Friday, February 23, 2007

Notes on Habermas and Fundamentalism

These are some notes (with occasional comments) I took while reading "The Divided West." Eventually I will like to write a short paper on the theme. Comments or any suggestions welcome.

Difference between Orthodoxy and fundamentalism

•Orthodoxy becomes fundamentalism when: a) it ignores the epistemic conditions of a pluralistic society. b) It claims universal validity for its doctrine at the point of violence c) and it tries to impose its political ambitions on others (even at the point of having to recourse to violence).

•What are the epistemic conditions of a pluralistic society? Myth of pluralism?

•Habermas also evokes “the fact of complexity.” Habermas uses this principle in various contexts without really justifying it.

•Exclusive claim to truth: something shared by fundamentalist and orthodox believers (but see the related note above).

Origins of the idea of “tolerance.”

•Realisation of the existence of other religions.

• The scientific revolution weakened religious claims and their viability. Religions became less confident.

•According to Habermas in Europe the above two lead to the emergence of the idea and practice of “tolerance,” and separation of Church and State.

•Does Habermas really believe that people in medieval ages didn’t really know about “other” religions and denominations? Related question, does he really believe that medieval societies were monolithic societies?

•What does scientific revolution entails? Does it really weaken religious claims?

The Example of Iran

•Iran, according to Habermas, refuses to accept the separation of State and Church and hence can be legitimately dubbed as a fundamentalist regime.

• The Islamic movements that want to re-establish theocracy are also termed as fundamentalist, because they want to impose their political ideals on others.

•Habermas calls such fundamentalism, “obdurate fanaticism.” (The Divided West, p. 11).


•Habermas ventures few remarks as to the causes of fundamentalism.

•Repression of Cognitive dissonances. Fundamentalist do not take into account (repress) the fact of pluralism and scientific revolution.

•The medieval religious views were based on epistemological innocence. [Were they?].

•The reasons for the lost of this epistemological innocence are two: a) Cognitive conditions of Scientific Knowledge. b) Conditions of religious pluralism, what Rawls calls “the fact of pluralism.”

Habermas’ position

•Strict universalism, which Habermas construes as “equal respect” for all, be they Hindus, or Muslims or Christians. Equal respect in this context presumably means equal moral worth.

•What does strict universalism means? All inclsivity – non one is excluded based on their faith or other particularistic traits. [But a believer is?].

•What is “strict” about this universalism? And what is universal about this universalism?

Possible Critique

• “Religion” what does it mean? Habermas uses the term “religion” in generic and undifferentiated sense.

•Myth of pluralism.

•Habermas’ genealogy of the emergence of toleration is a Rawlsian one and does not take into account alternative readings of history (for example this one).

•What are the epistemic conditions of science and what do they entail?

•Do the so called Muslim fundamentalists want to impose Islam on others?

• Separation of Church and State. Ignores the fact that the separation was in a sense already present in the early Christianity but not in the early Islam.

•“Tolerance” what is it? How much we tolerate?


Dr. Spinoza said...

I wonder if the distinction between orthodoxy and fundamentalism can be sharpened up a bit by appealing to some notion of "modernity."

It strikes me that traditionalists shun modernity entirely (e.g. the Pennsylvania Amish), whereas fundamentalists have an equivocal relation to modernity: they want to endorse rationalization of instrumental action (science, technology) without rationalization of communicative action.

This one-sided or incomplete rationalization that makes fundamentalism look like Nazism, and it one of the reasons why fundamentalism is so dangerous.

Anonymous said...

On tolerance, I read something interesting in a review here on AJ Conyers' "The Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe for Power and Profit"

[T]he very character of modernity has accorded tolerance the status of a secular virtue. It is a virtue inasmuch as it strengthens a certain predisposition toward life together. It is secular in that the predisposition it strengthens is one of postponing or diverting the quest for meaning that is an essential component of social cohesion and the forming of groups or associations. Religion, of course, is what we call that quest, along with the practices and habits of the heart it engenders, The religious impulse is strong enough to bind people together, and also strong enough to set them at deadly odds with one another.

Toleration, as we modern people have defined it, is the decision to replace that quest with another one both practical and material in nature. Thus, it actually lessens the binding authority of community life, an authority that makes subtle appeal to manners, traditions, group sanctions, and respect for elders. At the same time, the ersatz virtue increases the need for organization, authority exerted from outside the group, formal laws, as well as emphasizing the protection of abstract "rights" that are divorced from what the living community calls the "good".

We are arrived then at the paradoxical point where the advocates of tolerance, despite aiming for a reduction of sectarianism and an increase in freedom, have instead delivered a completely atomized social system wherein every man is his own sect and each is totally dependent on the State. It's so perverse, it would be amusing were the condition of society and freedom not so dire today.

This brings us to Mr. Conyers conclusion, in which he proposes not that we discard toleration altogether, but that we abandon the modern doctrine of toleration, which has served only power, and return to the more traditional practice of toleration, which serves the pursuit of knowledge:

What I am distinguishing as the practice of toleration, over against the doctrine that emerges from development of democratic liberalism, is the logical result of a recognition that our imperfections oblige us to listen to the insights of others. We are utterly dependent upon the gifts of society and tradition--even traditions other than our own. It is toleration that recognizes not the implied self-sufficiency of the individual or of various idiosyncratic groups in a supposed pluralistic world but the insufficiency of these limits and the ultimate need for a catholic vision. Even as the doctrine of toleration promotes isolation, the practice of toleration gently nudges us into community. Therefore, authentic toleration serves, and does not hinder, the forming and functional life of groups within society. It does not hinder in that it does not discourage the quest for ultimate meaning that is the inner light and life of any social group of any lasting importance.

Ali Rizvi said...

I think that the following might be of use too:

I am though, not really interested in what fundamentalism is, but rather in Habermas' views about fundamentalism (among other things) and how they can be problematized.

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