are Kantian concepts of liberty, individual moral and ethical
and republicanism with non-Western political cultures?
Kant’s political thoughts reflect eighteenth century Western realities: the particular mix, amalgam and confluence of science challenging religion, the bourgeois class emerging, industrial revolution burgeoning and philosophy scrutinizing politics. Kant read Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Newton, Berkeley, Hume and the likes. He witnessed, from afar, the American and French Revolutions and the events that led to them. He pondered the ideas of dignity of the individual, liberty, civil society, due process of law, republicanism and constitutional government and perpetual peace. Nineteenth century Europe did move towards democracy and a good deal of Kantian philosophical ideals; but not “perpetual peace” – partly because of Europe’s drive to colonize the non-Western world.
The non-Western world thus became exposed to all the phenomena mentioned above, but not in their dynamic confluence. The non-Western traditional cultures received different distorted and superficial doses of the “white man’s burden” which were convenient for colonial control.
In the aftermath of the Second World War the ideological rifts in the West accelerated the move of the non-Western countries towards independence. Entities curved out on the map as a result of colonial expansions, mostly not corresponding to ethnic, national or religious realities, became sovereign “nation-states” modeled after Western international law. With end of the Cold War the clash of cultures became self-evident.
The debate on the emerging world order has already produced some trends such as Cosmopolitan Democracy , Pax Democratica  or Human Governance . These trends are in fact reinventions of the Kantian wheel. Although some of these ideas acknowledge cultural differences, their proposals for global governance rest on Western political concepts of social order such as democracy, civics and market economy which in many cases do not correspond to present world realities.
A more plausible venue for creating a workable global order would be to tap the energy of autonomy movements, instead of “nation-building.” By recognizing what I have identified elsewhere as Estans as autonomous entities – not sovereign – overarched by global and regional institutions, the global community would embrace them to the extent their political culture adheres to certain rules of conduct such as respect for human rights and responsible behavior in their dealings with other global actors.
But, above all, that should be supplemented by a massive global effort, financial and structural, for education, so dear to Kant. The cornerstone of individual liberty is civic secular education. In many non-Western cultures the dominance of a faith, and in some Western cultures the misconception of religious tolerance, have handicapped educational institutions in their task of preparing new generations as good citizens respecting others and social ethics beyond their faith. The West became “enlightened” once it managed to shake off the shackles of religious superstition and fanaticism. There is need for global mobilization for global renaissance and enlightenment.
* * *
Before preaching our Western concepts of liberty, civil society, democracy and republicanism, so dear to Kant, to non-Western cultures, we need to consider the circumstances and conjunctures that lead Kant to his ideas and how, in the course of the centuries that followed, the West actually fared in implementing those ideas.
(If you are well-versed in the convolution of philosophy, religion and politics in the West before Kant skip this section)
To understand the circumstances and conjunctures that made Kant think the way he did, we need to go a little farther back in the history of the West. Symbolically, I begin with 1600 A. D. as a pivotal year.
Giordano Bruno had expressed his doubts about transubstantiation and the Immaculate Conception early on as a young Dominican. He had scoffed at the mysteries of faith and religion. He had opposed the Aristotelian and scholastic schools of thought and had embraced the Copernican view of the universe; and he had conceived of the infinitesimal and the infinite, which implied pantheism, threatening the foundations of Christianity. He was burnt at the stake on 17 February 1600 as a heretic.
He was not the only one to advance the concept of the universal. Indeed, his favorite Renaissance philosopher, Nicholas de Cusa (1401-64) had advanced the Copernican idea of a non-geocentric universe with pantheist implications over a century before him. But then, de Cusa was a cardinal ! And he had been the Pope’s envoy to Constantinople to negotiate the union of the Eastern and Western churches a few years before the fall of Constantinople into the hands of the Ottomans!
Renaissance philosophers were not the first to conceive of the infinite, to toy with the idea of a helio-centric solar system, or to advance the idea of atomist materialism. Indeed, they were called the Renaissance philosophers because they were partaking in the rebirth of certain ancient Greek philosophical ideas. But “Renaissance philosophy” of de Cusa and Bruno were thorns on the side of Scholasticism, the main philosophical current of the Catholic Church. To grasp these convolutions of philosophy, religion and politics, we need to backtrack a little farther into history.
It was all Aristotle’s fault!
