Category Archive 'Johann Gottfried von Herder'

25 Jan 2007

Jihadism & the Politics of Identity

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Francis Fukuyama traces Radical Islam’s ideological roots to the irrational reaction within Europe itself (Rousseau, Herder & Hegel) to the Enlightenment, and identifies European collectivist traditions as a major cause of vulnerability on the part of European states to Muslim agitation and demands. Europe has a great deal to learn from the United States, Fukuyama suggests.

But the US needs to learn that Jihadism is caused not by the absence of democracy in the Islamic world, but by its arrival via Globalization.

Modern liberal societies have weak collective identities. Postmodern elites, especially in Europe, feel that they have evolved beyond identities defined by religion and nation. But if our societies cannot assert positive liberal values, they may be challenged by migrants who are more sure of who they are.

Modern identity politics springs from a hole in the political theory underlying liberal democracy. That hole is liberalism’s silence about the place and significance of groups. The line of modern political theory that begins with Machiavelli and continues through Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and the American founding fathers understands the issue of political freedom as one that pits the state against individuals rather than groups. Hobbes and Locke, for example, argue that human beings possess natural rights as individuals in the state of nature—rights that can only be secured through a social contract that prevents one individual’s pursuit of self-interest from harming others.

Modern liberalism arose in good measure in reaction to the wars of religion that raged in Europe following the Reformation. Liberalism established the principle of religious toleration—the idea that religious goals could not be pursued in the public sphere in a way that restricted the religious freedom of other sects or churches…

Johann Gottfried von Herder… argued that inner authenticity lay not just in individuals but in peoples…

.. modern identity is inherently political, because it demands recognition. The idea that modern politics is based on the principle of universal recognition comes from Hegel. Increasingly, however, it appears that universal recognition based on a shared individual humanity is not enough, particularly on the part of groups that have been discriminated against in the past. Hence modern identity politics revolves around demands for recognition of group identities—that is, public affirmations of the equal dignity of formerly marginalised groups, from the Québécois to African-Americans to women to indigenous peoples to homosexuals…

Multiculturalism—understood not just as tolerance of cultural diversity but as the demand for legal recognition of the rights of racial, religious or cultural groups—has now become established in virtually all modern liberal democracies. US politics over the past generation has been consumed with controversies over affirmative action for African-Americans, bilingualism and gay marriage, driven by formerly marginalised groups that demand recognition not just of their rights as individuals but of their rights as members of groups. And the US’s Lockean tradition of individual rights has meant that these efforts to assert group rights have been tremendously controversial—more so than in modern Europe.

The radical Islamist ideology that has motivated terror attacks over the past decade must be seen in large measure as a manifestation of modern identity politics rather than of traditional Muslim culture…

The old multicultural model was based on group recognition and group rights. Out of a misplaced sense of respect for cultural differences—and in some cases out of imperial guilt—it ceded too much authority to cultural communities to define rules of behaviour for their own members. Liberalism cannot ultimately be based on group rights, because not all groups uphold liberal values. The civilisation of the European Enlightenment, of which contemporary liberal democracy is the heir, cannot be culturally neutral, since liberal societies have their own values regarding the equal worth and dignity of individuals. Cultures that do not accept these premises do not deserve equal protection in a liberal democracy. Members of immigrant communities and their offspring deserve to be treated equally as individuals, not as members of cultural communities. There is no reason for a Muslim girl to be treated differently under the law from a Christian or Jewish one, whatever the feelings of her relatives.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Sharon Stone and The Barrister.


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