From the Narrowness of Materialism to
the Breadth of Humanity and Faith. Part. 1*
Prof. Dr.Abdel Wahab El-Messiri**
Humanism of Man+ and Materialism of Objects
Our analytical discourse is frequently based on many terminologies which we translate without realizing its intended meaning, ultimate reference and (the holistic and ultimate) cognitive dimension (and human image it reflects, is he just a matter or a matter and an object surpassing matter?). Thus, we discuss the principles of “unity of sciences”, “alienation “, and “nature”, “reason” and “moral values” without knowing the reference of this terms. In addition, we follow the same path regarding many of the philosophical, social and religious texts, although the intended meaning of those terms and texts could only be reached by determining its cognitive dimensions and ultimate reference and knowing whether it has a pure materialistic reference or a materialistic and non-materialistic reference. By following this path, we will discover that if a popular term like “reason” has a totally different meaning according to its reference, is it a materialistic or a non-materialistic reference?
Man and Matter
This study differentiates between two visions: a vision considering man as a pure materialistic being, and a second vision looking to him as a complex being with both materialistic and non-materialistic elements. To put it more clearly, we should first differentiate between the compound and the simple. The “compound” consists of many entangled materialistic and non-materialistic elements, while the “simple” consists of one element (usually a materialistic element) or a number of untangled elements (usually materialistic). In addition, we should also distinguish between “transcendence” from one side and “immanence” from the other side. In fact, transcendence denotes the ability of man to surpass his natural and materialistic limits even by staying within its scope. This concept can be applied to God by claiming that God exceeds all temporal and spatial limits, because He is beyond time, space and the world of nature/matter and man (+elimination of anthropomorphic traits). On the other hand, immanence, according to our perception, is contrary to transcendence, and means that nature is controlled by its laws which are embedded inside it and cannot be surpassed by any creature. The concept of immanence also believes in the Divine manifestation in creatures. Now, we can compare between man and nature. Nature, according to the western philosophical discourse, is an ambiguous word, as its meaning cannot be determined except by returning to its contextual meaning of the text under study. In fact, it has a materialistic connotation in most of modern western philosophical texts. On the other hand, nature, for materialists, is a self-sufficient system which has embedded essentials needed for its survival and a guide to be understood, and it does not refer to any external goal or purpose. It is an essential, holistic and comprehensive system including all the objects, so it is a closed monist system. Moreover, the materialistic thought emphasizes the superiority of nature over man, as he, being an integral part of it and has no ability to exceed it, is controlled by its laws and inevitabilities. This means that the humanitarian scope which presumes that man is an independent being; having his special humanitarian laws, disappears leaving only the materialistic scope. Thus, instead of man-nature duality, a monist materialistic nature appears.
However, the characteristics of nature, we mentioned, are similar to that of the matter in a philosophical sense. Therefore, the word “matter” should replace the word “nature” or both should be used interchangeably (nature/matter) to decode the philosophical discourse adopting the idea of nature, to deeply understand it, and to realize its cognitive dimensions and ultimate reference. For example, Hitler skillfully succeeded in decoding the western philosophical discourse by saying: “We should resemble nature, as nature knows no mercy or pity”. His saying recalls anti-human materialistic western philosophies adopted by Hobbes, Darwin, Nietzsche and other thinkers and philosophers (against the pro-human western philosophies adopted by Vico, Kant, Chomsky and other thinkers and philosophers).
The difference between nature/matter and man is due to several reasons. The most important one is that the natural phenomenon is simple, as it consists of few measurable materialistic elements. While the humanitarian phenomenon is complex, as it has materialistic, psychological, hereditary and cultural elements. We can also notice that the natural phenomena is constantly happening in the same way, while the humanitarian phenomenon is not, because each human community has different aspects distinguishing it from others, and each member, in this community, usually has distinctive features compared to the others. That’s why it is inappropriate to set one social law for all time and place.
Furthermore, the change rate in the natural phenomena is almost null and it depends on a cosmic measurement. On the contrary, the change rate in the humanitarian phenomenon is much more rapid. Thus, man is a history-making being, and this history is diverse and rich; providing man with a considerable independence from the natural phenomena.
On the contrary of human characteristics, natural phenomenon has no free will, consciousness, memory, moral sense or an ability to act beyond the scope of matter laws. Natural phenomena also are not affected by the experiments carried out on them, while man, in a laboratory experiment, will act in a totally different way than his daily normal behavior. This is because man is conscious about his self and surroundings. For this reason we can adopt neutrality when studying nature and increase our knowledge about it through observation and experiment, which are inapplicable when studying the humanitarian phenomenon.
Accordingly, we can study the natural phenomenon, which can be related to its elementary natural/ materialistic elements, by adopting some simple paradigms and a set of selected materialistic laws which are applicable to all the natural phenomena in every time and place. On the other hand, it is impossible to relate man to a general law, understand all his aspects, reach a full interpretation about him and make a brief stereotyped observation about him. This is because the world of man is complex and full of mysteries, while the world of nature (and objects and matter) is a one-sided simple world compared to man’s world. Thus, we can say that the humanitarian scope differs from the natural materialistic scope and is independent from it. That’s how man-nature duality emerged.
But, materialistic philosophies equalize between man and nature, and man and objects; negating this duality. Thus, they degrade man by limiting him in one element or two, and relating him to an inferior materialistic/natural level. Accordingly, we say that the materialistic philosophy is not an anti-God (Misotheist) philosophy only but an anti-human as well.
On the other hand, there are other humanitarian philosophies which reject man’s degradation, emphasize man’s independence from the world of nature/matter and prove man-nature duality. Despite of the big difference between the two views, many historians, interested in human thoughts, confuse both of them. To set it more clearly, we need to discuss the humanitarian philosophy known as humanism which appeared in the West during the renaissance era, at the end of the fifteenth (15th) century.