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) was Alexander’s tutor when the latter was thirteen years old. Aristotelian thoughts, right and wrong, coincided with the apogee of Greek (Macedonian) military power and permeated the Middle Eastern civilized world with Alexander’s conquests. Aristotle’s philosophy spread beyond Athens as the mainstream of Greek philosophy and overshadowed other Greek philosophers’ ideas, before and after him, which were more accurate than his. Barely a century after Aristotle, Aristarkos of Samos advanced the idea of the earth being a planet revolving around the sun (17 centuries before Copernicus.) But it was Aristotle’s geocentric view of the universe that prevailed.
Thus, of Greek classical philosophical writings, Aristotle’s survived best. In the First century B.C. Andronicus of Rhodes classified, collated and edited Aristotle’s manuscript that had survived the ages. Copies of Andronicus’ compilation spread across different cultures.
the fall of the Western
Roman Empire in the
fifth century, and the ascendance of the church, Europe sank into the
of religious superstition and ignorance and lost touch with classical
philosophy, just as Aristotle’s works were being translated into
Arabic and used by scientists and thinkers across the Moslem world.
Centuries later, in its confrontation with Islam and the ensuing Crusades, Christian Europe came across Arab and Persian scientific and philosophical works based on Greek literature, and in particular, Aristotelian philosophy, notably Avicenna’s (979-1037) Canons of Medicine and Metaphysics. To bolster its distinct identity and justify its claim to Eastern Mediterranean, Europe reclaimed Greece as the cradle of Western civilization and fell upon the Aristotelian manuscript that had survived in Constantinople as the testimony to European heritage.
But to claim that heritage and maintain its European preeminence, the Christian church had to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy with its religious dogma. Scholastics like Albertus Magnus (1200-1280) and Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) put themselves to the task. It was thus the Aristotelian/Thomist syntheses – notably the geocentric world – that became the official dogma of the Catholic Church.
Some scholars in Western Europe delved into other Greek philosophical schools, notably the Platonic, and bits and pieces of what had been left of other Greek thinkers. But the major trend became that of the Catholic Church scholasticism. Scientific discoveries, whether the discovery of the solar system, the atomist concept of matter or the Darwinian geological and anthropological origins of man which did not fit the catholic doctrine would be conceived as a threat to the church and condemned.
The turning point was the burning of Giordano Bruno on the stake. It symbolized the moment when humanity missed the bus of free thought. Thinkers got the message. Cardinal Bellarmine made Gallileo retract his theories of atomist materialism and helio-centric world and declare his faith in order to avoid Bruno’s fate. That cowed Descartes into declaring that his attempt at rational thought was to prove the existence of God. But in broad human terms there is really more to it. As we shall see later it was probably not hard for philosophers to abide the faith, as it did address the temporal, parietal and frontal lobes of their brain.
It is important to note that Reformation, while questioning Roman Catholic theology, did not disavow Aristotle. The man who nailed his ninety-five theses on the door of the Wittenberg church in 1517, Martin Luther, was an Aristotelian. It is true that he was influenced by another reformer’s view of Aristotelianism, namely, William of Occam, who distinguished between concepts and things, and thus reconciled Aristotelian and Platonic physical and ideal worlds. These evolutions and revolutions in Christian thought permeated subsequent Western philosophical thoughts, notably those of Kant.
What if ?
One wonders what would have happened had Aristotle not dominated, and had not become the standard bearer of Greek philosophy. What would have happened if the philosophies of Anaximander, Leucippus, Democritus and Aristarkos had become the mainstream and survived through the ages? What if the Christian church, in order to claim its Greco-European credentials, had to recognize philosophies envisioning atoms and the infinite, the solar system and evolution, and grappled with reconciling them with its dogma?  Had the church embraced these philosophies, it may not have needed to burn Giordano Bruno, or to make Galileo recant. Descartes would not have had to pay lip service to the church and the philosophers and scientists that followed would not have faced divine obstruction. The church would have done much earlier the acrobatics Kant did to see the solar system, the Milky Way, the infinite universe and the possibility of other inhabited planets all as the work of God. The church would have endorsed scientific findings and say what Kant said: “We cannot look at the planetary structure without learning about the great excellence in its arranged order and the sure marks of God's hand in its perfect interrelationships.”  That, of course, would have had the potential of bringing about dialectical materialism countering metaphysics much earlier! But that is another story.
