Irrationalism, Fundamentalism and Religious Revival: The Colors of the Chess-Board  

Fotis Terzakis


Abstract: The following article is a brief analysis of the contemporary forms of irrationalism according to its two basic aspects: on the one hand under the form of "new religions", such as esoterism, neopaganism, or the "new age"; on the other hand under the form of a religious revival following the line of the "classic" monotheistic religions, which today often assumes the form of an aggressive religious fundamentalism.  Special emphasis is given to the second case.  After pointing the historic correlation between the monotheistic idea itself and the formation of the national state, we propose that religious fundamentalism can and must be regarded as a belated nationalism.  Furthermore, we point out the various and intersecting expressions of this very phenomenon, starting from European colonialism and its racist ideologies, passing through Zionism, and concluding to Islamic fundamentalism and the Greek "neo-orthodoxy".  Finally, we attempt to show the inherent mechanism of all forms of irrationalism, in which the "scientific" ideologies as well as instrumental reason itself must be additionally included.


1. Concept and Forms of Modern Irrationalism.

We live in an age of great irrationalisms.  This is undoubtedly the age of a crisis.  From this angle, it seems that we are at the antipodes of the ProtestantReformation, according to Max Weber's classical description[1]: a moment at which, religion, abandoning at a turning point all its ritualistic elements, paved the way for that kind of typical rationality that would allow a bourgeois (and later capitalist) development, completely freeing the powers of market economy and technological innovation.  Today, at the very moment our universalized world is reaching the outmost limits of its growth, producing such a degree of social disorder and ecological entropy that the optimistic spirit of the Enlightenment could not have even imagined, it seems that our societies dive again into forms of irrationalism that outdo whatever we have known as such in traditional society.  

This modern, qualitatively differentiated irrationalism appears to have two basic aspects: on the one hand an obscure worship of science and technology (which constitutes the dominant mythology of the western world), disconnected from every normative context and set of values; on the other hand a sudden explosion and spread of various sets of popular and irrational beliefs (a process that is continuos after the 1960s), among which we could include such phenomena as astrology, esoterism, vague and sincerity ideologies like neopaganism or "new age", as well as the major religious revivals within traditional religions, which lead up to that political practices we today perceive under the term fundamentalism.  How are we to understand such phenomena?  The term "irrationalism" is not sufficient enough, since, as we shall see, even what we call "irrationalism" is a dialectical phenomenon; that is, a phenomenon whose meanings are changing according to the particular context in which it occurs and the particular forms it assumes.  It seems, therefore, that to think on this matter is very urgent.

At the moment, we put aside the problem of technology and its concomitant ideologies.  We are interested in the more typical --at least according to the traditional sense of the term-- forms of irrationalism.  The first thing we must bear in mind whenever we make use of the term, is that "irrationalism", being a crucial aspect of the nineteenth century movement of Romanticism, initially appeared as a form of criticism against bourgeois formalism and the arid rationalism of the Industrial Revolution.  Thus it often acquired radical forms and inspired almost all the utopian and revolutionary movements of that period.  At the same time, a conservative current within Romanticism under the form of racism (and we shall soon examine more closely its relevant forms) led to fascism and the unspeakable tragedy of European history before the middle of the twentieth century.  The sudden reappearance of a powerful irrational tendency in thought and culture during the 1960s carried within it that characteristic ambiguity.  Its meaning was initially a revolt of the individual against an heteronomous and over-controlled society, giving full priority to imagination, collective spontaneity, and the forces of resistance latent in a profound, sensible and somewhat fragile subjectivity.  Under such forms as the hippie movement, sexual liberation, and the search for the primitive and the exotic, it pursued prolifically to reconstruct the egalitarian human community and to counteract the alienation which inescapably derived from the market economy and the uses of a galloping technology.  But when the very development of our societies led (almost since the middle of 1970s) the steps of that recent social experimentation to its failure, the only aspect that came forth was the very problematic aspect of the whole phenomenon: the one that which enabled the formation of an ideology in the most proper sense of the term, which would lead to a vast and massive retreat of social consciousness during the years that followed.

