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When Rulers Philosophize - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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French President Nicholas Sarkozy surprised the people of French in his New Year address by using Western philosophical terms that were far removed from his practical pragmatic discourse. He called for the necessity of launching a new cultural policy so as to usher in a new renaissance like the European Renaissance that paved the way for modernity.

What is interesting is the fact that Sarkozy relied heavily on excerpts from leftist French philosopher Edgar Morin’s book ‘Politique de civilization’ (The Politics of Civilization − 1997). Naturally, the context in which the terminology is employed by Sarkozy differs from that of the philosopher’s who has excelled in expounding on the terminology within a radical critical framework of the Western development model, which he believes is based upon two ideas that have transformed to their antipodes.

The first of which is individualism which has degenerated into a state of decomposition, isolation and selfishness after having once been a slogan for self-liberation. The second is the technological invasion of nature that has led to social enslavement, destruction of the environment and the endangering of human security after it [technological advancement] had once been the headline economic and industrial development.

Sarkozy’s usage of the concept of cultural politics is reminiscent of President George W. Bush’s use of the term ‘cultural war’ following the 9/11 attacks after which he resorted to other concepts that were introduced from the philosophical lexicon; the most famous of which is “pre-emptive war”, which became part of the neoconservative literature.

The origin of this term is credited to the works of Nazi German philosopher Carl Schmitt. Needless to say, the philosophical source that the incumbent American decision-makers utilize is Leo Strauss in his criticism of cultural diversity and his return to Aristotelian ethics and the religious lexicon, and his adherence to the traditional concept of sovereignty for the limitations of contemporary international law. This philosophizing on behalf of the culturally limited leader has dragged him into severe problems that have become a scorned topic in both American and international media.

As for the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, he was known for his adoption of the thought of English philosopher Anthony Giddens who was famous for his “Third Way” theory, which he stated in his book ‘The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy’ was a “trajectory to renew social democracy”. Blair was able to win the support of his friends Clinton and Schroder in his chosen philosophical ideology.

Following his deflated departure from power, Blair supported traditional Catholicism over the theories of Giddens. No one could have envisaged that philosophy would become the trend that rulers follow in an age where ideology has died and the gravity of critical thought has disappeared.

France, for example, survived under Chirac’s rule for 12 years throughout which his ‘culture’ was focused on Japanese art and culinary schools. Before him, Mitterrand governed France and he was a philosophy enthusiast and a close friend of Sartre and Foucault and had distinguished philosopher Regis Debray as one of his advisors.

Debray authored ‘Praise Be Our Lords’ (2007) in which he gives a very detailed portrait of the cultured Mitterrand, the realistic and opportunistic former French president. Debray reproaches his friend the ruler for not taking his opinion, and added: “When did rulers ever listen to philosophers?”

It’s true that the first philosophical project, Plato’s ‘The Republic’, set the blueprint for governance, however the politicians called it an imaginary utopia. Similarly, Aristotle did not have a major impact on Alexander the Macedonian as al Farabi did not influence Saif al Dawla’s Royal Court and neither did Descartes have a significant impact on Queen Christina.

Perhaps the only philosopher to have reached power and succeed in transforming philosophy into the ideology of governance was Lenin; the true founder of Marxism, which Marx himself abandoned denouncing it as mere theoretical abstractions. But the only philosophical project to have been put to the test in the field of political reality failed miserably and left behind decades of misery, tyranny and destruction in its aftermath.

However, the fault does not lie in philosophy, which is a problematic critical practice that liberates mankind from prejudiced judgments, common beliefs and false convictions instead of shaping the awareness of people and formulating their choices. In the Arab world, rulers are very fond of philosophy, many of them sought to create global theories that could enlighten mankind and resolve all the problems in societies around the world  but the outcome has been tragedy and loss.

The most renowned Egyptian contemporary philosopher, the late Abdul Rahman Badawi was severely critical of his country’s rulers. He expressed his wrath against the leader Jamal Abdel Nasser whom he described as ignorant and mocked his political theory which is described in his diary as “derived from communist newspapers”.