Should Muslims lead European conservatism?

I think this discussion deserves its own post.

In a previous entry, I threw this out:

I’m more convinced than ever that a traditionalist movement in Europe will have to be Muslim-led.  We, the remnant of Christendom, would still have much to contribute to and much to gain from such a movement.  Imagine a movement promoting local self-government for religious communities, which would, yet, mean Sharia in Muslim parts, but also no sodomy indoctrination in Christian parts.  We can lament the fact that Muslims would be more palatable leaders and spokesmen for such a movement for the general public, but we must acknowledge it.

Two of my wisest readers disagreed.  (I should probably say four.  While Alan Roebuck and Bruce Charlton haven’t said anything about this proposal, I’m pretty sure I know what they think of it.)  Marcio Silva writes

This is a point where we disagree, by a large margin. I would like to, respectfully, address two aspects of your proposal. The first, is the question on exactly how is your proposal of joining the false (in this case, Islam) with what is true (in this case, Christianity) differs from Frank Meier’s fusionism or Tu Weiming’s “modern confucionism”? Will Muslims “tolerate” what they think to be false on Christianity and will Christian “tolerate” what they think to be false on Islam? A “Muslim-led traditionalist movement in Europe” if successful, would turn Europe in a Muslim-led society would it not? If so, I think it is fair to examine how well are the “Christian parts” of other Muslim-led societies going. How are Christians in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran? How well are Christians doing even in Kosovo? You say the Christians have “much to contribute” to this Muslim-led movement. Historically, apart from being a source for slaves, janissaries and, “raw material” to “organic fertilizer”, how exactly Christians “contribute” to Islam and “gain” from it?
The second aspect that I would like to address is the Muslim behavior in Europe. How exactly this crime-prone, violence-prone, gang-rape prone minority (the data on Muslim crime on Kafirs is abundant, as any reader of VFR, GoV or JihadWatch knows), today on a non-leadership position will, once turned in the majority or achieving leadership, behave in a proper and civilized manner? By the way, would you describe Saudi Arabia, Yemen or Pakistan as “conservative” place where you – as a Catholic – would like to live in? Allowing a troublesome ethnic-religious group to take the leadership of a country never ends well. Ask the whites in post-apartheid South Africa.

JMsmith writes

I have to agree with Marcio Silva, that Bonald is wrong in his fourth point. The word tradition denotes a form of knowledge, but without a qualifier indicates no particular content. Traditional knowledge is knowledge received on authority from the past, usually on the assumption that the people or person who originated the tradition enjoyed some sort of epistemic advantage. This is why modernity opposes all tradition. It stipulates that the present always has epistemic advantage over the past. Because modernity opposes tradition as a form of knowledge, it lumps all traditions together, regardless of content. We traditionalists are not, however, committed to tradition as a form of knowledge, but rather to the received content of our own particular tradition. So, coming to the point, European Muslims will not create a Traditional society, they will produce an Islamic society. If I had to choose between Islam and Hedonistic Nihilism, I think I’d choose Hedonistic Nihilism.

One big issue is how Christianity and Islam relate.  Is any alliance between the two as intellectually incoherent as Frank Meier’s fusionism or Tu Weiming’s Enlightenment-friendly Confuciansim?  I don’t think so; I would say that Christianity and Islam are rivals but not opposites.  Libertarianism and social conservatism, and Confucianism and the Enlightenment are movements in opposite directions.  There’s no coherent way one can push both at the same time.  One can advance Christianity and Islam at the same time.  Their morals and ours are mostly compatible (far more so than are Christian and liberal morals), and in a broad sense, Christians and Muslims would like to push Europe in the same direction (less public blasphemy, less pornography, less usury).  The particularities of our own traditions can be pursued at the local level, since Christians and Muslims usually live in different places, so a robust localism can serve us both.  What’s more, this is the means of coexistence endorsed by both our traditions.  Muhammad himself said that Christians should be unmolested in our own enclaves, while we Christians are obliged to promote subsidiarity when possible.  Both Christians and Muslims accommodated religious minorities through ghetto arrangements in the Middle Ages; it’s the sensible thing to do.  The liberals, by contrast, think they have a right to indoctrinate other people’s children.

