Monday, March 24, 2003

A Different View of Qutb: Ho-Hum

Innocents Abroad first brought its readers news of Sayyid Qutb last September in a comment on a piece by Francis Fukuyama and Nadav Samin. In that piece Fukuyama and Samin argued that Qutb, the intellectual inspiration of Islamic terrorism, had espoused very Western ideas (a conflagration of Marx and Nietzsche), and that the ideology of Islamism might be a modernizing force in the Arab world as Marxism was in Russia and fascism was in Germany.

One may disagree with Fukuyama's and Samin's Hegelian optimism, but their analysis shows that Qutb's European-inspired anti-liberalism and anti-rationalism is an old story. Everyone's been saying that liberalism lacks soul (ho-hum) since Rousseau -- and nearly all without Rousseau's political caution and intellectual breadth and depth. The piece by Paul Berman that Golbitz quotes below is entirely too enthralled with Qutb's variation on the theme of dissatisfaction with modernity. Berman says that he wants more of a philosophic defense of liberalism, but one wonders whether he's just simply dissatisfied with liberalism. The critiques of liberalism will always have a poetry that liberalism cannot muster; indeed the prosaic character of liberalism is perennially one of the main criticisms of liberalism, though this is not necessarily a fatal indictment of liberalism. Calm recognition of this might even be more manly than blowing yourself up for Allah. Tocqueville knew that liberalism meant the end of poetry, but chose it anyway for its justice. Ditto Montesquieu who began his chapter on commerce with a poem, signifying the end of poetry.

Berman is naive to think that Qutb is philosophically original in any way.

is Qutb's Milestones which, it should be noted, Berman doesn't like as much as some of Qutb's other writings.


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