Posted by: L | June 5, 2007

Another letter from Lucifer about Martha Nussbaum…

Hi Josh:

Thanks very much for your detailed critique. Much appreciate it. But may I say that I think there are some things you’re confusing in your language?

1. First – I am NOT opposing any Enlightenment principles I can think of. I am FOR the rule of law, individualism, and intellectual critique. I am accusing some ideologues on the left (I don’t deny they’re on the right too – in general, the ones there, however, get a lot more criticism) of not applying those principles to their own unquestioned dogmas – that are not arrived at as rationally as they think. I listed a number of perfectly historical, stone-cold facts that many Marxist historians in India ignore, making them an easy target of right-wing critics…unnecessarily. But, I appreciate other contributions the Marxists have made. By the way – I didn’t have time to get into it – but we really have to get away from this enlightenment versus post-structuralist binary – it ain’t so. The enlightenment was NOT a simple unitary thing.

2. You write: “How many American Muslims feel so thoroughly dominated by a state that is officially secular and based on universalist principles of the Enlightenment that they’d prefer to go live in Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Jordan?”

Hmmmmm…..Where do I make the argument that anyone one would NOT prefer the intellectual freedoms here? –I don’t make it. Strawman?

Next. I AM calling for universalist principles. But, I’m saying that the social engineering of quotas don’t qualify. They’re outcome-based group-preferences and anti-individualist

But even on your own terms, I assure you, I know many critics of American government who don’t live here precisely because of their beliefs. They’ve moved elsewhere – to among others, Japan, France, Canada, Mexico, India, Argentina, and in my case, I am trying to return as well. The standard need not be cutting heads off, I hope. And yes, the libraries here are much bigger, better and more accessible, transportation is better and a host of other things – and prosperity makes it all possible. Thank you very much, America. Sincerely. I deeply appreciate the opportunity to work. Never a day goes by when I don’t. It’s why I write as much as I can on the net, since when I go back, I may not be able to for logistical reasons.

3. Democracy and law are not a good fit by nature – that’s why we have checks and balances and so on….yes? The constitution which is ‘longer-view law’ (not subject to majoritarian desires) is one way we deal with that — which is what I wrote in the piece. A bit different from what you’re reading, no? I probably wasn’t as clear as I wanted to be because I was trying not to go on too long….

At any rate, that’s why I make the point about accommodation in the last line in that paragraph. Meaning, popular voices (that’s the democratic bit) are always calling for the abrogation of law, so it’s natural for them to be always straining AGAINST the rule of law. Nussbaum acts likes that makes for an insuperable crisis. I say it’s natural and can be accommodated.

4. I don’t say that people who kill others or brutalize them shouldn’t be held accountable. I make that point clearly in the line about religious fanatics. But I do say that one shouldn’t draw any untenable iron link between fundamentalism (and even exceptionalism) and violence. I know perfect egalitarians who seem always prepared to kill to push their beliefs on others and know many fundamentalists who are quiet and law-abiding. I even know people who think themselves better than others (a number of cultures do in one way or other, whether they say so explicitly or not), but don’t act to oppress others. And I know racially tolerant societies which none the less find ways to wage unjust wars. I think there’s no necessary connection. I believe Jesus was pretty fundamentalist in his beliefs. He took the voices in his head quite literally. I don’t think he was aggressive to anyone, though.

4. I don’t negate historical fact. I negate – with examples- Nussbaum’s history, because she doesn’t know or doesn’t include salient facts. It’s not any Marxism in the account she gives that I object to; it’s the lack of history. I have read accurate presentations of facts in the writing of many religiously inclined historians whose views inform but don’t distort facts. I don’t see why one couldn’t read, say, Christopher Dawson or Eric Voegelin and find them useful even if one wasn’t a Christian believer. One might find it at least as useful as some Marxist or Whig history.

Anyway, I believe I used the term “not much more” useful – which implies that, of course, we need to weigh the claims of all approaches carefully.. So yes, we have to find a common basis for our studies of history, or they wouldn’t be useful. But I think we could broaden the range of “common basis”.

That doesn’t mean I endorse teaching “Muslim physics” (the hard sciences, you’ll admit are not the social-sciences) – it means how come I can’t read or even hear anyone discuss Austrian economics in any major university in the US?

