Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The New Islamists


From Olivier Roy’s article:

The longstanding debate over whether Islam and democracy can coexist has
reached a stunning turning point. Since the Arab uprisings began in late
2010, political Islam and democracy have become increasingly
interdependent. The debate over whether they are compatible is now
virtually obsolete. Neither can now survive without the other.


From: Lawrence

Olivier Roy’s ideas have been much discussed here. I read his Globalized Islam, the Search for a new Ummah, back in 2006. His name comes up often because he is among the most optimistic of the experts on Islam. He is probably the most famous of the optimistic commentators.

Also, Francis Fukuyama in his America at the Crossroads invoked Roy as representing his personal view about the condition of Islam, Islamism, etc. This isn’t surprising, although most people would place Fukuyama on the Right because Fukuyama argued in his The End of History that Liberal Democracy had defeated its rivals Communism and Fascism and there was nothing else out there but dibs and drabs that would be swept up by Liberal Democracy in the course of time. His The End of History was written in 1992 and at the time he saw no reason to take the Islamist threat seriously.

Of course if Fukuyama did take the Islamist threat seriously he would have to revise his “end of history” thesis and move a bit closer to the theory (Clash of Civilizations) of his mentor Samuel P. Huntington.

The “Islamism is a threat” versus the “Islamism is not a threat” debate does not break down cleanly into Left and Right camps. Olivier Roy and Francis Fukuyama argue that Islamism is not a (strategic) threat, but notice that they are both concluding that Islamism is not a threat to Liberal Democracy.

If we were to construct a spectrum of the views regarding Islamism, we would put “threat” at one end, quantified let us say as 10 and “not a threat” at the other, quantified let us say as “0.” Many earlier commentators (close to the “0” wing) wanted to see Islamists as just another “wretched of the earth” group, i.e., to view it in Marxist’s terms. Others thought that while it isn’t a serious threat, Liberal Democracy deserves some abuse for all the evil it did to its opponents over the years.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who believe we are in a life and death struggle. There is an international conspiracy involving dedicated groups bent upon the destruction of the West. Oriana Fallaci and Bat Ye’or are examples of that extreme.

In my own case I have fluctuated between, perhaps, 5 and 7, arguing that Roy and Fukuyama may be right but it is too soon to tell. Also, it is never prudent to assume that a declared enemy is in reality either benign or inept. Prudence demands that a nation’s leaders take declared threats seriously.

In Roy’s article we see “liberal” indications in the Islamic world, e.g., the advancement of women’s rights, but notice that he also says that the Xenophobia against the West has not abated. Throughout the Islamic world, hatred against the West, especially the U.S. and Israel has not diminished. So there is no reason to believe quite yet that a cornerstone of the Liberal part of Liberal Democracy, “tolerance,” is under construction. After all, the Soviets marshaled their women as did the Fascists. Granting equal rights for women does not necessarily make a nation more liberal.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Hayden White and his Tarkegger trope

Back on May 20, 2010 in a fit of frustration over Heidegger’s Nazi involvement I wrote a little poetic fable called “Tarkegger’s Culpability”:

Two days later I wrote “Tarkegger, Heidegger, Foucault, Hayden White, etc.”: At the end of which I wrote “. . . I began wondering what sort of "trope" White would call "Tarkegger." I rarely consider such things as tropes, but White would have. Would White call it "irony"? Perhaps, but I wasn't feeling ironic when I wrote it. But had history developed as portrayed in "Tarkegger's Culpability," its reflection upon Heidegger's "infantile hopes for the future" and "faith in a benign [German] human nature" might have seemed ironic to the survivors -- although by that time some other trope might seem more appropriate, something more malign and involving a ravenous pack of wolves.”

Hayden White read those two articles and commented,

“Tarkegger? It is an anacolouthon.”

