January 26, 2004

At least I'm not the only one

It's often quite scary to tread ideological ground that is new to you. This post, for instance, has only gotten responses from Russell Arben Fox and from Seth Edenbaum. Unlike Seth, I fear less from the idea that "Islam is becoming the new Judaism" - indeed, at least two days out of every five I would welcome it - than from the idea that Judaism is becoming the new Islam. We create our enemies, and in the Middle East that aphorism seems to cut both ways.

I expect the main reason though is that hardly anybody reads me here. Links on other blogs don't get updated, but also, I haven't commented terribly often on other blogs lately. I get about half of my hits from search engines. Really, I need to get around to e-mailing the blogs that link to me. Also, I could post a bit more.

I'm going to let my readers in on a little secret. Sometimes, I advocate positions to see if I can get away with them. If I can, sometimes I keep them. Not always mind you, but sometimes. But taking this approach always means wondering if this time I've gone too far.

However, the thing that encourages me right now is the discovery that someone else has tread very nearly the same ground as me. Does anybody know anything about this Chandran Kukathas person? I know he's argued against Brian Barry's anti-multiculturalist arguments, but that's about it. He - I think it's a he - goes one step further than I did and actually targets an element of the orthodox liberal consensus:

Given its nature and traditions, then, there is nothing in Islam that should give us cause for concern if our interest is in the flourishing of a democratic civil society marked by diversity. This is not to say that Islamic political movements have not, or will never, pose any danger. For any political movement can be dangerous. But it is to say that Islam as a creed is not the problem, and may even hold within it some of the resources that supply a solution. Most important among these resources is the tradition of toleration; but not less significant may be the fact that, in the end, it is also distrustful of nationalism.

If all this is true, the real question which ought to be addressed is not so much the problem of reconciling Islam with modern democracy and civil society as the prolem of what model of democracy is most suited to modernity. If the considerations presented in this paper are sound, what should give us most concern is the emergence of models of democratic governance which seeks to extend the power of democratic authority into supra-national institutions, ordered in hierarchical fashion. If democratic institutions are to work to preserve the diverse order of civil society, they will have to look away from models of centralization towards those traditions which are ready to embrace norms of toleration. In this regard, however, the threat comes not from Islam, even though it may at times come from those to misuse its name.

I have an alternative target for some critical review - centralism is something I find it easy to be moderate about. What I have in mind is actually someting far nearer and dearer to liberalism - both in its leftist and rightist forms - than the ideology of centralism and hierarchial government. Liberal ideology has always been somewhat indifferent to the actual structure of administration, seeing it as a realm of pragmatism. I'll put forward my case one of these days when it'll be interesting to see if I can get away with it.

Posted 2004/01/26 17:25 (Mon) | TrackBack

As someone who would have to convert in order to become an Israeli- my mother's a shiksa- my response any question has become that I'd rather convert to Islam. Better a religion in the process of civilizing itself than one sliding into barbarism.
I think you misunderstood me Scott. I don't fear Islam as the new Judaism. I'm a secularist. I think the intellectual rigor of secular jews- a rigor born of religious debate- made European and American culture much richer. The same thing is happening with Islam. What I'm doing I suppose is making defense of 'rooted' cosmopolitanism. It's a complex argument.

I'll read the article later, it looks interesting, but I'll add one thing.
Capitalism is tolerant or pluralistic only in its relations with what, strictly speaking, it deems unimportant. Economic meaning is the only meaning.
One could argue that religious debate is more open than any debate within/from capitalism.

Posted by: seth edenbaum at January 26, 2004 19:46

Well, I would have commented if I had something informed to say. The post is well argued, and those western states that formally have state religions but are effectively atheistic seem to me to have a healthier relationship with _all_ religions than those that make express claims to being secular. And, logically, that should apply to Islamic states as well--hell, the Ottoman Empire was one of the better governed parts of the world for a few hundred years, and they had the occasional Jewish grand vizier.

But, umm, you said all that already, if I read you correctly :-) .

Oh, and sweet! a new word to me: milquetoast. The OED says you're not really of the generation to use it, though, Scott.

Posted by: Aidan Kehoe at January 27, 2004 9:15

I read your stuff here Scott.

As for Kukathas, I can't say I know his work particularly well. He's very much in Will Kymlicka's orbit in terms of arguing about liberalism and culture, and while he disagrees with Kymlicka in some important respects his basic framing of the question of identity is similar. He's a much stronger exponent of "liberal" state neutrality toward groups than Kymlicka, which in his view thus allows for a greater degree of pluralism and non-interference amidst ethnic, language, religious and other groups within the social order. I haven't been especially persuaded by anything I've read by him (I have a much more communitarian view of things), but as I said, I've not made a real study of his ideas.

Posted by: Russell Arben Fox at January 27, 2004 17:48

Russell - I don't mean to minimise my loyal readership. I'm grousing a little, I guess, that it has taken until now to recover my hit count after my disappearance in fall - even though I realise that it is entirely my fault. I did find some stuff on Kukathas - he seems to be in a different poltical current than I am (but then, so is pretty much everybody).

Aidan - I've used "milquetoast" for years, having acquired the term from "Bloom County" like probably everybody else who uses that word from my generation.

Seth - I think I get your point now. I agree with you about capitalism. In fact, I sort of made that point on AFOE a while back.

Posted by: Scott Martens at January 28, 2004 11:34
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