Churches think in centuries and are not bound to short-term political mandates. On January 5, 2018 the Patriarch of Constantinople implemented his decision to grant independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, a move that upset Moscow. To understand the current developments, it is worth looking back at this centuries-long history of fluid relationship between Constantinople, Kiev and Moscow.
In 882, Oleg of Novgorod moved his capital to Kiev and continued the work of Rurik to unite Slavic tribes, setting the stage for the history of Kievan Rus. The prediction of Saint Andrew was unfolding. It is said that during the first century, when Andrew the Apostle traveled to what is now Kyiv, he climbed onto a hilltop overseeing the Dnepr River. There he planted a cross, prophesizing the future of the great Christian city and the role it would play.
The Slavs were a loose union of tribes, whilst Constantinople was flourishing. In 980, Vladimir the Great ruled in Kiev and endeavored to consolidate and expand further his territories. In 988, he conquered the city of Kherson, in Crimea, where a bishop see had been established since the fourth century. Although accounts vary on the conversion of Vladimir, what is clear is that the Byzantine emperor sent his sister Anna to marry Vladimir, uniting Kiev and Constantinople. When Anna arrived, Vladimir converted to Christianity, restored Kherson to Constantinople, and returned to Kiev with Crimean ecclesiastics. It is undeniable that economic and political reasons influenced his choice to convert as his agenda leaned toward the Christian world.
Although the Byzantine emperor appointed the head of the clergy in Kiev, he faced opposition from the Kievan princes who did not endorse a filiation of churches from Constantinople, nor did they submit to the emperor’s authority to make Kievan Rus a colony of the Byzantine Empire. Relations with the empire were complicated: Constantinople did not mingle directly in Kiev’s internal affairs but would not let the princes interfere in religious matters. In other words, the authority of Constantinople over Kiev was exerted through the clergy, who enjoyed considerable powers in Kievan Rus. As a consequence, the first inclination toward creating an independent church appeared. Yaroslav the Wise proclaimed Hilarion of Kiev the first non-Greek metropolitan in 1049. Nonetheless, Constantinople regained control over the appointment of the head of the church in Kiev. Constantinople never bestowed upon Kiev the right to appoint its own Slavic metropolitan, establishing a red line that would trigger immediate action from Constantinople. For centuries to come, the position would mostly be held by Greeks, who remained outside of internal Kievan politics. As Kiev had grown to be a major economic center, it was in Constantinople’s interest to stay on good terms with its Slavic neighbor, gaining importance on the international scene.
Yaroslav the Wise passed away in 1054, a key date as it is the year of the schism between Rome and Constantinople.
Kiev choses Constantinople over Rome
Opinions on rites and theological elements diverged over time between Rome and Constantinople, in part because of linguistic differences. Latin became dominant in the West while Greek was the language of choice in the East. Because of the status of language as a major cultural vehicle, the use of different languages impacted religious rites. Gradually, Rome imposed the closure of churches following the rites as practiced in Constantinople and Constantinople did the same to churches following the practices of the Western Church. Eventually, the Roman pope Leo IX and Michael Cerularius of Constantinople excommunicated each other in 1054.
Humbert of Silva Candida, the papal legate who delivered the excommunication to Patriarch Michael Cerularius, decided to stop by in Kiev on his way back to Rome from Constantinople. The newly converted Kievan Rus represented an attractive potential ally for Rome, especially given that the young federation of Slavs was expanding in size and importance on the international scene. Since integrating with this new community of Christians would strengthen their hand against Byzantium, Rome’s envoy visited the Grand Prince of Kiev with the aim of convincing him to join Rome. Yet Yazislav, the new Grand Prince of Kiev, refused any allegiance to Rome. The clergy in Kiev would remain on the Orthodox side with Constantinople in the great East-West schism.
But rivalries amongst Slavs were fierce. In 1169, the pious Grand Prince of Vladimir-Suzdal Andrey Bogolyubsky sacked Kiev and took many religious pieces, including a highly revered Byzantine icon of the Mother of God of Odigitriya, one of the holiest in Russian Orthodoxy. He initiated the construction of many churches in Vladimir-Suzdal, near today’s Moscow and converted more Slavic tribes. He is also renowned for having made the first attempt to set up a new eparchy to compete with Kiev. Around the year 1170, he bypassed the Kiev Patriarchate and directly requested of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Luka Khrizovergus, that he established an eparchy in Vladimir. He also asked for the new metropolitan to have the same rank as the one in Kiev. The patriarch declined his request, but the competition with Kiev had begun.
Moscow enters the scene
The Mongol invasion spread quickly from east to west and reached Kiev in 1240. The city was destroyed and almost its entire population was dispersed. Kiev, the beautiful jewel of a city was shattered. Some sixty years after the destruction of Kiev, the city was still not recovering. So, the metropolitan Maksim moved his residence from Kiev further east to Vladimirin 1299. Nonetheless, he kept his title of Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus. The transfer of the religious center from Kiev was a major move, the consequences of which greatly affected the future of Orthodoxy and lay power as well. At that time, the Mongol dominated the region. The first union of Slavs, the Kievan Rus had disappeared and new states had not formed yet.
In a short span of three decades, major events shaped the face of the new power that emerged in Moscow, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Moscovy.
Under the relative religious tolerance of the Mongols, the church consolidated its power and the metropolitan Piotr moved to Moscow in 1325, giving the sign that the city was one of the leading politico-religious centers.
In the meantime, Constantinople was mired in its own problems and the Eastern Roman Empire was suffering through its last days. As the Vatican was entering the Renaissance era, it was eager to end the 1054 schism, especially to its own advantage. Thus the Catholic pope was well inclined to help Constantinople, which had asked for help and unity in resisting the Ottoman threat. At the Council of Florence in 1439, the Catholic Church and the Patriarch of Constantinople signed an agreement that should have put an end to the schism. At that time, Constantinople was still appointing the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus, and it counted on the support of Moscow to endorse the agreement. But reality dictated otherwise as Russia had gained much distance from Constantinople and its issues. The Patriarch of Constantinople died soon afterward, and it was decided that his signature was nonbinding for the Orthodox churches. Only Constantinople still hoped that the union with Rome would save them from the Ottomans. But a decade later, in 1453, Constantinople fell under the control of the Ottomans.
Moscow-based bishops decided to emancipate themselves from Constantinople, which had compromised with the Catholics to save itself, yet was now under Muslim rule. For the first time, Moscow elected its own head of the church, independently from Constantinople. Although the autocephaly of the Russian Orthodox Church was recognized only in 1589, the church became de facto independent in 1448, with Jonah as its first metropolitan. One of his first objectives was to maintain religious unity in territories over which his predecessors had authority. Eventually, in 1458, the canonical territories over which the metropolitan professed corresponded to those over which the Grand Prince of Moscow ruled. This transition was reflected in his title, which changed in 1461 to Metropolitan of Moscow and All Rus. The Russian Church was now an actor of importance that saw itself as the guardian of Orthodoxy, the Third Rome.
The new Autocephalous Church asserts itself
The remaining element was the recognition of autocephaly by Constantinople. Without the approval of its peers, the self-proclaimed autocephaly has no validity in the Orthodox world.
The Ottomans imposed heavy tributes on patriarchates that fell under their territorial control. Economically weakened, the patriarchates lost considerable weight, especially Antioch, which had been weakened and forced into exile several times due to centuries under the dominion of Arabs and crusaders. In 1586–1587, the patriarch of Antioch, Joachim V, engaged in a journey to collect donations from other Orthodox churches. In Moscow, the future tsar Boris Godunov offered his support and seized this political moment to stir ambitions of an official autocephaly. Two years later, the patriarch of Constantinople, Jeremias II, traveled to Moscow with the same objective of collecting money. During his stay, he would have discussed with Boris Godunov the possibility of remaining the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch but being based in Russia. Finally, after lengthy negotiations, Jeremias II decided to give autocephaly to the Russian Orthodox Church and returned home. The recognition was made official in 1589 with the concurrence of the other three original patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.