It is not futile, from the point of view of the philosophy of history, to weave into the past “what if?” It permits us to realize the futility of certain recurrent political philosophies when tested in the context of human realities. So, what if as Europe reached the Age of Enlightenment the church had not clipped the wings of free thinkers and established the parameters they would not dare trespass? Would the West, in its march towards scientific and industrial revolution and colonial expansion have enlightened the world and spread rational thought instead of being buttressed by religious missionaries? The population of the earth is estimated to have been less than a billion at the time and more manageable in terms of numbers. Would Western colonizers have established secular schools to combat other faiths’ fanaticism and superstition?
God is in the Brain!
My derision demonstrates that it is sophomoric to say that in February 1600 humanity missed the bus that could have taken it to becoming a rational being. The hypothesis ignores one major fact: that, according to statistics, 98% of human beings believe in one or another form of supernatural power influencing their lives. Indeed, even those who attempted to distinguish the species as a thinking animal were not free from the ascendancy of the gods. Plato’s androgynes, those creatures which were so intelligent and agile that they threatened the gods, were created by the gods, who proceeded to cut them into two to make a woman and a man out of each, each half eternally seeking the other half, leaving the gods in peace. The thinking part of Descartes’ man is his soul elevating him above his animal spirit that moves his passion and is the engine of the body. Descartes posited his “I think therefore I am” as a proof for the existence of God. His attempt to envelope his rational method in God’s grace was to a large extent genuine and was not motivated only to avoid the wrath of the church and a fate similar to those of Giordano Bruno or Galileo.
high percentage of
believers and the acrobatics
of thinkers to wrap their thoughts in the divine are intriguing. Some suggest that the idea of God may
actually be located in the brain. According to recent research,
neural activity in the temporal lobes would trigger the ecstasy of
being in the
presence of God – epilepsy causes a keener sense of that. Increased activity in the frontal lobe
associated with decreased activity in the parietal lobule could lead to
ultimate goal of transcendental meditation’s freedom from time and
Blaise Pascal, the great mathematician (1622-1662), may have
ecstasy due to some over activity in his temporal lobes. These are
results of clinical experimentations. If they were definitively
could reduce the idea of God to electro-chemical activities in human
brain. We would then classify man’s
need to believe in supernatural powers along other physiological and
drives, and wonder about the two percent of humanity who do not
vase for social experiments cannot be emptied clean like in chemical
The MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the human brain, however, misses a major point: that most of the 98% of humanity who believe in God do not do so because they experience mild epileptic strokes or meditative bliss, but because the society, parents and peers, channel their fear and awe of the unknown through institutionalized religions to appease their fear and make them socially functional. Pascal’s ecstasy can be better understood in the light of his time, environment and family life, rather than epilepsy. For most, God is not ecstasy or nirvana but the rampart that gives them security at the edge of the abyss. Regimes that have failed to recognize theses facts have failed. After seventy years of official atheism, based on dialectical materialism, Russia had to throw in the towel and restore the Orthodox Church and build new churches.
Freedom, Free Will and God
Our brief excursion into the Western philosophic, religious and political flux permits us to put Kantian ideals of human behavior and social order in context. Kant’s pivotal philosophy is freedom. But his concern is, of course, the instillation and distillation of God within the individual’s free will. According to Kant, man endowed by freedom, reasons, controls his own free will and develops and abides by moral judgments that correspond to the laws of nature authored by the divine. Kant, throughout his life, endeavored to reconcile his pietistic upbringing and his philosophical freedom. It is important here to make the distinction between freedom and liberty. So, one more digression!
Freedom and liberty are different
The concept of freedom is sensual – I could say, visceral. It is not exactly the social license of liberty. In different cultures it has evolved in reaction to environmental experiences in the wild. In the Nordic, Scandinavian, German and English languages the notion of freedom is derived from the sense of frei in nature. The Latin cultures turned the term referring to the experience of freedom in the wild into challenge. The Francique origin of the word may be Fridu. In French Frayer means opening up the passage through obstacles (Larousse says it is derived from Latin fricare meaning rubbing); Frayeur in French means fright (Larousse says it is derived from the Latin fragor which means loud noise – which could instill fear.) The German word for liberty is öffentlichen Freiheit, i.e., public freedom, as distinct from Freiheit, freedom tout court. Latin languages, like French, do not have “freedom” but only “liberty.” It is not freedom in the wild, it is liberty within the bounds of law. By the time the Romans molded their language, their legal concept and social order seem to have reached the point of granting the individual only libertas and licentia within the law, not unbridled freedom.
