What is the Islamic viewpoint of the modern Western philosophies of history?
I wonder whether it is a skepticism to see a political purpose behind some
philosophies produced in the West during the last few centuries. Whether they
might label me as unscientific or a skeptic, it is not more reasonable, in my
opinion, than trying to find a political purpose behind those philosophies to
attribute to those people who have made gigantic advances in science and technology
such theories as biological ‘evolution’ and that the Western brain is apt, because
of its biological composition, for science while the Eastern brain for romanticism
and the Negro brain for jazz and athleticism.
Is there any scientific proof in the work of Darwin?
It is true that almost all of the nineteenth century Western philosophical
theories were based on the idea of ‘progress’ and ‘evolution’. As everyone knows,
the roots of the Darwinian theory of evolution lie in the theory of Malthus,
an eighteenth century Anglican priest, who was interested in the influence of
demographic factors on economics. According to his theory, only those who are
able to produce have a right to survive, while the others—the poor, the sick,
the disabled, who are not able to produce—are condemned by nature to be eliminated.
Having much appreciated this socio-economic theory of Malthus, Darwin put forward,
as a scientific theory, that selection is an overall law encompassing the whole
of nature, according to which only the powerful can survive; the weak are cleared
away in the course of time. Referring to P. -P. Grassé, a contemporary French
zoologist, Maurice Bucaille (What is the Origin of Man, Turkish translation,
Istanbul 1984, pp. 48-50), says that in the work of Darwin it is impossible
to find any scientific proof although Darwin made plenty of observations to
support his theory, and that his is more of a philosophical, not scientific,
theory. If, then, some socio-economic worries lie in a ‘scientific’ theory,
one which has shaken the circles of science for the last two centuries and been
used as a ‘weapon’ against religion, why should it be unfair to seek a political
purpose behind some philosophical ones?
It may well be asserted, albeit difficult to affirm in a brief article, that
the Western philosophies of history, especially those put forward in the nineteenth
century, had some political intentions and functioned as an ideological precept
for the nineteenth century Western imperialism. Almost all of these philosophies
suggested that mankind were in an irreversible flow towards good and nothing
could stop this flow. This was an assertion of continuously forward movement
or progress. The sociology of Spencer, for instance, is a continuation of the
theory of Darwin. According to Auguste Comte, mankind had already passed the
stages of metaphysics and religion, and reached the last and happiest age of
progress by entering the stage of science. We can find the same notion of progress
in the historical philosophies of Herder, Fichte, Hegel and Karl Marx.
Western philosophies of history
Hegel’s philosophy of history can be defined, according to Abdul-Hamid Siddiqi,
(Tarihin Yorumu—’The Interpretation of History’—Istanbul 1978, p. 51), as a
composition of conflicts and contradictions. As a matter of fact, Hegel holds
that each period in the history of social civilization represents an independent
unity. This unity, which is thoroughly of its own, gives rise to it antithesis
over time, resulting in a thesis-antithesis conflict. After a while, the sides
agree on a ‘synthesis’, which finally ends in a new conflict of thesis and antithesis.
As a result of this conflict, a new thesis is brought about which encompasses
both its thesis and antithesis. This tripartite system causes ‘thoughts’ to
progress, until it attains to the ‘Geist’.
The ‘Geist’ is, in the philosophy of Hegel, who appeared to be under the
influence of the Indian philosophies, a spirit—the universal spirit—which manifests
itself through concrete events. Each event, together with the philosophy attached
to it, is a stage in the evolutionary course of this spirit, and because of
this, no philosophy is not to be criticized as being wrong. Every event is planned
by an absolute, determining will, and all of the desires, inclinations, efforts
and conflicts are the means which the Geist employs in self-realization. Everything
in the world, therefore, happens irrespectively or independently of man’s free
will and man is nothing more than a plaything of an all-powerful will. That
being so, only those who can perceive the demands of this will or, more clearly,
the course of events, and act accordingly are the heroes of their time to be
His theory mostly based on the atheism of Feurbach, the evolutionist theory
of Darwin and the dialectics of Hegel, Karl Marx, in his own words, stood the
Hegelian man who stands on his head, upright on his feet. (To this, an Egyptian
Muslim thinker responds: ‘Is man really a being who ‘walks’ on his head’?) According
to Marx—in all his views whether philosophical or historical, sociological or
economic—man is a being ‘walking on his feet’, that is, whose mind is directed,
commanded by his ‘feet’.
Marx maintains that man is an outcome of the legal relationships between
himself and the tools of production that he must originally have found present
in nature and then developed in the course of history. What we call ‘human thought’
is the reflection in his mind of the relations between himself and his material,
economic life and the tools of production he uses. For this reason, the only
true knowledge is, according to Marx, that which will come out in human mind
when the legal relationships between man and the tools of production are established
in a communist system according to the principles of communism. We can rightfully
conclude from this argument that all the Marxist theories are substantially
false because Marx himself conceived them all in a capitalistic system. Again,
to Marx, all the human life or history on the earth consists of the conflicts
between individuals, classes and peoples for economic reasons. This conflict,
which is inevitable, after passing through the primitive feudal and capitalistic
stages, is certain to result in communism. For this reason, all these stages
are not to be criticized.
