Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Political Science and Islam

For the Westerner who is theologically inclined (such as the 20th-century German-American philosopher, Eric Voegelin, who, though he never in his adult life ever attended one church still considered himself a Christian and, on his deathbed, requested a reading of Psalms in German to soothe his transition from the Tension of Existence to the Beyond of the Tension), yet who has not hardened his theology with hypostatic symbolisms into doctrinaire doxa, rather allowing his ├óme ouverte the flexibility, or the “serious insouciance” (as one might render Plato’s spoudaious paizen), to consider theology from the vantage of Goethe (also a Voegelin’s-eye view)—“As a moralist I am a monotheist; as an artist I am a polytheist; as a naturalist I am a pantheist”—the Demophany of Abraham Lincoln is also a spiritual event of Theophany as it has unfolded in history in the form of the ongoing revelation and noesis of the central problem of political science: Representation:

“...this nation, under God...[a] government of the people, by the people, and for the people...”

What all Muslims (and that tiny minority of Western Christians who remain largely unsecularized) cannot understand is that there is no direct pipeline to God by which to get specific instructions on a blueprint for political science and laws: at best (for the theologically inclined who are also mature enough to grasp the Caesar/God distinction), the necessity for an imperfect mediation of God’s will through the human recipient who then becomes an imperfect conduit of that divine will renders all laws and all political science imperfect and human.

Anywhere on Earth and in history when a human being tells you that some particular law is “not man's law, but God’s law”, he is ipso facto contradicting himself, and you would be a fool to believe him: for you would have neglected to notice a crucial part of the communication: it was a human being who communicated this supposedly exclusively divine law to you! In the very act of a human being proclaiming that some law is purely divine (and not also necessarily filtered and therefore corrupted by the human), the anthropomorphic nature of that law is nevertheless unavoidably implied—and an obtusely unnoticed contradiction replaces the Paradox that has been botched.

The genius of the West, from the time of the pre-Socratics to the present, has been to intuit, and then to analyze and unfold (often, throughout the ages between, particularly the Middle Ages, prayerfully) the paradox of the unavoidably human mediation of all things divine into the further implication first illuminated by Plato (and then brought to perilously reifiable clarity in the God-Man Jesus): Political science—the good life in this imperfect life in tension towards perfection—is a joint venture of God and Man, and not the exclusive province of the one or the other.

The obtuseness of Islam, on the other hand, is to insist that God’s literal laws and OCD rules & regulations and whims came down lock, stock and barrel from on high without suffering any corrosion from the sublunar atmosphere of imperfection as all heavenly meteorites must, and that the agency and intelligence of human beings who receive this God’s revelation have no role to play in its mediation and communication. In fact, for the Muslim mentality, to even hint that human mediation plays any role at all in the revelation of the truth from God is the highest sin. The only permissible role for human mediation in Islam in the presentation of divine revelation to the human sphere and its imposition on it through laws sneaks in through the back door, as it were, through the idea that sometimes humans cannot fully understand Allah’s instructions and so must fill in the blanks with logical guesswork based upon related commands from Allah in the Koran as well as the voluminous deeds and sayings of Mohammed as recorded in the Sira (biographies of Mohammed) and the Hadiths (compendiums of his deeds and sayings along with interpretations thereof by Islamic scholars).


While some flexibility thus manages to have the potential of creeping into these cracks in the theocratic edifice of Islam, there is in Islamic tradition a curious, but internally theo-logical, tendency to favor arbitrary decisions and laws as long as they are reputed to be divinely grounded (through the aforementioned textual links) and to disfavor human reason and judgment—qua human—as authoritative for laws: the Western idea of human reason as a divinely inspired or divinely contiguous—yet at the same time autonomous—source of legal authority is not only foreign to Islamic culture and mentality, but positively repellant and, more to the point, criminally blasphemous.

And thus, the tension necessary for a healthy and mature political science is suppressed in Islam in favor of a static mechanism of absolutism, manifested in a mosaic of local tyrants more or less backed up by the ulema (college of clerics), whose only semblance of change lies in its arbitrary nature countenanced through an acceptance of a hermeneutical fudge factor. In this kind of pathological sociopolitical organism, most of the only change that occurs is change calculated to suppress and oppress genuine reform and evolution, through an ever-shifting power dynamic of coups and counter-coups and all the attendant disorder and evils that entails.


Muslims have spent all their centuries hacking away at anything that threatens to change genuinely in the context of the ever-expanding space that uncertainty and mystery afford as Mankind continues to grow up and proceed on its journey it knows not where. Muslims, like their other Absolutist brothers, the Nazis and Communist Totalitarians, have been hacking away at what they fear the most: the imperfection and mystery through which we all have to navigate without an Absolute compass—those of us seeking God, as well as those of us choosing not to seek God.

No comments: