Thursday, November 04, 2010
Four phases of Western universalism, and the humanity of Muslims
The four phases of Western universalism are:
1) Israelite revelation and its early Christian exegesis
(approximately 2,000 B.C. - 500 A.D.)
2) Classical noesis in Graeco-Roman philosophy
(approximately 500 B.C. - 500 A.D.)
3) The fusion of 1 and 2 in classic Western Civilization
(approximately 500 A.D. - 1500 A.D.)
4) The metamorphosis of 3 in modern Western secularism
(approximately 1500 A.D. - the present)
In an article reproduced by Robert Spencer on Jihad Watch about Coptic Christians under Islamic oppression, Raymond Ibrahim writes:
... during the colonial era and into the mid 20th century, as Egypt experimented with westernization and nationalism, religious discrimination was markedly subdued.
This Wilsonian slip of Ibrahim's reflects, no doubt, an anthropomorphization of Muslims which seems typical in the still inchoate anti-Islam movement. Egyptian Muslims didn't "experiment" with Westernization: they were forced to comply with Western ways, and they only did so grudgingly and imperfectly, whilst harboring deep Islamic resentments that festered over the decades until they erupted again in the 20th century with the resurgence of Islam masquerading as "nationalism" under Nasser, and with concurrent currents of Islamic revival in movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood. If religious discrimination during the colonial era was "markedly subdued", it was not due to Muslims suddenly growing up and evolving; it was due to the imposition of Western mores upon them.
By anthropomorphization in this context, then, I mean the endowment to Muslims of the natural capacity for Westernization -- a capacity that is assumed to be shared by all humans. Or, on the flip side, human is assumed to entail that capacity by nature, and so any being who is deemed to be "human" for supposedly purely biological reasons unrelated to political science is inexorably and automatically deemed to possess that capacity by virtue of the implicit (and often unconsciously applied) principle that the standard of human being is the Homo Occidentalis.
Discussion: Western Universalism and Humanity
This assumption, of course, didn't just fall from the blue sky: it is part of the Western development of political science, which itself in classical terms (pace Socrates, Plato and Aristotle) is the heart of philosophy. As the West began its transformation into Christendom beginning in earnest in the 4th century A.D., the noetic heritage of Graeco-Roman philosophy became absorbed into the Christian theologoumena -- whose Judaeo-Christian anthropology in its turn significantly informed and augmented the universalism already implicit in the perduring legacy of Graeco-Roman philosophy.
What makes this Western development of political science unique is its maximal differentiation of universalism. By universalism in this context, I mean the transcendence out of tribalism toward the vision that all human beings are human.
Immediately, the reader becomes aware of the circular premise of the definition: If we already know that those beings we are endowing with humanity are human, then wouldn't that endowment be superfluous? Part of the complexity, of course, is that "human" isn't a fact lying around like a rock to be picked up (nor has it fallen from outer space like a conveniently intact meteorite to be picked up and applied); it is a complex symbolism indicative, precisely, of this millennial process of evolving out of tribalism into universalism -- a process that, incidentally, remains unfinished, and probably always will be incomplete (not to mention flawed -- which, however, doesn't mean it is not a noble enterprise nonetheless).
Modern secular natural science, in its characteristically cavalier and incoherent arrogation of philosophical questions, implies a way out of this circular conundrum: With the exception of certain (honest) atheists who try to defend a radical materialism devoid of ethics, advocates of modern natural science (who are culturally dominant in the modern West) define "human" according to materialist biological criteria, then incoherently endow that biological class, "humans", with qualities inherited from our Western philosophical and theological traditions. This provides an incoherent solution to the circular paradox noted above, bifurcating "human" into two levels or phases, the biological and the spiritual (but still denying the spiritual dimension). First, any given being who is materially defined as "human" is endowed immediately with the biological identity of "human". Then, immediately consequent upon that, it is assumed apodictically that such biological beings are endowed -- or capable of being endowed -- with the spiritual quality of "human" (even as the modern secularist may continue to eschew the term "spiritual").
The more atheist and materialist a person is, the more likely he will assume the immediate and automatic endowment of spiritual qualities as a consequence of the biological identity of "human" -- though as is readily apparent to the reader, such an endowment increases in incoherence the more immediate and automatic it is, insofar as the materialism framing such an endowment logically excludes the spiritual level. Some atheist materialists try to squirm out of this problem with elaborate theories of complexity whereby they try to have their cake of positing essentially material entities and processes (e.g., the brain) whilst at the same time endowing those entities and processes with qualities that seem super-material.