We said: enabled the formation of an ideology.  It is actually as forms of ideology that we must understand the various types of esoterism, occultism, etc., as well as the religious revivals of the intersecting fundamentalisms.  But, before going on to a brief analysis of these distinct (and in a way complementary) types of ideology, we must bear in mind that the element which differentiates ideology from myth is the very allegation of rationality the former claims.  Because, instead of claiming an absolute, a priori, and unnegotiable acceptance something that fits the function of myth--, ideology is a form of discourse that seeks to persuade, draws on arguments, and uses a typical rationality; however, at crucial points, it conceals some aspects of the problem it supposedly wants to solve.  So the phenomena we are going to discuss, as forms of ideology, rather represent complex systems of rationality and irrationalism that only a close critical examination would be able to reveal their complicated and self-contradictory mechanism.

2. The Scope of Esoterism.

Today, astrology could be regarded as the most widespread example of massive popular irrationalism.  Although the reading of the astral signs as a text that bears revealing indications for the earthly matters is an ancient craft, modern astrology is closely related with the manipulating power of the Media (television, the press, etc.) laching entirely the poetic inspiration of that craft.  In 1953, Theodor W. Adorno (still living in USA and just before his final return to Frankfurt), started a content analysis of the astrological column of the Los Angeles Times, from November 1952 till February 1953.[2] His very indicative conclusions can be summarized in the following: astrology is a "second class" superstition in the sense that it does not presuppose a specific metaphysical system of beliefs; it occupies a "blind spot" within the set, of incompatible and frequently contradictory attitudes and beliefs that motivate modern man in every day life.  The secret of its successs lies in the fact that it refers to a deep and inaccessible psychological level and responds to a subconscious psychological need of modern personality: the masochistic urge for submission and guidance that emerges as a primitive psychological antidote to the culminating stress and insecurity modern world produces.  However,if this could be regarded as the irrational element, the invention of a language able to address and manipulate this element is the product of an excessively rational - and specialized rhetorical technic.  In respect of this, Leo L6wenth-al, another member of the circle of the Critical School of Frankfurt, called mass culture an "inverted psychoanalysis": the term "inverted" implied here the psychological knowledge which is not used towards the liberation of the individuals but towards their manipulation.  The very content of the astrological answers, is actually an endless series of imperatives, a constant and repeated in all possible tones-recommendation for compliance to the social norms.  The present social order and the automatic mechanisms of social reproduction, the blind laws of market economy and the utmost control, are the very realities hidden behind the cryptic notion of destiny.

Esoterism a variation of which can be regarded the so called "neopaganism" (a systematic return to a type of thought that is mythical and disconnected from its real social context) can be regarded-- is a more demanding system of beliefs and attitudes requiring a more organised comprehension of the world.  The real content of modern esoterism consists of pieces taken from ancient and mainly oriental mythologies, religions and ritual practices; pieces that after being violently detached from their natural socio-historical context --the only one that can provide them meaning, as serious comparative and anthropological researches have long ago shown--, are reassembled into syncretic systems of varying attractiveness and endurance, and offered for immediate consumption to a massive audience thursting for meaning.  Despite the exotic character of the representations they call forth, esoteric systems actually are exercises in acceptance of the most raw meterial terms of market economy: the motive of an instrumentally ment individualistic success (which can have both the meanings of profit and "self-realization", if of course it does not aim at the acquisition of more specific and "magically" drastic characteristics that can be exploited in the everyday struggle for survival).

