February 20, 2009

IT TAKES hISTORY A WHILE TO CATCH UP TO HISTORY:

The Persistence of Ideology: Grand ideas still drive history. (Theodore Dalrymple, Winter 2009, City Journal)

In 1960, the sociologist Daniel Bell published The End of Ideology, in which he argued that ideology—understood in the sense of a coherent, single-minded philosophical outlook or system of abstractions intended as much as a lever to change society as a description to explain it—was dead, at least in the West, and in the United States in particular. A combination of democracy and mass prosperity had “solved” the political question that had agitated humanity since the time of Plato. There were to be no more grand and transformative, if woefully erroneous, ideas; all that remained was public administration, with, at most, squabbles over small details of policy. The new version of the old saw, mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body, was a capitalist economy in a liberal democratic polity. That was the lesson of history.

In 1989, as the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were reforming—indeed collapsing—so rapidly that it became clear that Communism could not long survive anywhere in Europe, Francis Fukuyama went one step beyond Bell and wrote an essay for The National Interest titled “The End of History?” In this soon-to-be-famous article, later expanded into a book, Fukuyama suggested that the end of ideology that Bell saw in the West was now global. By “the end of history,” he did not mean the end of events, of course; one team or another would continue to win the Super Bowl, and there might yet be wars between national rivals. But broadly, history had given its lesson and mankind had taken it. Henceforth, those who resisted the march of liberal democracy were like the Luddites, those English workers at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution who smashed machines, blaming them for destroying the independent livelihoods of workers at home.

At the end of his essay, however, Fukuyama—more concerned to understand the world than to change it, by contrast with Marx—implicitly raised the question of the role of ideology in the world’s moral economy. With no ideological struggles to occupy their minds, what will intellectuals have to do or think about? Virtually by definition, they like to address themselves to large and general questions, not small and particular ones: as Isaiah Berlin would say, by temperament, they are hedgehogs, who know one large thing, not foxes, who know many small things. Fukuyama admitted that he would miss ideology, if only as something to oppose. “I have ambivalent feelings for the civilization that has been created in Europe since 1945, with its North Atlantic and Asian offshoots,” he wrote. “Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.”

As it turned out, of course, we did not have long (let alone centuries) to suffer existential boredom. Our dogmatic slumbers—to use Kant’s phrase for the philosophic state from which reading David Hume roused him—had barely begun when a group of young fanatics flew commercial airliners into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, thus demonstrating that pronouncements of the death of both ideology and history were somewhat premature. [...]

The most obvious example of an ideology that came into prominence—or better, prominently into our consciousness—after Communism’s fall was Islamism. Because of its emphasis on returning to Islamic purity, and its apparent—indeed noisy—rejection of modernity, most people failed to notice how modern a phenomenon Islamism was, not just in time but in spirit. This is evident from reading just one of Islamism’s foundational texts: Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones, first published in 1964. The imprint of Marxism-Leninism is deep upon it, especially the Leninist component.

Qutb starts with cultural criticism that some might find eerily prescient. “The leadership of mankind by Western man is now on the decline, not because Western culture has become poor materially or because its economic and military power has become weak,” he writes. “The period of the Western system has come to an end primarily because it is deprived of those life-giving values which enabled it to be the leader of mankind.” Since, according to Qutb, those “life-giving values” cannot come from the Eastern Bloc, he thinks (like Juan Domingo Perón, the Argentinean dictator, and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister) that a Third Way must exist: which, he says, can only be Islam.

Just as in Marx only the proletariat bears the whole of humanity’s interests, so in Qutb only Muslims (true ones, that is) do. Everyone else is a factionalist. In Qutb’s conception, the state withers away under Islam, just as it does—according to Marx—under Communism, once the true form is established. In Marx, the withering away comes about because there are no sectional material interests left that require a state to enforce them; in Qutb, there is no sectional interest left once true Islam is established because everyone obeys God’s law without the need for interpretation and therefore for interpreters. And when all obey God’s law, no conflict can arise because the law is perfect; therefore there is no need for a state apparatus.

One finds a unity of theory and praxis in both Qutb’s Islamism and Marxism-Leninism. “Philosophy and revolution are inseparable,” said Raya Dunayevskaya, once Trotsky’s secretary and a prominent American Marxist (insofar as such can be said to have existed). And here is Qutb: “Thus these two—preaching and the movement—united, confront ‘the human situation’ with all the necessary methods. For the achievement of freedom of man on earth—of all mankind throughout the earth—it is necessary that these methods should work side by side.”