Meanwhile, those who accept the reality of the spiritual level of humanity have their own little paradox to deal with. There is first the paradox of the (biological) human who is not quite fully "human" yet, until it is endowed with spiritual awakening of one form or another (whether being "born again" in the Protestant Christian model, or following the pull of the golden cord of the Agathon while resisting the pulls of the baser cords according to the Platonic model, or attaining modern liberal Enlightenment; or any number of other models derived from Western, and sometimes also Eastern, tradition). Few spiritualists would blatantly present -- let alone believe in -- a model whereby beings are deemed "animals" until they are inducted into the preferred model of spiritual awakening. Nevertheless, implicit in the process they advocate is a tension which points toward release in such an explanation.
The posture to adopt, as always (pace Voegelin), when there is palpated a tension whose resolution is impermissible, is to cultivate the tension as an insoluble component of the overall mystery of reality.
Insofar as Western laws reflect the rights deemed to appertain to the "human" and to the societies which humans develop and constitute, they serve to sustain a sociopolitical system of a shared anthropogoumena (intimately dependent, of course, upon the theologoumena and philosophoumena of Western tradition, and not meant, pace the Enlightenment Philosophes, to supplant them).
However, implicit in any such legal system are also penalties whereby the given society of humans punishes those among their fellows who behave in ways that go against humanity in any number of ways, ranging from the mundane to the more ethically monstrous. The superseding right of human society, then, to punish individual humans (or groupuscules of humans) for breaking the law reflects a judgment upon those individuals as having regressed from their humanity and having thus forfeited -- to whatever degree is appropriate -- their humanity, or a portion thereof. Often, this forfeiture of humanity is temporary: incarceration for a few months, or years. When the individual is freed and all charges wiped clean, his humanity qua a social being is restored. Sometimes, an individual is incarcerated for life, or executed, in which case his humanity (or a portion thereof) is irrevocably stripped from him by his society. Deportation -- of an individual or of a group -- similarly represents a dehumanization, insofar as the person or persons being deported are being banished from the cosmion of the society doing the deportation. A program of enforced deportation coupled with enforcement of a quarantine preventing the deportees from returning, would be the logical form of deportation, particularly with a group as dangerous as Muslims. (To be clear: A deportation of Muslims would not result in their dehumanization; rather, society's conclusion that Muslims are in a state of forfeiture of their humanity would lead to the rational policy of deportation, insofar as that forfeiture is actualized in seditious activities lethal to the society which decides it must deport them to protect itself.)
Of course, the above description does not intend to proceed absent an underlying tension whereby the legitimacy of the belief in an individual's humanity perdures, somehow, even during his legal dehumanization by his society. The point of this meditation, however, is to raise into luminosity the other legitimacy with which the more popular one that sentimentally champions the individual at all costs is in realistic and pragmatic tension insofar as humans need society as part of their humanity.
The Four Phases of Western Universalist Idealism:
Now we can get to the core of this essay. To repeat what began this essay:
The four phases historically are:
1) Israelite revelation
2) Classical noesis in Graeco-Roman philosophy
3) The fusion of 1 and 2 in classic Western Civilization
4) The metamorphosis of 3 in modern Western secularism.
Some factors to keep in mind about these phases:
a) The phases are not neatly distinct in time and space; there are overlaps both in time and in terms of cross-cultural influences.
b) Each phase may have important sub-phases, and some of the sub-phases may be in tension with, or even contradict, others.
c) The entelechy of universalism may be said to be cumulative, in the sense that each new differentiation contains and does not contradict the previous more compact insights, even while amplifying them with increasing luminosity about the mystery of reality.
Meanwhile, distinct from the overall process of the four phases, two massive cultural forces impinge upon them:
The one, Gnosticism, is a pneumopathology within the West; the other, Islam, is a pneumopathology alien to the West.
One of the many features of Gnosticism which exempts it from the process of the Western illumination of universalism is, obviously, its doctrine of a tiny "Elect" who are endowed with gnosis, salvation, and thus humanity.
Since Gnosticism historically informed the development of Leftism in the West, and since Leftism in turn percolated into the development of PC MC which over the past half century has become the dominant and mainstream paradigm of the modern West, the question naturally arises:
Is the fourth phase of Western universalist idealism a genuine differentation, or is it a deformation of the process?
The only permissible conclusion is that it is a paradoxical fusion of both. The modern West's deformation is enabling a devolution of traditional morals, while simultaneously (and ironically) continuing to hasten its vulnerability to the depradations of the alien Anti-Civilization, Islam. Meanwhile, the modern West's differentiation is the source for a Great Reawakening and recovery of our former rationality by which we will be able to revitalize traditional morals and manage the menace of Muslims in order to protect our societies from them.