One of the central premises of Kantian philosophy is freedom. But the masses’ concept of freedom is at the most “liberty.” The longings of the broad masses of humanity for freedom/liberty are generally conditioned by their propensity to seek blue prints for action to replace their lost natural instincts. It is that lack of instinctive blue print that pits the “free will” of the individual against the social environment. To fit social life humans use their intellect to learn patterns of behavior that would relieve the anxieties of life. The masses, willy-nilly, follow directions: doing as others do – from looking to the other person and imitating, to moving with the crowd whether in a riot or a shopping mall, or adapting to the culture of their peers and their work place. Fear may well be a more efficient foundation for proper social behavior than freedom and reason – especially if the fear is the fear of the mysterious unknown anchored deep in the individual psyche.
Kant’s philosophical endeavor is to reconcile free will with God’s moral precepts through harnessing of freedom by reasoning. In Fundamental Principles of Metaphysic of Morals we read: “…hence, although freedom is not a property of the will depending on physical laws, yet it is not for that reason lawless; on the contrary it must be a causality acting according to immutable laws, but of a peculiar kind; otherwise a free will would be an absurdity.” 
Kant believed that by conditioning the autonomy of the will through rational freedom, it was possible for human species to have their moral acts emanate from basic principles within themselves rather than be inspired by material interests Or, that moral acts would be generated within the individual even as they corresponded to the divine commandments enunciated by the organized church. Kant posits that the bounds of freedom should develop within the individual’s reasoning. Not imposed by, but reflected in the laws. Hence his categorical imperative: “Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” In terms of freedom/liberty dichotomy discussed above Kant wished that the individual’s freedom would be exercised thus that it would enhance the liberty of all in the social context.
that could emerge would be that of a “republic”
(in terms of res publicum, which could take the form of a
monarchy) which would incorporate and respect the reasoned freedom of
individuals. Reflecting on Plato’s Republic, he writes: “A constitution
greatest possible human freedom, by which the freedom of each
is made to
be consistent with that of all others (not the greatest happiness,
will follow of itself) is at least a necessary idea, which must be
fundamental not only in the draft of a state’s constitution but in all
Kant, while idealizing a civil society where the laws would reflect the categorical imperative of its members, was cognizant of the fact that that pattern of behavior is not common. Hence he made a distinction between the vulgar and the philosophical. It is those philosophically inclined who, by applying pure reason, would formulate the principles of morality, basing ethics on metaphysics, and once firmly established, give them a popular character. It is also in that light that Kant’s concept of democracy should be understood. For Kant democracy is only one of the alternative forms of government that could combine with aristocracy and monarchy – and, of course, there is also the autocratic form of government. Indeed, even though the ideal ultimate goal of a civil society would be moving towards pure republic, Kant envisions situations where “a sovereign resolved to alter the constitution into a democracy might be doing wrong to the people, because they might hold such a constitution in abhorrence...” The civil society of categorical imperative, democracy and pure republic were pies in the sky, as was universal perpetual peace.
How did the West Fare?
Kant’s ideas were not the only ones circulating around at the time. Empiricism held sway and was begetting utilitarianism. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was published in 1776 – a few months before the United States Declaration of Independence. Adam Smith considered that human selfish interests, by their competition in the market place, were led by an invisible hand to contribute to the public good. Kant deplored that. In his Critique of Practical Reason, 1788, he wrote: “It is, therefore, surprising that intelligent men could have thought of calling the desire of happiness a universal practical law on the ground that the desire is universal, and, therefore, also the maxim by which everyone makes this desire determine his will. For whereas in other cases a universal law of nature makes everything harmonious; here, on the contrary, if we attribute to the maxim the universality of a law, the extreme opposite of harmony will follow, the greatest opposition and the complete destruction of the maxim itself and its purpose. For, in that case, the will of all has not one and the same object, but everyone has his own (his private welfare), which may accidentally accord with the purposes of others which are equally selfish, but it is far from sufficing for a law; …” But the full-fledged utilitarian school, and social Darwinism were yet to come!
The record of the West’s move towards Kantian standards of civil society, democracy and republicanism is mixed. Kant, who expressed enthusiasm about the French Revolution and even empathized with the excesses of the Jacobins, died the year that Revolution crowned its emperor. The nineteenth century was the age of the consolidation of the bourgeois nation-states and the move of absolutism towards constitutional monarchies. But above all, it was the age of industrial revolution and colonial imperialism. “Democracy” and “republicanism” replaced the “divine right of kings” and became standard methods of legitimization of power into authority with all the flaws that idealist Kant had minimized and considered surmountable.
