25 Αυγούστου 2016

Σχολιασμοί.

I
22 Αυγούστου

Το πρόβλημα με τα νησιωτικά κράτη (Ηνωμένο Βασίλειο, Ηνωμένες Πολιτείες κ.λπ) όταν είναι μεγάλες δυνάμεις δεν είναι απαραίτητα ή αποκλειστικά οι ιδιότητες και τα ποιοτικά τους γνωρίσματα ή οι ιδεολογίες που αυτά τα κράτη εξάγουν. Το πρόβλημα είναι πως, ως νησιωτικά κράτη που δεν συνορεύουν γεωγραφικά με τις εκάστοτε περιφερειακές δυνάμεις, στρέφουν τα τοπικά-περιφερειακά κράτη μιας εδαφικής περιοχής ενάντια στην ευρύτερη γεωγραφία τους (αποτελούν βαρίδια για την περιοχή τους) και ενίοτε ενάντια στα ίδια τα συμφέροντα τους (πυροβολούν τα πόδια τους). Οι νησιωτικές δυνάμεις καταστρέφουν ή διαιρούν εδαφικές περιοχές. Το προηγούμενο δεν υπονοεί πως η διαίρεση και η παράλληλη αποδυνάμωση των αξιόλογων τοπικών-περιφερειακών δυνάμεων, προκειμένου να επιτευχθεί η εξω-περιφερειακή βασιλεία, είναι ένα παιχνίδι που επιδιώκουν μονάχα τα νησιωτικά κράτη. Είναι όμως αυτά που έχουν υπαρξιακή ανάγκη αυτό το «παιχνίδι», γιατί σε περίπτωση συνεργασίας τους, οι τοπικές-περιφερειακές δυνάμεις μιας περιοχής, μπορούν να τα «πετάξουν» εκτός περιοχής [1].

Από την άλλη, τα νησιωτικά κράτη έχουν ευεργετικές συνέπειες και λειτουργούν ενοποιητικά και γόνιμα ως προς τις θαλάσσιες περιοχές, τις οποίες φυσικά και δεν διαιρούν. Βέβαια, αυτό μπορεί να λειτουργήσει εις βάρος της εσωτερικής πολιτικής ορισμένων κομβικών κρατών (όπως η Αίγυπτος ή η Ελλάδα) γιατί πρέπει τα κράτη αυτά να θεωρούνται δεδομένα και «κλειδωμένα», κάτι που φυσικά αλλοιώνει την φυσική εξέλιξη και λειτουργία των εθνικών πολιτικών συστημάτων αυτών των κρατών και των κοινωνιών τους (το 1967 οι Αιγύπτιοι «κλείνουν» την διώρυγα του Σουέζ. Ανεβαίνει η «πρώτη» δικτατορία στην Ελλάδα. Το 1974 οι Αιγύπτιοι «ανοίγουν» τη διώρυγα του Σουέζ. Πέφτει η «δεύτερη» δικτατορία στην Ελλάδα. Αυτά δεν είναι άσχετα μεταξύ τους γεγονότα, ή μάλλον, είναι ακριβώς αυτά τα γεγονότα που σχετίζονται άμεσα μεταξύ τους και όχι τα περί... «κομμουνισμού» [2]. Υπάρχει επίσης, κατά καιρούς, συνάφεια μεταξύ Αιγύπτου και Κύπρου).

Τα «αφεντικά» στην περιοχή της Μέσης Ανατολής είναι η Αίγυπτος, η Τουρκία και το Ιράν. Και στην Δυτική Ασία, δηλαδή ανατολικά της Ερυθράς Θάλασσας, είναι οι δύο τελευταίες χώρες (η Τουρκία και το Ιράν). Το Ισραήλ, η Ιορδανία ή/και η Σαουδική Αραβία δεν μπορούν να υποκαταστήσουν αυτούς τους παίκτες. Εκείνο που μπορούν και επιδιώκουν να καταφέρουν, είναι να ασκούν επιρροή προκειμένου οι χώρες αυτές να έχουν ηγεσίες και προσανατολισμούς που είναι προς το συμφέρον τους. Δηλαδή να επηρεάζουν το εσωτερικό πολιτικό σκηνικό της Αιγύπτου, της Τουρκίας και του Ιράν (κυρίως με την βοήθεια εξω-περιφερειακών δυνάμεων), προκειμένου να λειτουργούν μέσω αυτών των κρατών. Σε καμία περίπτωση όμως δεν μπορούν να υποκαταστήσουν αυτά τα κράτη, τα οποία είναι τα πραγματικά «αφεντικά» της περιοχής.