Renaissance Era and Humanism:
During the western renaissance era, humanism emerged (it is different than the humanitarian vision in its general sense). The pillars of humanism are:
- The center of the world is embedded inside it. Thus, the world includes everything needed to understand it, as it is self-sufficient. In fact, man does’nt need any knowledge outside the natural system.
- Knowledge depends on human five senses and reason-based realization only.
- Morals are set by man. They are established on knowledge attained from nature through his own senses, as he knows what is the best for himself and mankind.
- Man, through his reason, can enter nature’s secret world and can control it if he reached the suitable forms.
Man, by his mental capacity, is the master of all creatures and the center of the universe. For example, Pico della Mirandola (1486), an Italian humanist philosopher, said: “We can be what we want.” In fact, this vision marginalizes God and even totally negates its existence, because it has a materialistic essence. Some historians, interested in the developments of human thoughts, believe that the humanist vision does not necessarily contradict the faith vision. Indeed, there are Christian and Jewish humanisms whose references differ from the materialistic one mentioned above. The difference of those authorities is due to the apparent contradiction among humanist thoughts. If the center of the universe is really embedded inside it, a question should be raised: which one is the real center, man or nature/matter? Two paradigms were developed to answer this question: a man-centered paradigm and a nature/matter-centered paradigm. In the beginning, we will tackle the first paradigm.
:A. Man-Centered Paradigm
Humanism places man at the center of the universe as he has a conscious, free will, creative power, boundless intellectual ability and senses which can deduce knowledge from reality. In fact, this paradigm emphasizes that man is independent from nature (there is a space separating them). Socrates said:
“Town is what I love; and town dwellers are my tutors, not rocks or trees (nature/matter)”.
In fact, his world is not neutral and value-free, as he added:
“We exist in this world to perform good deeds and stay away from evils”.
In addition, distinguishing between what is humanitarian and natural and focusing on the significance of value in man’s life are evident in the conversation of Dr. Johnson, an English writer, with Boswell, the author of his biography, in France who expressed his admiration towards nature, Dr. Johnson yelled at him:
“It is just a group of herbs whether here or there [nature is unchanged]. Instead, let us compare between this humanitarian group (in France) and whose we left (in England).”
This humanitarian centralization depends on an essential belief in value. In fact, our interest in value is the core of our existence or as stated by Dr. Johnson: “our interest in morals (the world of man) is fundamental, while our interest in geometrics (the world of objects and nature/matter) is occasional. Since morals are the core of the humanity, they are a permanent concern for man, while his interests in geometrics is connected with the natural/materialistic world which is measurable and accepts the applications of materialistic immanent paradigms. Thus, man’s interests in this field differ from one person to another, as they are not generated from his humanity but his duty. Here we notice that man is a materialistic/natural physical being subjected to the laws of motion and matter, yet, he embraces, at the same time, secrets and what is infinite, unknown and unseen. Inside him, there is an entangled connection between limited and unlimited, known and unknown, physical body and soul, inward and outward, cause and result, reason (mind) and heart, and the material world and the unseen. That’s why it is irrational to relate man to the world of nature/matter and degrade him through monist simple materialistic forms (or even monist simple spiritual forms), because he is a part of nature/matter, but he is able to exceed it. Furthermore, he is a responsible being with a free will, and a historical cultural being who lives inside both nature and history. His humanitarian essence is different from nature/matter (that’s why we call him “the humanitarian man” or the “divine man”), as he can go beyond nature. Therefore, the duality of man and nature, centers and poles, part and whole, and specific and general appears. This duality places human in the center, while nature is kept on the margin. According to this paradigm, there is only one reference for the whole universe, which is the humanitarian reference. Man, this complex being, is the greater signifier and the only transcendent signified who replaces God because he is able to go beyond his natural self and nature/matter with its imperative laws!
:B. Nature/Matter-Centered Paradigm
Beside this paradigm which places man at the center of the world; exceeding it, there is another monist materialistic paradigm which places the unconscious nature (and its different versions) at the center of the universe. In fact, it denies any humanitarian centralization. According to this vision, man is an integral part of the nature/matter and is subject to its current laws, so he is a very simple being. According to this perspective, man is not a distinctive historical and cultural phenomenon, as his space is natural and materialistic and his boundaries is that of nature/matter. This natural man is defined within natural/materialistic categories including: his biological functions (digestion- reproduction- sexual delight), his generic innate motives (the material survival- strength and weakness- desire- wealth- materialistic benefit), direct nervous stimuli (the materialistic environment- glands- nervous system). In fact, he is subjected to the laws of nature/matter like any natural phenomena, and he is attached to it with no space between them. He is also subjected to the inevitabilities of the natural/materialistic law and moves in harmony with the matter’s motion. This is the “natural man” who is the milestone of the materialistic philosophy and “human” sciences emerged from it (we call him the natural/materialistic man) 1.
In fact, this paradigm is anti-human, as it does not only neglects God but neglects human himself and focuses on nature/matter instead and relates him to it and degrade him by belonging him to what is inferior (which is the matter and its laws). It is a paradigm which emphasizes the importance of the laws of motion at the expenses of the independent humanitarian will, and the superiority of matter over thought. Thus, it denies the independence, freedom, complexity of man and his ability to transcend.
Moreover, this paradigm focuses on the possibility to understand human through the objective mathematical paradigms which, according to our perspective, deconstruct man. When relating him to what is inferior, and interpreting him within the frame of what is simple, mechanic and materialistic and what is not humanitarian, man loses his humanitarian essence which distinguishes him from nature/matter.
This deconstruction is the essence of the materialistic project or what is called the “dark enlightenment”. It sees man as a natural being driven by his internal dark savage instincts or external mechanical laws. For instance, Hobbes stated that man to man is an arrant wolf while Spinoza saw man as a rock. In addition, Darwin stated a relationship between apes and man, while Freud emphasized that ape is inside man. On the other hand, Marxists and the advocates of Adam Smith called him an economic man. When performing his experiment on “dogs“, Pavlov supposed that his conclusions can be applied to man also. Furthermore, it can be said that the modernized western project is not deconstructionist only, but fundamentalist too. In fact, it re-establishes the society by representing it as a purpose for which man fights animal and other man, as it is a war waged against all. This leads to the so-called “Darwinist modernity”.
