Printed in Encounters: Journal of Inter-Cultural Perspectives, Leicester, 5:1, March 1999.

 

Modernity, Transcendence and Political Theory

 

 

 Abstract

Modernist thought is facing a crisis today. Modernism launched its project with the rejection of the authority of revelation and consciously banished 'God' from the governance of human polis. Instead, it proclaimed that the political community, conceived as the secular state, is sovereign. And yet, modernity's own bid to discover a sui generis source of political morality has come to grief. Modernist consciousness, which progressively shifted its gaze from 'reason' to 'nature' to 'history', now proclaims that there exists no Archimedian point, no foundational text, that may guide our humanity towards any desirable or conceivable goal. Rather, the admission is that reason is unable to overcome the antinomy of norm and history, that the 'is' of world-history does not lead to any 'ought' of the human existence. We must therefore forever subsist in a world bereft of the possibility of universal norms.

Modernity prided itself on its 'radical' discovery of the 'historicity' of the human condition and commissioned accordingly a politics of temporality. The gradual unfolding of historicist consciousness has however reduced both 'reason' and 'man' to pure contingencies, devoid of any transcendent moorings. The metaphysics of immanentism, which sustains the modernist worldview, is therefore responsible for abolishing the regime of political norm and inaugurating the reign of moral relativism. The modern march towards nihilism alerts us to the fact that not only is the moral indissolubly tied to the political, the political has the same relation to the transcendent as well. Hence, paradoxically, any scheme of human existence which aspires to political meaning must start with the affirmation of a trans-political order of reality. The inability of the (post)modernist to affirm even the possibility of a universal norm substantiates the traditional Islamic insight that the perceiving of the human situation as a purely temporal, dahri, reality, is the ultimate abuse of the divine gift of reason.

 

 

The moral and intellectual crisis of our times, the so-called problem of nihilism and relativity of values, stems from the fact that the discourse of Reason, which had inspired and sustained European thought since the age of Enlightenment, has collapsed. After two centuries of intense reflection and debate, Reason has not overcome the antinomy of norm and history; it has not succeeded in deciphering the goal of human existence, as it had envisaged, from a reading of human history (1). Instead, the current consensus is that the grand synthesis of norm and history, the identity of the rational and the actual, was no more than an arbitrary construct, a contingent prejudice of an imperialist age which identified the highest common good of humanity with the parochial self-interests of its own tribe. Universal Reason, accordingly, was far from ‘universal’ and the grand metaphor of ‘Weltgeschichte’ incarnated nothing more than a euphemism for Europe’s dialogue with its own future.

Today, it is readily admitted that Reason, the transcendent referent of all Enlightenment discourse, provides no guidance regarding the goal of human history, and hence is silent with respect to the ultimate meaning of human existence. Indeed, the very concept Weltgeschichte is now dismissed as a secularised version of the theological mumbo-jumbo(2). Reason now claims a much more modest role for itself: its principal function is to produce a temporary - and fallible - societal consensus and it is, when not a mere descriptive label for the European tradition, perhaps only communicative and instrumental in its constitution(3). At any rate, Reason does not envisage any utopian end-point as the inevitable, or desirable, goal of human effort. Indeed, within the more critical ‘postmodernist’ discourse of today, Reason as transcendent and universal Norm has given way to reasons, a plurality of immanent, historically contingent and ultimately normless, actualities that are intimately bound up with specific civilisations and epochs(4). The ‘crisis of humanism’ is therefore noting but an inevitable consequence of the impoverishment of reason, the denial of its transcendence which is the outcome of the historicisation of its discourse.

Conversely, the problem of legitimation and validation of reason by history also remains as intractable as ever. History does not posit any Archimedian vantage-point outside itself, nor does it prescribe internal norms for self-authentication. History cannot pass judgement on itself and hence create meaning. Only by the infusion of a telos does history, an aggregation of events, become History, a meaningful narrative which moves towards an end or a goal. History acquires order and meaning only when it has, as it were, come to an end; when it can be observed from a vantage-point that is external to it(5). For the creation of historical meaning, then, we are dependent upon transcendent norms that are not subject to the arbitration of history. Or, expressed differently, the horizon of meaning, against which historical data are projected and evaluated, is meta-historical(6). The nemesis of all the rational and philosophical schemes of Universal Norm is therefore none other than the modern notion of secular history that either concedes no foundational privilege to any event in the human past, or conceives the End as a here-and-now, and by so doing, virtually abolishes it!