Let’s also not loose sight of the contemporary reality.  A Muslim-dominated conservative Europe may not be the ideal, but at this point I think it’s by far the most viable alternative to a completely Leftist Europe.  Christianity is toxic in the public mind.  Europeans think we’re all a bunch of bigots and mass-murderers.  And let’s not forget that half of those European Christians are Roman Catholics, who in the public mind are all child molesters.  No one would ever vote for us.  On the other hand, Islam, as they’ve been told ad nausium, is the religion of peace.  Also, while the genetic differences between us and Turks or Arabs is small, they are regarded as non-white for some reason, which automatically gives them higher status in the European mind.  Finally, they are a more formidable force because of their self-confidence.  They really know that they’re right, and they don’t care what the New York Times says.  Christians conservatives, on the other hand, are use to defeat.  We’ve known nothing else for two centuries.  We’ve come to expect it.  We go into every fight demoralized, worried more about how to avoid social ostracism for what we know will turn out to be an unpopular cause than about how to make it a popular cause.  The Muslims are psychologically better equipped to fight than we are.

Most importantly, between Islam and hedonistic nihilism, I’d choose Islam hands down.

More thoughts on the Breivik fallout

  1. I’m starting to think that David and Reggie are right:  the Leftist establishment will be smart enough to know that the real extreme Right is less of a threat than the mainstream, anti-Islam Right.  The latter is more likely to attract terrorists than the former.  Also, the Left will know better than to waste the political capital they’ve just been handed attacking marginal figures like me.
  2. Larry Auster has announced that he doesn’t fear an investigation of the Right-blogosphere by the authorities.  He thinks it will quickly remove any suspicion that we’re promoting violence.  I suppose it is unlikely that the police will be coming around to take us to jail.  (I’m still a bit worried about rkirk, though.  He’s in the center of the storm.)  However, there are other and better ways to retaliate against us, should the establishment wanted to do so.  One possibility is that the press could take a more direct responsibility for punishing ideological nonconformists, just by picking several of us individually and whipping up lots of bad publicity, say by doing a hit piece on a different blogger each day.  For example, it wouldn’t be too hard for the press to discover my identity, tar me as a “homophobe”, and get me fired from my job, and indeed make me unemployable.  I guarantee that my university would not endure protests and bad publicity for my sake.  Of course, you may say that untenured faculty are in a peculiarly vulnerable position, but that’s not true.  If you work for any medium to large-sized corporation, they no doubt have an extensive diversity bureaucracy that will spring into action once the media targets you.  While they claim not to police the beliefs of their employees, they can always say your non-PC beliefs were creating a “hostile atmosphere” in which gays and Muslims can’t flourish.  But you never mentioned these beliefs at work, you say?  Doesn’t matter:  the media has made sure that all your coworkers know what you think.  Now your very presence creates a hostile atmosphere.  And losing your job is only the beginning!  Media finger pointing can be a trigger for ACT UP,  Antifa, the Black Panthers, or other militant groups to vandalize your property and physically intimidate you and your family.  Freedom of speech is still on the books, but your life has been made a living hell.  Actually, I think this is basically how things work in Europe already.
  3. Again, I don’t think the American far-Right is in danger.  The Left has bigger fish to fry.
  4. I’m more convinced than ever that a traditionalist movement in Europe will have to be Muslim-led.  We, the remnant of Christendom, would still have much to contribute to and much to gain from such a movement.  Imagine a movement promoting local self-government for religious communities, which would, yet, mean Sharia in Muslim parts, but also no sodomy indoctrination in Christian parts.  We can lament the fact that Muslims would be more palatable leaders and spokesmen for such a movement for the general public, but we must acknowledge it.

Allah and God: the debate continues

Readers may be interested in the debate between Peter S. and Alan Roebuck in the comments of my post “Maverick Philosopher on whether Muslims worship the same God“.

A difference between Catholic and Protestant traditionalists

The Christian reactionary is confronted by two “Others”.  On the one hand, there are liberals, the members of his own civilization who share many of his habits and history and yet wish to cut this civilization off from its Christian roots.  On the other hand, there are the other religions and civilizations:  Islam, pagan antiquity, and the Orient.  There are, thus, three points on his ideological map.  In principle, there’s no reason the three points couldn’t be equally spaced, each equally different from the other two.  In practice, the Christian reactionary usually takes one of two positions.