I wondered what trope White would apply to Tarkegger the person, but on a first reading I took White to be applying “anacoluthon” to the fable and not the person. Given that reading, any fable would be an anacoluthon in that it isn’t going to follow logically from the concept that gave rise to it. It will jump into another sphere which will have a connection, hopefully not too tenuous, to the jumping off place.

On the second reading I took White to be applying “anacoluthon” to both Tarkegger and Heidegger in the sense that there is no logical connection between them and the conclusions critics have drawn about them. To draw the conclusion more clearly he would be saying that there is a disconnect, an anacoluthon, between the evidence that exists about Heidegger’s Nazi involvement and the conclusions his critics have drawn. If that is what White intends then he would be interpreting my fable as I intended.

On a third reading and with the Deconstructionists in mind White might be saying that there is a disconnect between what Heidegger actually thought and did and my interpretation of what he thought and did. My fable in this sense would be an anacoluthon because it didn’t follow from the historical evidence. I can’t be sure that White didn’t intend this third interpretation – I hope he didn’t, but if he did I would in my own defense refer him to my earlier articles on Heidegger in which I accuse his critics (with better evidence I will assert) of this very thing.

On a fourth reading I wondered whether White was referring more generally to the difficulty of interpreting history based upon not-fully-understood culture. Those who comment upon Heidegger’s Nazi associations make assumptions about the cultural influences that inspired Heidegger. Some of those who assert the worst imagine those cultural influences to be not dissimilar from those that inspired the Nazis themselves. Those willing to view Heidegger’s politics as being similar to Thomas Carlyle’s, engage in a more benign interpretation. All these interpretations whether favorable or unfavorable are anacoluthons in the sense that there is a disconnect between the existing evidence and what is concluded about Heidegger’s character and politics. The gap is bridged by the prejudices of his critics.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

On Sartre and the French Resistance

For someone who hasn’t read recent works on Sartre, the Resistance, and the aftermath of the Vichy period, a few quotes might be helpful:

Michael Curtis in his Verdict on Vichy, Power and Prejudice in the Vichy France Regime written in 2002 wrote “The Myth of a heroic Resistance movement, cultivated by the media and intellectuals in post-war years, has been dispelled in many works over the last two decades. Relatively few, such as the writers Rene Char and Paul Eluard, were courageous in defying the Occupation in their work. On the part or prominent writers – Andre Gide, Paul Claudel, Francois Mauriac, Jules Romains, Roger Martin du Gard, even Andre Malraux until nearly the end of the war – the rule was silence or inaction. This silence was even more deafening in the case of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvior, who so strongly influenced the climate of intellectual opinion after the war, because of their claim not only that they took part in the Resistance in a significant way, but that their courageous defiance inspired their conduct in peacetime.”

On page 232 Curtis writes, “In view of Sartre’s well-constructed self-image as a courageous fighter for freedom against oppression and discrimination . . . [Curtis then discusses some of Sartre’s works].

On page 235 Curtis writes, “One of Jean-Paul Sartre’s magisterial utterances is that ‘the writer is situation in his time: each word has its reverberation, each silence also. I hold Flaubert and Goncourt responsible for the repression that followed the Commune because they did not write a line to prevent it. Balsas, many great writers were silent about Vichy: Andre Gide, Paul Claudel, Francois Mauriac, Jules Romains, Roger Martin du Gard, Andre Malraux until the eleventh hour, and Jean-Paul Sartre.”

On Page 236 Curtis writes, “Barely leaving his table at the CafĂ© de Flore in Paris, Sartre began assuming his various mantles; popular author, admired intellectual, sponsor of avant-garde literature, formulator of a new French form of philosophy and potential endorser of resistance. He wrote in Comoedia, a collaborationist weekly backed by German money. His play Les Mouches and his book Being and Nothingness were approved by the German censors. He even, acccording to one critic, drank champagne with the Nazis at the opening of his play. He was blind to Auschwitz.”

