Tocqueville och Gellner om islam och sekularism

En ny bok av Ian Buruma recenseras idag i DN av Maria Schottenius. Mycket intressant! Inte minst för att Buruma verkar ta sin utgångspunkt hos min favorittänkare alla kategorier: Alexis de Tocqueville. Burumas bok ”prövar kritiskt Tocquevilles formulering att islam är oförenlig med upplysningsvärderingar och rättigheter, som yttrandefrihet och lika rättigheter för kvinnor och homosexuella”.

Det kan vara värt att citera det relevanta stycket i Om demokratin i Amerika:

Jag har varken rätt eller avsikt att undersöka de översinnliga medel Gud använder för att väcka religiös tro i människans hjärta. Här och nu betraktar jag religionerna uteslutande ur rent mänsklig synvinkel. Jag undersöker hur de lättast kan behålla sin makt i de demokratiska tidevarv som ligger framför oss.

Jag har visat hur obenäget det mänskliga intellektet är i tider av upplysning och jämlikhet att godta dogmatiska övertygelser och att det inte känner något livligt behov av dem annat än i fråga om religion. Vad detta framförallt visar är att religioner under sådana skeden noggrannare än i alla andra bör hålla sig inom egna gränser och inte på några villkor försöka gå utanför dem. Vill de nämligen utöka sin maktsfär bortom de religiösa frågorna, löper de risk att inte mer bli trodda i någonting. De bör följaktligen visa sig mycket varsamma när de drar upp den cirkel inom vilken de vill bestämma över det mänskliga intellektet. Utanför den bör de låta det vara fullständigt fritt.

Muhammed hämtade från himlen och införde i Koranen inte endast religiösa lärosatser utan även politiska principer, civil- och straffrättsliga lagar och vetenskapliga teorier. Evangelierna däremot talar bara om allmänna förhållanden mellan människa och Gud och mellan medmänniskor. Bortom detta sträcker sig inte deras undervisning och de påbjuder inte att tro på något mer. Bland tusen andra skäl är detta enda nog för att visa att den första av dessa båda religioner inte kommer att kunna dominera länge i tider av upplysning och demokrati, medan den andra är ägnad att härska i sådana tidevarv likaväl som i alla andra.

(Detta är från 1840. Tocqueville läste Koranen i mars 1838 men det är oklart om han läste hela. De kortfattade anteckningar som överlevt sträcker sig bara till kap. XIX. Se ‘Notes on the Koran’ i Writings on Empire and Slavery.)

Ernest Gellner tog för övrigt upp denna tråd hos Tocqueville. I den fantastiska essän ‘Flux and Reflux in the Faith of Men’ skriver Gellner:

[In Islam] there is in principle no call or justification for an internal separation of society into two parts, of which one would be closer to the deity than the other. [. . .] Thus officially, Islam has no clergy and no church organisation, though it needs scholars, and church and community are co-extensive. As Tocqueville put it, ”Islam is the religion which has most completely confounded and intermixed the two powers . . . so that all the acts of civil and political life are regulated more or less by religious law.”

Tocqueville also comments on the significant identity of training for religious and other learning, and the absence of priesthood. In traditional Islam, no distinction is made between lawyer and canon lawyer, and the roles of theologician and lawyer are conflated. Expertise on proper social arrangements, and on matters pertaining to God, are one and the same thing.

Gellner skriver att även judendomen och kristendomen utgör ”blueprints of a social order”, men att denna ordning gäller i mindre grad (eller är mindre viktig) än inom islam. Skälen har att göra med skillnader i uppkomsten av dessa religioner, nämligen att kristendomen till skillnad från islam länge saknade politisk makt:

Christianity, from its inception, contained an open reccomendation to give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. A faith which begins, and for some time remains, without political power, cannot but accomodate itself to a political order which is not, or is not yet, under its control. [. . .] A kind of potential for political modesty has stayed with [Chrsitianity] since those humble beginnings. Theocratic aspirations only appear intermittently; canon law significantly means religious ordinances as distinct from secular ones, unlike the Muslim kanun. [. . .]