Accordingly, adherents of esoterism systematically turn their back to, and gradually lose their ability to understand, the problems that the immanent historical process of human civilization poses.  One could say that they thurst for some kind of meaning, a philosophical perception of the world, but what they are given is to real philosophy what a television soap-opera is to the great romantic novel: esoterism, by flattering an intellectually underdeveloped audience that it participates into a form of "culture", by offering those who do not have the capability, or simply the time, for ardous intellectual effort the illusion of taking a short cut towards philosophical thought, becomes a massive substitude for real spirituality, absolutely compatible --whether one is or is not conscious of it-- with the fundamental laws of the capitalist market.  And undoubteedly the selling of its products follows the most rational technics of marketing and commercial distribution.  The Organisation and the profits of the most famous esoteristic "schools" a phenomenon that has especially flourished from 1960s onward has nothing to envy from a big modern multinational company.

3. Contemporary Religious Revivals.

If phenomena like astrology, esoterism, neopaganism, etc.,represent the one aspect of what we call modern irrationalism (and we have already seen how carefully must we use the term), the other aspect definitely includes the great contemporary religious revivals -- revivals which made it possible for a certain journalistic discourse to speek of "God's return".  Whether God is or is not actually returning, whether it is about a drama or a simple farse, this God is of course the personal God of the great monotheistic religions of Eastern Mediterranean; i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  From the very begining of his life, this God has been involved into historical events, usually connected with the destinies of certain nations.  This point is of crucial importance, since if we are to understand in a rather systematical way the typological difference between the two (supplementary) aspects of the great irrational explosion of our time, we must say that the first is played on an international key, while the other is played on a nationalistic key.  Even for the most ignorant spectator of the current affairs, it is obvious that the great contemporary religious revivals are closely interwoven with the reemergence of intersecting and conflicting nationalisms in a rapidly changing world; therefore, it constitutes a phenomenon that is essentially political in the stictest sense of the term.

What is actually new today after the great march of our world towards secularisation that was inaugurated by the great revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and which after the colonial expansion during the nineteenth century tends to become global is the remobilization of religion in order to symbolize political, economic and social conflicts and strifes, and to intervene wherever disputed national interests demand it.  The violent colonization of Palestine after the last World War and the subsequent alliance of the Arab nations against Israel seemed to bring back the old religious antagonism between Islam and Judaism (or, according to the words of a famous contemporary Orientalist, Luis Massignon, between Ismael and Israel).  In Lebanon, the complex political chessboard which the French colonialism left behind and was was going to explode after 1973, has been presented at a certain level as a strife between Christians and Muslims (the latter being also divided into Sunnites, Shiites and Druzes).  Besides, the war of 1980-1988 between Iran and Iraq seemed as a kind of vendetta between Shiites and Sunnnites.  Similar Christians controversies, such as Roman Catholics versus Eastern Orthodox were called forth in order to justify, for instance, the secession Of Croatia and Slovenia from the ex-Jugoslavian Confederacy (a situation that was to become even more complicated after the involvement of the Muslims of Bosnia.  And the list could go on by far.  In all these cases, as well as in several others, it is crucial to see whether religion is really a primary factor of conflict or, on the contrary, it constitutes an apt rhetorical weapon used in oppositions of a different level and type -- and so a modern phenomenon par excellence, a phenomenon accidentally related to the actual heritage of these relgions.

 4. The Heritage of Monotheism and the Idea of State. 

Monotheism, as we have already remarked, was from the very begining a historical faith.  The model of piety this faith established perhaps for the first time in history was an imperative concerning worldly action, i.e. the fullfilment of a moral ideal whose constituent principle was social justice.  That was the preaching of the Hebrew prophets, and later the moral teachings of the Rabbis; that was the utopian vision of Jesus and the ralpolitik of Paul; that, in the strictest sense, was the deed of the prophet Muhammad and the first four Califs.  Within this mental context, the request of redemption acquired an eschatological character, according to which history was called to play a crucial role: it was the field of a constant revelation of the divine in the form of a reason hidden behind the apparently accidental events, through which the "people of God" were punished or rewarded according to their deeds.  Thus, within those religions, the notion of history as theodicy was gradually, i.e. the idea that if the community obediently practiced the commandments of traditional morality and law, then worldly success would inevitably follow.  This extremely dangerous idea dangerous because it was always ready to justify, as it frequently did, every de facto sovereign as the legitime spokesman of God's will was sometimes to be deceived pitifully: quite early for Judaism, and just after the dawn of the modern era for Islam.  This would inescapably lead, through frustration and despair, to a decisive undertaking of action in the political field.  This must be regarded as one of the most important components of all modern fundamentalisms.