Μια συνεργασία [3] ανάμεσα σε Τουρκία, Ιράν και Ρωσία (που μάλιστα καταλήγει σε μη αντιπαράθεση Βαγδάτης-Δαμασκού), δεν είναι σε καμία περίπτωση αντιμετωπίσιμη από πλευράς Η.Π.Α [4]. Διότι ανατολικά της Ερυθράς Θάλασσας, δεν υπάρχουν οι παίκτες «αγκωνάρια» πάνω στους οποίους οι τελευταίες θα μπορούσαν να βασιστούν. Οι Η.Π.Α πρέπει να έχουν έναν τοπικό-περιφερειακό παίκτη «αγκωνάρι» στο πλευρό τους και υπό την άμεση επιρροή τους, προκειμένου να επιβάλλουν τις πολιτικές τους ή τα περιφερειακά συστήματα ασφαλείας που επιθυμούν (στην προκειμένη περίπτωση, ο τοπικός-περιφερειακός παίκτης «αγκωνάρι», ήταν η Τουρκία).

Η επιρροή των Ηνωμένων Πολιτειών στην περιοχή της Μέσης Ανατολής, και πιο συγκεκριμένα σε αυτήν της Δυτικής Ασίας, σταδιακά εξαϋλώνεται. Όσες μη κομβικές κρατικές δυνάμεις και όσοι υπο-εθνικοί δρώντες κινούνται αντίθετα προς αυτό το ρεύμα/κατεύθυνση (και δεν συγκλίνουν με τις κομβικές περιφερειακές δυνάμεις της περιοχής), θα κινδυνεύσουν να βρεθούν σε συνθήκες περιφερειακής απομόνωσης (και εάν δεν προσέξουν, θα το πληρώσουν).

Το περιφερειακό σύστημα Τουρκία, Ισραήλ, Σαουδική Αραβία, Κατάρ τελειώνει ή αποσυντίθεται, δίχως το «αγκωνάρι» Τουρκία. Το ίδιο ισχύει για τον άξονα Ιράν, (νότιο) Ιράκ, Συρία, Λίβανος, δίχως το «αγκωνάρι» Ιράν. Παρόμοια το σύστημα Ελλάδα, Κύπρος, Ισραήλ, Αίγυπτος, δίχως το «αγκωνάρι» Αίγυπτος (ή/και Τουρκία: παλαιότερα την θέση της Αιγύπτου είχε η Τουρκία. Ανατολική Μεσόγειος, σε κρατική μορφή, σημαίνει Ελλάδα, Τουρκία και Αίγυπτος. Από τις σχέσεις αυτών των τριών χωρών, υπό κανονικές συνθήκες, καθορίζονται οι εσωτερικές τριγωνικές μεσογειακές σχέσεις Κύπρου, Ισραήλ, Λιβάνου - και παράκτιας Συρίας).

Σημειώσεις
[1] Η Τουρκία, το Ιράν, η Ινδία, η Ρωσία και η Κίνα, με τον έναν ή τον άλλον τρόπο και σε αδρές γραμμές, επιθυμούν την ενότητα και όχι την διάσπαση του χώρου ανάμεσα στην Ανατολία και τα Ιμαλαΐα. Αντίθετα, όλες οι πολιτικές των Η.Π.Α στην ευρύτερη περιοχή είναι διαιρετικής και χαοτικής, αναθεωρητικής ή/και αποσταθεροποιητικής υφής (δεν αναφέρομαι απλά σε αλλαγή συνόρων. Ούτε στο Αφγανιστάν, ούτε στο Ιράκ άλλαξαν τόσα χρόνια τα σύνορα). Σε περίπτωση που οι χώρες αυτές αναπτύξουν δικά τους δίκτυα περιφερειακής συνεργασίας και εμπιστοσύνης για τον επηρεασμό και την διαμόρφωση των περιφερειακών διεθνών πολιτικών, οι Η.Π.Α δεν θα έχουν πολλές επιλογές στην διάθεση τους. Δεν μπορείς να καταστρέφεις αέναα περιοχές προκειμένου να ασκείς σε αυτές εξω-περιφερειακό έλεγχο (ιδιαίτερα σε μια περίοδο που οι περιφερειακές συνεργασίες γίνονται όλο και πιο συχνές). Κάποια στιγμή οι τοπικές-περιφερειακές δυνάμεις θα εξεγερθούν.