[The] initial success of Islam was so rapid that it had no need to give anything unto Caesar. [. . .] [Its] rapid and early political success [. . .] inhibits the handing over of some sphere of life to non-religious authority.

Vad innebär allt detta för frågan om islam i Europa? Ja som jag ser det är fasthållandet vid strikt sekularism inte bara korrekt i sig, men det skulle också kunna innebära ett tillfälle för islam att komma till rätta med det olyckliga arvet från den historiska omständighet som Gellner talar om. Dvs att muslimska teologer i Europa formar och rättfärdiga en muslimsk tro förenlig med sekulära principer. Detta sker och har skett sedan länge, men kampen tycks inte avgjord.

Det ska bli spännande att ta del av Ian Burumas tankar kring detta. Jag gillade hans tidigare bok Mordet i Amsterdam. Enligt Schottenius är han kritisk till Tariq Ramadan:

Ian Buruma uppmärksammar hans anspråk. Tariq Ramadan anser inte att islam ska reduceras till ett personligt trosuttryck utan anser att ”de universella värdena i islam, så som de uppenbaras i de heliga skrifterna, inte ska relativiseras utan tas i bruk i västerländska demokratier”. Ramadan kombinerar sitt muslimska budskap med vänsterretorik och vill skapa en sorts europeisk islam, integrerad i samhället. Jag sällar mig till skeptikerna.

(Ang. Gellner ska det sägas att muslimska samhällen inte var hans expertområde, och han har fått en del kritik gällande betoningen av att idéer om civilsamhälle samt distinktionen stat/religiös makt saknas i muslimsk politisk kultur. Se bl a litteratur nedan.)

Alexis de Tocqueville, Om demokratin i Amerika (Bok 2), (Stockholm: Atlantis, 1997), s. 43-44.
Alexis de Tocqueville, Writings on Empire and Slavery, (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2001).
Ernest Gellner, Muslim Society, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), s. 1-2.
Dale F. Eickelman, ‘From Here to Modernity: Ernest Gellner on Nationalism and Islamic Fundamentalism’, i (red. John Hall) The State of the Nation — Ernest Gellner and the Theory of Nationalism, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), s. 258-271.

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”Happy are those who live under a discipline which they accept without question” (Isaiah Berlin)

Stephen Law redogör i The Philosophers’ Magazine för sin bok The War for Children’s Minds. Han citerar där ur The Catholic Encyclopedia’s inlägg under ”infallibility”:

[One] must listen to the voice of those whom God has expressly appointed to teach in His name, rather than to one’s own private judgment … he who chooses to make himself, instead of the authority which God has instituted, the final arbiter in matters of faith is far from possessing the true spirit of faith.

Att jämföra med Isaiah Berlin i ‘The Pursuit of the Ideal’:

Happy are those who live under a discipline which they accept without question, who freely obey the orders of leaders, spiritual or temporal, whose word is fully accepted as unbreakable law; or those who have, by their own methods, arrived at clear and unshakable convictions about what to do and what to be that brook no possibe doubt. I can only say that those who rest on such comfortable beds of dogma are victims of forms of self-induced myopia, blinkers that may make for contentment, but not for understanding of what it is to be human.

