Rousseau and Qutb, sharing the dream

Andrew McCarthy writes in Jean-Jacques Jihad:

The one thing that absolutely could not be tolerated was true freedom, the liberty of the individual. For Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the “social compact” would otherwise be “an empty formula.” The irreducible core of the utopia he envisioned, the “undertaking which alone can give force to the rest,” was quite simply this: “Whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body.”

Ah, yes, the “general will.” For this, every modern totalitarian movement is indebted to the 18th-century Genevan philosopher who claimed, in The Social Contract, that a man’s compulsory servitude to the state — the embodiment of this general will — “means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free.” Rousseau was what we today call “Orwellian” long before there was an Orwell. “Freedom” was nothing more than submission.

That is why Rousseau so admired Islam.

This is perhaps most clearly illustrated in Qutb’s tract, Social Justice in Islam. The book teaches that Islam is about the collective, and that those who resist the Muslim ummah must, as Rousseau would have said, be “forced to be free.” According to Qutb, “integrating” humanity in “an essential unity” under sharia is “a prerequisite for true and complete human life, even justifying the use of force against those who deviate from it, so that those who wander from the true path may be brought back to it.” The overarching principle is the “interdependence and solidarity of mankind,” with the individual’s well-being achieved by his submission to the Islamic state. And “whoever has lost sight of this principle must be brought back to it by any means.” Thus, Qutb elaborates, sharia makes “unbelief” a “crime” that is “reckoned as equal in punishment” to the “crime of murder.” Forms of treason such as apostasy and fomenting discord in the ummah are capital offenses. As in all totalitarian systems, freedom is an illusion: security through enslavement.

In Islam, it is Allah’s sharia that fills the role of Rousseau’s general will. Thus did Qutb observe of Rousseau’s great upheaval, the French Revolution, that what it “theoretically established by human laws . . . was established as a matter of practice by Islam in a profound and elevated form more than fourteen centuries earlier.”

Such symmetry had not been lost on Rousseau, for whom statism would be the “religion of the citizen.” Above all, it would merge the sacred and the secular under a single authority. As in the pagan states of antiquity, Rousseau’s vision of the ideal regime included

its gods, its own tutelary patrons; it has its dogmas, its rites, and its external cult prescribed by law; outside the single nation that follows it, all the world is in its sight infidel, foreign and barbarous; the duties and rights of man extend for it only as far as its own altars.

Small wonder, then, that Rousseau lavished praise on Islam. But not just any Islam; his accolades were reserved for the early Muslims, Islam’s first generations. “Mahomet held very sane views,” Rousseau opined in The Social Contract. The prophet “linked his political system well together,” the civil and the spiritual as one. “As long as the form of his government continued under the caliphs who succeeded him, that government was indeed one, and so far good.” It was only when “the Arabs” departed from this model — when, “having grown prosperous, lettered, civilised, slack and cowardly,” they were “conquered by barbarians” — that Islam fell victim to what Rousseau (and Qutb) saw as the Christian dystopia: “the division between the two powers” of religion and the state.

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2 Responses to Rousseau and Qutb, sharing the dream

  1. Paul Marks says:

    Rousseau was indeed a bad influence – Babbit (and so many others – going back to Edmund Burke) were correct about how bad an influence he was.

    His thought is collectivists and tyrannical in its core (under a mask of talk of “freedom” and sentimental talk about happy bunnies in nature and what not). Partly it is based on hatred (and envy) of rich people (for Rousseau had been an employee and hated it – thus his mind was fixed on trying to create a situation where no person would be an employee of another person, all would be under the collective instead).

    The only good thing that can be said of Rousseau is that he seems to have been genuinely in favour of localism – which means his collectivist regime would have been too small to attack other lands (needless to say the French Revolutionaries dropped the localism – they wanted to rule a big country, and have it take over…….).

    The love of Islam.

    I was ignorant of that. Many thanks for pointing it out to me.

  2. Paul Marks says:

    This thing about using the language of “freedom” to further the cause of tyranny. This is very imporant.

    Previous supporters of collectivism (Plato, Francis Bacon, “The New Atlantis”, and so on) have been open about their elitism and their desire to control other human beings.

    Rousseau seems to have been the first major thinker to use the language of freedom (and of standing for ordinary people) to mask (perhaps even from himself) his desire for tyranny.

    Rousseau may have got some of his collectivists ideas from de Mably and others – but this wonderfully effective use of language seems to have been his own invention.

    It is an incredibly important one – followed by Karl Marx and many other collectivist thinkers since then.

    The modern left do not say “we want to rule and control every aspect of your lives – you cattle!”.

    They say (passionatly and endlessly) “we want you to be free” , “we stand for the little guy” and so on.

    This is from Rousseau (not from Bacon or Plato or any previous major collectivist thinker).

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