[2] Τα περί «κομμουνισμού» διαμορφώνουν την εσωτερική παραταξιακή «αριστερή και δεξιά» αφήγηση και ερμηνεία. Όπου διαβάζετε «κομμουνιστική απειλή» για εκείνη την περίοδο, διαβάστε «ισλαμική απειλή» για σήμερα, και μεταφέρεται το σχήμα αυτό από την Ελλάδα στην Αίγυπτο (ή στην Τουρκία.) Βέβαια το ζήτημα δεν ήταν και δεν είναι ούτε ο «κομμουνισμός» ούτε ο «ισλαμισμός» καθαυτός, αλλά ο γεωπολιτικός προσανατολισμός και κατά πόσο είναι ελέγξιμη η τοποθέτηση του εκάστοτε «κομμουνισμού» και «ισλαμισμού», όπως έχει φανερωθεί κατ' επανάληψη: κομμουνιστική Κίνα παλαιότερα (όταν βρισκόταν σε αντιπαράθεση με την Σοβιετική Ρωσία-Ένωση) ή κομμουνιστικό Βιετνάμ στις μέρες μας. Ομοίως, η Σαουδική Αραβία επί δεκαετίες ή η Μουσουλμανοδημοκρατία (κατά το Χριστιανοδημοκρατία) της Τουρκίας του Ερντογάν μέχρι περίπου το 2011, όπου όλα έβαιναν καλώς (και η τελευταία αποτελούσε πρότυπο για ολόκληρο τον μουσουλμανικό κόσμο - όπως είχε δηλώσει και η κ. Κλίντον).

[3] Χρησιμοποιώ τον όρο συνεργασία και όχι συμμαχία για να προσδώσω μια απόχρωση πιθανής χαλαρότητας ή/και παροδικότητας. Το ερώτημα είναι μέχρι ποιου σημείου θα συγκλίνουν η Τουρκία και το Ιράν.

[4] Μόνον στην περίπτωση που κάποια εκ των Τουρκία, Ρωσία ή Ιράν άλλαζε γεωπολιτική τοποθέτηση θα μπορούσε να είναι μια τέτοια κατάσταση αντιμετωπίσιμη.


II
23 Αυγούστου

Το να θεωρούμε πως μια πιθανολογούμενη «πρώην Συριακή -ή άλλη- Δημοκρατία του Κουρδιστάν», δηλαδή μια μεγεθυμένη και διευρυμένη «πρώην Γιουγκοσλαβική Δημοκρατία της Μακεδονίας», όχι των Βαλκανίων αλλά της Μέσης Ανατολής, θα υποκαταστήσει την Τουρκία, το Ιράν (ή/και την Αίγυπτο), αποτελώντας «αγκωνάρι» στην ευρύτερη περιοχή της Δυτικής Ασίας (ή/και της Μέσης Ανατολής), αποτελεί παραπλάνηση ή οφθαλμαπάτη (ή συναισθηματική έξαρση της στιγμής).

Η παραπλάνηση προκύπτει από το εξής: υπάρχει η ματιά που αντιλαμβάνεται το κουρδικό ως μέσον και η ματιά που αντιλαμβάνεται το κουρδικό ως σκοπό. Το κουρδικό αποτελεί το μέσον για την «λείανση» ή/και το «ψαλίδισμα», τον έλεγχο και την χειραγώγηση των μεγεθών και των φιλοδοξιών, των προσανατολισμών και της ταυτότητας της Τουρκίας και του Ιράν (το αποτέλεσμα θα το δούμε), και όχι σκοπό που θα οδηγήσει στην υποκατάσταση της Τουρκίας και του Ιράν, η οποία είναι φυσικά αδύνατη, από ένα απολύτως ελεγχόμενο περίκλειστο κράτος (landlocked country), το οποίο έχει όλες τις προϋποθέσεις για να φυτοζωεί και να βρίσκεται σε κατάσταση συνεχούς εσωτερικής αστάθειας, διαιρέσεων και εμφύλιων ή τοπικών μικρο-πολέμων, περικυκλωμένο από εξωτερικούς εχθρούς.