Berlins värdepluralism har ibland tolkats som en intäkt till grupprättigheter och särlagstiftning för att skydda icke-liberala minoriteter. Dessa ”tolerans-liberaler” accepterar då exempelvis separat skolgång med religiösa utgångspunkter. Men många av de citat jag lagt ut på sistone pekar mot att vid varje tillfälle Berlin diskuterar utbildning och skola så låter han som en genuin ”autonomi-liberal” . Värdepluralismen tycks implicera att individen oundvikligen är ställd inför svåra avvägningar här i livet, och all utbildning måste sträva mot att ge individen verktyg att handskas med detta; därmed är all utbildning som tvärtom strävar efter att överföra en fastlagd värdeskala och moralisk auktoritet helt förkastliga. Berlin måste därför ses som en försvarare av det som han beskriver som karakteristiskt för västerländsk utbildningstradition:

Western education since the earliest times has consisted in teaching men the techniques of answering for themselves the questions which most tormented men – what to be, what to do, how to treat others, what to seek above all other things.

Hursomhelst, för att återgå till Stephen Law: han har en tankeställare till alla de som anser det legitimt med religiösa skolor.

Now here is the challenge. Those who favour a move back in the direction of the kind of Authority-based religious education that predominated up until the 1960s should ask themselves the following question.

Suppose political schools started springing up – a neoconservative school in Billericay followed by a communist school in Middlesbrough. Suppose these schools select pupils on the basis of parents’ political beliefs. Suppose they start each morning with the collective singing of political anthems. Suppose portraits of their political leaders beam down from every classroom wall. Suppose they insist that pupils accept, more or less uncritically, the beliefs embodied in their revered political texts.

If such schools did spring up, there would be outrage. These establishments would be accused of educationally stunting children, forcing their minds into politically pre-approved moulds. They’re the kind of Orwellian schools you find under totalitarian regimes in places like Stalinist Russia. My question is, if such political schools are utterly unacceptable, if they are guilty of educationally stunting children, why on earth are so many of us still prepared to tolerate their religious equivalents?

Isaiah Berlin, ‘The Pursuit of the Ideal’, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, (London: Pimlico, 2003), s. 13-14.
Isaiah Berlin, ‘Democracy, Communism and the Individual’, (s. 5-6), The Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library.

Tocqueville and biblical literalism

Från 2006. En första sketch (vilket bland annat märks genom en referens till wikipedia) till en kort uppsats (bytte dock ämne). Handlar om en mycket spännande fråga tycker jag. Jag kan dock inget om den. Misstänker att jag blev alltför excalterad och förmodligen har övertolkat Augustinus/Galileo. (Min recension av The Cambridge Companion finns här.)


In The Cambridge Companion to Tocqueville there is a paper called “Democratic Religious Experience” which I found eye-opening. Joshua Mitchell’s essay concerns some of Tocqueville’s sociological insights pertaining to religion. His perspective is grand: using Tocqueville’s ideal types of Aristocracy and Democracy, and the corresponding types of persons (i.e. “Democratic Man”, etc.), Mitchell tries to understand religion in the democratic era.

The standard modernization theory, and the “fable of liberalism” as Mitchell calls it, holds, of course, that religion will disappear with better material conditions and education. Tocqueville, the prime storyteller of fable of liberalism, did not, however, agree with the secularist part of the story of modernization. As Mitchell writes,

“Tocqueville’s observations of religious practice in the United States, which lacked an aristocratic past, led him to conclude that the supposition of any number of European Enlightenment thinkers about the fate of religion in the democratic age must be turned around:  the United States ‘anomaly’ is actually paradigmatic, and the Europe of his own day is anomalous. Disbelief, Tocqueville says, is an (historical) accident; faith is the only permanent condition of mankind.”

Faith might be permanent, but it will certainly take different forms and expressions in a Democratic society. This was what Tocqueville tried to explain, and Mitchell in turn uses typically Tocquevillian psychological mechanisms, and his idea of the condition of social equality as driving force, to explain some developments of modern religion. Specifically, Mitchell identifies the three phenomena biblical literalism, personal unmediated experience of God, and the idea of man’s radical depravity, as typically “democratic”.

The idea of literalism as a modern phenomenon, rather than ancient, had not crossed my mind before. It is a striking idea, and though I am not in the position to estimate its truth, I find that it at least brings clarity to some paradoxes in the history of ideas.