In 1589, the Russian Orthodox Church for the first time had a patriarch at its head, Job of Moscow. There were now five patriarchs: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Moscow. And the tsar was the guardian of Orthodoxy.
Kiev, the Tsarist Empire and the church
Peter the Great launched many reforms to modernize Russia, following European model. He replaced the patriarchate with a committee termed the Holy Synod, placing a bureaucrat, the Chief Procurator, as its de facto head and the tsar’s eyes and ears in the church. With authority over religious matters and control over the appointment of bishops, Peter succeeded in relegating the church to the status of a ministry or state department, with clerics placed in charge of spiritual matters.
Catherine the Great continued the policies of Peter the Great. She entertained the Austro-Russian idea of dissolving the Ottoman Empire. As part of this scheme, she nurtured plans to embark on a “Greek Project”: re-establishing a Greek Byzantine empire to replace the Muslim Ottoman Empire, which had gained ground in continental Europe. For instance, she supported the Daskalogiannis Rebellion in Crete in 1770, in which Cretans rose up against the Turks. In reality, she was rather indifferent to religion: she embraced the project, promoted by Prince Potemkin, for geopolitical rather than religious reasons. Yet it did not materialize, and no alliance with Austria came into being. In 1783, Catherine decided to annex Crimea, putting an end to the revolts occurring there and, most importantly, pushing the Ottoman Empire back across the Black Sea. Crimea became a Russian province and part of Novorossiya or “New Russia” in 1784.
Religion politics in Russo-Turkish Wars
Eventually, tensions between the Russian and Ottoman empires had reached a climax, and war broke out in 1787. The conflict lasted for five years but was decided to Russia’s advantage. Russia was therefore able to consolidate its positions around the Black Sea but never captured Constantinople, the gateway to the Mediterranean’s warm waters and an Achilles heel for Moscow to this day. Even though the Treaty of Jassy, signed at the end of the war on January 9, 1792, recognized the Russian territorial gains, relations with the Ottoman Empire remained tense. Russian expansion benefited from momentum on the world scene shaken by the French and American revolutions. Consequently, nobody really reacted to Russian expansion until the situation in France had stabilized. But Napoleon reaction was short-lived.
Alexander’s victory over Napoleon gave him a new sense of divine mission, and by 1814, the tsar had grown more religious and prone to messianism. His religious awakening triggered his initiation of the Holy Alliance between Prussia, Austria, and Russia. Signed in Paris in 1815, this alliance aimed to promote Christianity but was also a reaction to the Napoleonic Wars. The Great Powers wanted to ensure a balance of power in Europe and avoid revolutions. During the two hectic decades that followed, the Catholic Church remained strong and Napoleon III pursued a pro-Catholic agenda, as proven by his 1849 expedition to restore the pope. He posed as the champion of Catholicism in Europe, which in part explained his decision to engage in the Crimean War against Russia.
With its territorial gains and advances well into the Black Sea region, Russia represented a growing threat for the Ottoman Empire and its French and British allies. Paris, together with London, backed the Ottoman Empire, whose western territories in the Balkans saw many uprisings, such as those of the Orthodox Serbs and Orthodox Greeks.
The trigger of the Crimean War of 1853–1856 was religious, but the roots were indisputably linked to the fear of Russia’s growing influence in the weakened Ottoman Empire. At the beginning, quarrels between Catholic and Orthodox monks arose in Palestine about their prerogatives. As the matter had reached serious levels, Tsar Nicholas I intervened and asked the Sultan to recognize the right of Russia to protect the Christians of the Ottoman Empire according to the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, signed after the war of 1774. This right gave the Russian Orthodox Church further predominance over the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The document also gave Russia access through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. This privilege was certainly not pleasing to France or England.
Catholic France declared that it wanted to have authority over the Eastern Christians, a decision contradicting a previous agreement that gave Russia the right to protect Christians. The French Catholic Emperor Napoleon III promised support to the Sultan if he were to resist this Russian “aggression.” Stung by the humiliating conditions of the treaty following the Ottoman defeat, the Sultan agreed. Consequently, a new war erupted between the Ottoman Empire and Russia. As promised, France, joined by England, intervened in support of the Sultan to preserve the territorial integrity of his empire.
The protection of holy places and Christians became the source of an international war with several fronts around the Black Sea, including in the Caucasus. The war was eventually lost by Russia, which was then forced to hand over several territories around the Black Sea. As a result, France gained influence in the Holy Lands.
Moscow – Constantinople Competition
World War 1 put an end to both Russian and Ottoman empires. Under the Soviet, religion was undermined, priests were killed and churches destroyed. So, the Russian church found itself in a state of confusion when the Soviet government collapsed. The church was divided and weak. During the final years of the twentieth century, the ROC stabilized and consolidated its power over its canonical territory thanks to the support of the Russian authorities. It also reasserted its stance within the Orthodox Church worldwide. By far the largest in terms of parishioners and with growing wealth, the Russian Orthodox Church overshadowed the patriarch of Constantinople.
The later did not enjoy much freedom under the new Turkish rule. In addition, it had lost jurisdiction in the Balkans in the nineteenth century. Turkish authorities imposed that the Patriarch should be a Turkish citizen, usually of Greek origin, and such candidates are rare. All in all, the Patriarch of Constantinople has been in an increasing difficult position for centuries, and Moscow has proved to be a strong challenger. In 2016, the ROC asked to convene the Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete and not in Istanbul as Turkish authorities had downed a Russian jetfighter deployed for operations in Syria. Based on this security argument, the Council agreed to change location. Nonetheless, local Orthodox churches, namely the Bulgarian Church, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, and the Serbian and Georgian Orthodox churches refused to participate because of disagreements over the agenda. The ROC suggested solving those issues to guarantee full attendance, even if it meant postponing the Council. Eventually, the disputes were not resolved and the ROC decided to cancel its participation. By so doing, the ROC expressed a defiant message about the role and authority of the Constantinople Patriarchate. Tensions never resolved and the situation in Ukraine added insult to injury in the relation between Constantinople and Moscow.
Moscow – Kiev: rivals once more
Since the mid seventeenth century, Kiev remained largely under the rule of the Tsar and then Soviet Moscow. Ties binding Ukraine and Russia were strong especially in the field of alimentation, industry and energy.
After the end of the Soviet Union, the Western European World and Russia have tried to attract Kyiv into their respective spheres of influence, a game from which Kiyv benefitted. In 2014, the tables turned drastically with the Euromaidan revolution that toppled President Yanukovych. Incapable of averting Ukraine’s choice of the EU, Moscow was concerned that Ukraine might ally with NATO. Russian authorities treated the situation as a security matter and actively supported the separation of the autonomous region of Crimea and its attachment/annexation to Russia. The situation spiraled out of control and a kinetic conflict erupted in the Donbas, leading to serious readjustments in international affairs.
Against the backdrop of the complex international relations prevailing in the early twenty-first century, interests of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state have overlapped in Ukraine. The question of religion and allegiance to the Kyiv or Moscow patriarchate has become a matter of identity and call for resistance among some Ukrainians against Russia in 2014. This unfortunate confusion resulted in intra-Orthodox confrontation with the killing of orthodox priests and the destruction of orthodox churches. In a vicious circle, religious and political differences fueled each other.
Many critics have interpreted the positions of the Russian church and the Russian authorities as two sides of the same coin. Consequently, the Russian church became synonymous with Russian interference in Ukraine, and as such the separation as we see it unfolding was almost a fait accompli.