This paradigm dominated due to the rise of the (absolute) state’s authority, the spread of political theories justifying this situation, the expansion of the commercial economic sector and the popularity of utilitarian ethics. In fact, the essence of all those theories is materialistic and mechanical, because they deprive existence from any humanitarian purpose: the state (in the political field), or the general codes (in the scientific and analytical field in general), or the profit and wealth growth (in the economic field) and the personal interest (in the ethical field).
Moreover, some historians, interested in the development of thoughts, categorized both paradigms; the man-centered and nature/matter-centered paradigms, as an expression of humanism by depending on the following reasons.
- Man-centered humanism is contemporary with anti-human humanism, focusing on nature/matter.
- Most importantly, both paradigms belong to the immanent materialistic framework, a vision stating that the world is self-explanatory. Thus, many of history books categorize both of them as part of humanistic heritage. This means that the word “humanitarian/humanistic) refers to the pro-human and anti-human thought at the same time! Yet, both of them are not one cognitive paradigm, but two different cognitive paradigms. The first paradigm puts man in the center, with free entity and fixed absolute value aiming to achieve humanitarian purposes. It also emphasizes the superiority of man over nature and his free will and ability to transcendent. While the second paradigm considers nature/matter the center, and only acknowledges the continuous materialistic motion and the rigid materialistic monism surpassing the humanitarian teleology and considering man subjected to the materialistic inevitabilities.
In addition, we believe that the history of the modern western civilization, from the beginning of its renaissance era, was not a conflict between the materialism and idealism, but a conflict between the materialistic monism and philosophies based on the man-nature/matter duality. In fact, the man-centered paradigm is based on such duality, while the nature/matter-centered paradigm is a monist paradigm; emphasizing that nature/matter is the only reference. Thus, this is the history of a conflict between those two paradigms.
In reality, the rise of secularization is mainly due to the dominance of the nature/matter-centered paradigm which relates all man aspects gradually to the materialistic law. This lead to man dismantling till his human nature is not an ultimate reference anymore. This process started with the enlightenment movement, causing a gradual expansion of the monist quantitative materialistic vision exceeding the qualitative humanitarian vision which separates between man and nature. This process, at the end, led to the dominance of nihilism and deconstruction and anti-human intellectual tendencies in the modern western civilization. These tendencies reached its peak and theoretical comprehensiveness through the thoughts of post-modernity, and post-humanism and the stage of generic liquidity.
This appears through the development of the western philosophy. During the renaissance era which witnesses the emergence of humanism, Spinoza turned the world into a solid mathematical monist structure, in which God is nature and His laws are those of nature and matter, and man is not distinctive from any other creature in the universe. This is an extremely optimistic structure, as Spinoza found that this organized mechanic movement, based on a materialistic reference of his world, will implicitly achieve well-being for mankind by merging between the humanitarian side into the materialistic world.
Then, Nietzsche discovered that the world in which God is represented as a natural law and in which matter is superior, is the world emphasizing (the theology of) the Death of God. This means that it is a totally materialistic world with no divinity or guarantee for anything; a neutral meaningless world with no value, no purpose, no cause and effect. Therefore, it only represents the will to power and the Darwinian world, in which good and evil are neglected and life is managed by the ridiculousness of gunpowder. However, Nietzsche’s world remains a tragic pessimistic world in which man feels that he is lost and insecure. Thus, the sentence of (Nietzsche’s) madman: “God is dead”, while protesting at the market, expresses his hope by wondering: “How dare human erase the horizon, dry up seas considering our world an absolute matter with no mysteries or divinity?”
Later on, Jacques Derrida, the leader of deconstructionists, appeared spreading his dark thoughts. He announced his liquid world of post-modernity which has no goal or center or purpose, no happiness or remorse, no optimism or pessimism, because everything is limited to its minor story with no ultimate reference (major story). Even the humanitarian language itself fails to achieve human-to-human communication. The failure of the language (in performing its function) leads to the total disappearance of values and standards, deconstruction of man, dominance of relativity and liquidity and decentralization.
According to Nietzsche and the post-modernity advocates, humanism, despite its level of relativity and materialism, is polluted with metaphysics. This is because humanism assumes:
- that man is in a privileged position and relates him to a universal essence.
- the self independence of man and his ability to transcend.
- the self consciousness of man and its capacity to formulate reality.
- the presence of a fixed stable subject.
- the interaction between the self and object and the existence of causality.
- And that a fixed transcendence is the core of the world.
All these require a sort of freedom from the chains of Process, which is in contradiction with the rigorous logic of the materialism. I believe that the post-modernist criticism of humanism is true, because man-nature duality within the materialistic frame is frail. In fact, if humanism places man at the center of the universe, and neglects or marginalizes God, it means that it eliminates the metaphysical world, and only the materialistic horizon remains. Thus, man-centered paradigm was, inevitably, replaced by nature/matter-centered paradigm neglecting man centralization. Yet, it can be argued that the man-centered paradigm is an illusion from the renaissance era which was eager to totally free man from any religious belief by totally denying the existence of God or considering religious belief a personal affair; apart from the materialistic world, so man can discover this world without being misguided by any sentimental or religious veil. Consequently, he becomes God who can control nature in his own favor. Nevertheless, when man indulged in the natural/materialistic world; neglecting the stars and angels, and when he starts to establish his explanatory paradigms and philosophical patterns depending only on pure materialistic laws, he, inevitably, explains man as a phenomenon which is subjected to the same materialistic, natural and quantitative laws, the only laws controlling the universe. This paved the way for the second materialistic paradigm to replace the first humanitarian one. At the end the quantitative materialistic paradigm achieved a semi-sovereignty, and became the effective one.