Let me digress. I remember reading a volume of Galileo Galilei, his “Copernican Letters” (as they have been titled in Sweden at least). In those letters Galileo defend the position that the results his scientific investigations are not in contradiction with the Bible. He argues against those literalist interpreters who claim him to be implying that the Bible is false. Galileo defends himself, and what is particularly interesting is that he does so by referring to older authorities of the church in support of his position: the Church Fathers, and in particular Augustine.

With the view I held at the time I read Galileo, those old authorities seemed to me to be the more modern, the more progressive position, while the literalist position was the backward and ancient one. What I did was to equate the more allegoric approach with the approach of modern revisionist Christianity; there appeared to be a similarity between the non-literalism of modernist Christianity and the allegorical interpretations of Augustine — and the literalists facing Galileo simply seemed to be simply a regression to even older forms of beliefs.

That was wrong. What I should have thought, (and I believe I actually would have thought this had I taken time to reflect thoroughly on the issue ) was that literalism is basically just as modern as Galileo’s new science. In fact, from a sociological and psychological perspective they seem to share some important intellectual inclinations. Man in the age of equality, i.e. the Democratic Man, has certain habits of mind and inclinications in the way he thinks and takes decisions. Particulary, he does not find patience with symbolism, mysticism, and allegory. One result of these inclinations is represented by the new science. But for those who remain religious, the road will lead in another direction: they will feel the same inclination towards simple unmediated contact with truth, and the same impatience with too elaborate and far-fetched interpretations; and hence, out of convenience of mind, so to speak, they will read the Bible in a strict literal way — if the Book contains truth, its truth is literal. Strict literalism is, so to speak, an expression of logos, not mythos as one might have thought. (Or, if you rather will, an expression of mythos perverted by logos.)

Augustine and The Church Fathers, who were living in a more aristocratic society than Galileo and his critics, had other intellectual inclinations. They were more inclined toward allegorical reading of the Scripture. There are, however, two different dimensions to this question (and here I certainly have left Mitchells domains) . In the article on biblical literalism Wikipedia has a “History” sub-heading. It contains only two sentences:

“Biblical interpretations that were considered literalist have changed through history. For example: Saint Augustine, (4th century), claimed that the entire Bible should be interpreted in an as literal as possible way, but his own interpretation of the book of Genesis was made in such a way that would be considered ’allegorical’ by some modern readers.”

This highlights that though literalism as an aim might be constant, the standards for what constitutes a literal interpretation might change. And the modern literalists, while perhaps having the same aim as Augustine, have a much narrower view of which interpretations are literal; they have, so to speak, a more literal conception of what literal interpretation meant. This is what I above have called “strict” literalism). What Galileo is doing in his Copernican letters is, if I remember correctly, simply to remind his critics that his interpretations of the Bible (which were consistent with his scientific results, but accused of being too allegoric) were actually in line with what Augustine would regard as literal. That is, Galileo did not, I think, really dispute literalism as such, but rather propose a wider view of what counted as literal (and he also, crucially, argued that the results of science could be used in the very process of establishing what the Scripture actually was saying).

[…]

End of digression. To return to Mitchell: from a Tocquevillian perspective the ambition of literalism, and literalism as hermeneutic principle, might be described as democratic. One factor to reckon with in the explanation of “fundamentalism” in modern societies is . . .

“what could be called the epistemological prejudice that attends the emergent conditions of social equality. This prejudice, which we see already beginning to form in both the Enlightenment thought of Descartes and the Protestant thought of Luther, involves the desire to strip away the mystifications of knowledge, the desire to find the “clear and simple” truth of the matter, whatever it may happen to be.

