Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘Testing The ”War Of Ideas”

Full piece here.

Likely worth your time.  A core argument:

‘So there is some Islamist ideology, in the sense of politically relevant innovations from tradition, but most of what drives Islamic State leaders is a rarified form of theology, or, if we prefer Mark Lilla’s term in The Stillborn God (2007), political theology. And here we come to the difference between theology and ideology.

Theology is a recursive, non-falsifiable system of ideas about abstract matters. Ideology, on the other hand, as abstract as it can and often does get, is at length testable against the flow of historical reality. Take the trajectory of Communism as a case in point. Its arc of rise and fall traverses about a century, but fall it certainly did, because all of the avowed test cases of the ideology put into practice failed by their own lights.’

Are most Muslims arguing theology while a vast majority in the West are arguing within Enlightenment political philosophies and traditions?

These are gross generalizations, and I’m far from expert (even competent in some areas), but here are a few ideas.  Feel free to highlight my ignorance:

  • It seems pretty accurate to say that Islamic entities and nation-states have quite fundamentally different organizing principles than the United States, and are much less focused on the freedom and autonomy of the individual:  Life and local traditions are more family and kin-based, tribal and ethnic/linguistic population-based, then Islamic sect-based, then more broadly united under Islam.


  • Islam hasn’t undergone a Reformation nor Enlightenment, really, and it’s unclear what such changes would/could look like.  Many ideas in this part of the world have been around a longer time. Westerners who insist on ideology and ‘-isms’ in explaining Islamic radicalism miss the theological nature of how many/most Muslims often see the world:  Through binding personal commitments to a transcendent God (submission of will in faith), through family and broader social obligations via that duty to God (mosque, social institutions, branches of Islam and imams, praying up to five times a day etc), and through the lens of often family/tribal connections.  Such a model can produce political stability, but mainly through Caliphates and empires quite different than governments found West of Istanbul.  It can achieve new lands through conquest, and has recently produced many autocratic rulers who rise up through the ranks of the military, without the personal nor institutional habits that exercise freedom of political associations, speech, and non-religious leadership.  Islam really hasn’t formulated the existence of such civilizations.


  • The fact that the West, and ‘modernity,’ have advanced and mightily affected the rest of the world, including Islamic civilizations, is salient:  Through technology, warfare, the imperial project, education, the sciences, business, the businesses of oil and trade, government etc. the West has spread.  Also through ideas and ideologies, like socialism/Communism. It can be as simple as music videos and an Iphone, or perhaps a new road, or a Muslim guy getting a job in the West, or an oil worker getting a job in Saudi Arabia, or as complex as the Westphalian treaty, and entirely redrawn national boundaries.

Like I said, feel free to respond.  I’m making my way here.

As previously posted:


Good article here

It’s likely you won’t agree with all of Samuel Huntington’s ideas, but he maintained a deeply learned understanding of the animating ideas behind Western/American political organization with keen observation of what was happening on the ground in foreign countries.  Here’s a brief summation from Robert Kaplan’s article:

“• The fact that the world is modernizing does not mean that it is Westernizing. The impact of urbanization and mass communications, coupled with poverty and ethnic divisions, will not lead to peoples’ everywhere thinking as we do.

• Asia, despite its ups and downs, is expanding militarily and economically. Islam is exploding demographically. The West may be declining in relative influence.

• Culture-consciousness is getting stronger, not weaker, and states or peoples may band together because of cultural similarities rather than because of ideological ones, as in the past.

• The Western belief that parliamentary democracy and free markets are suitable for everyone will bring the West into conflict with civilizations—notably, Islam and the Chinese—that think differently.

• In a multi-polar world based loosely on civilizations rather than on ideologies, Americans must reaffirm their Western identity.”

See Also:  Google books has ‘Political Order In Changing Societies‘ and ‘Who Are We?:  The Challenges To America’s National Identity‘  (previews)available.

Huntington’s page at Harvard here.  Reihan Salam has a short piece here.

From Prospect: Eric Kaufmann On ‘The Meaning Of Huntington’

Also On This Site: Francis Fukuyama, a neconservative up until the Iraq War or so, student of Huntington’s, and author off The End Of History, has a view that modernization and Westernization are more closely united.  Fukuyama envisions a Western State which has an endpoint that the minds of men might be able to know.   This breaks with Karl Marx’s end point of Communism rising from the ashes of capitalism, is more Hegelian via Alexander Kojeve in Paris, and advocates for a State that ought to be bigger than it is now in the U.S.  This requires a more moral bureaucratic class to lead us here at home and perhaps an almost one worlder-ish type Super-Government for all.  Can you see limited government, life, liberty and property from here?:  From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkFrom The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington

Has Fukuyama turned away from Hegel and toward Darwin? Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’……Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘What Did The Arab Spring Really Change?’…Liberal Internationalism is hobbling us, and the safety of even the liberal internationalist doctrine if America doesn’t lead?…Via Youtube-Uncommon Knowledge With Fouad Ajami And Charles Hill

-Dexter Filkins on Iran here.

From Slate: ‘In Aleppo, Syria, Mohamed Atta Thought He Could Build The Ideal Islamic City’Lawrence Wright At The New Yorker: ‘The Man Behind Bin Laden’