Despite this savage attack on man and the contradiction inside the structure of humanism, there were resisting humanist pockets, which may announce a materialistic approach but depend on man-nature/matter duality, and believe that man could not be related to the solid materialistic laws of motion, and that man’s world is not a value-free world. Thus, the advocates of this thought believe that society is not just a meaningless battlefield, but there’s a cognitive, moral and aesthetic systems that control this world and provide man with perceptual and cognitive frames to attribute meaning and goal to its existence and entity. Thus, the advocates are against liberalism, weapon production and environmental pollution. They believe in mutual humanitarian and ongoing history and that this universe is the heritage of all generations, protected, and that man exists to attain well-being and progress for all mankind. In fact, the demonstrations of such opposition are various. It could be said that humanism, in the west, by emphasizing the importance of the absolute moral values and the capacity of man to transcend his natural/materialistic reality and nature, indicates man’s attempt to get rid of nihilism and the unwise endeavor of the materialistic man to search for the sacred (which is not materialistic).
Obviously, pro-human advocates, in both east and west, use complex paradigms which consist of many intersected elements, yet, contradictory; such as political, social, economic and religious elements as well as the cultural elements and cognitive dimensions. In fact, they realize the essential difference between what is humanitarian and what is natural/materialistic. In my opinion, adopting complex paradigms is not just choosing an approach among many approaches, but it is an expression of respect towards man’s complexity and humanity and an attempt to face the materialistic (nihilistic) tendencies which try to apply deconstruction and relate man to the laws of matter and its motion.
Believing in the man-nature duality (and mutual humanity), and in a world controlled by humanitarian values, and in man as a complex being who is able to surpass the natural/materialistic system and generate the value and meaning, protect humanist systems, adopting a materialistic approach, against immanence, monism and materialistic nihilism. They state that man is separated from nature, resembling the concept of sacredness in the religious systems. According to Rorty, the genuine secularism (and genuine materialism) is the denial of any kind of sanctification even for himself. Yet, humanism believes that man could not be related to the motion of matter, so it is “polluted with metaphysics”, as said by materialists. Of course, the Islamic thought believes in the (man-nature duality, and man’s ability to transcend, common humanitarianism and the separation of man from what is natural/materialistic).
From an Islamic perspective, man-nature/matter duality is originated from the duality of the Creator (the Transcendent and Infallible) and the creature. Yet, western humanists are against this hypothesis. They believe that man can generate, depending on his reason and interaction with nature, cognitive, aesthetic and moral systems which transform him from a natural to a cultural being, and separate him from nature/matter, and provide him with a lasting independence.
However, I think that humanism faces some main dilemmas:
1-Man-nature duality, as previously mentioned, within a materialistic frame, is limited inside the scope of nature/matter only. Consequently, man will lead a materialistic life; selecting nature/matter as an ultimate reference, whether willingly or unwillingly. As a result, it is inevitable to belittle man; relating him to nature/matter by considering it the only and ultimate reference. As a result, man will be divided into his main “materialistic” elements. This proves that man-nature duality, within a materialistic frame, is a weak argument with no philosophical basis, but a sentimental one. It is a choice which, philosophically, has nothing to do with the materialistic paradigm forming the referential frame.
2-Since man, for the western humanism, is independent from the natural/materialistic system, he is considered to be also self-sufficient and the ultimate reference; generating his own standards till transforming gradually to be the metaphysical alternative of God depicted in the monotheist structures. Through man’s deification, man will be an imperialist influenced by Nietzsche’s and Darwin’s thoughts.
History showed that humanism, within a materialistic approach, does not show a deep belief in mutual humanity. It is devoted to the white man’s humanity and his pivotal role in the universe. Instead of mutual humanity, western imperialist humanity has appeared controling the world in favor of the western man, who has committed genocides and enslaved millions of people and invade their lands. Instead of achieving a humanitarian modernity depending on the concept of mutual humanity, a Darwinian materialistic modernity has prevailed with its savagery, selfishness, rudeness and brutality.
After facing invasions and attacks by the western countries, Muslim world has tried to reform itself by adopting the western modernist system, with its pros and cons! Some Marxist and Islamic thinkers tried to insert some values, such as social justice and equality, in the free-value modernist structure. Those thinkers, at that time, were right because the western modernist structure had not yet faced the stage of crisis and its negative effects had not been seen yet.This structure also proved its military efficiency and organizational potential. However, many Islamic thinkers discovered that the western modernist structure, within its value-free materialistic frame, inevitably, generates the maximum level of conflict and leads to Darwinism and Imperialism. Therefore, many serious and constructive thoughts emerged to formulate a new version of modernity, like in the Islamic world where we found intellectual schools trying to establish humanitarian and natural sciences which are not value-free; apart from man. Yet, they depend on the Islamic values which distinguish between what is humanitarian and what is natural/materialistic. In my opinion, this is the project of generating a human Islamic knowledge or “The Islamization of Knowledge”.
We have mentioned before that this duality is the starting point of the western humanist cognitive paradigm. Thus, there is a common area between the humanist cognitive paradigm and the Islamic cognitive one. I intend, by referring to their points of agreement, to emphasize the idea of mutual humanity. More importantly, I intend to confirm that the project of the Islamization of Knowledge is not unique or singular, as claimed, but a part of a global tendency which realizes the narrow-minded materialistic hypotheses generated from the Darwinist western modernity, guiding us to a dead-end road. In fact, this road leads to an environmental and moral crisis till reaching an endless conflict: everyone is in a state of war against everyone, and man to man is an arrant wolf, as Hobes and other secular materialistic thinkers predicted. That’s why there is an ongoing search for a humanitarian modernity which refuses persistent material progress, growing consumption rates and regarding power as the only way to settle a conflict. Thus, this humanitarian modernity refuses the Darwinist materialistic modernity which denies the mutual humanity as an ultimate authority and believes that the world is just a tool used by the strongest for his own interest. Instead, the humanitarian modernity proposes the idea of (achieving) a balance between the self, and nature and the concept of mutual humanity as an ultimate reference. It can be said that many of the western revolts are generated from the idea of humanitarian modernity which, in turn, depends on mutual humanity. Revolts against the Darwinist modernity started with the beginning of the modernity project.