  1. Regard Christians and liberals as closer to each other than either is to non-Christian civilization.  Liberals are our wayward brethren.  They’ve forgotten how the stuff they value, like human rights and the presumption of a rational universe, depends on Christian revelation.  Before and outside Christianity, the world is cruel and vicious, and not at all what liberals would want.  The non-Westerners are the real threat.  They don’t just criticize our civilization from within; they would destroy it from without.  Practical implication:  make common cause with Right-liberals against Islam.
  2. Regard Christianity and other religions as closer to each other than either is to the liberalism.  Liberalism is a freakish departure from the piety, patriarchy, and hierarchy that marks the consensus of all mankind.  Plato, Muhammed, and Confucius stand with us in condemning the liberal abomination, and this fact gives us comfort.  Practical implication:  make common cause with Muslims against feminism.

Right now, I’d like to leave aside the question of which is right and which is wrong.  I have colleagues who I deeply respect on both sides.  What I’ve noticed, though, is that Protestants seem to be noticeably more drawn to position 1 and Catholics to position 2.  Does this seem true to anyone else?  I think what’s going on is that Protestants ultimately feel more at home in the modern world than Catholics.  (It’s when the Reformation happened, after all.)  They are less likely to reject democracy, capitalism, and secular culture in their entirety.  They are more willing to try to salvage some good in the liberal/American tradition.  Catholics, on the other hand, feel more alienated from the modern world (It’s when the Reformation happened, after all.), and more tied to the ancient world.  The idea of a perennial philosophy, that Plato and Aristotle (and, for that matter, Ibn Sina) are on our side, has deep roots in us.  Catholics don’t like the “Christianity saved us from pagan barbarism” argument, because we don’t like it when people put down the Roman empire.

Maverick philosopher on whether Muslims worship the same God

Maverick Philosopher has addressed the question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God.  The question, you’ll recall is whether both believe in the same God, but group understands Him incorrectly, or whether they worship two different beings, one of whom does not really exist.  Basically, MP thinks it comes down to what we mean by “God”, i.e. how reference is established.  If the Christian means “the unique being who fits the following description:  omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, created the world ex nihilo, and is triune” and the Muslim means “the unique being who fits the following description:  omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, created the world ex nihilo and is unitarian”, then, no, the Muslim and Christian are not talking about the same being.  They’re talking about different beings, (at least) one of whom doesn’t exist.  On the other hand, if by “God” we refer to a cause–“whatever it was that caused my mystical experience” or “whatever it was that communicated with Moses”, then Christians and Muslims may be referring to the same being.

I think there are serious problems with both of these possibilities.  Identifying God by some particular experience seems wrong.  Suppose Moses’ experience was actually caused by a chemical imbalance in his brain or by clever extraterrestrials.  We wouldn’t call the brain disfunction or the aliens “God”; we would rather say that Moses was mistaken in thinking that God was talking to him.  I prefer the first theory, that reference to God is mediated by a concept.  However, I don’t think “triune” or “unitarian” are part of that concept.  “God is three persons” seems like a synthetic, not an analytic proposition to me.  I wouldn’t imagine that I could tease out the Trinity just from my definition of God.  This is not to say that God is not necessarily triune.  But what we have is not God’s essence, but a concept that we know doesn’t capture that essence completely.  So things that are necessarily true by God’s essence may not be necessarily true by our definition of Him.  The definition of God I would think would be something more vague, like “the source and plenitude of being”.  “Who created God?” and “What if human beings are more perfect than God?” are nonsense; someone who said them would betray that they don’t understand what we mean by “God”.  “God is not triune” is heretical, but not nonsensical.  So I restate my claim that Christians and Muslims do worship the same God.

The universal hunger for Whiggery

The odious Michael Novak seems to have gotten it into his head that, having been a major player in the wrecking of Catholicism, he should now turn his demolition energies to Islam.  Islam, he says, is ready for a “development of doctrine”, by which he means what liberal Catholics always mean by that phrase–a capitulation to liberalism.