The creation of an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church is another turn in this fluid relationship between the three historic cities of Constantinople, Kyiv and Moscow. And it is hardly to be the last move…
Custodians of Islam, changing their Avatar
If we peek into the historical traces, it could be seen that the world has fought more wars on religion or for their state’s dignity and integrity than any other reason. It is mainly because accepting others ideologies either its religious or national, it’s hard to accept and this is at present the prevailing issue if someone looks deeper into the complex picture of geo-politics.
United Arab Emirates has passed new laws that have shocked the entire Muslim world. The Arab World has also been perceived as the “custodians of Islam” and other Muslim countries have look towards for the perfect implementation of misinterpreted “Islamic values”, ignoring the fact that mainly the values followed in the Arab world are Arabic not Islamic. There is huge difference among two interpretations.
UAE has recently relaxed its social constraints. These constraints that served as a shield from adopting the un-Islamic practices and pro-western values. UAE has allowed couples to cohabit; it has allowed drinking without fear of punishment. Lastly it has also it put off the honor crime from its menu means; they have criminalized the act of honor killing. The decision of UAE to revamp its policies depicts that UAE has chosen a “new” avatar, a more pro-western avatar, leaving the Islamic values behind. The broadening of personal freedoms reflects that UAE is on its new journey to change its society at home.
After the announcement of new laws it seems as if United Arab Emirates is more focus on shifting their oil dependent economy or other industries. This includes inviting the high-flow of Israel and Western investments into their country at the cost of anything. They are aiming to boost UAE is the skyscraper tourist destination for Western tourists and fortune seekers, businesses regardless of its “legal hard-line Islamic System.”
Moreover, the major revamps came particularly right after the historic U.S brokered deal to normalize relations between UAE and Israel. The future will reveal but it can be foreseen that the days of monarchy are coming to end. It won’t happen in few years; it will take time but is surely going to happen. The decades old filthy rich monarchy will be replaced by “Democracy” for sure.
Other than the UAE, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also on the same journey. The new monarch King Muhammad Bin Salman is also tilted towards “Western culture” and more “Liberalist thoughts and values”. He is also more inclined to bring on more liberal structures in their country, for examples recently Saudi Arabia has given more freedom to women for driving and is allowed to work with men at offices or any other workplaces. These drastic changes were considered as an impossible task to do but things are changing rapidly.
The question to ask is, now where would Pakistan tilt? Whose society would Pakistan look upon as the guardian and custodians of Islam and its Islamic values? The Arab countries have also had massive influence upon the Pakistani society particularly in religious terms. Pakistan has to bear the cost of “Wahabbism” clashing with “Shiaism” and other Islamic sects that were mainly brought by the Arabs into the country.
Many Pakistanis have considered the Arabs as their ideal and the Arabian society as an ideal society to live in. I have also heard people giving examples of “Islamic system of Saudi Arabia” and how loyal they are to the “Islamic values”. They are also perceived as the “Guardians” and “Custodians” of Islamic values. But now as they are inclined or totally moving towards Western system, would Pakistan also opt for liberalism in their country?
As there has always been an environment of confusion in the Pakistani society. This confusion is, wither to opt for democracy or go for an Islamic system. This has created a sharp separation in the Pakistani society, the one struggling to go totally Western (far-left), and the others trying to preserve the Islamic system (far-right).
After United Arab Emirates new laws, this question is becoming more complex. The transformation of United Arab Emirates adoption of Westernized values shows that it is only the Muslim world leaving its values behind and moving towards a borrowed baggage of cultures and values. The future will disclose that who will sit on the throne of “Custodian of Islam”. Till now the changing geo-political situation shows that it is Turkey that is striving to go for this throne.
On the current politics of Arab powers I would say, “A tree’s beauty lies in its branches, but its strength lies in its roots,” rightly said by Matshona Dhliwayo.
Death of a Living Goddess and an Unfair verdict
The Living Goddess of Nepal (Kumari), a prepubescent girl child, possessing divinity is a well established and widely held belief. She is worshipped so long as her virginity remains intact and dismissed when she starts to menstruate. By all accounts, the reason she is highly revered has much to do with her virginity as the loss of holy status is inevitable after the first menstrual blood. Strong voices regarding child and human rights raised so far have brought remarkable reforms in Kumari practice; yet the elephant in the room, her dethronement after puberty, undeniably a serious problem, is often downplayed. The supposed divinity of the Goddess and it’s connection with pubescence, as outrageous as it sounds, triggers a couple of very important questions. Does the Living Goddess really possess divinity? More importantly, must not we ponder and assess the eventual end of her divinity?
The 19th century famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche declared– God is dead — a metaphor used to describe the gradual decline of faith in God. The philosopher attributes the advent of Scientific revolution and Age of reason in bringing an end to the existence of God, thanks to rational arguments and modern inventions or discoveries. Unlike the death of Western God, the Living Goddess of Nepal, or her holiness to be precise, meets a surprising death(end), figuratively speaking, at the hands of first menstruation. Sadly, just a few drops of innocent and natural blood, with rosy prospects of procreation and motherhood, is believed to have committed a grave crime that a verdict was passed against it long ago — puberty ends divinity.
Moreover, proclaiming divinity’s end, as soon as Kumari reaches adolescence, she is replaced by another “virgin” child. Even though blood oozing from any part of the body due to cuts or wounds leads to Goddess’ dismissal, the menstrual blood in every occasion has turned out to be most fatal. To confirm this we can check the numbers of all former Kumaris, and should not get startled if considerable cases are associated with their first period. Matina Shakya(2008-2017) was replaced in 2017 by Trishna Shakya (2017-present), after puberty ended her nine-year reign. When the same phenomenon hit Preeti Shakya (2001-2008) in 2008, she was shown the door to an anonymous life in the suburbs. Likewise, in 2010 the divine life for Chanira Bajracharya finished abruptly at 15, on the day she first menstruated and Samita Bajracharya(2010-2014) was appointed the new Kumari of Patan City in her place. It is a pity that once highly hailed all-powerful Goddess, sooner or later becomes a “nobody”, useless and mere mortal. Devotees accustomed to bow down before the deity in the hope of blessings are certainly baffled when simple biological blood brings her supreme divinity to its knees.
What would be the general frame of her mind and psychological state when the child realizes that fending off the imminent demotion is far from possible? Gripped by trepidation, she would definitely not want the undesirable menstruation, the antagonist, to come and take away her most cherished goddess status. Samita was in total shock and emotional at her dismissal following the start of her first period. Similarly, Preeti couldn’t help shedding tears when her term ended at 12 ,and banished out of the paradise, because of approaching menstruation, which is considered as flawed. This is highly likely to leave a false impression in the mind of a demoted child and the collective consciousness of people. To them puberty or “supposed” impure blood must appear a nemesis of Kumari, a nasty thing that ends her holiness.
God/Goddess’ existence is an unsolved riddle, yet lives of many great sages and mystics throughout the history of Indian subcontinent — Gautam Buddha, Mahavira, Shivapuri Baba, Meera Bai, Lalleshwari, Anandamayi Ma and so on — convince godliness being a possible phenomenon. With no single exception these humans share two things in common; years of spiritual endeavours and eventual mystical/godliness experience. On the contrary, a girl child is expected to fulfill 32 physical qualities, before worshipped as a Living Goddess. Whether the girl child reaches the same transcendental state as the other divine beings shall always remain a debatable issue. Giving a benefit of doubt, for argument’s sake, we can assume that Kumari’s divinity is no lesser than those of highly revered personages. But would it be judicious to believe that a temporary biological phenomenon is capable of ending divinity permanently?