Some may argue that western thinkers, opposing the Darwinist modernity and trying to develop a humanitarian modernity, are seculars, yet, atheists. This is explicitly true, but we should not depend only on what those thinkers say about themselves. We should thoroughly study their writings and we will discover that their effective paradigm is not merely materialistic, but it consists of many non-materialistic elements (although their refusal to admit this). So their vision is not materialistic.That’s why I believe that the project of the Islamization of Knowledge should start with the humanization of knowledge; by regaining the materialistic/spiritual element, which could not be related to the materialistic world and which is studied through special approaches and complex paradigms full of materialistic and non-materialistic elements. In my opinion, the category, regarding human as a spiritual/ materialistic being and as a non-natural and non-materialistic phenomenon, refers to the metaphysical power; Allah Almighty.
Furthermore, it is necessary to discover this duality which separates the humanitarian existence from the world of nature/matter, through the writings of some thinkers who realize the essential difference between the humanitarian phenomenon and natural/materialistic phenomena. It is also necessary to study the influence of this duality on their works, whether by emphasizing (the significance of) mutual humanity or by refusing some phenomena accompanying the western modernity such as alienation, reification, commodification and one-dimensional being. Such study will help us find the point of agreement between secular and Muslim humanists, to be able to channel our efforts into combating the Darwinist modernity which will cause a mass destruction and vanish all, even its advocates and beneficial parties. In fact, it does not threaten us only but the humanitarian phenomenon itself.
Now, we will tackle two main notions in the western civilization; the social Darwinism and nihilism, and then two western philosophers representing these notions, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.
Darwinism, a term attributed to Charles Darwin (1731-1820), is also known as “social Darwinism”. It is a philosophy adopting comprehensive secularism, monism, rationalism, materialism. It denies any non-materialistic reference, marginalizes the Creator from the cognitive and moral system, and relates the whole world to one materialistic principle; within the scope of the organic and mechanical image of the universe. In fact, the major mechanism of motion, according to the Darwinism, is progress and the infinite conflict. Social Darwinism became famous at the end of the nineteenth (19th) century when modernism faced problems in the Eastern Europe, and with the attempt of the Yiddish Jews to adopt the Zionist solution for the Jewish dilemma, and the expansion of the western imperialism across the globe. We can say that Darwinism is the cognitive model influencing most, probably all, of the philosophies of comprehensive secularism.
Social Darwinists believe that the same laws are valid for both the world of nature and jungle and the social and historical humanitarian phenomena. They argue that Charles Darwin described these laws, throughout his two grand books about the origin of species, by emphasizing the idea of natural selection and the survival of the fittest. In fact, Darwin saw that the whole universe is a continuous chain in a state of a bottom-to-top motion, and that human is just one of its circles; the highest but not the least. He also believed that the evolution of any living biological species relies on the struggle for survival in which the fittest is the winner. In fact, Darwin’s world is constant and fixed with no gaps or spaces, as each circle leads to the next one. Similarly, the world of Spinoza and Newton shows that each wheel moves the wheel next to it (thus, Darwin is known as the Newton of the biological sciences). Accordingly, larva is transformed into an ape and the ape is transformed into a human being through a mechanical method (quite like the movement of the bodies under the effect of gravity, and like the transformation of the simple ideas into complex ideas through a mechanical method, according to John Locke’s system).
This is Darwin’s conception or hypothesis. Nevertheless, he, actually, failed to scientifically prove many of his hypotheses. Thus, the missing circle between the ape and human leads to the concept of “mutation” in order to fill this gap with no materialistic and scientific supporting evidence. However, social Darwinists regarded Darwin’s hypothesis as a scientific theory and transferred this theory from nature to human. In fact, they proved that the relationships among living organisms in nature does not differ from that among individuals inside the humanitarian societies and even that among societies and countries. Accordingly, the Darwin’s model was not just used to interpret nature/matter but to interpret individual’s life domestically and the relationships among countries and societies internationally.
In addition, social Darwinism was assigned to justify the unjust stratification inside the same society, the absolute secular state, and the international western imperialist project. In fact, the poor among western societies and Asian and African people (and the vulnerable, in general) prove their capability to survive is not high, so they deserve extinction or, at least, inferiority; by surrendering to the strongest and the fittest, the wealthy and the European people.
Those main theses emerged from social Darwinism could be summarized as follows:
- All organic species appear, through a long-term evolution which is a comprehensive inevitable process includes all living organisms (and human as well) and all societies through all the historical stages.
- The whole world is in a state of a continuous evolution. This evolution follows a constant pattern, it can, sometimes, be slow and unnoticeable, in other times, it takes the form of a sudden mutation.
- The process of evolution occurs through a continuous inevitable bloody collective struggle among living organisms and species.
- The reason causing the modification of species is the natural selection which affects the organic living organisms in many different ways.
- The species, which beat others and achieve their survival, prove their superiority over the other loser species.
- Species achieve survival whether through (pragmatic) adaptation to the real world, by harmonizing with its forms and surrendering to its laws, or through power and the Nietzsche’s will. Accordingly, the survival is for the fittest and the strongest, the one who can adapt or impose his will. Among the adaptation forms is the transformation from the (simple) homogeneity to the (complex) inhomogeneity.
- Mechanisms of survival have nothing to do with any absolute transcendent values such as honesty, moral or beauty. Survival is considered to be the pivotal value in Darwin’s system which goes beyond good, evil, sorrow or joy.
- The survivor bequeaths its distinctive traits (the secret of his survival) to the members of its species. In another word, success becomes a hereditary element.
- This means the impossibility of an initial equality among species or among mankind.