Εάν αυτή η, αναμενόμενη και πιθανολογούμενη από πολλούς, οντότητα, αποτελεί κράτος «αγκωνάρι», εγώ είμαι κάτι ανάμεσα σε μεγαλιθικό μνημείο και κυκλώπειο τείχος.

Σημειώσεις
[-] Το Κουρδιστάν δεν μπορεί να συγκροτηθεί σε γεωπολιτική περιοχή λόγω της μη εξόδου-σύνδεσης σε θάλασσα. Η ολοκλήρωση της περιοχής θα πρέπει να γίνει μέσω μιας χώρας η οποία διαθέτει έξοδο στη θάλασσα. Αυτό σημαίνει εξάρτηση του Κουρδιστάν από Ιράκ και Ιράν στο Νότο, Τουρκία και Καυκάσιες χώρες στο Βορρά, Ισραήλ και ΛιβανοΣυρία στα νοτιοδυτικά. Τα ίδια, κατ' αντιστοιχία, ισχύουν και για την π.Γ.Δ.Μ.

[-] Η περίπτωση μιας μεγεθυμένης και διευρυμένης «π.Γ.Δ.Μ της Μέσης Ανατολής» είναι η σχετικά «ευχάριστη» περίπτωση. Υπάρχουν και άλλες περιπτώσεις, όπως το Κόσοβο ή το Αφγανιστάν.

21 Αυγούστου 2016

After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, by Alasdair MacIntyre.


The modern world, or at least the industrialized West, has, in terms of moral discourse, descended into a new Dark Age. Moral judgments lack content and are merely expressive of how one feels about a matter; this kind of ethical emotivism is an inheritance from the failure of the eighteenth century Enlightenment to provide an objective basis for moral judgments. In marked contrast is another historical stream, the Aristotelian virtue tradition, which can not only produce a coherent picture of the Enlightenment failure and the consequent breakdown of moral discourse but also show itself superior to contemporary moral fragmentation.



.~`~.
After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, by Alasdair MacIntyre
(University of Notre Dame Press)



Prologue: After Virtue after a Quarter of a Century ix

Preface xvii

1. A Disquieting Suggestion

2. The Nature of Moral Disagreement Today and the Claims of Emotivism

3. Emotivism: Social Content and Social Context

4. The Predecessor Culture and the Enlightenment Project of Justifying Morality

5. Why the Enlightenment Project of Justifying Morality Had to Fail

6. Some Consequences of the Failure of the Enlightenment Project

7. ‘Fact’, Explanation and Expertise

8. The Character of Generalizations in Social Science and their Lack of Predictive Power

9. Nietzsche or Aristotle?

10. The Virtues of Heroic Societies

11. The Virtues of Athens

12. Aristotle’s Account of the Virtues

13. Medieval Aspects and Occasions

14. The Nature of the Virtues

15. The Virtues, the Unity of a Human Life and the Concept of a Tradition

16. From the Virtues to Virtue and after Virtue

17. Justice as a Virtue: Changing Conceptions

18. After Virtue: Nietzsche or Aristotle, Trotsky and St. Benedict


II
Analysis
(Απόσπασμα)

This arbitrariness in modern culture is a product of the Enlightenment project, which, from about 1630 to 1850, attempted to provide some justification for morality apart from what were seen as the encumbrances of religion. The project meant to give morality a rational basis, independent of particular traditions. Yet for all of its efforts, what was produced was a deeply incoherent philosophy, exemplified in Sren Kierkegaard’s Enten/Eller: Et livs-fragment (1843; Either/Or: A Fragment of Life, 1944), in which one chooses the ethical over the aesthetic life simply because one chooses. There is no reason to choose a particular ethical direction beyond one’s actual choice; yet that ethical direction is supposed to have authority over those who have chosen it.