Common Grounds of Socialism and Capitalism
Rationalist, empiricist and idealist philosophies reflected on social, economic and political evolutions and revolutions and broadly came up with socialism, capitalism and communism. The first two had common grounds, that of: "From each according to his capacity to each according to his work." They were, however, diametrically opposed as to how to accomplish it. Socialism and capitalism parted roads in their definition of what constituted capacity and the product of labor. Socialism had a more restricted idea of capacity: that of production and service for the society – directly and obviously for the common good. It implied a certain degree of social consciousness and social order for the evaluation of capacity and the value of labor. Capitalism, on the other hand, included in capacity that of the exploitation of the weaknesses of some by others and warned them – caveat emptor. The entrepreneur would engage – exploit – labor on the basis of the appeal of its product and the potentials of conditioning the society through marketing to seek that product. The reward of the risk taking and labor of the entrepreneur was profit.
Socialism and capitalism, philosophically debated by bourgeois intellectuals as economic methods for the organization of the society, turned into ideologies and became banners for political action. In Western cultures, the emergence of bourgeois capitalism out of the industrial revolution generated the political dynamics for nations, nation-states and nationalism. The new economic and industrial potentials of bourgeois capitalism needed a dedicated labor force and a market to absorb the productive capacity of the industry. Through rearrangements of historical past, flags and national anthems, the tribal realities of patriotism were transmuted into nationalism. Peoples were given an identity to fit the new patterns of contribution and distribution. Frontiers were defended in the name of the fatherland. And beyond, raw materials and new markets were sought for prosperity, giving rise to colonial expansion. Broadly speaking, this was the consciousness of the West, capitalists and socialists alike.
We should keep in mind that one of the reasons for the emergence of socialist ideas was the destruction, by capitalism, of tribal and communal ties, relations and structures: When the relationship between the job-givers and the workers became less personal, when guilds declined and the relationship of the master and the apprentice ceased to have a filial dimension, when the folks from farms and small communities moved to industrial centers and submitted to the impersonal laws of offer and demand for labor, when slums grew out of hand and out of proportion around industrial centers; then the ideas of social justice developed to provide what the community had earlier provided for its members. Against Social Darwinist concept of the survival of the fittest and Malthusian justification of misery, disease and death as regulators of the price of labor grew the concepts of social justice to provide for health, education, welfare and leisure of the working class. The first worker protection insurance laws were promulgated by an arch conservative: Bismarck. And when tuberculosis hit the workers’ slums and became a danger to manpower supply, society and scientists paid attention. Pasteur and Leister discovered means to combat the Koch virus. The socialist ideas were eventually aberrated into the unattainable idealist goals of scientific socialism and the rational and optimal use of the means of production to edify "from each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs."
The Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels was the watershed. Marx & Engels were the catalyzers of the social sciences school developed by the likes of August Comte. They were astute observers of human conditions. They rightfully observed that the history of mankind was that of the exploitation of one class by another. But then, in claiming to put Hegelian concepts on their head they fell into the Kantian idealist trap that they wanted to counter by their dialectic materialism. They claimed that the exploitation of one class by another will cease with the proletarian revolution. That was idealist! They were wrong. The history of mankind is the exploitation of one class by another, and will remain so. The proletariat (those near death: pro: near & letarius: death) have no energy to fight. They submit. Those who have held the banner of proletarian revolution were produced by the bourgeoisie: Lenin, Trotsky, Kalinin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Chou En Lai, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara. You may notice that in this list of bourgeois revolutionaries many belong to "underdeveloped economies."
Indeed, class exploitation gains its full significance when reviewed from the perspective of global governance. Historically, there have been different types and degrees of global governance. Chinese, Persian, Roman, Moslem or Mongol empires exercised global governance at different levels within their empires and developed patterns of conduct and codes of behavior in their encounters with each other. There have been tax collecting, enslaving, exploiting, extracting, colonial, assimilating and integrating empires. We need not dig deep into history to find combinations of these practices. The Western imperial expansion provides us with a full array: from the massacre and pillage of gold of the Amerindians by the Spaniards to placing Old Bailey wigs on the head of African “magistrates” by the British. It is, however, the con-fusion of class consciousness, religion, nationalism and imperialism that are most pertinent to our study. The French socialist Jean Jaurés’ call for “la guerre à la guerre” fell flat on its face as soldiers marched to WWI in the name of la patrie, the Kaiser, the Tsar, and God, King and Country. In the socio-political environment and the industrial level of early twentieth century Europe, it was the imperial dimension which permitted bourgeois capitalism to amplify national identity and continue to exploit the working classes. The European soldier was probably an exploited worker, but he had national pride. In the context of imperialism he belonged to a superior culture – if not race. The European empires had, of course, recruited soldiers from their colonies to fight their wars. But those non-Western soldiers were not fighting their own “national” war. They were fighting the wars of their “masters” just as they had done over the ages in their traditional cultures. No doubt, some of them went back to their “underdeveloped economies” with an inkling of their own confused national identity, but without the bourgeois capitalist industrial complex to support it.