Here’s how this cretin thinks (my remarks in black):

I was very early at the center of the American Catholic argument on religious liberty. Reporting from Rome during the Second Vatican Council, I recorded the first passionate stirrings of the discussion of religious liberty at the Council, and followed the backstage private debates at individual episcopal conferences. That is where I first heard the name Karol Wojtyla, the new and youngest ever cardinal of Krakow, and his fresh insistence that the episcopal conferences of Central and Eastern Europe must have a declaration of religious liberty from the Council. Some say his cool intellectual passion did more than anything else to sway Paul VI to throw his weight in favor of bringing that issue to a vote, even though powerful forces (especially but not only) in the Latin world feared greatly that it would lead to relativism and religious indifferentism.  [And how’d that work out for us, Mike?  Didn’t it lead straight to relativism and indifferentism?  Weren’t the Latins completely vindicated?  Staggering that after seeing the Catholic Church follow his advice for half a century and experience nothing but unmitigated catastrophe, he still never thinks to reconsider.]

In a word, I saw firsthand how the Catholic Church needed a “development of doctrine”—and quickly—on religious liberty. As an American, I was acutely aware of how late it was in coming. [Note the Whig/Marxist invocation of the infallibility of “progress”.  If I may paraphrase:  “The Catholic Church needed to GET WITH IT.  We were so far behind those wonderful, brilliant deists and freemasons.  This was especially clear to Americans, who have a constitution written by God Almighty.  We’re so much better than those dirty Italians!  We have LIBERTY running through our veins!”  Am I right Mike?  You fucking twit.]  I could not help rejoicing, later, at the powerful similarities between key passages of the Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty and central lines of argument in James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.    [What could be more gratifying than to have stopped thinking like Thomas Aquinas and Piux IX and started thinking like a bunch of deist, freemason, Jacobin traitors?]

Catholicism now a heap of rubble, Novak is turning his attention to the live prey of Islam.

Ever since 1991, a large number of shrewd Arab observers have noted that the progress of one partially successful election after another, and the quick and successful removal of Saddam Hussein, the megalomaniac and sadistic tyrant of Iraq, stimulated the publication of far more books and articles published in the Arab world on freedom, human rights, and democracy than during the preceding five hundred years. [Ready for freedom = has a weaker military than the United States]  It is as if millions, watching these events unfold on television, suddenly asked themselves, why can’t we govern ourselves by our own consent? [Right, I’m sure that’s just what they’re thinking.  “Those lucky Iraqis.  If only America would invade and conquer us!”]  Why can’t we reach our own constitutional accommodation between Islam and the state, each one preventing the other from totally dominating our societies?  [Dipshit.  “Islam” doesn’t mean what Christians mean by “the Church”.  It means “submission to God”.  Any believing Muslim will tell you that submission to God (Islam) should govern every aspect of our lives.]

Next Novak lists principles in Islamic theology that he thinks lead naturally to liberal democracy.  You really should read the whole thing just to see how bad reasoning can be, how utterly intellectually bankrupt is Whiggery.  Some highlights:

On the first characteristic: Allah is so great, so beyond measure, so beyond compare, that his greatness is a warning to any mere mortal spokesman about hisown shortsightedness and inadequacy in the face of Allah. The greatness of Allah relativizes all human pretensions. No matter how wealthy or powerful a human being is, in comparison with Allah, this is as nothing. “Allahu Akbar!” opens the mind to the possibility that only Allah knows all the paths that lead to him, and that women and men would do well to respect the freedom of religious conscience of all persons.  [And what if Allah tells us to conquer the infidels and set up an Islamic state?  How does epistemic humility excuse the believer from following plain divine commands?]

Islam speaks constantly of rewards and punishments not only after death but also in this life. Such assertions make no sense at all if Muslim theology does not assume personal choice, on which such rewards and punishments are meted out. The doctrine of personal liberty and responsibility may remain largely implicit, not nearly often enough explicit, in Muslim tradition and catechesis. But without it as a foundation, the central preaching of Islam about reward versus punishment makes no sense whatever.  [“Humans have free will; therefore, the state should let them do anything they want.”  I keep coming across this same moronic piece of pseudo-reasoning.  Why is it so popular?]