The religious expression of this desire is scriptural literalism. In Tocqueville’s estimation, it is neither an accident nor an anachronism that scriptural literalism emerges in the democratic age. Scriptural literalism is a response to the problem of complexity, a need to find the plain and simple meaning of things when the exigencies of life provide scant time to dwell on the nuances and mysteries that are evident enough — provided there is adequate leisure time to notice them. In the democratic age, when such subtleties appear through the lens of impatience to be little more than mystifications, literal interpretations will always be appealing.

[…]

Whatever the other grounds for the incompatibility of the Fundamentalist Christianity and modern democracy may be, the two are in accord with respect to their epistemological prejudice in favor of literalism. Said otherwise, the impulse towards fundamentalism is a religious articulation of the democratic age. Notwithstanding its occasionally sharp opposition to the secular world, the impulse towards fundamentalism accords with the democratic epistemological prejudice in favor of simplicity and plain meaning. Far from being anti-modern, this impulse is only fully possible within the democratic age itself.

Orwells recension av ”The Spirit of Catholicism”

A Kind of Compulsion, The Complete Works, vol. X, artikel 127, s. 246-8.

Recension av Karl Adams ”The Spirit of Catholicism”, New English Weekly, 9 juni 1932.

What distinguishes this book from the current drizzle of Catholic propaganda is that it is more or less non-controversial. Our English Catholic apologists are unrivalled masters of debate, but they are on their guard against saying anything genuinly informative. Few of them have any object beyond self-justification; their writings, therefore, are either a stream of cheery insult at biologists and Protestant historians, or an attempt to bluff the fundamental difficulties of faith out of existance.

[…]

The contrast between the Catholic who simply believes, and the convert who must for ever be justifying his conversion, is like the contrast between a Buddha and a performing fakir. Father Martindale [som Orwell jämför Karl Adam med], being committed to the statement faith is essentially reasonable, can neither stand up to his difficulties nor ignore them. Consequently he evades them, with considerable nimbleness. He sails over the theory of evolution in a sort of logical balloon-flight, with common sense flung overboard for ballast; he dodges past the problem of evil like a man dodging past his creditor’s doorway—and so on. Father Adam, who has started by saying that faith is not to be approached in the same spirit as ”the profane sciences,” has no need for these tricks. With a creed that is safe from ”profane” criticism, he is in a very strong position.

Orwell refererar därefter Adams tankar om den katolska gemenskapen och om hur varje medlem får del av den godhet som katoliker genom åren samlat; tankar som får Orwell att jämföra kyrkan med med ett gigantiskt familjeföretag som ger enorma utdelningar: ”The smallest shareholder draws his bonus on the profits made by Augustine or Aquinas.”

The point is missed if one forgets that the ”family” means the Church and the Church alone; the rest of humanity, stray saints apart, being so much negligible matter, for whom there can be nothing save a slightly rigid pity, for extra ecclesiam nulla salus, and ”dogmatic intolerance,” as Father Adam puts it, ”is a duty to the infinite truth.” Father Adam allows that non-Catholics of good will have been known to exist here and there; but these in reality are Catholics without knowing it, since any virtue that exist outside the Church must be held to have proceeded, ”invisibly,” from the Church. And apart from special mercies, which are by no means to be counted on, ”all pagans, Jews, heretics and shismatics have forfeited eternal life and are destined to everlasting fire.”

This is quite straightforward, and much more impressive than what we get from our English Catholic apologists. These, with their public-school methods of controversy, have given so strong an impression of not being in earnest that hardly a soul in England bothers to hit back at them. Nearly all our anti-clerical feeling is directed at the poor, unoffending old Church of England. If ever a word is raised against Rome, it is only some absurd tale about Jesuit intrigues or babies’ skeletons dug up from the floors of nunneries. Very few people, apart from the Catholics themselves, seem to have grasped that the Church is to be taken seriously.

(Not: den latinska frasen (”utom kyrkan ingen frälsning”)  kommer från Sankt Cyprianus. Orwell gick som barn på St Cyprian’s prep-school i Eastbourne.)

Projekt: The Complete Works of George Orwell