If the idea of righteousness and Law aiming at the realization of a "right" society had played such a crucial role in the history of Monotheism, it was because the historic mission of the latter was precisely to constitute a unified political society on an ethnic basis subdueing all tribal and social antagonisms; that is, to create a state and the imaginary creation of the institution of the state in human history cannot but be perceived as closely connected to the monotheistic idea.  If our assumption is correct, monotheism has been the form of ideology that was determined to mediate two parallel social formations at differnt levels: the full development of patriarchal kinship structures (related to the evolution of instruments and techniques, the expansion of private property and the early monetary economy, and the accumulation of power on male hands) on the first hand, and the constitution of a political society through legal forms which were to be materialized in the national form of statism, on the other hand.  Here appears for the first time in history this form of stateship, which is a structure much more complicated than that of the multinational Empire.  The very dialectics between Monotheism and State posed the historical limits of the former: as soon as the national integration along with all the concomitant institutional forms became feasible, the role of religion was diminished and finally tended to be extinguished.  This was precisely the course of events in the case of Christian european world from the seventeenth century onwards, since that was the period of the formation of modern european nations and the constitution of the modern forms of state.

This course was different in the cases of Judaism and Islam.  As far as it concerns Judaism, the early, traumatic dissolution of the kingdom of Judea extremely enhanced the monotheistic belief as a symbol of unity for a community that did not possess any political institution of its own; thus in our century became again the driving power of an ideology that had as its ultimate goal the establishment of the modern state of Israel.  As far as it concerns Islam, although the conditions of a regular bourgois development commercialized economy, credit funds, the establishment of a "quasi-capitalistic section" (according to Maxim Rodinson's terminology[3]) had been fulfilled quite early, a series of factors that cannot be fully examined here inhibited its course towards the creation of modern secular institutions.  As prominent among these factors we must consider the unpredictable technological and economic development of the West after the sixteenth century, which actually restrained through the colonial expansion a similar evolution in the other parts of the world and certainly not because Islam, due to its inherent nature, was incapable of a drastic separation between religion and state, as some commentators have stated.  However, when Turkey of Kemal Ataturk and Iran of Reza Pahlevi (the only two muslim states that existed by the end of the Word War I) managed through irregular procedures (due to western interference) to build modern secular states, these would come to be examples of what could possibly have happened by a more unhindered development of the trends which already existed within the broader musl,im world.

Such a consideration gives accurately the degree up to which Monotheism was able to play a political role of its own, but it also reckons its anachronistic character in relation to modern political forms.  If we consider contemporary religious fundamentalism from this point of view, we must rather recognise its essentially modern nature and function, than ascribe it to the traditional content of the monotheistic heritage.  Now, we must carefully clarify what kind of phenomena should be included in this term.