In fact, literature on religion, spirituality and mysticism show that divinity is imperishable once obtained, which can be attested by the lives of human-turned holy beings. Thus what fizzles out at puberty’s touch, as in the case of Kumari, must be undeniably spurious and impotent . Above all, it is one thing to enjoy the prerogative of a goddess on chastity grounds but quite another to embark upon a spiritual journey and thereby attain godliness. Maybe the holiness does not exist inside the Living Goddess as believed and claimed, not at all, hence skepticism justified. Or perhaps it was there in profusion, but insofar as Nepalese society is accustomed to find coexistence of divinity and impure blood unbearable, it must have convinced us of the latter’s seemingly antagonistic role.
Challenging the popular yet pernicious existing belief that first menstruation ends divine power, I emphatically advocate that it is high time puberty is acquitted from a crime it “never” committed. Needless to say, since the inception of Kumari custom and up until the 21st century, Nepalese society’s fervent endorsement of such belief coupled with their reluctance to point fingers against the traditional practice certainly consolidated the superstition for many centuries. It “might” be our rights to continue long held old traditions and worship girl children in the form of goddesses, regardless of some compromises with their child and human rights. But we are not in the least entitled to mercilessly dethrone them under a completely false or trifle pretext. More importantly, we are not at liberty to dub a harmless biological phenomenon with an undeserved ugly reputation, on account of our illogical blood(menstrual) phobia. How many years or decades more it will take before we realize that menstruation is by no means impure, inauspicious and unholy? Although the divinity of the Living Goddess appears disputable, one thing seems as clear as crystal, that the verdict passed against innocent pubescence to date was downright unfair. Unfortunately, the apotheosis of a girl child(woman) to a Living Goddess status is undermined by the fact that the Kumari practice explicitly condemns menses, an integral aspect of womanhood.
From Islamism to Transcendentalism
Thomas Carlyle’s political philosophy can be applied to inform Islamism and the construction of a post-Islamist political doctrine. This is because Carlyle’s conception of transcendentalism in Sartor Resartus is itself a philosophical/theological construct in the Platonic lineage that is a successor to Islam. Carlyle satirically conceptualized transcendentalism in the 19th century in Sartor Resartus, a work of fiction. F.A. Lea, reflecting on and arguing on behalf of the merits of Carlyle’s forecasts of the future during the midst of World War II in his book Carlyle: Prophet of To-day, calls Sartor Resartus the “highest achievement of the Romantic movement in Europe.” “Romanticism” is a nebulous construct but it connotes the European reaction to Enlightenment rationalism and empirical science by seeking to prioritize what it took to be beyond the scope of both rigid scientific positivism and dogmatic theology/ideology such as intuition, nature, spirituality, and aesthetics.
An analytical treatment of transcendentalism in the context of the global political climate in 2020 demonstrates it can be applied in the context of political development as a cosmopolitan post-Islamism. By casting Carlyle’s transcendentalism as “cosmopolitan,” I argue that it is a post-Islamism that belongs to all the world and is applicable to be “at home” all over the world. As such, Carlyle’s transcendentalism is not a post-Islamism for the Middle East solely but could initially be most applicable in the context of Islamic Middle Eastern countries. Subscribers to liberalism, communism, and Islamism promote each ideology as global and cosmopolitan. Like Islam, Carlyle’s transcendentalism is a philosophy/theology that can be cast as a political doctrine to serve a political purpose. In Sartor Resartus, Carlyle offers a comprehensive philosophy that is simultaneously a moral, social, and political philosophy in much the same fashion as how Islam has been converted into the political ideology of Islamism.
Carlyle’s transcendentalism is not a widely practiced philosophy and it has not, heretofore, been recognized as a political doctrine. Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus was a chief inspiration for American Transcendentalism as a 19th century intellectual and social movement led by perhaps the two most iconic American philosophers on the world stage—Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Emerson and Thoreau were also inspired by Hinduism and Indian philosophy to elevate the mysticism of nature/spirituality as a primary focal point of their attention. Like Islamism, transcendentalism has yet to be constructed as a coherent doctrine that is accepted universally by those who identify with the respective doctrines. For example, both Islamism and transcendentalism are much less theoretically dogmatic than Marxism as a political doctrine.
Carlyle describes the tenets of the “philosophy of clothes”—a term synonymous with transcendentalism–through the voice of Professor Diogenes Teufelsdrӧckh, the protagonist in Sartor Resartus:
‘Whatsoever sensibly exists, whatsoever represents Spirit to Spirit, is properly a Clothing, a suit of Raiment, put on for a season, and to be laid off. Thus in this one pregnant subject of CLOTHES, rightly understood, is included all that men have thought, dreamed, done, and been: the whole external Universe and what it holds is but Clothing; and the essence of all Science lies in the PHILOSOPHY OF CLOTHES.’
Carlyle’s philosophy of clothes culminates in attaining transcendentalism. Carlyle defines transcendentalism succinctly as the view that matter is spirit and as such is the manifestation of spirit. In other words, transcendentalism views the entirety of the universe (and all that comprises it) as enchanted with spiritual divinity rather than entirely bereft of spiritual divinity. As such, transcendentalism is a minimalist and nominal theological dogma that offers no theological narrative beyond such a simple theism. Carlyle thus defines transcendentalism as the view that all that is material and immaterial in the entirety of the universe (and thus in the entirety of human history) is ephemeral and cannot be accounted for without considering it as symbolic of a divine spiritual order. Carlyle concludes that all science seeks to account for what comprises the universe and thus transcendentalism rests at the apex of all scientific deliberations. The role of a transcendentalist is to ponder the universe in its entirety as a manifestation of spirit.
Transcendentalism is relevant to politics as a prospective political doctrine in that it offers a means to achieve consensus and yield social solidarity in the context of local and national political communities and in the context of the global political community. Carlyle derives conceptions of social solidarity and renunciation (of antagonism and economic consumption) as corollaries of his conception of transcendentalism. At this juncture, it should be acknowledged that the New Age and counterculture that defined much of the West (and the world) in the 1960s and 1970s was an unconscious, incoherent, and non-mainstream reincarnation of American Transcendentalism as a descendant of American Transcendentalism. The elements of the New Age and counterculture—non-dogmatic spirituality, social solidarity, and renunciation of economic consumption—were once coherently constructed and deemed a superior philosophy relative to dogmatic theology and dogmatic materialism (aka capitalism and communism) by Thomas Carlyle, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau as modern Platonic philosophers.
Carlyle frames transcendentalism in another manner by asking, through the voice of Teufelsdrӧckh, “‘what is Nature? Ha! why do I not name thee GOD? Art thou not the ‘Living Garment of God?’ O Heavens, is it, in very deed, He, then, that ever speaks through thee; that lives and loves in thee, that lives and loves in me?’” It is in this context that Carlyle is “transcendental” in concluding that all matter embodies divine spirit. It is on this basis that Carlyle delivers what is perhaps the climactic thesis of Sartor Resartus, which is also a succinct definition of what he coins the “Everlasting Yea” as a concept that informs transcendentalism: “‘The Universe is not dead and demoniacal, a charnel-house with spectres; but god-like, and my Father’s!’” Upon attaining this perspective, Teufelsdrӧckh reflects on its social application and its implications to achieve social solidarity:
‘With other eyes too could I now look upon my fellow man; with an infinite Love, an infinite Pity. Poor, wandering, wayward man! Art thou not tried, and beaten with stripes, even as I am? Ever, whether thou bear the Royal mantle or the Beggar’s gabardine, art thou not so weary, so heavy-laden; and thy Bed of Rest is but a Grave. O my Brother, my Brother! why cannot I shelter thee in my bosom, and wipe away all tears from thy eyes.—Truly, the din of many-voiced Life, which, in this solitude, with the mind’s organ, I could hear, was no longer a maddening discord, but a melting one: like inarticulate cries…which in the ear of Heaven are prayers. The poor Earth, with her poor joys, was now my needy Mother, not my cruel Stepdame; Man, with his so mad Wants and so mean Endeavours, had become the dearer to me; and even for his sufferings and his sins, I now first named him Brother.’