- By the growth of the evolution rates, some living organisms become more complex than others due to its biological structure. Thus, the cultural difference is due to an inevitable biological difference.
There is also no other philosophy which succeed to crystalize the secular vision of the universe more than the Darwinian:
- The Darwinian philosophy established the ideas of materialistic monism stating that the world is just one matter which is the origin of everything; a matter which is free from purpose, goal or any transcendent absolutes. The world is nature and nature is neutral; unaware of good or evil or ugliness or beauty. Universe has no gaps, because the materialistic logic is comprehensive and deterministic. There is no dualities in the universe, as everything belongs to the matter and everything is interpreted in the light of the materialistic evolution. Nevertheless, there are rigid social dualities such as the powerful/weak, masters/slaves, and survivors/victims.
- Human is just a part of this nature and this matter, and he is originated from both through the process of evolution. There is just one natural law which is applicable to man and objects altogether. In fact, humanitarian existence is achieved through struggle, power and adaptation; mechanisms leading to the existence of all other living organisms. This existence is temporal, similarly like its status at the top of the evolutionary ladder, as it definitely will lose such status due to the process of evolution which had placed him at the top. Yet, we can say that amoeba, from a firm evolutionary perspective, is more distinctive than human because it had survived in the environment for a longer period compared to human. In fact, human, like amoeba, has no free will and does not bear any moral burdens, because moral laws are evolved from animals’ behavior which has an instinctive care for biological survival. This means that the moral law and all other laws are relative, temporal and are linked to their stage of evolution. This also means that the absolute morals, especially the religious one calling for the protection of the weakest and the vulnerable, hinder the materialistic rational progress. This indicates that all matters are definitively relative, and there is no absolutes. Hence, it can be said that the Darwinian theory is the scientific pillar of relativity. And if evolution is, sometimes, coincidental and occasional, it can be argued that Darwinian theory is also the pillar of absurdism.
- If this is true, the best way to interpret human’s behavior and existence is only through the materialistic paradigms which lead us to the inevitability of the “unity of science”. If the phenomenon has a history, it is a materialistic history which can be studied through studying the structure of the materialistic phenomenon. For example, Darwin, himself, interpreted the biological phenomena through studying its biological history. According to one of the researchers, this means that there is no difference between a group of youth who kidnapped a girl, raped and killed her and a pack of wolves devouring an antelope. Both are guided by a strong materialistic natural innate instinct. Perhaps, the only secondary difference is that this group of youth attacked a member of their own species, and this hinders the process of survival (this is the only accepted logical reason in the materialistic rational Darwinism).
- Although materialistic monism, the basis of Darwinism, rejects the idea stating that any transcendent point is a source of motion, and denies the existence of a Divine Plan regulating this universe, it assumes the presence of a natural teleology such as evolution, by considering it a bottom-to-top motion and a transformation from a simple homogeneity to a complex it is an absolute imperative motion, like the inevitable progress which is assumed by most of the secular ideologies. Teleology, according to Darwin, is not transcendent, it is an embedded purpose in the nature itself, going from the simple to the complex, and can be called the “will for life” or “power”. It may be also a form of awareness which appears coincidently through a chemical process making the matter more complex. But how high evolution is reached, there is no transcendence. This is because all things (including human) has a materialistic origin. Similarly, we can apply this to the theory of morality, as survival is the only value, struggle is the mechanism, and selfishness and egoism are the source of motion. Accordingly, the world is considered to be a battlefield between human wolves (man to man is an arrant wolf) and between nations which killing each other is the only way for them to survive. It is a war broke out by everyone against everyone. This means that there is no any absolute value, as what determines value is the potential for struggle and survival.
Therefore, Darwin’s system was explicitly manifested in the imperialistic secular cognitive vision by denying the value in general or any transcendent authority, by emphasizing the necessity of competition, struggle, and by insisting on the freedom of market and its mechanisms, and the rejection of state’s interference so that the weak perish and the strong survive. In fact, imperialism is an internationalization of Darwin’s vision; by designing the whole world as a marketplace and a venue for the superior white man who legalizes killing the other to guarantee his survival and show off his power. Furthermore, Darwinism participated in scientifically supporting the western ethnic theories and experiments carried out to enhance genealogy and the merciful killing.
In addition, evolution theory (originated from Darwinism) dominated the social sciences, as believing in progress and the inevitability of history are forms of evolutionism. There are many historical and social theories which are considered to be an application of the principle of evolution; transformation from the simple homogeneity to the complex inhomogeneity. For example, Herbert Spencer, Émile Durkheim and Karl Marx regarded history as an evolution from a military society to an industrial society, from a mechanical solidarity to an organic solidarity and from a primitive communism to a complex communism (through specific circles: slavery, then feudal, capitalist and socialist system) respectively. For Auguste Comte, evolution is the transformation of the society from a magic-driven society to a religion-driven society till reaching the modern science-driven society. In fact, the western ethnic thought is evolutionary, as it places the white man at the top of the evolution circles, consequently, he has special rights.
Nazi ideology adopted western ethnic thought and the idea of the unity of science. In the field of medical regulations Nazi benefited from the laws of evolution by killing all the disabled, mentally retarded, and other races and improving genealogy through controlling marriages and managing fertilization processes to produce “Aryan” healthy children.