Bernard Lewis, for example, points to five features of the Muslim culture. First: “Islamic tradition strongly disapproves of arbitrary rule.” [As did the Romans, the scholastics, and the royal absolutists.  There’s nothing distinctly Whiggish or liberal about that.]  Lewis adds that in Islamic tradition, the exercise of political power is conceived of “as a contract, creating bonds of mutual obligation between the ruler and the ruled.” Other writers emphasize at this point the great efforts that Muslim rulers are expected to go through to achieve consensus among all branches of society.  [This is true to the extent that Islamic states since the end of the caliphate have had weak legitimacy in the eyes of their subjects–they’re nothing but contracts until the caliphate or the hidden Imam returns.  The tribe has real authority, because it rests on a more solid foundation.  Also, the Islamic state is weaker because its only job, for a pious Muslim, is to administer rather than to legislate.  The law is already given by God, and it would be sheer impiety to replace Sharia with man-made law.]

The second resource Lewis notes is the need for continuing consent: “The contract can be dissolved if the ruler fails to fulfill or ceases to be capable of fulfilling his obligations.”

The third is the Islamic notion of civil disobedience, namely, that “if the sovereign commands something that is sinful, the duty of obedience lapses.” One Hadith says, “Do not obey a creature against his Creator.” Another adds, “There is no duty to obedience in sin.”

The second resource Lewis notes is the need for continuing consent: “The contract can be dissolved if the ruler fails to fulfill or ceases to be capable of fulfilling his obligations.”

The third is the Islamic notion of civil disobedience, namely, that “if the sovereign commands something that is sinful, the duty of obedience lapses.” One Hadith says, “Do not obey a creature against his Creator.” Another adds, “There is no duty to obedience in sin.”  [Again, something people have always believed.  There’s nothing incipiently liberal about this.]

Here in the States, we’re teaching Muslim immigrant students to think like Michael Novak.  Consider this statement, quoted by Novak, from Dr.(!) Khaled Abou El Fadl of the UCLA School of Law:

My argument for democracy draws on six basic ideas: 1) Human beings are God’s vicegerents on earth; 2) this vicegerency is the basis of individual responsibility; 3) individual responsibility and vicegerency provide the basis for human rights and equality; 4) human beings in general, and Muslims specifically, have a fundamental obligation to foster justice (and more generally to command right and forbid wrong), and to preserve and promote God’s law; 5) divine law must be distinguished from fallible human interpretations; and 6) the state should not pretend to embody divine sovereignty and majesty.

I think this paragraph should be placed on Wikipedia, under the article “Non sequitur”.

What can turn nice Western Muslim boys into bomb-wielding terrorists?

Surprise!  It’s the same thing that turns non-Muslim boys into bomb-wielding terrorists.  How did it not occur to me before?  For those who haven’t guessed, here’s some hints:  it starts with a “U”, and I work at one.  Is it any wonder that an environment that makes kids think it’s cool to go around wearing T-shirts with pictures of psychopathic mass-murderer Che Guevara might make it more likely that a minority of these kids will act on their own mass-homocidal impulses?

Review: Beyond the Global Culture War

I’ve actually been promoting this book for a while, so it’s about time I gave it a formal review.

The name of this book is unfortunate.  Usually when someone says they want us to get “beyond” the culture wars, he really means he wants conservatives to surrender to liberalism.  That’s not what the author, Adam Webb, means.  He wants to fight the culture war more aggressively and win.  His key idea is that we antiliberals need to expand our horizons and realize that we are part of a global struggle; people are fighting the same fight in the Muslim, Hindu, Far Eastern, and Latin American worlds.  Our best, perhaps only, hope of victory is a trans-civilizational alliance of communitarians and traditionalists of various sorts.

This is a very important point.  Unfortunately, while conservatives in the West resist (albeit ineffectively) liberalism at home, we tend to uncritically accept the liberal perspective on the rest of the planet.  So we cheer for secular democracy in the Muslim world, for the Indian Congress Party, and for Chinese capitalism, not realizing that we’re promoting liberal hegemony and our own isolation.  Liberalism, secularism, and feminism are–we imagine–right about the rest of the world, but wrong about us.  This is a difficult position to defend; it grants far too much to our enemies.  If the rest of the world’s traditions were ignorance and oppression, it would be hard to believe ours are any different.

