating the gulf between God and man, is today perceived as a quest for earthly glory. Thus, paradoxically, while Muslims stubbornly refuses to de-sacralize their public domain, their inner domains, their hearts and minds, have been seduced by the idols of modernity. They perceive the problem of politics in Machiavellian terms and demand a purely 'temporal' solution to the problems of the Ummah.
The seminal insights of Machiavelli and Hegel, minus their immanentism, are available to the Islamic tradition in its own revelational form. While affirming some of modernity's ethical values, Islamic civilization need not take the immanentist road to the restoration of its political order. Without falling prey to the dichotomy of 'theocracy' and 'secularism', it can construct a pragmatic historical order and turn it into a rational/revelational state. Or, as even admitted by a hostile critic, 'In order to work for the power and glory of his earthly city, man in Islam does not have to kill God.' The myth of the Polis is a secular myth, wheras the symbol of Islam, the Ummah, is a moral community. Only by rejecting the myth of the Polis can we affirm that Islam is not a secularist project.