The non-dogmatic (i.e. not Christian or Islamic but simultaneously post-Christian, post-Islamic, and post-dogmatic) view of humanity as an embodiment of spiritual divinity yields the legitimacy and validity of social solidarity and the corresponding renunciation of antagonism.
Carlyle theorizes of the primacy of human spiritual interests relative to and as a function of the insatiability of human material appetites. In this context, renunciation can be defended and legitimized as rational through Teufelsdrӧckh’s philosophical construction:
‘Man’s Unhappiness, as I construe, comes of his Greatness; it is because there is an Infinite in him, which with all his cunning he cannot quite bury under the Finite. Will the whole Finance Ministers and Upholsterers and Confectioners of modern Europe undertake, in joint-stock company, to make one Shoeblack HAPPY? They cannot accomplish it, above an hour or two; for the Shoeblack also has a Soul quite other than his Stomach; and would require, if you consider it, for his permanent satisfaction and saturation, simply this allotment, no more, and no less: God’s infinite Universe altogether to himself, therein to enjoy infinitely, and fill every wish as fast as it rose…So true is it, what I then said, that the Fraction of Life can be increased in value not so much by increasing your Numerator, as by lessening your Denominator. Nay, unless my Algebra deceive me, Unity itself divided by Zero will give Infinity. Make thy claim of wages a zero, then; thou hast the world under thy feet. Well did the Wisest of our time write: ‘It is only with Renunciation (Entsagen) that Life, properly speaking, can be said to begin.’’
Essentially, without pursuing renunciation humanity (at the level of the collective and at the level of the individual) is either consciously or unconsciously pursuing the satisfaction of an insatiable appetite for materialist consumption. Renunciation of materialist consumption is thus the only means for humanity (at the level of the collective and level of the individual) to not be dissatisfied and makes primary humanity’s non-materialist spirituality. The conclusion that can be drawn from this is that humanity needs to achieve a decent material standard of living that crosses a minimal threshold and then renounce any additional materialist consumption (which is bound to entail the pursuit of infinite consumption). The current unprecedented and unsustainable nature of increasing consumer and national debt in the context of the United States provides an exemplary lens to view Carlyle’s conception of renunciation.
An inference that can be drawn from Sartor Resartus is that humanity must attain the “Everlasting Yea” at the level of the individual so that social solidarity could then be yielded at the collective level. A corollary inference could be made that human conflict in all its forms will persist and replicate itself indefinitely until every individual reaches the “Everlasting Yea.” Essentially, one must consciously come to the conclusion that not only oneself is the embodiment of divine spirit but all of one’s fellows embody divine spirit in the same non-dogmatic sense so as to renounce antagonism and achieve social solidarity. Dogmatic theologies, by contrast, facilitate dis-unity and conflict about their incommensurable theological doctrines.
Conflict, more generally, takes place because the antagonistic parties are unconscious of the notion that their disparate and highly dogmatic ideologies/theologies are individually and collectively “dream-theorems” and such a realization would unify them, ostensibly, into becoming transcendentalists. Carlyle asks, through the voice of Teufelsdrӧckh, “‘what are all your national Wars, with their Moscow Retreats, and sanguinary hate-filled Revolutions, but the Somnambulism of uneasy Sleepers?’” Carlyle implies that those who are sleeping to “dream-theorems” (i.e. ideologies/theologies themselves not transcendentalism), and thus not awake to transcendentalism, engage in wars and revolutions as a form of “sleep-walking” to their “dream-theorems.” Such wars and revolutions take place as a function of humanity collectively being unawake to and not subscribing to transcendentalism. Carlyle’s discussion of being unawake to transcendentalism is analogous to Plato’s allegory of the cave in the sense that non-transcendentalists are akin to those in the cave who think the shadows on the wall are the truth. By analogy, non-transcendentalists believe their dogmatic ideologies and/or theologies are truth when, from the vantage point of transcendentalism, they are arbitrary, mutually incommensurable, and thus fodder for mutually interminable conflict.
The inference can thus be made that Carlyle offers a gateway for humanity to achieve mutual accord rather than discord if hypothetically humanity were to universally attain to the “Everlasting Yea.” This is because the “Everlasting Yea” provides a communitarian model to attain communal existence through the transcendental rather than through divisive material attributes such as race, economic class, incommensurable dogmatic theological traditions, etc. Carlyle’s transcendentalism embodies a rationale for collective renunciation rather than collective antagonism.
The exposition of Carlyle’s transcendentalism and his derivative philosophical conclusions with respect to renunciation and social solidarity provides a foundation for the political application of transcendentalism as a prospective political doctrine. Transcendentalism’s relevance to politics is that the consideration of its prospective hegemony as an ideology itself provides a prospective telos for a populace to attain, a telos that has been hidden and has gone unrecognized in the analysis of Sartor Resartus and in the history of political thought.The universal popular consciousness of universal spiritual divinity (with the absence of dogma)could potentially facilitate renunciation and social solidarity popularly in much the same manner it did for Teufelsdrӧckh personally. The prospective phenomenon of transcendentalism’s political application could hypothetically connote a new stage of human political development. Carlyle’s transcendentalism supplies a coherent doctrine that could potentially be instrumental in achieving a material or political end. Transcendentalism is an anti-ideology in that it does not seek to proselytize converts to a strict dogma and is “immaterial” on economic matters in that it promotes renunciation rather than insatiable economic consumption. Carlyle makes known, through the voice of the narrator, that “wild as it looks, this Philosophy of Clothes, can we ever reach its real meaning, promises to reveal new-coming Eras, the first dim rudiments and already-budding germs of a nobler Era, in Universal History.”
Transcendentalism, Christianity, Islam, and Islamism
Transcendentalism can be cast as a successor philosophy/theology to Islam (and Islamism) because Carlyle and American Transcendentalism is recognized as post-Christian and Carlyle, Emerson, and Thoreau themselves consciously identified as post-Christian. As Islam was an evolution from Christianity subsequent to Christianity’s inauguration, transcendentalism was an evolution from both Christianity and Islam subsequent to Islam’s inauguration. Like Islam’s inherent recognition of the inadequacy of Christianity, transcendentalism was incarnated with the inherent view that the Christian and Islamic theological traditions needed to be built upon (and could be preserved as a function of being re-tailored) with an innovation.
Transcendentalism, as an evolution from Christianity and Islam, embodies a much different standing than a rejection of Christianity and Islam. Carlyle both praises and critiques Christianity and Islam and provides an argument in defense of transcendentalism as a doctrine on a higher plane. Such praise of Christianity and Islam alongside recognizing their inadequacies is literally not a popular track to take and leaves nearly the entire universe of the public uncomfortable in that transcendentalism is inherently a third-way to dogmatic theological tradition on the one hand and secular atheism on the other. Transcendentalism, by leaving Christians, Muslims, adherents to all other dogmatic theologies, and agnostics/atheists uneasy, can be cast and perceived as a type of Hegelian synthesis of theological dogmatism and atheism. As a synthesis, it too embodies a type of hybrid and moderation between the polar and comparatively extreme positions of theological dogmatism on the one end and the dogmatic faith in atheism on the other end. This is another lens to be able to cast and construct transcendentalism as a type of cosmopolitan consensus in the context of global religiosity.
