Friday, May 18, 2007

Speaking of Spengler...

(Image from Asia Times Online)

I had previously -- possibly yesterday -- wondered about the theological debt owed by 'Spengler' to Franz Rosenzweig.

With that wondrous query in mind, I did more scrounging about at Spengler's webpage on the Asia Times website and found an article reviewing a recent German edition -- by Gesine Palmer and Yossef Schwartz -- of Rosenzweig's Der Stern Der Erlosung (The Star of Redemption). Spengler's review article, "Oil on the flames of civilizational war" (December 2, 2003), has some choice quotes from Rosenzweig's book, framed by Spengler's observations:
Most of the German-language material in the Palmer-Schwartz collection can be found easily in Rosenzweig's book The Star of Redemption, available in English translation. Few Americans have the training to read it, for Rosenzweig writes in the extinct dialect of Kantian idealism. What he says about Islam, however, is reasonably straightforward. I translate from the present [Palmer-Schwartz] edition and summarize below.

Judaism began with a people, and then became a congregation, and eventually a religion, Rosenzweig argues. Christianity began with a congregation into which it then selected its people, the "new Israel". Islam, he avers, was concocted as an institutionalized religion to begin with, as a parody of Judaism and Christianity. This, however, had dreadful consequences. "Mohammed took over the notion of Revelation from the outside, which left him stuck with the pagan idea of creation as a matter of course," Rosenzweig wrote.

Allah merely is the apotheosized image of an Oriental despot, emphatically not the Judeo-Christian God of love. Rosenzweig altogether repudiates the notion of Islamic culture. As a caricature, Islam is entirely sterile: "Islam never created an Islamic art, but rather took into its service pre-Islamic art ... The pre-Islamic state, namely the Oriental state in its Byzantine form, made Islam into its state religion; the pre-Islamic spirit of the Koran adopted either pre-Islamic rationalism or mysticism and orthodoxy. In Europe, by contrast, in Christian Europe, there arose something new: Christian art, and a Christian state."

Love requires the Judeo-Christian God to create the world. By contrast, "the God of Mohammed is a creator who well might not have bothered to create. He displays his power like an Oriental potentate who rules by violence, not by acting according to necessity, not by authorizing the enactment of the law, but rather in his freedom to act arbitrarily. By contrast, it is most characteristic of rabbinic theology that it formulates our concept of the divine power to create in the question as to whether God created the world out of love or out of righteousness."

Allah's creation for Rosenzweig is a mere act of "magic". Muslim theology "presumes that Allah creates every isolated thing at every moment. Providence thus is shattered into infinitely many individual acts of creation, with no connection to each other, each of which has the importance of the entire creation. That has been the doctrine of the ruling orthodox philosophy in Islam. Every individual thing is created from scratch at every moment. Islam cannot be salvaged from this frightful providence of Allah ... despite its vehement, haughty insistence upon the idea of the God's unity, Islam slips back into a kind of monistic paganism, if you will permit the expression. God competes with God at every moment, as if it were the colorfully contending heavenful of gods of polytheism."

By paganism Rosenzweig refers to a specific mindset as well as a political system which crushes individual identity into the whole. In the pagan state, he wrote in the Star, "The individual does not stand in relation to the state in the way that a part stands in relation to the whole. On the contrary, the state is all, and its electricity pulses through the veins of every individual." Unfortunately, Palmer and Schwartz do not include in their edition this and other relevant passages about paganism in general.
Spengler's agreement with Rosenzweig's portrayal of Islam as a type of monistic paganism dressed up as monotheism reminds me of Alain Besançon's query posed as an article, "What kind of religion is Islam?" (Commentary, May 2004, Volume 117, Issue: 5), which I have previously noted and which answers with this:

Christians and Jews ... may well be struck by the religious zeal of the Muslim toward a God whom they recognize as being also their God. But this God is in fact separate and distinct, and so is the relation between Him and the believing Muslim. Christians are accustomed to distinguish the worship of false gods -- that is, idolatry -- from the worship of the true God. To treat Islam suitably, it becomes necessary to forge a new concept altogether, and one that is difficult to grasp -- namely, an idolatry of the God of Israel. To put it another way, Islam may be thought of as the natural religion of the revealed God.
Both Rosenzweig and Besançon as well as Spengler consider Islam a form of pagan belief. Muslims would, clearly, find this label objectionable if not insulting, but an emotional response would be inappropriate to the intellectual critique.

Anyway, this would be neither here nor there if Spengler weren't arguing that Islam's pagan core is responsible for the current wave of jihadist attacks here, there, and everywhere. If one asks Spengler, "But why now -- why is Islam so radical right now if it's always had a pagan core?", then he will respond (cf. "Crisis of Faith in the Muslim World, Part 2: The Islamist response") that Islam's pagan core makes the Islamic world a traditional society that emphasizes not the individual but the 'tribe' and that this communal reality is threatened with annihilation by modern individualism, against which "The Islamists feel that they have nothing to lose, for the fear of cultural extinction surpasses the fear of physical death."

One possible flaw in this argument is that Spengler has also argued that 'pagan' culture does not recognize individual immortality and thus emphasizes the corporate immortality of the tribe. Yet, Islam surely offers immortality to individuals.