Webb retells the culture war of the last century from a global perspective.  In his telling, each society has four different ways, which he calls “ethoses”, of understanding itself, and the culture war is a battle between the adherents of each ethos.  Demoticism is the egalitarian communitarianism of the village peasant:  community is the supreme value, roles and duties are clear, but distinctions other than age and gender are frowned upon.  Perfectionism is the individualistic ethic of self-cultivation found in aristocrats and mystics.  Society is the arena in which virtue is developed and exercised, but most important is the society-transcending ideal of virtue or holiness to which individuals try to conform themselves.  Demots value embeddedness in a community at the expense of having a transcendent horizon, while perfectionists keep society-transcending standards at the cost of spiritually separating themselves–to some extent–from their communities.  Virtuocracy tries to combine the two:  there is a transcendent standard of goodness, but it can be embodied in the life of the community through the ministrations of a clerical class, such as the Catholic clergy, the Muslim ulama, the Hindu Bramins, and the Chinese mandarins.  Finally, there are is atomism, which combines the demot’s dislike of hierarchy and transcendent standards with the perfectionist’s dislike of community.  Historically, atomists like the Greek sophists and the Chinese legalists have rarely held power, but in the last century they have launched a worldwide coup, achieving global hegemony and marginalizing the other three ethoses.

The West succumbed early, but in most places the atomist insurgency really only got going a century ago, when atomist intellectuals started criticizing native traditions for holding their countries back and slowing down modernization.  In midcentury, the atomists made a sort of pact with demotic sensibilities; virtuocratic elites were attacked, marginalized, and largely destroyed, as enemies of the common folk.  By 1980, atomists were powerful enough to revoke this pact and turn their hostility on the common people, who were now denounced as bigots and fanatics who need to be controled by their enlightened (atomist) betters.  Antiliberal activism since then has been largely demotic (populist/fundamentalist) and has suffered from demots’ limited horizons and weak sense of group agency.  In only one case did a virtuocratic elite sieze power–in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  While Iran is certainly a most promising center of antiliberal resistance, it is compromised–according to Webb–by being limited to one nation-state.

According to Webb, the world’s cultural capital is being eroded quickly by atomist attacks.  In another few decades, the damage could be irreversible, and history really will end.  Therefore, he believes the whole world order must be overthrown and reconstituted before that time.  The rebellion should represent the other three ethoses but be led by the natural leaders, the virtuocrats.  Unfortunately, he’s not able to be more specific than that.  Many of the virtuocrats he mentions, like neo-Confucian intellectuals, are just a few isolated academics who probably aren’t going to be overthrowing anything.  One can’t help but think that Islam is going to have to provide most of the manpower if this fantasy is actually going to come true.

Webb would like to see the antiliberal crusade commit itself to righting what he sees as the great injustice of capitalism, namely that the global South is so much poorer than the global North.  He thinks that, since we’re not so attached to economic freedom as the liberals, we will be able to offer the world a much more drastic wealth redistribution.  I think this is probably backwards.  Historically, atomists gave us socialism, after all, while in places like Iran the clerical faction has been more careful to guard property rights (considered an Islamic principle, as it is considered a Christian one) against atomist social engineering.  It is also not clear to me that justice demands nations’ wealths be equalized, or that it would be good for the global South to start essentially living on the dole.  Nonliberals might arrange an uptick in foreign aid, but I wouldn’t expect more of us than that.

Webb’s diagnosis is excellent, and I hope for that reason that conservatives will read this book and take it to heart.  While overthrowing the world order would be nice, I would like to start thinking about a more basic step.  How can we Christian conservatives make contact with our Muslim, Hindu, and Confucian counterparts?  How can we learn about them?  What sort of collaborations might be immediately fruitful?  What sort of structures might we put in place to foster regular contact and collaboration?

Review: The Myth of Religious Violence

The reason I would like to see more conservatives in academia is so they can write books like this.  In this important study, William Cavanaugh deconstructs one of liberalism’s primary legitimating myths–that religion is unusually violence-prone, and their secular rule is necessary to keep us Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims from killing each other.  The story–and I know you’ve heard it a thousand times, as have I–is that religion and politics used to be illigitimately “mixed”, but that led to the wars of religion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when Catholic and Protestants tried to impose their creeds by force, and the slaughter was only ended when the secular state stepped in, regulated religion to its proper (private, socially irrelevant) role, and established peace, reason, and tolerance.  Today that happy settlement is threatened by crazy Muslims who haven’t yet privatized their religion, but we’re going to cure them of their craziness by bombing, invading, and shooting them into rationality–for their own good, of course.

There are just three things wrong with this great myth of liberalism:  1) It’s wrong; 2) It’s incoherent; 3) It’s self-serving propaganda for the secular warfare state.