Kierkegaard inherited this mixed sense of radical choice, and that choice’s authoritativeness, from the culture of Immanuel Kant. Kant’s categorical imperative (“Always act so as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of others, as an end, and not as a means”) does not come with any good reason, outside itself, for subscribing to it. Reason therefore fails to ground morality; there is in Kant an element of radical choice only made explicit in Kierkegaard.

Kant in turn was heir to the failure of philosophers such as David Hume to ground morality in a person’s passions, or desires. Hume maintained that passions, not reason, moved a person to action. Reason might give some direction, but desire is the motive force. Yet passions have a social context, and MacIntyre suggests that Hume smuggles in his own conservative standards, just as Kant did, with no compelling reason that those particular moral standards should be desired.

The entire Enlightenment project was doomed, because in seeking to ground moral rules in some aspect of human nature (reason for Kant, the passions for Hume, fundamental choice for Kierkegaard), it foundered on its inability to draw prescriptive conclusions from the facts of human nature. No “ought” could be derived from an “is.” This bifurcation of fact and value arose because the classical, or Aristotelian, conception of the telos (end) of man had been rejected. For the Greeks, man was essentially a rational animal. Ethical precepts acted as teachers to bring man from an untutored ethical state to a realization of his potentiality. That which aids man in reaching his telos—that which aids man in functioning in accordance with his nature—is called “good.” It is an evaluative statement, but also a factual one.

This functional concept of man is not unique to Aristotle among its classical exponents, and it does not derive from what MacIntyre calls Aristotle’s “metaphysical biology.” Rather, this concept of manis rooted in the forms of social life to which the theorists of the classical tradition give expression. For according to that tradition to be a man is to fill a set of roles each of which has its own point and purpose: member of a family, citizen, soldier, philosopher, servant of God. It is only when man is thought of as an individual prior to and apart from all roles that “man” ceases to be a functional concept.

The thinkers of the Enlightenment conceived of the individual as an autonomous agent, ostensibly freed from the constraints of classical or medieval moral and religious tradition. Yet the old values were still present, at least in name, but without any real grounding. The utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, even as modified in the nineteenth century by John Stuart Mill, was unable to provide a new telos for man. The principle of the “greatest good for the greatest number” offers no good reason for a man’s being a monk rather than a soldier, no good reason that a man should sacrifice a present pleasure for a future one. The utilitarian principle is devoid of real meaning because it cannot order or distinguish between conflicting claims to pleasure or happiness.



After Virtue was a tour de force when it hit the shelves roughly 20 years ago. It laid bare the utter incoherence of the use of moral language in societies of "advanced modernity", i.e., modern Europe, the former USSR, and the US. His critique of the various descendents of the Enlightenment, from utilitarians and Nietzscheans, blasted moral philosophy out of its slumber into a field that continues to grow to this day. Even today, most moral philosophers have spent most of their time attacking Macintyre's positive theses [*] rather than critiquing his critique (a definite sign of the respect at his assessment of the use of modern moral language). To summarize it here would definitely deprive the would-be reader of the insightful journey that MacIntyre brings the reader on as he tries to look at the state of modern society. However, I will summarize the major motivations on why this book was written and why someone would read it:

1) Why are there so many types of moral disagreements in modern societies?

2) Why do these disagreements never seem to end but go on indefinitely?

3) Can any moral theory be related to actual facts or is all moral language sui generis?

Not surprisingly, MacIntyre traces most of these problems to those thinkers of the Enlightenment yet it would be a MISTAKE in thinking that MacIntyre is somehow laying the blame solely on the Enlightenment for the current situation. Rather, his whole thesis is that they did the best they could in defending in what they thought was the CONTENT of morality (the culture of post-Enlightenment Europe being as it were a mix of
Christian values with an intense admiration of newly re-discovered Greco-Roman pagan texts on a range of subjects) with their own philosophical methods (See Hume's reasoning on why women should remain chaste until marriage). MacIntyre's insight is that they HAD to fail. No philosophical brilliance they could muster could save the CONTENT they wished to save (for example,"always tell your mother the truth") with their prescribed METHODS of doing philosophy (for example a la Kant, "all moral laws have the character of being assented to by all rational persons at all times in all cultures"). The Enlightenment thinkers chose an impossible task and thus failed (and moreover had to fail in such a way that their failure was relatively hidden from the thinkers themselves and their respective cultures at large). It is only with Nietzche do we have a thinker brave enough to raze the CONTENT they wished to save with the METHODS and start totally anew.