Like Lenin, Qutb thought that violence would be necessary against the ruling class (of bourgeois in Lenin’s case, unbelievers in Qutb’s): “Those who have usurped the authority of God and are oppressing God’s creatures are not going to give up their power merely through preaching.” Again like Lenin, Qutb believed that until human authority disappeared, the leader’s authority must be complete. Referring to “the Arab” of the Meccan period—an age whose moral qualities he wants to restore—Qutb says: “He was to be trained to follow the discipline of a community which is under the direction of a leader, and to refer to this leader in every matter and to obey his injunctions, even though they might be against his habit or taste.” Not much there with which Lenin could have disagreed. The British Stalinist historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote of himself: “The Party had the first, or more precisely, the only real claim on our lives. . . . Whatever it had ordered, we would have obeyed.”

Qutb is as explicit as Lenin that his party should be a vanguard and not a mass party, for only a vanguard will prove sufficiently dedicated to bring about the revolution. And like Leninism, Qutb’s Islamism is dialectical:

[Islam] does not face practical problems with abstract theories, nor does it confront various stages with unchangeable means. Those who talk about Jihaad in Islam and quote Qur’anic verses do not take into account this aspect, nor do they understand the nature of the various stages through which the movement develops, or the relationship of the verses revealed at various occasions with each stage.

Compare this with Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder:

Right doctrinairism persisted in recognizing only the old forms, and became utterly bankrupt, for it did not notice the new content. Left doctrinairism persists in the unconditional repudiation of certain old forms, failing to see that the new content is forcing its way through all and sundry forms, that it is our duty as Communists to master all forms, to learn how, with the maximum rapidity, to supplement one form with another, to substitute one for another, and to adapt our tactics to any such change that does not come from our class or from our efforts.

There are many other parallels between Leninism and Qutb’s Islamism, among them the incompatibility of each with anything else, entailing a fight to the finish supposedly followed by permanent bliss for the whole of mankind; a tension between complete determinism (by history and by God, respectively) and the call to intense activism; and the view that only with the installation of their systems does Man become truly himself. For Qutb’s worldview, therefore, the term Islamo-Leninism would be a more accurate description than Islamofascism.


U.S. as Parent to Countries in Their Teens: a review of GREAT POWERS: America and the World After Bush By Thomas P. M. Barnett (DWIGHT GARNER, NY Times Book Review)
Thomas P. M. Barnett, a former professor at the United States Naval War College, had a surprise best seller in 2004 with “The Pentagon’s New Map.” The title was mildly deceptive; Mr. Barnett’s book was as much about globalization as about military deep-think.

Mr. Barnett’s “new map” split the world into two basic categories: a “functioning core” of nations that are plugged into the global economy, and a “nonintegrating gap” of countries — in the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere — that are chaotic and dangerous because they are cut off from the world’s established markets and institutions.

Mr. Barnett’s sane idea: bring the world’s rowdy, hormonal, emotionally tortured teenage countries to the adult table, and teach them to prosper through capitalism, cooperation and openness. The enemy “is neither a religion (Islam) nor a place (the Middle East), but a condition — disconnectedness,” he explained. [...]

Mr. Barnett’s new book, “Great Powers: America and the World After Bush,” picks up where “The Pentagon’s New Map” left off. His central argument, once again, is the importance of enlightened globalization.

“We are modern globalization’s source code — its DNA,” he declares. We should “take everything we’ve learned along the way and sell it across the planet at suitably discounted prices.”

He is clearly fluent in Thomas L. Friedman’s “flat-world” ideas, as well as in Fareed Zakaria’s notion of the “rise of the rest” in his book “The Post-American World.” Mr. Barnett tinkers with these writers’ theories while adding his own military-wonk spin.

When it comes to globalization’s rough patches, particularly when America is confronting emerging countries or belligerent would-be superpowers, Mr. Barnett suggests that we need to realize that “we’re playing against ‘younger’ versions of ourselves in many instances.” He counsels a kind of parental Zen patience.

“It took us 89 years to free the slaves and 189 years to guarantee African-Americans the right to vote,” he writes. “Women waited 144 years before earning suffrage. If a mature, multiparty democracy was so darn easy, everybody would have one.”


Mr. Barnett has far the better argument here. While Islamicism is an ideology, because it comes after the End of History we recognize its futility and that it is just a minor coda to the Long War

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 20, 2009 9:36 AM
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