5. What is fundamentalism?

If by the term "fundamentalism" we denote a type of religiousness that is political to a very high degree, characterized by intolerance and egression against those who do not sympathize with its view of the world and history, and is always ready to impose its own will in the name of God, while at the same time is attached to the past and faces with suspicion and hostility every innovation especially this kind of pluralistic modernity that derives from the Enlightment--, then we obviously speak about a movement that emerged within the context of all three historic religion from the 1970s onward.  Christian fundamentalism, especially powerful in England and U.S.A., has always been closely related to the New Right, and has fought for the abolition of free abortions, as well as for a strict policy against phenomena of moral and social decay.  Its programme frequently adopted open racial and sexist forms of action, while in U.S.A. (which has a long tradition of religious and apocalyptic extremism) some of its adherents gained considerable victories in elections (for example, Jerry Falwell during the Reagan period). on the other hand, there is a fundamentalistic state, that of Israel, which is governed by theocratic laws, supresses certain public and cultural activities and defines by very austere norms who is Hebrew and who is not.  However, it is noteworthy that whenever we speak about "fundamentalism" in modern political discourse, all the connotations indicate towards the islami.c fundamentalism.

In fact, for almost twenty years, western societes seem to live under a new and unusual islamic threat.  A political rhetoric has been developed which represents the awakening Islam as the most fearsome enemy of liberalism, democracy, human rights, etc.  After the collapse of the Eastern Block and the end of Cold War, this "Islam" is called forth to embody, as the successor of "communism", that sort of external threat that untill then was represented by the latter.  A typical example of this rhetoric can be seen in the words of a British special analyst on defence issues, Clair Hollinworth:

Islamic fundamentalism is becoming fast the main threat against world peace and security…a threat which is only comparable to 1930’s nazism and fascism or 1950’s communism .[4]

There is undoubtedly an islamic fundamentalism.  It is expressed through the use of a specific religious rhetoric that evokes the islamic heritage of the Arabs in order to attack the western world and its secularized values the latter mostly identified with imperialism and the spirit of colonialism while at the same time fights for the restoration of the islamic sacred law, the Sharila.  Today, shiitic Iran, Libya and Sudan can be considered as fundamentalist states of this type, while similar violent movements are rapidly emerging in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, that is, countries whose goverments are regarded as allies of the West.  But what western rhetoric dramatically conceals is, firstly, that there is a historic background behind these phenomena a background that is usually neglected thanks to the spectacular rhetoric about a supposedly solid "Islam", an idea which western scholars like systematically to appeal to as a convenient exegetical principle; secondly, within -this "Islam" there are numerous currents and oppositional movements, and the various fiindamendalisms have peculiarities which differentiate them quite remarkably from each other; thirdly, as we have already noted, there is not only an islamic fundamentalism, and this fundamentalism acquires a different meaning if we see it in its real historic frame which is constituted by the intersecting fundamentalisms and the previous historic experience.  What follow are some examples of this historic experience.

6.  The Historic Experience of Colonialism.

The first thing we must bear in mind if we want to reevaluate the relations between the western world and the countries of Islam (whatever this generalization means), is that from 1600 onwards Islam has never been a greater threat for the western countries than these countries (first England and France, then Germany, Italy and Russia) have been to Islam.  Many researchers trace the western agressivness back to the period of the Crusades; the truth is however that, in spite of the brutality that characterized this major christian venture, a large amount of which was actually received by the Jews, Europe, by the end of the tenth century was still weak, and the triumphant troops of Islam represented a constant nightmare that haunted its dreams and literature (if we consider, for example, the terrible punishment bestowed to Muhammad in Dante's Inferno, we can understand the kind of terror which imbued european mind, and for which the arab prophet should pay).