Bourgeois capitalism and financial imperialism
Bourgeois capitalism, in its different shapes, came of age in the aftermath of WWI. With the collapse of anachronic empires and, above all, the challenge of Bolshevik Russia, which claimed Marxian socialism as its way to edify communism, the world of bourgeoisie became conscious of its own identity. Global governance aspiring to Kantian perpetual peace through the League of Nations proved ineffective and got caught in the dissonances of the different brands of bourgeois capitalism. The “Western” victors, having secured for themselves international underdeveloped markets to exploit, were moving towards what eventually became financial imperialism. Those who felt short-changed in colonial distribution like Germany, Italy and Japan, consolidating their national consciousness, belatedly engaged in territorial imperialist expansions that caused their demise in WWII. The Soviets who, by Marxian standards, where nowhere near the Marxian proletarian revolution, embarked, under Stalin, in what amounted to state capitalism. By controlling the means of production, and lauding the Stakhanovich spirit of the workers, the Soviet state withheld some of the laborers’ revenues in order to invest in building industrial infrastructures. The deep roots of Russian traditional culture, religion and attachment to the land were combated but did not disappear. When the Nazi hordes invaded Soviet Union, it was more under the banner of “Narodny” – the home land – rather than international socialism that the Soviets overwhelmed and crushed their invaders and imposed Soviet brand of socialism on Eastern Europe. An “Iron Curtain,” as Churchill put it, descended between the West and the East.
In all this, as I discuss it elsewhere, the "third" world – as distinct from the "first" world, i.e. Western Europe and America, and the "second" world, i.e., USSR and its satellites – was a patchwork of "nation-states" whose borders were mostly drawn on the world map according to Western concepts of international law and/or colonial impositions and had not gone through the bourgeois capitalist nation-state identity.
The Cold War
The dynamics of bourgeois capitalism, nationalism, colonialism, socialism, national socialism and communism resulted in World War II and the Cold War as its aftermath. The Cold War was not a contest between capitalism and socialism per se. It was a conflict between two camps reflecting American and Soviet hegemony, each crushing the liberalizing movements within their own sphere of influence for their own perceived ideological interests and handicapping what could have been movements toward greater democracy and freedom around the world. Within their own camps the Soviets crushed the uprisings in East Berlin and Hungary in 1956 and the Spring of Prague in 1968, and the Americans manipulated the democratic process in Western Europe by supporting, through surreptitious financing and intelligence work, the political parties of their choice, such as Aldo Moro in Italy or the overthrow of Constitutional Monarchy in Greece by General Papadopolus. Outside their camps the two adversaries intervened where they perceived opportunities or disturbances in their “sphere of influence.” Such were, for example, by the Americans: the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala, Mossadegh in Iran, Sukarno in Indonesia, Lumumba in the Congo, the Coups d'Etat of the Generals in Argentina and Brazil, the overthrow of Allende in Chile; and by the Soviets: support for Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Nasser in Egypt, Sandenistas in Guatemala or installation of Mengistu in Ethiopia and Najib In Afghanistan.
The American style capitalism aberrated freedom of thought and speech, originally enshrined in the Bill of Rights to ensure political freedom for the likes of Thomas Paine, into the freedom of Larry Flint to publish The Hustler and Pastor Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church, Houston, Texas, to distribute videos on “The Dangers of Reasoning.” The process evolved from the “Kantian” age of reflection which inspired the Fathers of American Revolution to sound bites and spin, making power-thirsty operators clown and beg for money from the rich in order to buy and control the media to entertain and condition the masses to vote for them. Democracy thus turned into plutocracy.