Yes – theorizing about the decline of the nation state and then arguing for global bureaucracies that are controlled largely by the intellectual outlook (I don’t necessarily disagree with all of it) of certain elites does increase the power of the state — by which I mean government at any level except the local, because those elites are held accountable finally through their own state mechanisms. Eg., you have a UN sanction, but to give it force you need the backing of government powers from various countries, which naturally have their own agendas.

I should have mentioned that by ‘state’ I mean both the ‘nation state’ and ‘government powerl’. I use the term in the general sense.

To make things clearer, I come from a right libertarian anarchist perspective (closer to the Independent Institute, not Cato), which finds the same problem with unchecked corporate power which feeds off of and reinforces the state. I am anti-state — not just anti- nation-state.

And not very fond of the idea of world government.

6. Marxists believe in a lot of things they’ve never seen, I assure you.

7. I sympathize with the view that we are in for a new feudalism (see the article by Martin Hutchinson I have on my blog) intermingled (via power politics) with some version of quasi-civilizational-trading blocs. That might not be bad – as I write – if it pays attention to local communities and doesn’t force itself on people with a religious conscience (say, about abortion or gay rights) — that’s something only decentralization could bring about. But the new trans-national governance will be bad if it counter-poses itself to corporate power as yet another face of the globalist regime.

8. I hope I am making myself clear because I think confused language (intentional or unintentional) is a huge part of the problem. Which is that fundamentalism per se can’t be conflated with chauvinism and chauvinism (I’m better than you) or exclusiveness (I want to be on my own) isn’t always or necessarily violent. I actually tend to think a bit of separatism, when cultures are very different, might be a good thing if it doesn’t carry any oppressive connotation.

For instance, I sympathize with European nations who want immigrants from Islamic countries to assimilate in some ways. Criticism of burqas that cover the face  sounds right to me (for security reasons primarily; I haven’t really thought this out – just citing an example of a trade-off) but eliminating head-scarves sounds NOT right.

However, I’m not happy to talk about politics and countries I haven’t studied closely.

9. Too quick too great social changes in multiethnic empires – like India – invariably create these strains. To ignore the backlash against those changes – which were initiated by the state — and to read violence as a problem solely arising out of some essentialist understanding of fundamentalism as evil is sorely mistaken.

10. I admire Martha Nussbaum. She has ethical concerns and a willingness to get her hands dirty, which I respect. She just doesn’t know her history here and is seeing what she does know through very tendentious glasses.

In the same context, I don’t know how you could read anything I wrote as a defense of the governments of Syria, Jordan and so on. That’s the problem. Unless we are well grounded in historical facts, theoretical juxtaposition of dissimilar things under the rubric of “fundamentalism” is misleading. Islamic fundamentalism is not Christian fundamentalism is not Jewish fundamentalism is not Hindu fundamentalism. They have similarities and differences. Popular unrest in different countries arises for different reasons. Empires are not the same. Caliphates are not the same. I might believe they all need to be rolled back, but might use different approaches and analyses for each. Let’s tackle the problems pragmatically, locally. One of my points is that Nussbaum’s approach to history isn’t particular enough in that way. We need less argument and more supporting evidence. Her account (as previewed) doesn’t quite cut it as is.

I think Hindus (I don’t even want to get into her claim about Hindu identity where she is partly correct and partly quite mistaken) feel encircled, with some justification, given recent history and demographics.

Massacring a crowd in Gujarat – no matter where you stand – is absolutely wrong. And the central government should have intervened much more than it did. I write that too. Please do note my paragraph about equality under the law and respect for individuals.

But ignoring the role of the state in helping to create such situations is simply inaccurate.

We expect better from Ms. Nussbaum.

I remain, as always,
a devoted student of the enlightenment




  1. […] I am saying that the social engineering of quotas don t qualify. They re outcome-based group-preferences and anti-individualist. But even on that score, I assure you, I know many critics of American government who don t live here … …more […]

  2. […] I am saying that the social engineering of quotas don t qualify. They re outcome-based group-preferences and anti-individualist. But even on that score, I assure you, I know many critics of American government who don t live here … …more […]

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