As to historicism (Karl R. Popper, The Poverty of Historicism, London 1976),
which was once quite widespread, because sociological laws vary according to
time and place, we cannot find a long, stable period in human history by which
we can come to long term general rules. History never repeats itself at the
same level. We cannot make true predictions about ‘tomorrow’ since the relationships
between events are very complex. This is truly so, but, in historicism, activity
has a great importance, although what we conceive of is impossible to realize
unless they are in conformity with the main course of history. This main course,
however, depends on certain blind and irresistible laws. So, only when man acts
in accordance with these independent laws and the urgent, inevitable changes
they impose, has he acted reasonably. What falls to man, then, is to give a
hand to the changes or attempts that he is expected to accept because it is
completely unreasonable to desire to give a better shape to the world.
How can modern Western philosophies of history be criticized?
To sum up, we can list the outlines of the philosophies of history summarized
above, as follows:
• Mankind are in a continuous progress towards the final happy end.
• This progress depends on the fatalistic, irresistible laws of history which
are completely independent of man, so a man must, in any case, obey these laws,
otherwise he is certain to be eliminated.
• All the stages, primitive, feudal or capitalistic, through which mankind
inevitably pass in the course of time to the final happy end should not be criticized,
because mankind have nothing to do other than pass through them.
• What is implied concerning the political conditions of time by all such
philosophies of history may be this: The present socio-economic and even the
political conditions of the world are inevitable, because they were dictated
by nature, which decrees that only the able and the powerful can survive. If
the laws of history dictated by nature are in favor of the West, the communities
that choose to survive must concede to the dominion of the West.
Is it at all possible to approve this while we clearly see that any age contains
‘ages’—while some people are living in the age of electronics in some parts
of the world, some others are suffering the conditions of the middle, or even
primitive, ages, which is equally true also for individuals—and history, rather
than moving forward along a straight line, advances by cycles, and that man
is the being who, much more than a play-thing of some laws of only nominal,
not external, existence, makes history by enjoying free choice. Also, it is
not morally, even scientifically and historically, possible to approve the injustices,
no matter when and under what circumstances they are committed. Further, we
have a right to ask those who side with such philosophies of history whether
they can concede to the spread of Islam at the expense of Christianity, and
why they would prefer to try their hardest and resort to every kind of means
to maintain their dominion, rather than leave everything to the fatalistic laws
Like every other incoherent and false philosophy, the above mentioned philosophies
of history did not last long. When the twentieth century came in, the atomic
physics had already dethroned the mechanical physics, which resulted in the
obsolescence of the gross materialistic and positivistic world-views together
with the evolutionist conceptions of history, like money which is no longer
in circulation. The place of such conceptions were taken by the philosophies
of history which were anxious about the future of the West and did not put absolute
confidence in science and technology.
Of these, according to Danilevsky’s philosophy of history a civilization
is not transformed into another, and no civilization can be saved from dying.
A civilization is the further step of a culture and each culture develops one
or more than one of the values of humanity. The present Western civilization
is based on science. No civilization can claim superiority over the others in
all respects. A people that has reached the stage of civilization is doomed
to collapse after a long period of decline; because of this, the Western civilization
will one day become a thing of the past.
There are many cultures according to Oswald Spengler, a German sociologist
whose work The Decline of the West shook the West in the early years of this
century. Each great culture is unique and none of them can, as with Danilevsky,
claim superiority over the others. A civilization manifests itself in big cities
as the inevitable result of culture. Over time, the desire for living dies away
and women no longer bear children. Faith is replaced by scientific irreligion
or dull metaphysics. Any civilization that has entered upon this stage either
gives birth to materialism, love of money, passion for power, sex and class
conflict as its fruits, or results in imperialism, and finally collapses. Spengler
holds that the present Western civilization, with all its big cities, railways
and skyscrapers, will in a near future, turn into an ethnographical museum.
The ideas of Arnold Toynbee can be traced in Ibn Khaldun, a 15th-century
Arab-Muslim scholar often called ‘Father of Historiography’ and whose Muqaddima
(Introduction) is very famous. A civilization is, Toynbee maintains, the work
of a creative minority in a propitious clime, and it falls into decay as the
founding minority lose their energy and become unable to find solutions to new
problems. According to Ibn Khaldun, who influenced, to some extent, almost all
the philosophers of history in the twentieth century, a civilization—he calls
it ‘Umran—is based on tribal solidarity which is the distinguishing mark of
nomadic life. Nomads lead a very simple life and do not know anything of luxury.
Ibn Khaldun also holds that human beings feel an intrinsic need to live together,
but, since some people are of an aggressive disposition, co-existence calls
for some sanctions. These sanctions are either put by a powerful individual
or tribal solidarity determines them naturally. Thus, the need for a common
authority results in the establishment of the state.
Social solidarity is, Ibn Khaldun maintains, much stronger in nomadic tribes.
If united with religion, it becomes an irresistible power. Nevertheless, as
the state is established more firmly, the social solidarity is no longer needed
and, due to the established (settled) living, people indulge in luxury. Luxury
dissolves the solidarity and the ruler, in order to strengthen his authority,
forms a council and a troop of royal guards. But nothing keeps the state or
civilization from collapse: increasing extravagance, luxury and indulgences
of every kind, and heavy taxes bring about the ruin of the civilization.