Soviet bourgeoisie emerged after Stalin. Mature socialism, in the sense of what the Swedes practiced in the sixties and the seventies, was really never given a chance in the Soviet Union. Wrapped in its own bureaucracy the Soviet Union developed its own class system of apparatchiks and the elite of Nomenkelatura. Caught in its own imperialism, the Soviet military industrial complex was drawn into an arms race that sounded its death knell. The left out Soviet bourgeoisie bred dissident intellectuals – who precipitated the effects of Glasnost – and go-getter operators – who exploited the corruption of the regime and grabbed the assets of the state-run economy when it collapsed under Perestroika.
In terms of Kantian freedom and democracy the “First” – the West – and the “Second” – the Soviet style socialist East – are not really models for the “Third” – the non-Western – world to emulate.
And the non-West?
The colonial experience exposed the non-Western cultures to fragments of Western philosophy that suited the Western powers’ colonial designs. Bourgeois classes emerged within the traditional societies, not as initiators and inheritors of an industrial revolution, but as an appendage to the colonial power. The members of the non-Western bourgeois classes were mostly issue of educated traditional upper-crust, whether tribal or royal aristocracy, or merchants. In their gravitation towards Western patterns of behavior and in their service as conduits for colonial exploitation, many of the westernized non-Western bourgeoisie alienated themselves from the masses of their own culture, looked down upon them, and in different degrees partook in the exploitation of their own people. Some, however, aware of the fact that their own culture had not spawned the industrial revolution and the other factors which contributed to Western bourgeois nation-state consciousness, went to the grass roots of their own culture to foster a sense of national identity within their own people. Such were, for example, Mahatma Gandhi’s Cottage Industry experiment and Mao Zedong’s Long March.
In the aftermaths of WWI and WWII, freshly bruised by the horrors of war, Western powers tried their hands at “perpetual peace.” One of the provisions, insisted upon by the United States, whose interest was in “open doors” for commerce with the colonial territories of the European powers, was the emancipation of the peoples and the independence of those territories. The Mandates in the Covenant of the League of Nations and the Trusteeship in the United Nations Charter were provisions made for that purpose, even though most colonial powers were going to drag their feet in implementing them.
Ideological rifts of the Cold War further sensitized the people and the elite of colonial territories, some of whom picked up arms in national liberation fronts. The war fatigue of the colonial powers after WWII and the tenacity of liberation movements precipitated the granting of wholesale independence to colonial territories that were given the status of sovereign nation-states. But, as mentioned earlier, most of these territories were entities curved out on the world map as a result of colonial wheelings and dealings of Western powers and did not necessarily correspond to any ethnic, national or religious realities.
In most of these newly-independent countries, the elite that took over emerged from the military ranks because they were more attuned to discipline and control and had a more modern structured coercive force at their disposal. The way different regimes went about running their country depended on which Western patterns of socio-political and economic organization the governing elite was inclined to emphasize. Depending on that emphasis, during the Cold War, the Third World countries shifted in and out of Western, Soviet or Non-Aligned camps. In the absence of a Western style national fabric, what happened in most cases was a transposition of inter-tribal dynamics to the national level. The rulers who embraced the Western style “market economy” and were supported by Western multinational corporations, took advantage of their position – more than public officials in the Western cultures would do – to enrich themselves, their family and their entourage at the expense of the country. Such were and are, for example, Marcos in the Philippines, Mobutu in the Congo, Suharto in Indonesia, Bongo in Gabon or the house of Saud in Saudi Arabia. Those of the Third World rulers who created nationalist authoritarian regimes which, in their attempts at nationalizing Western interests, clashed with Western powers were supported by the Soviet block. Such were, for example, the regimes of Nasser in Egypt, Sukarno in Indonesia or Assad in Syria. India and China – and Yugoslavia – despite their socialist and communist stances, because of their independence from the Western and Soviet blocks, claimed non-alignment and provided a platform which other Third World countries used at different times to identify themselves as distinct from the two Cold War antagonist camps. The Non-Aligned camp was an amalgam which, at different times, included the Shah’s Iran and Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
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The collapse of bipolar pulls and pushes of the Cold War created vacuums to be filled and brought to the fore currents which, for the major part, had been undercurrents of the Cold War. Of major significance was the reemergence of Islam as a global consciousness, with potentials to give many non-Western countries a base for identity. Its recent sources should be traced back at least to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the 1973 oil crisis when the Arab oil producers closed the faucets and no gun-boats showed up to stop them, and the triumph of the Mullahs in Iran. As the age of colonial imperialism gave way to financial imperialism, petro-dollars flowed; and besides enriching the Middle Eastern potentates, permitted the propagation of Islam and the mushrooming of sumptuous Mosques around the world. And thanks to the short-sightedness of American foreign policy, the new found financial muscle of Islam permitted the generation of Islamic militancy, notably crystallizing Islamic fervor of the Mujahedin and the Taliban in Afghanistan against the Soviet occupation.
