Friday, June 25, 2004

Islamo-Sophist Tyranny

Can Western political philosophy contemplate Islamism (the ideological-extremist brand of Islam preached by Islamic radicals)? Can it understand Islamism or address the Islamist ideologue-politician? Simply put, the answer is no. And in that answer lies the reason we fight.

To unpack these questions, one must first understand what political philosophy is and is not in the Western sense. Political philosophy is the address of the philosopher to the politician. Here, I use 'philosopher' as a normatively loaded term as one who exposes realities outside politics to the test of truth. The philosopher is he who seeks the truth of things in conversation with others with that same end, and seeks that truth for its own sake. The philosopher, like Aristotle, believes in truth and therefore concerns himself with metaphysics, the study of being. This, of course, is the opposite of the ideologue, he who entertains a theory, basing it on yet more theories, and ultimately ignores the truth of things, even to the point of rejecting the possibility of truth. The ideologue is the sophist who uses words to convince rather than to explore, he is Callicles in Plato's Gorgias, versus the uncorrupted youth who wills to know rather than knowing to will.

The political philosopher is the philosopher as he addresses the politician. In his most proper role, the political philosopher coaxes the politician away from tyranny, away from suppressing philosophy. The politicians killed Socrates, and the politicians killed Christ. Such were failures of political philosophy. Dangers arise when ideologue-sophists take up the role of the political philosopher. The politicians killed Socrates, but it is the sophist who prepared the politician to so act. The sophist as political philosopher (ignoring the oxymoron), like Machiavelli, coaxes the politician to tyranny rather than vice versa. The ideologue provides a theory for the politician to seize in his pursuit of his own ends. The classic tyrant, the ruler who rules only for the good of himself, the ruler who suppresses philosophy, uses ideology as a tool.

Now, however, we see a new, more menacing form of would-be tyrant. The philosopher-politician, like Plato's philosopher-king, in a world not corrupted like our own, would be the ideal benevolent ruler. Instead, in our mundane existence, the philosopher-politician is more likely to be the sophist-politician, the corrupted philosopher become king. Such a man adheres to an ideology, rejects truth save for what his ideology reveals, ignores contradictions with that which is, and seeks remorselessly to universalize the ideology. He is the root and bringer of evil, as evil begins with mistakes in thought and theory put into action and perpetuated.

In our era, this is the Islamist militant, seeking nothing but the universalization of his own religious ideology and ignoring truth and justice. The Islamist-sophist-politician makes a plea to the most base and diabolical in an impoverished people, promising heavenly reward, with the end of making the state a tool of the ideology. To this end he emphasizes the ungrounded and total will of Allah, detached from considerations of truth and reason, placing this will above that which is. In putting will before reason, revealed truth before metaphysics, the Islamist creates a vehicle for mobilizing men that cannot converse with or even contemplate a worldview based on philosophy and the truth of things, a national telos devoted to the truth of a core of values as fundamentally Good, Western political philosophy. There is a total disconnect -- the two can only fight.

Saddam Hussein was a tyrant of the more classic type, but he was learning more and more to use Islamism as a tool, to befriend it and equip it. Witness his addition of Allahu Akhbar to the Iraqi flag. He was a ruler with resources and weaponry, coming more and more to envision himself at the head of an Islamic superstate, and thus he was too dangerous to ignore. Zarqawi and bin Laden are the sophist-politicians, ideologues in the worst sense of the word. With them there is no reasoning, there is no ability for discourse. To even attempt such is folly. Islamist sophist-tyranny is too dangerous to merely appease and too different for co-existence. It must be stamped out and Islam must rid itself of it, or it must destroy us.


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