The Middle Age Europe had understood that Islam was a powerful ecumenical religion that could seriously threat the status quo of Christianity; the greatest part of the first followers of Islam out of Arabia was obviously constituted from Christian converts.  For Europe, which was witnessing the falling of its Christian provinces one after the other (from Egypt, Pelestine and Syria as far as the Iberian peninsula) under the vicarious arms of Islam, the threat was both religious and military -- and the provocation should be answered.  Gradualy, the glittering armour of the crusaders gave its place to a far more powerful weapon -- a weapon that was going to be one of the great advantages of Europe against the arabic (as well as the non arabic) East from the sixteenth century onwards.  European Christians started learning Arabic, translating the Coran and other texts, and studying islamic sciense on a double purpose: firstly, to protect the arabic speaking Christian population from conversion to Islam; secondly, to convert muslims to Christianity, whenever that was possible.  In this compex game of knowledge and domination, in which Europeans would soon become experts, the "monstrous" representation of Islam was a weapon for immediate political use.  Here we can trace the roots of that peculiar political/cultural phenomenon that a modern american scholar of acute political sesibility, himself of Palestinian origin, would call "Orientalism".[5] Of course, the term was used afterwards to describe the specific academic discipline that studies the oriental languages, in the same way as Greek and Latin used to be studied; but according to the use of the term by E. Said, it is extended in order to denote the total of scientific, literary, or other representations of the East within western culture -- a representation which, as already has been said, was deliberately employed for immediate political use.  And this use from 1600 onwards was identified with the goals and objectives of colonialism.

Due to a series of reasons that we cannot examine here, from the fifteenth century onwards Europe experienced an incomparable economic and technological growth that would give her absolute precedence over the rest of the world.  In 1492, the conquest of the New World was inaugurated by Christopher Columbus.  Four years earlier Bartolomeus Diaz had reached up to the Cape of Good Hope, while six years later Vasco da Gama would dicover the great african route to India.  In 1494, with the Treaty of Tordessila, the Popal authority divided Africa and South America between Portugal and Spain.  During the following century, the British and Dutch would compete hard on their way to the East; however, by the eighteenth century Britain and France were the only considerable rivals left within the colonialist arena.

Axis of the whole colonial system the archetypal colony according to which the idea of Imperium itself was formed-was certainly India under the British occupation.  The broader area of Islam, i.e. Middle East, quickly became of crucial importance to the colonial competitors serving as a passage to India.  For the British, the control of those territories actually meant securing access to India, while for the French it meant effective obstruction of British expansion and none of the two, of course, waited until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in order to start economical and political penetration.  In any case, this whole epic of violence, terror and bloodshed that was identified with european colonialism, had the missionary as its vanguard.  The missionary had always been the forerunner of the trader, the adventurer, the soldier, the judge, and the High Commisioner of the Empire.

Islam was finally defeated.  In 1793, after a short but decisive war, Russia annexed the Peninsula of Crimaia, while in 1798 a french expedition army under the commands of Napoleon himself seized Egypt during the war against England.  After these a new age started characterized by the irresistible western expansion into the unprotected arabian world: in 1830 the French colonized Algeria, and in 1839 the British colonized Aden.  Afterwards, Tynesia (1881), Egypt (1882), Sudan (1898), Libya and Morocco (1912) were annexed.  About 1920, after the end of World War I, the european forces dismembered the Ottoman Empire, and Britain by common with France divided the entire Middle East into protectorats and zones of influence.  After the Second World War and through many dramatic adventures, those countries would follow a course towards national integration.  In this period a wound that colonialism left open would perplex the situation and make a peacefull progress in the region one more time impossible: the uncommon colonization of Palestine and the creation of the neocolonial state of Israel.

7.  Orientalism as Colonialist Ideology and the Institutionalization of Racism.

What is most striking in this history of power --and the most important for us, today-- is that this was not just a case of brute force; more than this it was a certain discourse a rhetoric, some values -- in short, a system of theoretical justification, a particular ideology.  Contrary to the old empires, the methodology of the British and French empire of the nineteenth century was not constituted simply in looting the land and departing after its sources have beeb exhausted; rather they acted like enterprises which rooted in the country investing steadily in their conquest.  Thus, they had to invent a reason for their activity, a reason that was always developed around the concepts of duty, offer and sacrifice.  "We are here not for our own profit, we are here for the salvation of the natives, who need us, who beg for our rule, who without us would perish and their country would be ruined".  And if we are to explain why they need "us", why they are doomed on their own, there is not but one the ultimate and fundamental-- argument: "this is because of their inherent inferiority".  Racism, in all its compex psychological and intellectual aspects, has been the corner-stone of the colonial ideology; and among the elaborate formations of knowledge and power of the modern european world, this ideology had a delicate, scientific name: Orientalism.