The demise of the Soviet Union, although mainly caused by its own aberration of socialist principles, was translated as the triumph of the American brand of capitalism which became the blueprint to embrace for integrating the global world economy. The rapid development of new means of production – transportation, new resources and methods of exploitation of energy, automation, and information technology – further accelerated the propagation of American style capitalism.
It is in that context that nation-state frontiers, laws and myths, which had been developed to protect national bourgeoisie’s labor supply and market, have become roadblocks for the expansion of global capital. Nation-states which seek the flow of global capital into their economy are reducing the barriers which would discourage that flow. Taxes are reduced and markets are opened. National political institutions thus lose some of their resources and cede control over their national economy to international financial and industrial networks. The reduction in the contribution by the nation’s rich to the coffers of the nation-state for redistribution of wealth to the people by the nation-state in the form of entitlements weakens national economic cohesion. There is need for reflection on new possible global social, economic and political arrangements. Here I refer the reader to my essay “Shades of Global Power: Reflections on the Emerging World Order” mentioned earlier, where I discuss these new global phenomena and develop the idea of recognizing new actors on the global scene which I identify as Estans.
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Beyond the new world order I envision in that essay, and more pertinent to the topic of the present essay is the fact that in order to bring freedom, democracy and civility to the world, the West should look into its own soul – the Kantian way! In order to understand the martyrdom of the terrorists, for example, we need to make the Kantian distinction between price and dignity.
A culture which believes that everything has a price will have difficulty understanding the dignity in martyrdom, even though theoretically it can explain it. Indeed, in the materialist sense, everything has a price. But some prices are beyond exchange value. The Moslem fanatic who blows himself up does it for a “price,” a prize payable in heaven.
Can we, by creating economic opportunities, make the price of martyrdom negotiable? Could a society, by flaunting prosperity in pursuit of a comfortable life, by making the “prize” promised in heaven accessible on earth, dissuade those who are prepared to blow themselves up to hang around a bit longer in peace among their fellow men? If we think we can, we are missing the point of the distinction between price and dignity. Mohammad Atta, the Egyptian Twin Towers suicide pilot and his fellow Saudi assassins grew up in “bourgeois” families. They were not economically deprived, but were primed by a combination of bruised dignity and prize in heaven. “Bourgeois” is the wrong label for defining their milieu and state of mind. Bourgeoisie refers to the middle class of medieval Europe, living in boroughs between peasants and aristocrats. “Bourgeoisie” is historically loaded. It is, as we saw, the class in the West which eventually developed rational and empirical thought to set itself free from the stranglehold of religion and despotism – unfortunately, not completely. To the extent it succeeded, it did so because it also created the secular civic society.
“bourgeoisie” in non-Western cultures does not have the same
historical baggage. The Egyptian bourgeoisie is torn between Islam and
bourgeois influence. The injection of American-style capitalism
those conflicting currents. American social Darwinist capitalism
because it was conditioned by the country’s specific strong religious
inciting the rich to be charitable and the poor to trust in God in
American Dream of rags to riches. The introduction of “the American way
life” with its emphasis on respect for faith in societies that 1. are dominated by totalitarian religions
that in essence do not recognize a separation of church and state, 2.
experienced the Western style bourgeois development, and 3. whose
not been exposed to the concept of secular civic society, can be
productive. Challenging other cultures’ faith would be unwelcome. The
experience of Western bourgeoisie is not reproduceable. But a clear
promote secular civic societies is possible. It is through secular and
education and institutions that people of different faiths can
Of course, promotion of civics, secular education and cultural renaissance can only succeed when financial imperialism and global market economy are effectively engaged in combating worldwide poverty, the symbol of oppression and the symptom which motivates the indignant militants to blow themselves up.
Collectively and through all countries that identify with it, the West should initiate a massive drive for global secularization and a civic world culture. The cornerstone of individual liberty is dignity and civic secular education. The West became “enlightened” once it managed to shake off the shackles of religious superstition and fanaticism and recognized the individual as the social unit with human rights and responsibilities. The world, including the “West,” is in dire need of a new Renaissance and another Age of Enlightenment.
ã Anoush Khoshkish, 2004, 2005