1) It’s wrong

No historian of early modern times accepts the mythical view of the wars of religion.  The thirty years war was primarily a war between the Catholic Holy Roman Empire and Catholic France.  Both this war and the French “wars of religion” were as much about the consolidation of power in the emerging nation-states (and resistance to that consolidation by German princes and French nobles) as anything else.  Both the Huguenots and the Catholic League were mowed down as obstacles to French state centralization.  Confessionalization, the establishment of sharp confessional boundaries and imposition of religious uniformity in a realm, was part of this process of consolidation.  So the rise of the nation-state was more a cause of the “wars of religion” than their solution.  What’s more, it’s simply wrong that these nation-states separated politics from religion.  In both Catholic and Protestant lands, the state siezed control of the Church and appropriated its of aura of sacrality for itself.  Liberalism didn’t come for more than a century later, when the sacredness of the nation-state was so firmly established that Christianity could be discarded.

2) It’s incoherent

Cavanaugh spends a significant fraction of the book reviews the vast literature on the allegedly violence-prone nature of religion.  He shows that each of these studies is hopelessly muddled with contradictions; none of them even succeed in defining “religion” in a way that would exclude secular causes like nationalism or Marxism.  Religion is supposed to be dangerous because it divides the world into “us” vs. “them”, because it presents utopia to the imagination, because it makes absolute claims about right and wrong and the proper ordering of the cosmos, etc.  In each case, ostensibly secular, modern political/economic systems do the same things, so why single out Christianity, Islam, etc?  Why not just study how belief systems in general, or communities in general, can become violent?  But that would defeat the purpose of these studies, which is to show that something called “religion” is uniquely violence-prone in a way liberalism, nationalism, and the like are not, or at least that its type of violence is worse somehow.  Bizzarely, many of the studies Cavanaugh reviews cite secular violence–nonreligious murderers like Timothy McVeigh or Joseph Stalin, assaults against Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing to salute the American flag, G. W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil”, tribal violence worldwide–as evidence that religion is particularly violence-prone!  The idea is that these secular things or people must have been contaminated by religion.  Here religion is defined as violent and secularism as peaceful, making the claim “religion is violent” tautological.  One writer asserts that Christian just war theory is a concession to secular concerns which had nothing to do with the teachings of Christ, and in the next breath he cites just war theory as evidence of religion’s inherent violence!  The only conclusion I can draw from all this (and there’s more silliness I haven’t mentioned) is that liberal academics are simply incapable of thinking logically when it comes to the issue of religion in society.

3) It’s self-serving propaganda

The secular state is our deliverer from religous kookery!  It tells us so itself.  Sure, sure, secular causes like nationalism, liberalism, and socialism have been known to engage in a bit of violence themselves, but that’s totally different.  The state’s violence is rational–regrettable but often necessary.  Religious violence is irrational.  A man who’ll kill for his religion is a fanatic; a man who’ll kill for his country is a patriot.  This self-serving, question-begging nonsense doesn’t just muddle people’s thinking; it serves two definite political purposes.  First, in domestic political debates, it unfairly marginalizes views that are labeled as “religious”, so that they are automatically dismissed as irrational.  (Think of the times you’ve heard someone say that belief in global warming or opposition to embryonic stem cell research is “religious”.  They didn’t mean “deserving of special consideration and respect”.)  Cavanaugh relates how this has affected U.S. Supreme Court decisions.  Each time the Court bans some public display of religion, it makes some utterly implausible claim about the dangers of sectarianism to national unity, backed up by invoking what we all “know” about the wars of religion.  Second, in the area of foreign policy, it leads us to dismiss the concerns and interests of Muslim peoples as “irrational”.  So, for example, to understand Muslim hostility to American policies in the Middle East, we feel entitled to ignore the secular grievances that they themselves give as their motives, because we all know that that’s just a mask for religious craziness.  Cavanaugh cites some amusing examples of this thinking, which give the impression that Western atheists are often more focused on religion than Arab or Persian Muslims.  Worse, since Muslims are irrational, while we are by definition reasonable, we are entitled to impose our reasonable way on them by force.  New Atheists like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens take this line of thinking to hair-raising extremes to justify outright murder–for Harris, genocidal mass murder of the Muslim population, including possible nuclear first strikes!  This is an extreme, but hardly isolated, instance of a rule that obsessive focus on one kind of violence (“religious”) ends up blinding us to the danger of other types.