Carlyle is perhaps the most recognizable and most ardent European Islamo-phile in modern European intellectual history. He lectured publicly and courageously on Muhammad (and not Christ) as the embodiment of “Hero as Prophet” before a London audience (in the heart of Christendom) in 1840 and published his lecture in On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History. Although himself not a Muslim, Carlyle’s praise of Muhammad on multiple occasions makes possible the inference that Carlyle’s transcendentalism can be cast as and situated as an evolutionary development within the context of the Islamic tradition. Carlyle’s affinity toward Islam demonstrates a consensus between himself and Islam with respect to valuing the spiritual and divine over the material, earthly, and utilitarian. For example, Carlyle chastises Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism by drawing on Muhammad in On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History:
Benthamee Utility, virtue by Profit and Loss; reducing this God’s world to a dead brute Steam engine, the infinite celestial Soul of Man to a kind of Hay-balance for weighing hay and thistles on, pleasures and pains on:–If you ask me which gives, Mahomet or they, the beggarlier and falser view of Man and his Destinies in this Universe, I will answer, It is not Mahomet!
According to Carlyle, the “advance to a very different epoch of religion” from paganism to Islam is a “great change” and Carlyle remarks “what a change and progress is indicated here, in the universal condition and thoughts of men!” Casting Islam as a “change and progress” inherently casts it as a milestone in the continuous evolution of how humanity theorizes with respect to the divine. In this context of continuous theological evolution from paganism to Christianity to Islam, Carlyle characterizes Muhammad, perhaps coyly, as “by no means the truest of Prophets; but I do esteem him a true one.” In Sartor Resartus, Teufelsdrӧckh defines theology, what he calls “Church Clothes,” as “the Forms, the Vestures, under which men have at various periods embodied and represented for themselves the Religious Principle; that is to say, invested the Divine Idea of the World with a sensible and practically active Body, so that it might dwell among them as a living and life-giving WORD.” Such a characterization underscores Carlyle’s conception of the variability, evolution, and perhaps a level of arbitrariness of dogmatic theologies that naturally occurs in the context of history.
The juxtaposition of Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones with Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus is valuable in illustrating the prospective political application that can be made of Carlyle’s transcendentalism. Qutb can be cast as a type of “default” representative of Islamism, as there is no official representative of Islamism. Islamism can be defined as a pluralistic movement to revive Islam’s political application as a doctrine for governance in the 20th century since the end of the Caliphate of Constantinople in 1924. The political tactics associated with Islamism are diverse, ranging from grassroots political organizing in the context of political parties and electoral politics all the way to violent terrorism associated with terrorist groups. President Erdogan’s recent reversion of Hagia Sophia to an Islamic religious institution can be perceived as a mildly Islamist policy compared to the violent extremism of groups such as Taliban and ISIS.
Qutb’s Milestones is perhaps the most influential source of modern Islamic political theory and a chief intellectual inspiration for Islamism. The book’s influence on Islamism can be analogized to the influence of Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” on communism. In other words, Milestones is a call to action to implement Islamism as the sole hegemonic political doctrine and seeks to provide an intellectual defense of the supremacy of Islamism. Qutb is considered a spiritual and intellectual father of Islamism in general and the radical Islamist group al Qaeda, in particular.
An analytical and literal interpretation of Qutb leaves an opening to consider the possibility of the evolution of Islamism into transcendentalism. Qutb cryptically calls on “the establishment of Islamic society” on the basis of a “movement” that takes the “form of an evolutionary system.” Islam’s preservation in transcendentalism and transcendentalism’s capacity to be a universal, cosmopolitan, and non-dogmatic doctrine to achieve consensus in recognition of the divine order (alongside its commitments to renunciation of economic, racial, and national antagonisms) demonstrates the theoretical pathway by which Islamism could evolve and embrace transcendentalism as a new stage of political development. After all, it is the unyielding devotion to Islam as a singular, particularistic, ossified, and branded theological dogmatism on the part of Islamists that prevents the realization of what may be called the spirit of “Islamic society.” Moreover, the realization of the spirit of Islamism is prevented from taking place given that Islamists themselves each adhere to plural particularistic versions of Islam and themselves cannot agree with respect to the theology of Islam.
Carlyle’s conception of religion is in profound tension with Qutb’s commitment to Islam as the only valid religion. Qutb is adamant that Islam is the final doctrine to serve all of humanity’s needs both at the level of the individual and the collective and is the only viable totalizing doctrine to guide humanity both in the public and private spheres. He thus offers a basis as to why we should reverse course from being engulfed in jahiliyyah, a state in which God’s laws are rejected, to embrace Islam for every need in personal and social life.
Jahiliyyah is a term taken from the Koran and is usually translated as the “age of ignorance,” in reference to the pre-Islamic era on the Arabian peninsula. According to Qutb, Jahiliyyah in its modern incarnation “owes its existence to the putrid element of lordship of man over man, and which separates man from the all-embracing system of the universe.” Qutb writes that the extermination of Jahiliyyah has been humanity’s grand project and that modern Jahiliyyah has been the condition of humanity’s existence since the dawn of civilization, in both the pre-Islamic and post-Islamic eras. Elementally, Jahiliyyah as the hegemonic social order has persisted largely unchanged throughout the entirety of human history.All hegemonic non-Islamic political systems ranging from democracy to aristocracy to communism can be cast as Jahiliyyah since they perpetuate the rule of man over man and thus humanity’s oppression at the hands of humanity. Qutb theorizes on the prospects of a compromise with Jahiliyyah:
Islam does not accept any half-way compromise with Jahiliyyah. Whether it is the question of its concepts and ideology or the laws of life based on this concept, either Islam shall exist or Jahiliyyah. No third course is acceptable or agreeable to Islam in which Jahiliyyah and Islam share equally. Islam’s point of view in this regard is quite clear and bright. It says that Truth is a unit which cannot be analysed. If there will be no Truth, it shall be falsehood. Mutual intermixing and intermingling of Truth and Falsehood and their co-existence is impossible. Either the command of Allah will prevail or that of Jahiliyyah. Either the Divine code will operate or the desire of self-will rule.
Qutb describes the dynamics of the relationship between Islam and Jahiliyyah:
There is a wide yawning valley between Islam and Jahiliyyah which cannot be bridged for the purpose that both should be able to meet midway. If at all such a bridge could be built it could be for the purpose that the folk of Jahiliyyah should cross over and take refuge in the lap of Islam, whether they are the so-called Islam-professing residents of Islamic country or those residing outside it.
Qutb defines religion as “the system and way of life which brings under its fold the human life with all its details.” Qutb contends that the problem religion confronts is “to banish all the fabricated gods through the establishment of the rule of God, Most High.” Qutb, it can be inferred, vindicates Carlyle’s transcendentalism with his claim that all previous theological conceptions of god were “fabricated” while not suggesting precisely the rationale behind why he thinks all other gods were “fabricated” yet the Islamic god is an exception to the rule. Islam itself is a re-fabrication and evolution from Judaism and Christianity and is premised on the failure of these religions. Yet, Qutb calls on all “fabricated” gods to be banished and labels all Jewish and Christian societies as “Jahili” societies. Such a contradiction can be resolved by subscribing to Carlyle’s transcendentalism as a non-dogmatic and non-particularistic theism that can be positioned as post-Islamism.
Carlyle’s transcendentalism can be theorized and constructed as embodying and preserving Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in a non-denominational and non-dogmatic modern theism. As such, transcendentalism can be cast as a theism that is suitable for modern, cosmopolitan, and universal subscription. Transcendentalism is the opposite of atheism in that it is purely theism without the theology. It is a construct that can be applied to achieve an ideal social order. Just as Marxism is dogmatic atheist materialism and Islamism is a dogmatic political theology, transcendentalism is a non-dogmatic philosophical/theological construct. The application of an analytical and political lens to transcendentalism allows one to consider how the political and social orders on any scale (from a local community to the global community) could change if a simple and non-dogmatic theism reigned hegemonic.