What makes this present predicament even thornier than it would be otherwise is that it is precisely not a civil war in the West: it is not a matter of the Good Guys over here, moral knights against Islam, and the Bad Guys over there, amoral libertines-cum-nihilists enabling Islam. The two factions are, if not inextricably, certainly intimately confused with each other -- on all levels, ranging from the psychological (within the hearts and minds of individuals) to the social, the cultural, the political, the geopolitical, and the legal. This does not mean, of course, that there do not exist many individuals, and even groups, in the West who perceive the situation in black and white terms as a civil war (or as a proto-civil war) against "enemies within"; but their perception does not make it so. Indeed, such a paranoid conspiracy theory itself reflects an infusion, or infection, of Gnosticism. Nor does it mean there do not exist a number of individuals who have attained clarity on this issue: they do exist, and their numbers are growing, though still lamentably slowly, and their growth and organization continues to be beleaguered by their relatively minuscule influence in the dominantly PC MC societies around them in the West.
Are Muslims Human?
So how does the analysis above inform the question, Are Muslims human?
The question teases out another question from the analytical complex: namely,
Is the quality of humanity an irrevocable given in every individual being who is defined biologically as a "human" -- or is the quality of humanity a privilege that must be earned, or which once accorded can be forfeited, according to certain spiritualist criteria?
Already, in this secondary question, we see the threat of Gnosticism filtering into the analysis. We must preserve the tension with the paradoxical answer, "Yes and No". This paradoxical answer, however, must not be framed in a facile manner, such that the two parts -- the "Yes" and the "No" -- are unduly detached from one another in order to solve, or bypass, the apparent contradiction: that would be to sunder the tension. I.e., we must not detach man's social dimension (defined through laws) from his ontological dimension. Neither, however, may we fuse the two into one entity devoid of tension. Thus we may say about the Muslim -- as we say about the sociopath and the barbarian -- that qua Muslim and thus qua a renegade from, and outrageous antagonist of, civilized laws, he has not earned the status of humanity.
The question then becomes: Is the Muslim capable of earning humanity, of becoming human?
This question is tricky, and one must be on guard against allowing a facile ontology to insinuate itself into the formula -- in either direction, to erect either pole of the tension into a ground that would abolish the tension. I.e., on the one hand, we cannot simply assume the Muslim is human, and that his humanity is primary, and that thus his inhumane thoughts, speech and behavior are merely accidental, and that once we explain what accidents caused his inhumane thoughts, speech and behavior, we will have the key to helping him reform.
And on the other hand, we cannot simply assume that the Muslim is essentially not human and that it is impossible for him to ever become human. Obviously, we do apparently see Muslim apostates who are not only no longer Muslim, but who also join us in the fight against Islam and who seem endowed with human thoughts, feelings and actions.
The best we can do, given our situation and what we know about Islam and about Muslims, is preserve the mystery of the tension, and try to adumbrate a formulation that best reflects this:
1) The Muslim qua Muslim is not human in the phenomenological sense.
2) The Muslim may be "ontologically" human, insofar as we can posit a human nature he possesses.
3) The Muslim's human nature seems to have little or no effect on his phenomenological inhumanity (other than superficially through the dissimulations of taqiyya).
4) While it is permissible to posit that the Muslim's human nature plays a role in the rare occurrences of apostasization, we cannot extrapolate from there to an assumption that we can know, with sufficient reliability, how this occurs and under what circumstances it may be facilitated (much less should we indulge in sentimentalist and/or Wilsonian expectations of such occurrences happening on a scale sufficiently massive to make a difference for our safety).
Given the above adumbration, then, and when put together with the metastasizing danger which Muslims pose for our societies, it would be foolish and reckless for us to try to develop any kind of significant policy calculated to "save" a signficant number of Muslims by recovering their humanity.
Such a policy of political/psychological salvation is the asymptotic fallacy within the still inchoate anti-Islam movement. Outside that movement, in the dominant and mainstream PC MC culture at large throughout the West, the fallacy is even more foolish and more reckless: it basically involves grand policies based on sweeping assumptions that 1) the vast majority of Muslims are harmless and good (and thus there is no need for them to apostasize); and that 2) Islam is reformable and this reformation will help over time to mitigate and probably eventually marginalize out of significant existence the Tiny Minority of Extremists who are Hijacking Islam.
Were the West to eschew both fallacies, and face the grim reality of the phenomenological inhumanity of Muslims in the terms of the above adumbration, we would no longer be wasting time trying to partner somehow with Muslims and seek their cooperation in our efforts to solve the problems they are causing us. We would thus be led to more rational ways to deal with those problems, all centering around total deportation.
On Eric Voegelin's philosophical overview of Western history.