My only quarrel with this book is that Cavanaugh borrows from nominalism and postmodernism a seeming hostility toward “essentialism” and an intent to find political manipulation behind every narrative.  Perhaps this was included to put his presumably majority-liberal readers off their guard.  Certainly it serves his purposes, but, then, postmodernism can be used to discredit anything, which makes it useless.  Not all labels are arbitrary, and not all stories are masks of the will to power, but these particular labels are arbitrary and this particular story does exist to mask the liberal libido dominandi, as Cavanaugh proves.  Cavanaugh thinks the word “religion” is meaningless, but I think that goes too far.  Both essentialist definitions (based on a phenomenology of the sacred, a path I follow) and functionalist (Durkeimian) definitions are reasonable and useful.  The problem is just that the authors Cavanaugh critiques keep switching back and forth between the two arbitrarily in order to reach their predetermined conclusion.  Even if “religion” were not well-defined, I certainly think “Christianity” and “Islam” are, and investigations into their essential natures is a reasonable task.

All my readers should buy and read this book so they’ll be ready for the next time someone tells them that religion is the cause of most of history’s violence.  Also, you’ll be aware that calling for the secularization of the Muslim world makes one a dupe for atheism and tyranny.

Muslim individualism, Christian corporatism

The key to the seemingly anarchic or ‘irrational’ growth of the Muslim city may lie in a singular fact of the Shari’a law:  the absence of the Roman-law concept of ‘legal personality’.  In Europe, the public right is an abstraction which can be upheld by defending it in law as a ‘legal person’.  Litigation between the public and private interest can therefore–for civil purposes–take the form of an adjudication between two parties.  In criminal law one party is always the state, which brings a case against a suspected criminal as though it too were a legal party on par with the accused.  This principle applies not only to the state but to companies and corporations, groups of individuals endowed for the purposes of the law with legal personalities.

The absence of juridicial personality in the Muslim law may not have been an oversight:  it is certainly consistent with the uncompromising individualism of the Shari’a.  Many aspects of Roman-Byzantine law and administration were taken over by the Arabs…but in the public sphere the Shari’a seems to have taken no steps to define the interests of the community vis-a-vis those of the individual….

This absence of a juridicial definition of the public sphere had far-reaching consequences.  Islamic law did not recognize cities as such, nor did it admit corporate bodies.  Whereas in late medieval Europe the cities came to be administered by powerful corporations representing the merchant classes, the Muslim city remained in certain respects a collection of villages in which the group interests of families predominated over class interests….In a discussion that covers much of the same ground Pervez Hoodbhoy evaluates the role of Islamic law in inhibiting or preventing the emergence of autonomous cities and corporations and of a self-confident bourgeoisie able to withstand the arbitrary power of dynastic government, a prerequisite for the scientific and technological revolution which gave birth to the modern world….

To add a few links to this argument I suggest that in the West the Church, the ‘mystical body’ of Christ which alone guaranteed salvation, became the archetype in law of a whole raft of secular corporations that suceeded it during the early modern period.  The mystic qualities of fictional personhood originating in the Body of Christ were eventually devolved to joint stock companies and public corporations with tradable shares.  Western capitalism and the bourgeois revolution that accompanied it has a distinctly Christian underpinning (one that is paradoxically ‘Catholic’ rather than ‘Protestant’ in origin, as Weber famously claimed, because its legal foundations are rooted in the idea of the Church as a distinctive body separated from society and infused with divine authority)….The corporate group becomes the vehicle for the accumulation of capital.  The burghers continually reinvest their money in the company which, crucially, not only transcends the sum of its individual members, but exists for eternity, just like the Church.  Whereas Islamic law requires that a merchant’s estate be redistributed amongst his kin upon his death…the capital invested in the western corporation may continue to grow…Hoodbhoy comes close to recognizing the significance of this process in registering a concluding irony:  ‘Paradoxically, a superior moral position–the right of the individual to interpret doctrine without the aid of priests–appears to have led to a systemic organizational weakness which proved fatal to Islamic political and economic–not to speak of scientific and technological–power in the long run.

–Malise Ruthven, from Islam in the World, pp. 167-170