Tony Judt on page 46 of Past Imperfect, French Intellectuals, 1944-1956 wrote, “The initial postwar myth claimed that although fighting Resistance may have been a minority, it was supported and assisted by ‘the mass of the nation,’ united in its desire for a German defeat. Only Laval, Petain, and their henchmen felt or acted otherwise. This was the official Communist position. It was largely echoed by the Gaullists, who insisted in their turn that the Resistance had been the natural reflex of a nation faithful to its historical traditions; the ‘insurrection’ of the summer of 1944 was singled out as a ‘popular tidal wave surpassing in its dimensions all such uprisings in the past.’ Although there were from the start those who acknowledged how small and isolated resistance had been, their voice was drowned by the chorus of mutual admiration. In a book published in 1945, Louis Parrot would write of the ‘pure heroism’ of Aragon and his wife Elsa Triolet, the ‘audacious courage’ of Paul Eluard, and the ‘subtly dangerous game’ played by Jean-Paul Sartre, practicing ‘open clandestinity’ in the face of the occupying authorities. This is drivel of course, but it is at least ecumenical drivel: everyone was good.”

Earlier Judt (on page 32) wrote “After the fall of France . . . when excuses for collaboration or compromise became harder to find, intellectuals would find themselves discovering in the very act of political disobedience the freedom they would later defend. The dilemma between ‘being’ and ‘doing,’ which had seemed so significant before the war, collapsed. To do was to be: no longer a universal consciousness vested in a singular self, the intellectual was bound within the organic community and there presented with apparently simple choices, all of which entailed action of one sort or another. Being part of the common purpose, accepting as one’s own the meaning given to a collective action, offered certainty in place of doubt: the intellectual resister took on a mantle of confidence and shed the cloak of insecurity that had shrouded the previous generation.

“Why did some intellectuals find this confidence and others not? For some people, the explanation lies in their disillusion with the initial expectations placed in Vichy; others never harbored illusions in the first place but could only be brought to defend what became the values of the resistance once they had recovered from the shock of defeat and had been sufficiently moved to protest the policies and practices of occupiers and collaborators alike. Third category, which should include men such as Merleau-Ponty and Sartre, seem to have been waiting for some such moment all their lives, so enthusiastically did they welcome the chance to be part of a romantic commitment whose scope and meaning would transcend, transform, and give practical effect to their earlier writings. The chance was welcomed mostly in theory, however, in practice only a minority of intellectual resisters saw real action of any sustained sort, whether in the Free French armies, the armed resistance, or clandestine networks of all kinds. For most of the rest, it was the association with the community of resisters that counted, the sense of being part of something larger than oneself – a circle of dissenting writers, a resistance group, a clandestine political organization, or History itself.”

Antony Beevor in his Paris After the Liberation, 1944-1949 references Judt (although I can’t tell which of Judt’s books he has in mind) when he writes “On the subject of Politically engaged intellectuals in France – whether Drieu, Brasillach, Malraux or Sartre – Professor Judt has observed that their fascination with violence contained a ‘quasi-erotic charge’. It underlines the fact that while it has long been long been easy to mock Hemingway, the posturing of French intellectuals, although more sophisticated, demonstrated an arrogant irresponsibility which was far more dangerous and dishonest. Sartre tried to reconcile existentialism with his new phase of revolutionary commitment, but predictably it failed to be anything more and an exercise in verbose sophistry. By the end of his life he even began to justify terrorist action.”

A book I haven’t read is Quiet Moments in a War, a collection of letters written by Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir which describes as “A collection of letters by the author of Being and Nothingness depicts Sartre as a soldier, a prisoner of the Germans, and a man of Resistance and charts his path to fame with the publication of his major works.”

Jonathan Fenby in France on the Brink on page 269 wrote “. . . one French literary historian remarked acidly of the country’s most famous post-war couple; ‘On 11 August 1944, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir entered the Resistance, at the same moment as the Paris police.’