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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 39-42 September 17 - October 8, 2022 - Bumper issue

What is the Civilization State? | Muzban Jal

Friday 16 September 2022

by Muzban Jal

In the last few years there have been voices heard that murmur of what is called the “civilization state”. From philosophers, defense experts, and vice chancellors posing as public intellectuals, paeans are being sung to this theme. But what this exactly is, we are not told.

While very loosely what is meant by the civilization state is rooting politics in general—including the Constitutions of nations—on civilizational “essences”, what is left out from imagination is that this idea is a very contemporary one, albeit not a modern or modernist idea. While philosophers, defense experts, and vice chancellors posing as public intellectuals, especially in India, are tom-tomming of what they find is their most brilliant invention which they imagine is found in their ancient books of eternal or not so-eternal wisdom, and when liberal democratic newspapers like The Indian Express carry articles on these pearls of extremely ancient wisdom, what they hide is much more than what they reveal. They claim that they are extremely original, but even stale copies of originals would seem to be fresher. Let us go into the bakeries of these imagined civilization states where our most beloved philosophers, defense experts and vice chancellors posing as public intellectuals are baking their not so fresh bread for all us—the “uncivilized people”—to greedily consume.

 What must be noted is that while Russian nationalists may go to Ivan the Terrible to find their ideal civilization state and while the Zionists would go right back to the times when their good Monsieur God created the world in six days, our philosophers, defense experts and vice chancellors posing as public intellectuals go even backwards well before Ivan the Terrible and Monsieur God roamed over our must uncivilized planet. While differing with Ivan and our good Monsieur, we must state that it was not in the days of Ivan and company that this civilization state emerged, but it was in the 1990s with the fall of the Soviet Union when this idea germinated in the contemporary sense of the term in terms of a revolt against the geo-political ideals of the USA and West Europe, if not a revolt against this imagined “West” altogether. One of the reasons of this revolt is the way the ideals of the West have taken messianic form, as best exemplified by Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis along with the thesis of the absolute triumph of the West over all other non-western systems. What must be noted is the time when this idea germinates has also been the time when the policies of globalization along with the entire gamut of the alleged “free market” system built on monetarist neoliberal economics expounded by Milton Friedman that heralds in the end of welfare economics were hailed by the elites of not only the western world, but hailed by elites all over the world. However this revolt against the West was at best akin to the revolt of Don Quixote against the windmills that he saw as terrible monsters fit only to be attacked and then destroyed.

The birth of the idea of the civilization state is seen in this perspective, though critiques of the modern West did emerge in 19th czarist Russia with the Slavophile reaction, best exemplified in the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky, not to forget Gandhi’s (and Ayatollah Khomeini’s) trenchant critic of this imagined “western civilization” which for them (Gandhi and the Ayatollah) was “satanic civilization”. It must be noted that it was really Ayatollah Khomeini and his messianic followers who seriously took this (Gandhian) idea of Satan ruling the West very seriously. At least it must be said that the followers of Ayatollah Khomeini are more honest and consistent than the followers of Gandhi. For it is the Iranian theological-political elite who regular show public wrath demonstrating in public how the West (especially the USA) is Satan while the Gandhians and their liberal democratic friends are busy wining and dining with the Great Satan himself.

However while condemning the Yanks as satanic who not only write satanic verses, but who indulge in these satanic practices, the Iranians practice this same type of Satanism that they so terribly hate. Their crypto-imperialist intervention in West Asia, their totalitarian rule and the suppression of all democratic forces, after all, cannot be attributed to the wisdom of Monsieur God with whom the mullahs have direct contact. Dostoevsky in this sense is both more original and mainly more honest than the Gandhians and the Iranian mullahs. For Dostoevsky and following him the romantic tradition, the West which had replaced “need” with “greed” was hurling to its doom and in this process was hurling the entire world into doom. For the Iranian mullahs there is no difference between need and greed.

With the climate crisis taking almost apocalyptic proportions, the stockpiling of nuclear weapons, the countless wars that the West unleashed after 1945, almost all of them in the name of “humanitarian wars”, not to forget the COVID-19 pandemic, the critique of western civilization must be taken seriously. After all, did not this modern western civilization build its grandeur on the wealth that they looted from Asia, Africa and Latin America? Did they not transform civilizations like India into agrarian colonies, destroying their economies and cultures? But this critique has to have material and historical grounds. Merely seeing a windmill and claiming that it is satanic would seem extremely foolish.

India thus which has emerged from the chaos created by colonialism has a right to attempt alternatives which are critical of the ideals of the modern West. The first thing that must be noted is that this type of the critique of western hegemony would primarily have the critique of the nation state. One remembers Tagore here along with Gandhi in their critiques of the nation state, just as one remembers the works of Ashis Nandy in this respect. One most certainly has to critique Eurocentric systems which somehow strangely believe that only Europe and America generate knowledge and the whole world in order to be “developed” has necessarily to follow this Anglo-American model.

Keeping this in mind, one must now look into the flipside to the above narrative. This claims that the very essence of the civilization state is authoritarian and anti-democratic. After all, those who both propound and follow this idea are the Communist Party of China (CPC), Putin and his right-wing orthodox Christian followers, Trump and his right-wing not so orthodox Christian followers, Turkey and the political Islamists. Here we ask our philosophers, defense experts and vice chancellors posing as public intellectuals who want to build a civilization state in India, where does their extremely civilized civilization state fit in? Would they go marching in with the CPC into Taiwan or with Putin into Ukraine? Or would they like Trump attack the Parliament just as the most loyal followers of Trump attacked the Capitol or like Erdogan bomb the Kurds into nothingness?