 

The Legitimacy of Utopia in Political Theory

The conundrums of the philosophical reflection on history persuade us now to re-examine the human condition from a perspective that lacks the restrictive prejudices of modernity. Any reflection on the human condition, whether religious, philosophical or merely ideological, inevitably transports us, if we have not already fallen for the ideological gospels of our times, to the junction of transcendence and temporality where the interface of the ultimate purpose of human existence and the pragmatics of such an existence are still a question to be reflected upon, deserving a response worthy of our claim to being human. Only when we envision our human existence as an ideal moral-political community, situated in the nowhere-land of trans-historical bliss (Na-Kuja-Abad/Utopia), that we are able to confront, understand, and perhaps penetrate, some of the most potent and seductive myths of our time. Utopian reflection then provides us an eminently suitable methodological apparatus with which to take measure of the spiritual, moral, and even material wellbeing of our world.

The end of the Cold War, which has brought the ideological charade of choosing between Marxism-Leninism and global capitalism to an abrupt closure, has proved to be, once the initial euphoria has ebbed down, a time of crisis and disillusionment for the humanitarian conscience. Not only have elitist and supremacist worldviews gained ascendancy, but hegemonic and iniquitous institutions of power have strengthened their hold on an ever more asymmetric world as well. Thus, while an erstwhile Marxist bemoans that our situation today ‘has its roots in the failure of social consciousness to imagine positive and progressive alternatives’ (7), a more radical, Third-World thinker identifies the underlying anguish of our times ‘as a basic crisis of vision, a decline of engagement with utopias..’(8)

Utopian thought and reflection does not signify an escapist route to inaction, providing legitimacy and respectability to all kinds of immoral doctrines that incite men to drop out of the historical struggle. No, Utopia is not a worthless fantasy but has ‘a foundation in the structure of man himself’; for ... ‘it belongs to man’s being to think in utopian terms.’(9) It is in reflecting over his own situation, in striving to overcome the problem of finitude, that man’s utopian vision comes into play. For man is a being that is able to transcend the givens of his limited and chaotic universe and bestow its cosmic nothingness a shape and a form. Utopian vision thus liberates man from the constraints of his present. Or expressed differently, ‘a utopia ... is a form of suggestiveness from afar. It is primarily ... a critique of the present.’(10)

Even the supremely modernist critical theory admits that utopian vision and imagery cannot be fully eliminated from political consciousness, for it is in the nature of reason itself to be utopian. Indeed, an enthusiastic supporter of the modernist project of rationality is cognisant that the modern theory of norm can ‘motivate us only if it also contains a utopian potential.’(11) Behind this insight lies the realisation that ‘utopianism’ is different from the theories of historical progress, for whereas ‘progressivism’ envisages fulfilment as the realisation of the implicit potentials of the present, utopian consciousness, by contrast, perceives, in the moment of realisation, a radical break between present and the future. Little wonder that the most radical forms of political protest are usually animated by the utopian spirit.

Far more significant in any conversation on utopia is the realisation that historical thinking itself presupposes utopian consciousness. For in order to ‘understand history, that is, to have historical consciousness and consciousness and activity, we must posit utopia at beginning and at the end.’(12) Lest this discussion give rise to the misconception that utopia is part and parcel of religious consciousness alone, it must be added that secular utopias are as pervasive and compelling as the religious ones. In fact, we need not forget that some of the most potent, and potentially dangerous, utopias are secular, like the utopia of enlightenment, the utopia of technology, the utopia of society, the utopia of freedom and so forth. We must now bring this discussion to a close by emphasising that utopia is not merely a positive vision, a revelation of critical consciousness that finds its fulfilment in a radical transformation of the human situation. No, by its very nature, and especially if construed literally and ‘fundamentalistically’, utopia assumes an incarnation of destructive forces. It does after all forget the truth of man’s finitude, alienation and sinfulness. There is however the ‘transcendence of utopia’ in that its positive elements remain in spite of the power of the negative. It is therefore eminently apt to end his reflection on utopia by claiming that ‘it is the spirit of utopia that conquers utopia.’(13)

 