Thus, half-way through the book, MacIntyre offers the reader a stark choice: either we must choose that all moral talk (talk of right & wrong) is really an attempt to impose one's will on another person a la Nietzsche or that there is form of moral language that is not undercut by Nietzsche's own rather devastating attack on (post-)Enlightenment moral theories.

Hence begins MacIntyre's foray from critique to laying out a positive philosophical programme that leads to several books and a refining of his ideas.

Does Nietzsche win?

That is for the reader to decide. MacIntyre has been steadily producing a body of work that tries to show that Nietzsche does not win (it starts as a whisper in this book and finally gets turned into a shout in later works). However, like all philosophy, his attempt is an argument, and it is up to the reader to decide if it is a good one.

5 stars, hands down. I really hope you decide to buy (or check-out) this important work which deserves to taken seriously for years to come ( 20 and counting!).

Σημειώσεις
[*] Αφού είδε κι απόειδε ο άνθρωπος με τον μαρξισμό και την αναλυτική φιλοσοφία, έγινε Αριστοτελιστής για να καταλήξει Θωμιστής: he says, "Marxists have always fallen back into relatively straightforward versions of Kantianism or utilitarianism" and criticises Marxism as just another form of radical individualism, saying about Marxists, "as they move towards power they always tend to become Weberians".

Peter R: I am rather flabbergasted that the only review on this page thus far is one comparing Alisdair MacIntyre to radical islamists. That is rather disconcerting as the author's roots, as others have already noted, come from the 1960-70's British Labour movement and from a very deep, very thought-out Marxism in the context Marxism demands to be judged on, namely, not only as a socio-economic theory, but as a robust and encompassing worldview. When MacIntyre finally decided to officially leave the Communist party, he noticed that his moral critique of Marxism seemed to lack any force, as the only two seemingly possible moral outlooks were that of a rather brass individualism ( an odd modern mixture of Kantian and Sartrean thought where each person chooses the moral law for himself ) and the tradition he was leaving, i.e. Marxism, which seemed incapable of serious self-critique. The shrillness of his own protest sent him on a philosophical journey which he continues to go on to this day but we are lucky enough to have collection of his thoughts along the way.

[-] Conservatives who think they have found an ally in MacIntyre fail to attend to his understanding of the kind of politics necessary to sustain the virtues. He makes clear that his problem with most forms of contemporary conservatism is that conservatives mirror the fundamental characteristics of liberalism. The conservative commitment to a way of life structured by a free market results in an individualism, and in particular a moral psychology, that is as antithetical to the tradition of the virtues as is liberalism - Stanley Hauerwas

A Suspension of (Dis)Belief: The Secular-Religious Binary and the Study of International Relations.


Rethinking secularism:
A suspension of (dis)belief
posted by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd

Excerpted from “A Suspension of (Dis)Belief: The Secular-Religious Binary and the Study of International Relations, chapter seven of Rethinking Secularism (Oxford University Press, 2011).—ed.