The civilization state is necessarily anti-humanist and anti-modernist. And with China practicing its version of the civilization state in Taiwan after its dress rehearsals in Tibet and Hong Kong and with Putin realizing the real meaning of the civilization state in Ukraine where the independence and autonomy of Ukraine is denied for the idea of the “spiritual brotherhood” between Russians and Ukrainians, one recalls what the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levi called this state as “Eurasian morbidity” by creating a totalitarian state in the name of “civilization”.

To understand the fine nuances of the idea of the civilization state it is best to turn to the contemporary Russian philosopher and ideologue of Putinism, Aleksandr Dugin. Look deeper into the idea of the civilization state and one finds the Czarist Russian Empire that Putin is now all set to build with the invasion of Ukraine. The annexation of Crimea by Putin was the first step in building this “Russian civilization state”. While Dugin seems to critique modern liberal democracy of the West with its extremely hypocritical and hegemonic form, this type of critique actually goes into the critique of the European Enlightenment, the ideas of progress and representative democracy, not to forget the rights of humanity and the limiting of the powers of the state. Dugin’s philosophical repertoire, after all, is built not only on ultra-nationalism, but on ultra-nationalism grounded in mysticism where occult and the quest for the paranormal replace human reasoning. The ideal philosopher of the civilization state is most certainly Dugin just as the ideal follower of the civilization state is Putin. And just as the German philosopher Martin Heidegger supported the Nazi project as a spiritual endeavor, Dugin is doing the same. Heidegger, it must be said, was contemplating what the philosophical connotation of “Being” is when the Nazis were involved in the holocaust. One must remember that Heidegger in his An Introduction to Metaphysics talked of the “inner truth and greatness” of the Nazis. One must also remember that Heidegger had a host of philosophical students and fans and not all of them were Nazis. To these names one must also recall his once upon a time student and lover Hannah Arendt who wrote against the Nazis (especially against Adolf Eichmann the Nazi officer responsible for the deportation of millions of Jews to the death camps) as the “banality of evil”. What does one learn from this? One learns that just as there was a very thin line dividing the “Aryan” Heidegger from the “Jew” Arendt, so too there is a very thin line dividing fascism and liberalism.

And that is why it is important to say that the unjust war against Ukraine is driven not only by the Yankee games in East Europe with their great mania for humanitarian wars coupled with Russian Oriental despotic imperialism. It is also driven by the occult ideologies that lie at the base of all civilization states. Narcissism, psychotic egotism and the idea of the “chosen people” form the three angles of the civilization state. The civilized philosophers, defense experts and vice chancellors posing as public intellectuals are the “chosen people” of narcissism and psychotic egotism.

It is thus extremely necessary to understand Dugin’s philosophical repertoire to understand what the civilization state is, which in reality is a kitsch between the ideological humbug of Ivan Illyin founder of the Russian school of fascism and the main inspirer of Putin, Julius Evola and “magical idealism”, Andre de Benoist and the “New Right School” and Heidegger, the last figure who not only showed loyalty to the Nazi regime, but whose works were engraved with what the contemporary philosopher Jürgen Habermas in his book The New Conservatism calls “fascist commitments”. Our Indian friends of the civilization state must note that Dugin’s daughter would be killed in a terrorist attack on 21st August, 2022. This shows that doing political philosophy is most certainly not an innocent affair. This also shows that beneath the idea of the civilization state is the imperialist idea of the clash of civilizations

Of course it is not odd to critique the West. But it is odd that Dugin takes up a western philosopher (Heidegger) to build his anti-western idea of the civilization state. And here it is also important to note that when in 1979, the clerics seized power in Iran in the name of anti-westernization, it was once again Heidegger who turned a source of reference to the mullahs. The contemporary Iranian philosopher and President of the Iranian Academy of the Sciences Reza Davari Ardakani who also happened to be the ideological mentor of the earlier President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a Heidegger scholar. While at surface level one is only seeing religion—here Shiite religion—as the dominant religious ideology of Iran, at deeper level, the civilization state will also appear very soon on the stage of Asian history, not dressed in religious garments and not as much as confronting the western powers, but recalling and reimagining the pre-Islamic Persian Empire in order to create a Greater Iran (which includes not only present Iran, but also Afghanistan, Iraq, the eastern part of Anatolia, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and parts of Georgia), just as Russia is attempting to create a Greater Russia in East Europe.

In this sense, the very basis of the civilization state is not one of innocence. Yes, it is true that the Eurocentric system needs to be critiqued at its deepest level, just as Anglo-American imperialism needs a radical critique. But this critique has to be a humanist one based on the reasoning of dialectical and historical materialism and the critique of bourgeois political economy, not one of the anti-democratic totalitarian kind. What the civilization state demonstrates is that the unipolar world of the NATO bloc of nations has given way to a bipolar world both competing to be the Hegemon of the New World Order.

What happens with the advocates of the civilization state is that while they rightly critique the shallowness of liberal democracy which while advocating peace all over the world actually ushers in devastating wars in the name of humanitarianism, their critique of liberal democracy is not so much the critique of the American administration, but a phantasmagorical critique in the name of civilization which spills over into the critique of democracy in general and the entire regime of human rights. That it is a form of garbled conservatism far more anti-humanist and anti-democratic than classical conservatism must be noted.

We are indeed living in a world of neo-conservatism where not only is liberalism dying, but where even classical conservative thinkers like Carl Schmitt are now giving way to Dugin, just as the classical Republicans in the USA like Liz Cheney are giving way to Trump and Trumpism. Violence and irrationality form the basis of this civilization state. In this sense, there is no authentic civilizational and human element involved in this civilization state. There are only, as Sigmund Freud reminded us, the discontents of civilization.

 Are the philosophers, defense experts and vice chancellors posing as public intellectuals listening?

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