The Assault on Transcendence

Behind the unwillingness of our age to engage with utopias lies the metaphysical failure of nerve that characterises modernity and its postmodernist offshoots. The Secular City that is the abode of our humanity today is founded upon a series of professedly practical, but ultimately moral and metaphysical, 'insights' that have progressively eliminated the need for transcendent referents in the governance of the human polis. The modern vision of politics, notwithstanding its quasi-religious allegiance to the determining principle of rationality, is for instance radically at odds with that of the classical thinkers. For while the classical paradigm, based as it was on a belief in transcendent reason, proclaimed the validity for all times and climes of a political regime it considered to be the best, the modernist vehemently denies the possibility of any single perfect solution to the problem of historical order. This discordance becomes plain when we examine the postulates of classical political philosophy as stated below:

Alongside the classical ideal about the life of reason, the actualisation of ethics through politics that could be attained only by the elect, there existed another quest for societal reason - a co-mingling of philosophic reason and mass-beliefs - that belongs to the tradition of 'civil', or 'natural' theology. Civil-theological systems have often manifested themselves as models for the division of temporal and spiritual powers, such as the ones based on the Emperor-Pope, Emperor-Philosopher, National Sovereign-Philosopher, Politician-Ideologue distinctions(15). All modern ideologies, accordingly, belong to the tradition of civil theology, as does the Lockean formula for civil government(16) and the revered doctrine of constitutional democracy(17).

Common to all these modern theories is the espousal of a metaphysics of immanentism within which the state, or secular body-politic, assumes certain attributes that theistic religions ascribe to the Transcendent God(18). Thus, though the modern state is defined by a discernible territory, the actual locus of its sovereignty, to which both the ruler and the ruled are equally subservient, remains elusive and unidentifiable. Unlike earlier polities, where the actual person of the Sovereign - either in his capacity as the deputy of God or on his own - literally represented the body-politic, the modern state does not reveal the ultimate seat of its authority; it remains immanent and hidden within the 'myth of the state', behind the mass of the nation, people or citizenry(19). The state as the embodiment of the 'spirit' of a nation or people is therefore as emotive, mystical and intractable an idea as 'God' in the traditional discourse of theocracy. However, unlike God whose sovereignty often translates into a moral code that transcends, indeed devalues, the purely mundane concerns of the political community, the nation as such is not the source of any morality; it does not incarnate any categorical imperative beyond the preservation of the political self(20).

The most salient feature of the modern state, which devolves from its acceptance of territory as its 'body', is the renunciation of all claims to universality. The jurisdiction of a state, of its laws and institutions, is confined within the bounds of its territory, or, in some exceptional cases, even outside its boundaries but applicable only to its citizens. However, because of this self-imposed restriction on state-sovereignty, the political discourse of the nation-state for all intent and purpose abandons the universal for the parochial; instead of espousing common norms, it propagates a morality of 'thick and thin'(21). Alas, by the denunciation of the ideals of a universal polity, the secular state has effectively managed to strangle the utopian idea of a single humanity. Similarly, the doctrine that the telos of the state is located within history, that the End is nothing but an immanent order of society, the secular state abandons the quest for transcendence altogether. Little wonder our civilisation no longer represents any cosmic truth, it partakes of no transcendent order of being and recognises no human purpose beyond existence(22).

Modernism embarked on its voyage of ideological discovery by rejecting the ‘classical answer’ to the political problem. Thus, whereas the goal of political life for all classical political philosophers is virtue, and the order most conducive to virtue is the aristocratic republic, the modern position is to deem the classical solution as 'unrealistic'(23). Indeed, there is a general turn away from transcendentalism to immanentism, from normativism to positivism and from idealism to historicism, all in the name of realism. Obviously, we are dealing with a new conception of 'reality' in modern political philosophy, the most spectacular annunciation of which is the sacrosanct modernist doctrine about the abolition of theocracy by secularism. Pre-modern theory, according to modernist polemics, confounds political order with transcendent order. By intermingling the political problem of peace in the city with the moral quest for truth in the soul, it creates political systems that are perforce inefficient, parochial and tyrannical. Modernist systems, by contrast, engender political communities that honour and even actualise freedom, justice and equality.

