“[M]ost important, because most fundamental, is a thorough grasp of the multiform course of history and of the opportunities and responsibilities it imposes on free man.”
My friend Andy McCarthy reminds us on this solemn day that despite our most comforting delusions, the “moderate Islam” we Americans all desire has yet to evolve. The real Islam of today—not some chimerical non-existent creed—cannot be in our corner in the struggle against its own totalitarian desire to impose Sharia on all of humanity.
Karl Wittfogel’s seminal 1957 analysis of pre-modern Eastern totalitarianism, “Oriental Despotism—A Comparative Study of Total Power,” contains insights on Islam that are particularly illuminating, and ever relevant to present era tribulations deriving from the unreformed (and even unexamined) mandates of Islamic supremacism. Underpinning Islamic “absolutism,” Wittfogel notes, is the same Koranic injunction (Koran 4:59)—cited by Islamic legists, from Mawardi (d. 1058) to Mawdudi (d. 1979)—as legitimizing Islam’s Ur-totalitarian, Sharia-based Caliphate system:
The Koran exhorts believers to obey not only Allah and his prophet, but also ‘those in authority amongst you.’ In the absolutist states established by Mohammed’s followers, this passage was invoked to emphasize the importance of obedience in maintaining governmental authority.
Wittfogel argued eloquently that such despotic Islamic rule inspired others, notably the Communists, to the same ends—centralized, totalitarian power. And his warnings from 1957 about the Western governmental apologists for Communist totalitarianism resonate eerily in our own era. Substitute Wittfogel’s use of the word “Communist” with “Islam,” and contemplate our own failure to marshal the “anti-totalitarian forces” of the Western heritage:
To what extent can we trust the judgment of officiating or non-officiating members of our segmented bureaucracies who view the Communist [Islamic] monopoly bureaucracy as a progressive form of totalitarianism?
Western writers, teachers and practicing politicians who do not understand the meaning of our institutional and cultural heritage are poorly equipped to unleash its creative potential. And they are also poorly equipped to unleash its creative potential to combat Communist [Islamic] totalitarianism. For however necessary military preparedness and a courageous economic policy may be, they are only two among several essentials. Equally important is the judicious implementation of institutional change. And most important, because most fundamental, is a thorough grasp of the multiform course of history and of the opportunities and responsibilities it imposes on free man.
No doubt we are in the midst of an open historical situation, and no doubt there is freedom of effective choice. But our past blunders and present deliberations show that so far we have not used our opportunities competently. We did not give full scope to the anti-totalitarian forces in the Western world.
However, as a tenacious fighter against both Nazi and Communist totalitarianism, Wittfogel was optimistic that,
A new insight that is fully perceived, convincingly communicated, and daringly applied may change the face of a military and political campaign. It may change the face of a historical crisis.
Identifying and vociferously rejecting the encroachment of Islamic Sharia is the apposite “insight” for our era applying Wittfogel’s paradigm.
Wittfogel concluded his great work with what remain defining questions for free Western societies confronting Islamic totalitarianism more than a half century later, ultimately citing Herodotus, the West’s first true historian, to remind us of the most appropriate—and courageous—inspiration:
Ultimately, the readiness to sacrifice and the willingness to take the calculated risk of alliance against the total enemy depend upon the proper evaluation of two simple issues: slavery and freedom.
The good citizens of classical Greece drew strength from the determination of two of their countrymen, Sperthias and Bulis, to resist the lure of total power. On their way to Suza, the Spartan envoys were met by Hydarnes, a high Persian official, who offered to make them mighty in their homeland, if only they would attach themselves to the Great King, his despotic master. To the benefit of Greece—and to the benefit of all free men—Herodotus has preserved their answer. ‘Hydarnes,’ they said, ‘thou art a one-sided counselor. Thou has experience of half the matter; but the other half is beyond thy knowledge. A slave’s life thou understandest; but, never having tasted liberty, thou canst not tell whether it be sweet or no. Ah! Hadst thou known what freedom is, thou wouldst have bidden us fight for it, not with spear only, but with the battle-axe.”