Carlyle’s transcendentalism shows itself to embody what Qutb sought to argue is embodied by Islam, namely that Islam is “different in respect of its nature and reality from all concepts which have been rampant in the world so far.”According to Qutb, humanity must achieve a perfect harmony with the nature of the universe and such a harmony would naturally connote the “end” of human political development:
When man evolves an atmosphere of coordination and uniformity with nature, it results in the establishment of a state of concordance between the mutual relationship of man and the general struggle of life, for when man adopts an attitude of cooperation with nature it consequently follows in the birth of complete agreement between human life and the universe, and only one system prevails in the human life and the universe. Thus the collective side of mans’ life becomes free from mutual clash and discord, and mankind is benefitted with total goodness. Thereafter various (mysteries) of the universe do not remain secret any more. Man becomes the knower of natures’ secrets. Hidden powers of the universe become apparent to him, and he gets the trace of the hidden treasures in the spacious universe. He harnesses all those powers and treasures under the direction of God’s laws for the total well-being and prosperity of mankind, leaving no room for any clash or conflict between man and the nature. Otherwise there is a constant struggle between them and the desires and carnal passions are raising their head against the Divine code.
Qutb prescribes the ideal society as being a society not “in a condition that some are driven by greed while others burning with envy; that all of the affairs of the society are decided by the baton and sword, by threat, duress and violence; that the hearts of the population are desolate and their spirits broken, as is happening under the systems which are based on the authority of others than Allah’s.” For Qutb, Islamic society suppresses “all the frivolous prejudices and weak associations of race, colour, language, country, material considerations and geographical boundaries.”
According to Qutb:
[Communism] claimed to demolish all the walls which were raised by colour and race, nation and country and geography. But the foundations of this society were also not erected on the all-embracing base of “human friendship” rather “class conflict” was made the basis of this society. Viewing from this angle, the communist society is another facet of the ancient Roman society. While the Roman society conferred distinction on the “nobility” the communist society imparts this status to the “Proletariate”, and the underlying emotion is the feeling of hatred, malice and envy. Such a degraded and malicious society cannot bear any other fruit except exciting the base human feelings.
Carlyle concludes in a manner largely synonymous with Sayyid Qutb’s 20th century advocacy of Islamism: “for only in looking heavenward, take it in what sense you may, not in looking earthward, does what we can call Union, mutual Love, Society, begin to be possible.” Carlyle describes the teachings of Islam and how Islam’s core philosophical precepts are shared by Christianity and are thus not exclusive to a particularistic and ecclesiastical theological tradition but offer a universal, non-dogmatic, and non-branded application to philosophy/theology writ-large:
[God] made us at first, sustains us yet; we and all things are but the shadow of Him; a transitory garment veiling the Eternal Splendour. ‘allahakbar, God is great;’—and then also ‘Islam,’ That we must submit to God. That our whole strength lies in resigned submission to Him, whatsoever, He do to us. For this world, and for the other! The thing He sends to us, were it death and worse than death, shall be good, shall be best; we resign ourselves to God.—‘If this be Islam,’ says Goethe, ‘do we not all live in Islam?’ Yes, all of us that have any moral life; we all live so….I say, this is yet the only true morality known. A man is right and invincible, virtuous and on the road towards sure conquest, precisely while he joins himself to the great deep Law of the World, in spite of all superficial laws, temporary appearances, profit-and-loss calculations; he is victorious while he cooperates with that great central Law, not victorious otherwise:–and surely his first chance of cooperating with it, or getting into the course of it, is to know with his whole soul that it is; that it is good, and alone good! This is the soul of Islam; it is properly the soul of Christianity;–for Islam is definable as a confused form of Christianity; had Christianity not been, neither had it been. Christianity also commands us, before all, to be resigned to God….
Carlyle, in his lecture on Muhammad, remarks that “Islam means in its way Denial of Self, Annihilation of Self [and] this is yet the highest Wisdom that Heaven has revealed to our Earth.” In Sartor Resartus, Carlyle similarly comments that “Annihilation of Self [is] the first preliminary moral Act” to attaining the “Everlasting Yea,” which he casts as the highest philosophical perspective. Carlyle, in discussing Muhammad’s inspiration for the concept of annihilation of self, de-emphasizes the importance of Islam’s theological narrative and underscores Islam as a contribution to philosophy: “[Muhammad] called it revelation and the angel Gabriel;–who of us yet can know what to call it? It is the ‘inspiration of the Almighty’ that giveth us understanding. To know; to get into the truth of anything, is ever a mystic act,–of which the best Logics can but babble on the surface.” In this quote, Carlyle sounds as if synonymous with Plato in his endorsement of the concept of intellectual and mystical intuition as a means of retrieving and realizing the Platonic Forms on Earth.
Carlyle too theorizes of what he takes to be the inadequacy of Christianity when he writes, as a question Teufelsdrӧckh would hypothetically pose to Voltaire:
“‘Sufficiently hast thou demonstrated this proposition, considerable or otherwise: That the Mythus of the Christian Religion looks not in the eighteenth century as it did in the eighth…But what next? Wilt thou help us to embody the divine Spirit of that Religion in a new Mythus, in a new vehicle and vesture, that our Souls, otherwise too like perishing, may live? What! thou hast no faculty in that kind?’”
The inference can be made while synthesizing Carlyle’s commentary on Christianity and Islam with Carlyle’s conceptualization of transcendentalism in Sartor Resartus that transcendentalism as a post-Christian and post-Islamic philosophy/theology has compatibility with Christianity and Islam and is a legitimate successor in their lineage. Essentially, Christianity and Islam can be viewed as milestones on the road to the incarnation of transcendentalism as a non-dogmatic and non-particularistic account of spiritual divinity. As such, the inference can also be made that Carlyle’s semi-endorsements of Christianity and Islam implies their preservation and embodiment in transcendentalism. An inference from this is, as a function of such compatibility among transcendentalism, Islam, and Christianity, Muslims and Christians can retain their theological beliefs in Islam and Christianity as creeds while also mutually adopting transcendentalism as a type of theological/philosophical consensus. Such a consensus would embody a means of being able to simultaneously retain one’s theological beliefs while avoiding hostile antagonism toward others that subscribe to disparate theological beliefs. On a larger scale, transcendentalism could provide the means to attain such a consensus among the adherents to the universe of non-transcendentalist ideologies and theologies that are incommensurable and thus naturally antagonistic toward one another. For example, in the Indian case, the religious conflict between Hinduism and Islam provides a context for the prospective application and inauguration of transcendentalism as a means to attain conflict resolution.
John Rawls set about theorizing a prospective “overlapping consensus” to ensure the stability of liberalism since he articulated the problem of liberalism as follows: “How is it possible that there may exist over time a stable and just society of free and equal citizens profoundly divided by reasonable though incompatible religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines?” Carlyle’s transcendentalism offers such a prospective consensus, but on a larger scale beyond merely the scope of liberalism in the context of a nation-state. Transcendentalism also potentially can foster consensus among nation-states in the context of international relations by embodying simultaneously a post-ideological and non-nationalist doctrine.
Just as Islam has been appropriated for political purposes by Islamism, transcendentalism can be cast as a political doctrine to achieve what Islamism could not. Islamism could not achieve its aims to unite humanity in submission to the divine as a means to resolve economic, racial, and nationalist conflict (and all forms of conflict) because Islam is a dogmatic and particularistic theology that is mired in interminable conflict with competing dogmatic and particularistic theologies. Since Islam is in competition on the plane of dogmatic and particularistic theologies, such competition is incommensurable. There is no empirical means to establish the superiority of either Christianity or Islam (or any of the other dogmatic and particularistic theologies) over its counterparts in the realm of theology. As a function of this, there is no philosophical means to establish the superiority of Islamism in the realm of political ideology (that includes liberalism, Marxism, and fascism), which has necessarily resulted in jihad being the primary mechanism to establish Islamism as a hegemonic doctrine for governance.