The goal of political theory, accordingly, is to swear unswerving fidelity to ‘historical realities’ and demonstrate the validity of its vision by conceiving political structures that are viable in the world of history hic et nunc. Paradoxically, however, the world of history has refused to redeem the modernist pledge. For once the metaphysical scale had been tipped in favour of immanence and historicity, political philosophy had no option but to go through all the motions of intellectualisation and humanisation, including the proclamation of ‘end-of-history’, in order to cling on to whatever little meaning that a disenchanted historical world would yield. With each empirical advance, with each encroachment of the transcendent by the immanent, political reflection was left with an ever smaller chunk of meaningful reality to feed on. The politics of temporal meaning commissioned the recasting of eternity in the mould of history, but it received, on the completion of the project, nothing but an amorphous rubble of ‘contingency’!(24)

While the quarrel between theory and of history is as old as man's reflection on things political, it is with Machiavelli that political science becomes conscious of the irreconcilable moral dilemma - the incompatibility of individual and political truths - that it had previously only faintly suspected(25). However, it is also from Machiavelli that political theory receives its characteristically modern bias towards history and acquires its uncompromisingly immanentist metaphysical posture. For, it was the Machiavellian claim about the temporal nature of political order (he believed that man inhabits a world which is ruled neither by himself, nor by gods, but by time; that ultimately man's miseries stem neither from a flaw in his nature, nor from constraints that are external to him, but from the finitude and temporality of his existence) that secularised political science and set western tradition on its long historicist trek to the ideological cul-de-sac of post-modernist relativism.

Revulsion against transcendence now extends to all forms of societal discourse, and has indeed become the central motif of modernity’s self-definition. Here are a few, random examples: 1) Modernity requires, according to one of its ardent champions, 'a faith that there is not, or should not be, anything in human existence so mysterious or ineffable that it cannot be "rationally" articulated. There is no need for a poetic articulation of things and no reason to take seriously the claims of divine revelation--revelation in any form is indistinguishable from poetic, mythic speech. Myth in all its deployments is understood not as a response to the ineffability of the subject matter; it is simply a tool of those who wish to take dominance over others. It is an attempt to keep people in the dark on important matters that can be adequately articulated in straightforward modes of discourse that demystify existence and make it accessible to all. If mankind is freed from myth and religion and a new science is unleashed, there should be inevitable and unlimited progress.'(26); 2) From the post-modernist perspective, the whole gamut of reason, humanism, ethics and transcendence are contingent constructs that lack both meaning and legitimacy. Hence, this particularly poignant and tragic sentiment concerning the ultimate absurdity of the human situation and the futility of all ethics: 'Obligations happen; they happen because they happen; they happen for the while that they happen. Then the cosmos draws a few more breaths, the little star grows cold, and the animals made of flesh have to die.'(27); 3) From the self-authenticating vantage-point of sociology, a contemporary political scientist asserts: ‘Civil Society [read: Bourgeois society.] is the first social formation in history which derives its legitimation from immanent as opposed to transcendent norms’(28).; 4) Similarly, a perceptive student of contemporary Muslim discourse defines modernity, perhaps uncannily, as ‘the sort of politically relevant discourse mediated by intellectuals once the idea of rationality is recognised as embodied in society, no longer confined to a transcendent logos(29).

 

Historicism and the Crisis of Values

The problem with the modernist solution is that by conceiving the reign of the political as ‘merely temporal’, it banishes transcendence from political – public - consciousness and comes to espouse a kind of relativism that renders every political judgement - pace all the motions of consensual decision-making - contingent and arbitrary! Contrary to its original ambition, then, modern political theory ends up by abolishing the regime of norm and rationality. In political life, there are no fixed-ends, no binding taboos, no categorical imperatives. (Indeed, the crisis of values has spilled over from politics to ethics as well.) Postmodern theory, having renounced the authority of reason, as modernity earlier had renounced the authority of revelation, no longer asserts anything positive or substantive. From the Hegelian ‘what is rational, is actual; and what is actual, is rational’, it has degenerated into the a kind of nihilistic belief that both actuality and rationality are ‘opaque’ concepts and that human existence cannot be structured, planned, or predicted because, ultimately, it is subject to the chaotic rule of contingency and irrationality!