Most academic discussions in political science and international relations presuppose a fixed definition of the secular and the religious and proceed from there. Most realist, liberal, English school, feminist, and historical-materialist approaches treat religion as either private by prior assumption or a cultural relic to be handled by anthropologists. Even constructivists, known for their attention to historical contingency and social identity, have paid scant attention to the politics of secularism and religion, focusing instead on the interaction of preexisting state units to explain how international norms influence state interests and identity or looking at the social construction of states and the state system with religion left out of the picture.
This disciplinary convention fixes in advance key definitions and terms of inquiry, with some of the most vital aspects of contemporary world politics systematically excluded from consideration. The presumption that religion has been privatized and is no longer operative in modern politics or that its influence can be neatly encapsulated in anthropological studies of a particular religious tradition and its external influence on politics has led scholars of international relations to miss or misconstrue some of the most significant political developments of our time. This narrow vision is in part attributable to a rigid and dehistoricized secular/religious binary that prestructures the field of academic political science and international relations. This academic practice, in turn, mirrors and reinforces particular kinds of limits on political practice, as suggested by the Egyptian example discussed earlier. Expressed and reproduced through both forms of practice, this binary polices the borders of what counts as politics and what counts as religion and how they relate to each other. It has played a critical role in the global production of knowledge. As Alasdair MacIntyre has observed of the fluid relation between theory and practice, “there ought not to be two histories, one of political and moral action and one of political and moral theorizing, because there were not two pasts, one populated only by actions, the other only by theories. Every action is the bearer and expression of more or less theory-laden beliefs and concepts; every piece of theorizing and every expression of belief is a political and moral action.”
To be clear, I do not want to suggest that the categories of the secular and the religious fluctuate so wildly that they lack any analytical, political, or metaphysical salience, depending on one’s perspective, but, rather, that from the perspective of deep pluralism that underlies my argument, these categories cannot be taken for granted in their fixity. Failing to account for the power and limitations of the category of the secular and its shifting and contested relation not only to religion but to other political phenomena cast in opposition to it risks imposing a simplistic and distorted template on world politics. A rigid secular/religious divide stabilizes particular, historically contingent, and often hegemonic definitions of both politics and religion. This makes life easier for social scientists looking for answers in the short run but is costly in a world in which the way these categories come to be defined, what they come to represent and not represent, is critical to understanding how they operate politically.
At the same time, the category of religion is no more obvious than the category of the secular. Reconsidering the fixity of the secular/religious binary opens new epistemological spaces for the identification of forms and locations of politics that fall off the radar screen of conventional secular rationalist approaches to politics and conventional religious approaches to politics. It makes room for alternative instantiations of the secular/religious divide to work their way into political theory and practice, as is occurring today in Turkey and is discussed below.
A second qualification is that not all social scientists are cut from a single mold, and the degree to which any individual, institution, party, state, or international organization unthinkingly reproduces any particular secular/religious binary varies. It would be inaccurate to suggest that everyone approaches these questions in the same way. Yet particular varieties of secularism, like varieties of religion, have had an organizing influence on the ways in which most Europeans and Americans define and relate to basic categorizations involving religion and politics. These categorizations also change over time, as Charles Taylor argues in chapter 1 of this book, with the secular coming to refer in our time to that pertaining to a self-sufficient immanent sphere. The practices, institutions, and ways of being designated as secular sustain and shape the contours of public life and the modern organization of social-scientific knowledge. These traditions do not merely reflect social reality; they help to construct it. They embody attitudes, sensibilities, and habits that facilitate closure and agreement around cultural, political, and legal settlements of the separation of church and state, the definition of religion, and what constitutes normal politics. There is in many contexts an identifiable secular “pattern of political rule,” helping to generate and sustain the category of religion and setting preconditions for particular kinds of academic and political practice.
The unthinking adoption of a rigid secular/religious binary in the social sciences has had at least three consequences for the study of world politics. First, social scientists are encouraged to define research questions, select methods, and present results that fall squarely into the “secular” half of the binary, understood as the domain of rational humanism. They are taught to avoid religion, the domain of the supernatural, superstitious, otherworldly, metaphysical, and so forth. This encourages social scientists to approach religion either not at all or as a particular, emotive (as opposed to secular, rational, and universal) dimension of politics alongside others such as gender, caste, and (at times) nation. The secular/religious binary operates such that not to be secular is to be emotional, irrational, unpredictable, and behind the march of progress. Quietly at work here is the notion that only the West, with its narrative of secularization, has found its way out of the woods, while other civilizations continue to cast about in a desperate search to answer the questions that the West resolved centuries ago. Lodged within this narrative is the assumption that the secular is the natural domain of rational self-interest and universalist ethics. The secular thus comes to stand not only in an oppositional relation to religion but also as the natural counterpart to other dimensions of politics that do not fit comfortably within the categories of either rational self-interest or universalist ethics.