Zionist ideology, similar to the Nazi, reflects the Darwinist vision. Zionists invaded Palestine under the pretext of their absolute Jewish rights which are superior over others’ rights. In addition, they came to Palestine as representatives of the European civilization; bearing the white man’s burden. Due to their military strength, they have a high survival potential. In another word, they came from the West, armed with a Darwinist secular heavy ideological and military artillery, to settle the ground through the thoughts of Darwin and Nietzsche. Consequently, they slaughtered the Palestinians, destroyed their villages and conquered their lands under the pretext that all these actions are actually legal, from a secular Darwinian perspective, yet obligatory. Perhaps, the Nietzsche’s influence on many of the Zionist thinkers is symbolic in this regard
Nihilism is derived from the Latin word “nihil” which means “nothing”. This term was coined in Russia during the second half of the nineteenth (19th) century. Nevertheless, this tendency is very old; in fact, all pagan doctrines contain an inclination for nihilism that explicitly appears through their final phases. This was noticed in both Roman civilization and pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula. Nihilism reached its peak during the Hellenic age. Ontologically, the materialistic philosophy is deconstructionist; dehumanizing and belittling human by belonging him to what is materialistic. Such dehumanization falls till reaching “nihil” which means “nothing”. Epistemologically, nihilism is the inaccessibility of reaching any objective knowledge about reality and the absence of any basis for the idea of truth. Accordingly, it is impossible to know anything and what we know is meaningless, as it is just scattered senses and all human knowledge is relative. Even if we reached a meaningful knowledge, communication among human beings is impossible. This refers to the denial of moral, religious, political and social values and the possibility of rationally proving them. All these lead to the denial of all dualities: the real/unreal, right/wrong, existence/non-existence and good/evil. Accordingly, illusion and reality, wrong and right, good and evil are equal. In addition, existence is equal to non-existence, as the whole world is meaningless; it is nothing. If this is true, every individual becomes self-sufficient and a deified version who imposes his standards for interpretation and judgment.
Yet, he, at the same time, feels that he is weak because the world is still meaningless despite of all his attempts to impose a meaning through his willpower. That’s why nihilists deeply believe in absolute freedom due to their separation from any humanitarian standards and any objective reality. Instead, they deeply feel desperate due to (their belief in) the futility of human existence, its meaningless and the impossibility of human communication. The modern age, witnessing the dominant of materialistic rationalism, is the most ages which is affected by nihilism. In fact, materialistic rationalism, with its deconstructive approach, leads to the emergence of the nihilist materialistic irrationalism.
Throughout the preface of his book entitled The Will to Power, Nietzsche defined nihilism as the belief that life is meaningless in the light of the highest values recently discovered, it also means that we have no right to assume the presence of transcendent or sacred objects.
We can understand the secret behind the spread of nihilism in our modern age by studying some types of nihilism:
- An (optimistic) revolutionary nihilism which is the nihilism of the materialistic rationalists who believe in the absolute reason, and the “materialistic inevitabilities” replacing God, and who believe that everything will be fine without human’s interference. Due to the belief that the meaning will appear by itself and it is simultaneous this nihilism depends on the denial of the possibility of transcendence and the firm materialistic monism. Yet, it has a certain form of mechanical teleology. The principal idea behind their thought is that society was established on lies, because all the moral, religious and humanitarian beliefs aim to hide the truth and oppress human. So, it is necessary to dismantle all beliefs and values in order to see the reality of the world. Despite of this dark vision, those nihilists belittle customs and authority, deeply believe in the (materialistic) reason, follow a mere materialistic philosophy and adopt a chaotic radical tendency. For example, Pisarev, the leader of the Russian nihilism, summarized the philosophy of the revolutionary nihilism saying: “This is a red alert for our camp. What can be destroyed must be destroyed, and what endures the attacks is a fit, while what is scattered is a nit. Whatever the matter is, let’s attack from all sides, it is a process which did not (and will never) cause any harm.” This means that the chaotic nihilist is an absolute self which revolves in the frame of the luminous enlightenment and it gives itself the right to relentlessly destroy the cultural, social and humanitarian structures. The absolute subject (the new society) appears spontaneously (a self-focus which leads to a focus on the subject). In addition, Bazarov explained this vision through Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons which is among the most significant literary works tackling the issues of nihilism.
- The most popular one is the pessimistic nihilism which results from losing religious belief, self-confidence. Consequently, it is impossible for any absolute to replace God. Such nihilism depends on the denial of the possibility of the transcendence and depends on a firm materialistic monism free from elements such as the belief in mechanical teleology. This leads to a moral and cognitive relativism and a belief that moral values are arbitrary, as they do not depend on any truth or reality, and also leads to an absence in distinguishing between the permissible and impermissible, the allowable and unallowable (as pessimistic nihilism is the outcome of the dark enlightenment). In this regard, Ivan Karamazov in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, stated: “If God does not exist, everything is allowed”. Kirillov (through the same novel) said also that if God does not exist, the most thing which has meaning in human’s life will be the individual freedom (the will to power), yet its most accurate manifestation is suicide. Moreover, Nietzsche, the forerunner of pessimistic nihilism deeply realized that (by assuming) the death of God (and the disappearance of metaphysics) the religious interpretation of the world will vanish and no other interpretation will replace it. (He also believed that) there is no absolutes or dualities. Nietzsche said: “If God exist, who am I, then?” This means that he demanded human deification. Yet, when human becomes a deity, and superman appears, the world, actually, will become meaningless and be subjected to the laws of coincidence, where there is no will but the will to power (for the powerful only) which imposes the random meaning. That’s how the world will be meaningless. The modernist literature, especially the theatre of absurdism, depicted this kind of pessimistic nihilism.
- Nihilism can take a less violent form when it becomes just a psychological or mental status which controls human. Such Nihilism is manifested through drugs addiction, deviation, youth thug life, terror or violence movies addiction, and the appearance of Hippies who adopts the philosophy of absurdism and satirizes system and rules. For example, Ali Izetbegović said: “1968’s revolution of youth was not a political revolution with clear goals. Yet, it was a disordered revolution which in most time took the form of a Catharsis”. Although it was called a “reasonless revolution”, it was a nihilist revolution; against consumption morals which is similar to intoxicants in making human lose their humanitarian awareness, and devote themselves to hard work to purchase unnecessary goods. Arthur Miller summarized the essence of this nihilist revolution by saying: “The dilemma of the youth’s deviation does not appear only in big countries but in villages as well. It is not the dilemma of capitalism only but the dilemma of socialism as well. It does not occur only due to poverty but in case of richness also. It is not a problem of racism, migration or even native Americans. I think that the dilemma, currently, is resulted from technology which destroyed the value of human himself… The soul has vanished, may be due to the brutality of the two world wars…or due to the technical process as everyone is keen to be a client or an employee or a poor man dealing with a wealthy man. In brief, they have no way-out, so they surrender and are no longer valuable.