Alasdair MacIntyre’s conceptualization of incommensurability informs Islamism’s status of being incapable of establishing its hegemony through mechanisms other than jihad.In After Virtue, MacIntyre asserts that, in the context of liberalism, it is impossible to achieve consensus of any form because political disagreements are incommensurable and thus interminable. MacIntyre conceives of incommensurability as taking place when divergent arguments with respect to a political, philosophical, and/or moral problem are logically valid, the conclusions follow from the premises, yet “the rival premises are such that we possess no rational way of weighing the claims of one as against another.” MacIntyre theorizes on the bleak nature of contemporary moral and political debates:
Moral philosophy, as it is dominantly understood, reflects the debates and disagreements of the culture so faithfully that its controversies turn out to be unsettlable in just the way that the political and moral debates themselves are. It follows that our society cannot hope to achieve moral consensus.
MacIntyre’s conceptualization of incommensurability provides a foundation to be able to assert that, as a function of there being no rational means of weighing the claims of Islam against the claims of Christianity (or any other dogmatic theology), there is no rational means of weighing the claims of Islamism against the claims of any other highly dogmatic political doctrine.
Transcendentalism, as a non-dogmatic and non-particularistic doctrine, has the means to achieve the aims of Islamism, namely universal world peace. Carlyle’s conception of transcendentalism was informed and influenced by Kant and Hegel, and it could be a fulfilment of their mutually-antagonistic doctrines. In the context of Hegel, Carlyle’s transcendentalism was conceptualized in Sartor Resartus ironically largely as a satirical parody (and refutation) of Hegelian philosophy. That Carlyle’s conception of transcendentalism itself could represent the synthesis of Hegelian dialectics to achieve the “end of history” in a political climate favorable to its inauguration as a practical ideology almost two centuries after the publication of Sartor Resartus should definitely be entertained. Transcendentalism has a favorable climate because we have witnessed the dissolution of Marxism (with the exception of China and a few other states) and fascism, leaving liberalism and Islamism as the remaining hegemonic ideologies. Liberalism is vulnerable to dissolution as a function of the COVID-19 pandemic dissolving the liberal dream of the pursuit of insatiable economic consumption as the “end of history” and the concurrent increasingly transgressive (i. e. violent) political contention in Europe and the United States with no long-term liberal resolution on the horizon. Carlyle’s transcendentalism could be a vehicle to secure Kant’s theory of a global“perpetual peace”by concurrently taking up the mantle of post-liberalism and post-Islamism.
The recognition of transcendentalism as such would leave only atheism/nihilism as a competitor doctrine. The elevation of the hegemony of atheism/nihilism promises only an elevation of perpetual discord in the context of every individual going down Nietzsche’s path of becoming an Übermensch and seeking to dominate all other individuals in the absence of any shared social doctrine. With the decline of Platonism and Christianity (and religiosity generally)in the West, we have in fact been witnessing atheist materialism wreak havoc in the form of Marxism on the left and fascism on the right as partners that engage in a mutual self-cancellation. Those elements that date from the 20th century have increasingly re-emerged in Europe and the United States in the 21st century under such guises as “anti-fascism” and populism and are bound only to lead to a similar conflagration as World War II.
Thoreau equated Carlyle with Muhammad as a means of underscoring what he took to be the magnitude of Carlyle’s influence: “[Carlyle] has the earnestness of a prophet. In an age of pedantry and dilettantism, he has no grain of these in his composition. There is no where else, surely, in recent readable English, or other books, such direct and effectual teaching, reproving, encouraging, stimulating, earnestly, vehemently, almost like Mahomet, like Luther.” Emerson comments, with respect to Carlyle, “He is a man of the world. He does not belong to this or that country only, but by his broad genius and talent of satire, which he throws about him, he is cosmopolitan; but his aims are as good as can be.”
That Carlyle wrote Sartor Resartus as a work of satirical fiction and a parody of Hegel’s historicism should not prevent an analytical treatment of Sartor Resartus. Carlyle’s cryptic verbosity, hyperbole, and satirical tone in Sartor Resartus has blinded readers from acknowledging the practical applications of Carlyle’s philosophical conclusions. To put it as a metaphor, Sartor Resartus is perceived as just another bookcase when in actuality it is a magic bookcase that embodies and conceals a passageway toward transcendentalism as a new doctrine. Transcendentalism can be constructed as a viable political doctrine as a function of being situated in the context of other doctrines. By doing such, the vulnerabilities of other doctrines can be seen through the “lens” of transcendentalism.
Carlyle’s transcendentalism is an alternative to all other ideologies and theologies, which are necessarily and inherently dogmatic, particularistic, and mutually incommensurable since they are themselves not transcendentalism. Carlyle chastises dogma when he writes, “Which of your Philosophical Systems is other than a dream-theorem; a net quotient, confidently given out, where divisor and dividend are both unknown?” Such dogmatic ideological and/or theological “dream-theorems” would not be so bad if they did not serve as fodder for non-violent and violent conflict between needlessly antagonized parties. Wars and revolutions continuously replicate because the world is unawake to and unconscious of transcendentalism as the means to put them to an end. Ostensibly, dogma will fight dogma, identity will fight identity, nation will fight nation, and scarce resources will be antagonized over until there is a universal acceptance of transcendentalism as an anti-dogma and acceptance of renunciation as a rational social virtue that is a corollary (and derivative of transcendentalism).
The analogy to Plato’s allegory of the cave is valuable in this context because the philosopher descending back into the cave to bring wisdom to the cave-dwellers is analogous to a transcendentalist informing the uneasy sleepers of their somnambulism. As Plato wrote in The Republic:
You must go down, then, each in his turn, to live with the rest and let your eyes grow accustomed to the darkness. You will then see a thousand times better than those who live there always; you will recognize every image for what it is and know what it represents, because you have seen justice, beauty, and goodness in their reality; and so you and we shall find life in our commonwealth no mere dream, as it is in most existing states, where men live fighting one another about shadows and quarrelling for power, as if that were a great prize; whereas in truth government can be at its best and free from dissension only where the destined rulers are least desirous of holding office.
Carlyle himself never promoted transcendentalism, likely because the economic, political, and social climates would not have even facilitated his contemplation of transcendentalism as a viable hegemonic doctrine for governance in the context of what was then only the advent of the hegemony of industrial liberal capitalism in partnership with the longstanding and still-potent hegemony of Christianity.
Teufelsdrӧckh speaks of “‘Religion, in unnoticed nooks, weaving for herself new Vestures’” and it is on such a basis the narrator in Sartor Resartusasks the question, “Teufelsdrӧckh himself being one of the loom-treaddles?” Carlyle follows up this question immediately with the following remark from the narrator of Sartor Resartus: “Elsewhere [Teufelsdrӧckh] quotes without censure that strange aphorism of Saint-Simon’s, concerning which and whom so much were to be said: L’age d’or qu’une aveugle tradition a place jusqu’ici dans le passé est devant nous; The golden age which a blind tradition has hitherto placed in the Past is Before us.” It is at this particular place in Sartor Resartus where the inference can be made that Carlyle prophesies that transcendentalism will become a viable doctrine in the future because transcendentalism is precisely the “new Vesture” that Teufelsdrӧckh “loom-treaddles” and such a vesture would inaugurate the new “golden age.”
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