Or does it?

Spengler would likely assert that Islamic immortality gives no individual guarantees, aside from the immortality accorded to the martyr -- but even that is left up to the unfathomable, arbitrary will of Allah. What therefore remains, Spengler would emphasize, is the 'pagan' immortality of the tribe.

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At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

> Spengler has also argued that 'pagan' culture does not recognize individual immortality and thus emphasizes the corporate immortality of the tribe. Yet, Islam surely offers immortality to individuals.

> Or does it?

> Spengler would likely assert that Islamic immortality gives no individual guarantees, aside from the immortality accorded to the martyr — but even that is left up to the unfathomable, arbitrary will of Allah. What therefore remains, Spengler would emphasize, is the 'pagan' immortality of the tribe.

A simpler alternative is that Islam is under siege by both modernity and Christianity (considered along with its predecessor Judaism). And also, that Islam views itself as a tribal religion that takes over States and wages wars. So each Islamic individual has to defend his tribe in order to uphold his salvation.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Leandro Guimarães Faria Corcete DUTRA, thanks for the comment.

Your suggestion might be simpler. I'll have to consider it. My impression is that the while the ummah inherits tribal mores, smaller 'Muslim' tribes often function as a bulwark against total Islamization by radicals. Thus the recent expulsion of Al-Qaeda from the Anbar region of Iraq by Sunni tribes.

Still, I'll think about your remark.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Arab society works in couches like an onion. There is a saying that goes something like this:

You are my brother, we quarrel. He is our cousin, I join my brother to fight him. He is our neighbour, we join our cousin to fight him. Theer is a foreigner; we join our neighbour to fight him.

So it is not only Islam, or a faction of it which gives the individual his identity, but also his tribe and family.

Case in point is how Arabs would join to fight Israel, but never enough to be really coordinated against it during the war, or even to prepare beforehands.

At 9:13 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Leandro Guimarães Faria Corcete DUTRA, thanks again for the comment.

Should I shorten your name to "Leandro"? Or should that be Mr. Dutra? (Or Señor Dutra?) I'm not sure what's appropriate in Latin American culture.

Anyway, we have the same saying in English about Arab culture:

"Me against my brother. My brother and me against our cousin. Me, my brother, and my cousin against my neighbor..."

As you see, the same saying. Interesting that this old saw appears across cultures.

I see from your own websites that you are multilingual. I greatly admire that.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leandro or Dutra, in a more formal setting it would be Senhor Dutra — the ñ is Spanish, not Portuguese. Not sure about Spanish America, but Portuguese America tries hard to be as informal as poßible; probably because we are at heart very formal, nearer Japan than US in the formality continuum.

Yes, the same saying in different renditions. But I am almost but sure I heard that at Palestine itself.

Well, I am a native Portuguese speaker, have a good command of English (the ‘international’ sort of it), can defend myself in French and won’t starve in Spanish. Would like to add German, Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, but that would be too tall an order.

At 5:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks. Leandro it is. Thanks also for the Portuguese lesson, Senhor Dutra.

One of my uncles studied Portuguese for a visit to the Iberian Peninsula (he already knew Spanish) and remarked that the various nasal sounds made Portuguese harder than Spanish.

At least "senhor" is easier to type than "señor."

German is the only foreign language that I can converse in. My spoken French is terrible, and I can't speak Korean at all. My wife, however, is multilingual, and our children are growing up bilingual.

As for the saying, if you heard it from a Palestinian, then it seems that the Arabs have the saying as well. Perhaps it stems from them.

Or perhaps derived in some way from Genesis 16:12 on the character of Ishmael:

"And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren."

Thanks for visiting.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, word on the streed is that, even if the common origin of both languages is relatively recent, their phonetics is much simpler. Fact is they have more trouble learning Porutuguese than we learning Castillan — forgive me the nitpicking.

Incidentally I do like accented characters and ligatures, there is a typographical snob in me.

I can’t be sure about the saying, but it does reflect a historical reality.

Nice biblical find. Will keep a tab on it.

Then there is this theory the Arab descent from Ishmael was forged… too many theories around, I am discounting this one.

At 8:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

By now, 'Arabs' are a mix of peoples throughout the Near East and North Africa, so 'Arab' is more culture than ethnicity -- if one defines ethnicity as common descent, e.g., from Ishmael.

On linguistics, I wouldn't mind the tilde over the "n" if I knew how to type it on this Korean computer that I'm using. That's one of the drawbacks to living in Korea.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You probably use MS Windows. If you were on GNU/Linux, there is a not so complicated way of switching a keyboard dynamically even other alphabets.

At a time I used it briefly to type Hebrew and Greek.

At 8:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The big problem is that all of the menu is in Korean, so I can't play around with the computer to see how it works and what it can do.

But I can write my blog and my scholarly papers without too much trouble.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once I had to support some MS Windows Korean systems. What did help me were the keyboard shortcuts and accelerators being the same as in English.

But I think it is not so easy to switch keyboard layouts in MS Windows. As far as I remember, the functionality is there in the Control Panel under Keyboards or Regional Settings, but it fails quite often.

At 8:41 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You know a lot more about this than I. I'm no technophobe, but I am quite impressively ignorant...

Jeffery Hodges

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