We believe that the post-modernity is an expression of the nihilist relativism that neglects optimism, pessimism, and the focus on the self and the subject. It is a movement which denies the existence of the self, subject, truth and reality. It believes that if there is a reality, it is limited to those who reached it and has no eligibility outside this scope. However, the modernist nihilism differs from post-modernist nihilism. The first expresses a revolt against nihilism despite knowing its inevitability. On the other hand, post-modernist nihilism is pragmatic which accepts the norm of meaningless and works within its frame. Post-modernity tries to solve the dilemma of nihilism resulted from thinking about the Divine origins of human which leads to a distinctive duality in the world of human that has no equivalent in the world of nature. That’s how post-modernity tries to totally harmonize between the two worlds, human and nature, to solve this duality, and then the duality of existence and non-existence and meaning and meaningless. Here occurs the shift from Nietzsche and Dostoevsky to Derrida and Maderna.
Some argue that the structure of civilization and modernity itself (rationalization and standardization – the increase in the dominance of bureaucracy on all aspects of life – rapid pace of life which was described by Weber as the “Iron Cage“) increases the feelings of vulnerability, because the reality is meaningless and “he is living in a world not of his own creation and progress leads to the loss of freedom and to deviation, because the increase of goods leads to commodification. So, human disappears and is replaced first by a public citizen then a bureaucrat and finally an abstract number. The outcomes of this tendency is not deification (optimistic nihilism) or suicide (pessimistic nihilism), but indifference and total perplexity and a deep feeling of confusion between the dream of authority and deification and the reality of losing the control and crushing down. Perhaps, the difference between the characters of Turgenev and Dostoevsky and Kafka depicts the difference between optimistic nihilism, pessimistic nihilism and bureaucratic nihilism.
On the other hand, Ali Izetbegović believed that the destructive pessimistic philosophies and visions appear in the developed wealthy regions (Heinzek Ibsen, Martin Heidegger, Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett, Eugene O’Neill, Ingmar Bergman, Antonioni). This is a worth recording phenomenon! Although the western civilization is a civilization of ongoing triumphs in the world of matter, the modern western literature is a nihilist pessimistic literature depicting the humanitarian loss, intellectual and moral misery, violence, savagery, and self-hollowness.
Ali Izetbegović explained this by saying that science deals only with the materialistic world and depends on materialistic paradigms. Therefore, it provides us with a solid data about the abundance of commodities, the production rates, energy and manpower. On the other hand, literature and philosophy depend on complex humanitarian paradigms and reach the secrets of human self. Therefore, both of them found defeat instead of the materialistic light. In addition, Ali Izetbegović believed that nihilism is an expression of human’s resistance against one-sided civilization, and of his rejection of the modern materialistic world because it is a world which is going in a direction different than the one he intended, as it is apart from teleology. It is an expression of his anxiety and dissatisfaction. In fact, anxiety, with all its levels (except its result), is a religious manner. Nihilism and religion consider human as a stranger in this world. For nihilism, he is a lost and desperate stranger, yet religion finds hope in salvation. Thus, nihilism does not deny divinity, but it is a revolt against its absence, against human’s absence and the fact that human (the Divine- genuine human) is impossible or unachievable, as what the modern materialistic civilization achieves is non-humanitarian.
“Nihilism and religion represent a denial of materialism and an attempt to see what is beyond graves (matter). Both of them also represent a dedicated research for a path outside this world where human becomes a stranger. These are the common ideas between them, as nihilistic research is a search for God which ends with failure, yet it is called a religious research because it rejects the monist materialistic vision. Nihilism is a form of disappointment in “finding a meaning in this world, as everything is trivial and null if human is eternally mortal and if human is just a matter and a heritage”.
Nevertheless, the difference between nihilism and religion is that nihilism fails to reach a way towards salvation and depends only on the childish protest of destroying the self and the subject, while religion finds the Way. Thus, nihilism is a desperate atheism. In conclusion, Izetbegović referred to the importance of rethinking the wrong (materialistic) idea about human. If the materialistic scientific civilization could not solve the dilemma of human happiness and the meaning of life, so its idea about human (and his origin) must be wrong. This means that the belief stating the Divine origin of human is the only alternative for nihilism.
Translated by: Rehab Jamal Bakri***
* A Research prepared by A. Prof. Dr.Abdel Wahab El-Messiri to be presented to the conference: “الفلسفة في الفكر الإسلامي: قراءة منهجية ومعرفية” (Philosophy in Islamic Thought: A Methodological and Cognitive Reflection) organized by the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Amman/Jordan in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture in Jordan and the University of Jordan, on October 29-30, 2008. Yet, Dr. El-Messiri, may Allah shower him with His Mercy, passed away -before the conference.
The research is published in the Journal of Al-Muslim Al-Muassir (The Contemporary Muslim), V. 151, 2014, pp. 173-287.
مجلة المسلم المعاصر. ع. 151، 2014. ص ص 173- 28.
** Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Faculty of Girls, Ain Shams University.
Dr. El-Messiri has worked a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Ain Shams University and several Arab and Islamic universities. To learn more about the author, please visit the website: www.elmessiri.com.
+ A note by the Translator: man and human, here, are used interchangeably.
1 We can add another vision which considers human as only a spiritual being. Although this spiritual vision differs from the materialistic one, both of them has something in common; their limited scope and one-sided insight. Both of them relates human to one element (whether it is spiritual or materialistic). Whereas there is a materialistic monism, there is also a spiritual monism. Yet, we intend, throughout this study, to focus on the natural/ materialistic vision because it is more interesting and common in the modern age).
.Egyptian Researcher and Translator ***