The ideological movement directly responsible for bringing about the current crisis of norms and values is associated with historicism that has its root in the philosophy of ‘German Idealism’. Though the term historicism has acquired too many, mutually contradictory, meanings to satisfactorily serve as an emblem of moral and cognitive relativism, restricting it to the German philosophy and historiography, starting from the historian Ranke and ending with the philosopher Heidegger, helps us keep our focus on the theme of relativism and the crisis of values(30). Tersely put, historicism represents a ‘German’ reaction to the classical doctrine of natural law. According to its champions, ‘historicism liberated modern thought from the two-thousand-year domination of the theory of natural law, and the conception of the universe in terms of "timeless, absolutely valid truths which correspond to the rational order dominant throughout the universe" was replaced with an understanding of the fullness and diversity of man’s historical experience.’(31). This insight, according to its champions, constitutes ‘the highest stage in the understanding of things human attained by man.’(32)

The basic tenets of historicist philosophy, which, ironically, had the unsought consequence of undermining Western man’s faith in rationality, may be summarised as follows: 1) The centrality of the state in human experience and the supremacy of the idea of Machtstaat (power-state) in political theory; 2) Anti-normativism, or the rejection of thinking in normative terms; 3) Anti-conceptualism, or the rejection of conceptualised thinking(33). In retrospect, it is easy to realise why this reckless historicisation of human reality, the vengeful ‘elimination of transcendence’ from the province of human thought as it were, should have opened that wound which, by relativising all values, today causes so much pain in the Western soul! The humanist’s hope that historicism had ‘the power to heal the wound it has caused’(34) proved vain and, according to some, the philosophical foundations of Nazi inhumanity already lay in the historicist project(35).

After the failure of historians to bridge the gap between norm and history, it was the turn of the philosophers to overcome this notorious ‘antinomy of reason’. The final chapter in this edifying tale was written by no other than Heidegger, the pompous ‘Philosopher of Being’ and the notorious sympathiser of Nazism! The moral bankruptcy of the historicist vision was fully revealed in Heidegger’s Teutonic jabber. For contrary to his claims, he could not redeem the promise of resolving the aporias of historicist thought but was forced to masquerade his miserable failure as an indictment of the whole tradition of Western metaphysics that had been ‘forgetful of Being.’!(36) By his reduction of Being to Time, and man to pure historicity, Heidegger reveals himself to be a veritable dahri thinker, a nihilist, a denier of all values and an atheist! Hence, the following statement, which trenchantly points out that ‘the being whose fate Heidegger ponders is the quintessence of this world, it is seculum. Against this theology should guard the radical transcendence of God, whose voice comes into of the kingdom of being from without’(37), is fully consonant with the Islamic sentiment that stems from its unnegotiable commitment to transcendence. For without transcendence, there is neither ethics nor politics. The immanentist philosophical foundations of secularism cannot withstand any normative edifice that houses a morally binding theory of politics.

The greatest casualty of the historicist assault on transcendence is, of course, ethics and universal morality. For, the sovereign man, the man without any accountability in the here-after, sought his immediate salvation, his enlightenment, first in the realm of nature, then in that of reason, but finally in the world of history. He strove to replace the authority of a transcendent God by that of an immanent reason. He convinced himself that the signs of reason are not only manifest in the realm of nature, but are also most cogently visible in the world of human history. What is historically real, what is actual, he triumphantly proclaimed, is rational, and what is rational is ineluctably historically real and actual! The world of history and nature are one and no moral chasm separates an ‘is’ from an ‘ought’.

Alas, upon historicist scrutiny, human reason was found to be as fallible, contingent and parochial as man himself. It provided no secure Archimedean point outside the individual subject or beyond a temporary and opaque societal consensus. The man of enlightenment, who renounced God because He transcends human reason and understanding, was humiliated by his own discovery that both nature and history are bereft of objective and universal reason! The modernist, who believed that reason informs history, was dismayed by the insight that a world governed by reason is a pre-determined world where there is neither morality nor freedom. The postmodernist, who contends that the world of history is not a pre-determined world but is marked by contingency, chance and ‘the mystery of being’, is equally disenchanted by the import of his claim, namely that there are no absolute standards of right and wrong and that every kind of cognitive and moral judgement is ultimately arbitrary. Neither a world redeemed by reason, nor a world damned without it, seems to provide any basis for a moral view of the world!(38)

 

Transcendent Theory in a Historical World

‘The existence of man in political society’, so suggests the ever perceptive political philosopher Eric Voegelin, ‘is historical existence; and a theory of politics, if it penetrates to principles, must at the same time be a theory of history.’(39) This insight aptly captures the central predicament of political science and its propensity for turning to utopian visions for solace. For the political thinker falls between two stools. His is a discourse that straddles a discipline of history he dare not disown and a regime of theory he may not dethrone. Between the two, he must construct that conceptual citadel which would shelter his ideals and realities both. Thus lies, between the earthly slopes of history and the heavenly horizons of theory, that promised land of politics which sustains nations and civilisations, communities and faiths, polities and states.