This suggests that the secular is a more powerful and capacious category than one might assume when it is taken to stand only in contradistinction to the religious. Loosening the hold of a fixed secular/religious binary opens up a broader field of inquiry into modern formations of authority than may be apparent at the outset. The secular grounds and secures a place for the good, rational, and universal in Western moral order, which is then opposed to series of nonrational or irrational particularisms, aberrations, or variations. Religion often, though not always, appears as one of these particularisms. It is not the only candidate: institutions and identities associated with (ethnic as opposed to civic) nationalism, race, caste, and gender all have been cast in an oppositional relation to secular rational self-interest and/or universalist ethics. This is the sense in which it is possible to glimpse the capacious power of the category of the secular above and beyond its extraordinary capacity to define and delimit the religious. I return to this below.
A second consequence of the naturalization of the secular/religious binary is that the study of religion and politics tends to focus not on secularism in relation to religion or the other categories discussed above (the binary has effectively segregated these categories) but on predefined religious traditions taken as independent objects of inquiry and the degree to which they infiltrate or influence politics. This division of labor divides inquiry into mainstream (secular) studies on the one hand and studies of religion or religion and politics on the other. A fixed understanding of religion in relation to the secular supports an understanding of the secular as that which is associated with normal, rational politics. Religion becomes a repository for a range of nonrational and nonuniversal dimensions of politics that fall outside the range of “normal” politics, including belief, culture, tradition, mood, and emotion.
A third consequence of the stabilization of the binary is that a particular (often monotheistic) definition of religion is often taken as the norm. This definition constructs an object of study and defines religious actors and institutions according to a particular set of parameters. These limitations press those trained in the traditions of European and American international-relations scholarship to read the world in a particular way, with an emphasis on European religious history and experience, and to misconstrue or miss entirely a whole spectrum of political actors, histories, and processes. Perhaps most significant among these are the intense political struggles, historical contingencies, religious ambivalences, and philosophical uncertainties surrounding the practices associated with and legitimized by claims to the secular itself.
The study of religion, secularism, and international affairs requires a suspension of (dis)belief to address these limitations and move toward new paradigms for the study of global politics. It requires suspending disbelief in the particularity of the secular (or suspending one’s belief in the universalizing potential of the secularization narrative, depending on how you look at it) and approaching the secular/religious binary not as fixed but as shifting, evolving, and elusive. This suspension of (dis)belief can be uncomfortable for those socialized in Euro-American secularisms, which are kept afloat by a high degree of certainty surrounding the stability of these categories. But I hope to show that it is worth the effort. Suspending the assumption that any secular/religious binary is fixed and universal and approaching it as an unstable, historically contingent construct that is capable of sustaining a broad discursive field that goes beyond the maintenance of a distinction between the secular and the religious allows the ground that supports this distinction to shift in intellectually fruitful directions.
And the ground is shifting. Developments in late-modern international relations, such as increasing pluralization within societies, rising global interdependence, the retreat of Christendom, the questioning of the universality of the Enlightenment, and a rise in religiously inspired forms of collective political identification, demand a destabilization of the fundamental terms and binaries (secular rational versus religious irrational, philosophical versus theological, reason versus faith) that have structured inquiry on this subject for decades. Understanding the politics of secularism requires this suspension of (dis)belief. Like their counterparts in philosophy and political theory, international relations theorists need to hone their capacity to pose research questions that do not presuppose fixed definitions of these terms or relations between them. What claims to the secular and the religious signify in different circumstances and what political effects these claims have in various settings are precisely what needs to be explored.


Elizabeth Shakman Hurd is associate professor of global politics and religion at Northwestern University. She writes and teaches on dilemmas of national and international governance involving social and religious difference, equality, power, law, and pluralism. Hurd is the author of The Politics of Secularism in International Relations (2008), Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion (2015), and co-editor ofPolitics of Religious Freedom and Comparative Secularisms in a Global Age. She is co-PI, with Winnifred Sullivan, on a Luce-supported collaborative research project “Politics of Religion at Home and Abroad” (2016-2019) and co-organized the “Politics of Religious Freedom” project (2011-2014). She directs the Buffett FacultyResearch Group on Global Politics & Religion at Northwestern.
The Immanent Frame publishes interdisciplinary perspectives on religion, secularism, and the public sphere. Founded in October 2007 in conjunction with the Social Science Research Council’s program on Religion and the Public Sphere, The Immanent Frame features invited contributions and original essays, and serves as a forum for ongoing exchanges among leading thinkers from the social sciences and humanities.