Given both the symbolic and pragmatic demands of politics, it is imperative that we must clearly enunciate that the aim of utopian thought is not to replace history with eschatology, for that would not be ‘political theory’ but mysticism(40). Similarly, to claim that the universalist demands of Islamic conscience cannot be appeased by a coercive order of parochial states or that the transcendent rationale of the Islamic commitment cannot be compromised by the boons of the global market is however not to renounce historical existence as inauthentic and sub-Islamic. Nor is it to carry out a spurious ideological transaction whereby the Muslim barters the inauthentic and ignoble present for an authentic and glorious past. No, neither a politics of cultural despair, nor an orthodoxy of pristine faith need be the outcome of looking our modern world straight in the eye.

As for secularism, which impinges on contemporary Islamic thought in a most obtrusive manner, it needs remembering that secularism, like any darling child, has many names. In contemporary literature it is presented, either humbly, as a rejection of ecclesiastical authority, a model for pluralism, a theory of society, a doctrine of governance; or augustly, as a philosophy of history, a creed of atheism, an epistemology of humanism; or even more grandiosely, as a metaphysics of immanentism that corresponds to the ultimate scheme of things. Within the academic discourse, it is also customary to accord it an almost Socratic definition and distinguish its various manifestations as a process of history (secularisation), a state of mind and culture (secularity) and a theory of truth (secularism). (One may note the close affinity of these terms with modernity, modernisation and modernism!) Needless to say, not everyone championing its cause ascribes to all these claims, nor is every expression of the secularist, this-worldly, conscience and piety antithetical or inimical to Islam.

The separation of church and state, for which there are no authentic Islamic models simply because Islam lacks a church, can, in my opinion, be accepted by the Islamic conscience. After all, even the classical fuqaha accepted a division of the sacred law into parts dealing with fard ‘ain and fard kifaya, into obligations that are indispensable and incumbent for ‘salvation’ and obligations that may be dispensed, or delegated to others. This classification, which is incontrovertibly authentic and has never been discarded, possesses all the intellectual and moral justification for the bifurcation of the traditional law into a civil and public and a religious and private sphere. What militates against such a development in Muslim societies is not any Islamic propensity for violence or fundamentalism, as the highly orchestrated polemics instigated at the behest of the civilisation in command makes plain, but the refusal of the current regimes to grant its Muslim citizenry the most fundamental of the rights of the secular state – freedom of conscience and religion. Secularism in the Muslim context is construed not as a formal separation of church and state but as an absolute ban on Islamic political conscience, an adamant denial of its right to partake in public debate and propose public policies – no matter how peacefully and ‘democratically’ this civic conscience articulates its societal aspirations! In the final analysis, it is not an issue of Islamic obduracy or militancy but that of the despotic, absolutist and undemocratic nature of the secular Muslim regimes. A democratic Muslim state, by contrast, I am fully convinced, is able to meet all the challenges of secular morality and appease all the demands of Islamic conscience!

Human existence, whether that of community or of the individual, whether the existence of l’homme or the political existence of le citoyen, we must realise, is not only never perfect, it is also forever threatened with extinction. A polis is not an answer to man’s perennial longing for immortality, truth and bliss. We must therefore resist the modern temptation, that of regarding the state to be the ultimate locus of meaning and the final arbiter of human happiness. Only a transcendent God, who rules above history, who transcends the temporal struggles of empires, states and cities, can provide that truth and bliss whose quest is the quintessence of being human.

Unless philosophers of modernity debunk some of their unproven metaphysical assertions about the ultimate truth of immanentism, not until ideologues of the secular state-theory learn to modify their absolutist claim that no public discourse must ever include any allusion to transcendence, so long as the guardians of ‘the lay state’ refuse to recognise that the sacred provisions of the freedom of conscience and expression embrace even trans-historic visions of revealed faith, there is little chance that our secular city and its inhabitants will ever experience anything remotely approaching the bliss and harmony glimpsed through the Utopian vision. For peace in the city and bliss in the soul are two sides of the same human longing.

The ultimate conflict between Islam and modernity, it ought to be clear by now, is neither over governance, nor over technology, not even over society and social engineering but over transcendence and the nature of ultimate reality. As against the immanentist claim of modernity, Islam holds that the ultimate reality is transcendent. Consequently, human reality, inasmuch as it is part of the ultimate reality, stretches beyond the authority of the state and the coercive world-order that sustains it.


Notes