The extend to which academic orientalism became the hotbed in which some of the most poisonous flowers of modern european thought were cultivated is immediately obvious to whoever examines, however superficially, the history of this field.  Neverthless, these obvious facts have always been supressed.  When Anquetil-Duperron translated Avesta in 1759 at Surat, and the first Upanishads in 1786 at Paris, and when William Jones made his first scientific journey to India in 1783, a new intellectual horizon opened for Europe: the exotic world of oriental languages and the founding of comparative linguistics.  Herder had already popularized in Germany the idea that language, and especially Hebrew, was not delivered by God himself, as the Bible taught, but it was a human creation with proto-forms and history.  In 1796, Sylvestre de Sacy was appointed first teacher of Arabic at the newly established School of Living Oriental Languages in Paris (of which he would become director in 1824).  At the same period a German philologist, Franz Bopp, invented the so called comparative grammar, thanks to which he would be able to recognise, and construct in a way, the great indo-european homoglossy.  However this fact, a scientific event of great importance itself, would have fatal 6onsequenses concerning the formation of an ideology that was to exercise a tyrannical influence on european thought.  An artificial bipole was constructed, which --we repeat-- was not at all derived from the mere ascertainment that some languages (Greek, Latin, German, Farsi, and Sanskrit on one hand -Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic on the other) tended to form families and homoglossies, and immediately assumed an unlegitime evaluating function: from this new bipole (between indoeuropean and semitic languages) were being done unfair extrapolations at the level of intellect, culture and mind, race, or even at that of physical morphology.  Friedrich Schlegel, iii his memorable work On the Language and Wisdom of the Hindus[6] in 1808, argued that the indoeuropean language was technically simple and elegant, homogeneous in its mechanism and organic, while the semitic language was technically fragmentary and amalgamating (a difference that obviously referred to the distinction Kant made between organism and mechanism, and that evidently implied a certain inferiority of the semitic language, and consequently the semitic mind and race).  But this motif, which we find again in the work of von Humboldt, was going to be led to its extremes by the most famous philologist of the nineteenth century: Ernest Renan.

The entire first chapter of Renan's Gene-ral History and Comparative System of the Semitic Lanquages[7] (l855), is, as Said has put it, an encyclopaedia of racist prejudice against the Semites.  In fact, this gifted philologist, who made the Semits his life-work and whose dream was to do for the semitic languages what Bopp had done for the indoeuropean ones, succeeded to gain a prominent position in the history of the racial theories of the nineteenth century.  He never stopped to believe and proclaim race inequality, and the power of the few over the many as an irrefutable and anti-democratic law of nature and society.  Dissecting language with a method resembling the laboratory techniques of Cuvier's anatomy (a phusiognomy that he admired as well), Renan made "his" semitics echoing precisely this fundamental cultural and racial inequality, a sample of racial degradation, suspended evolution, peculiarity and deviation (while regularity was always represented by the indoeuropean languages).

Renan's undertaking was based entirely on his decision to derive arguments from linguistics and subsequently apply them to the fields of history, civilization, race, and mentality.  A natural extension of his scientific position was Gobineauls Essay on the Inequality of Human Races[8] a work that half a century later would become one of the gospels of national socialism in Germany (this theoretical relationship between Gobineau and Renan is explicitly acknowledged in the work of the latter).  In any case, the reexamination of this genealogy has not any other purpose but to show colourfully that anti-Semitism (with all its terrible and devasting consequences for the Jwery of Europe that led to the nazi Holocaust) was from the very begining a constituent part of of scientific orientalism, from which it was derived naturally when the social condition made it possible at the turning of the century.  Moreover, this reexamination must show that as late as the begining of this century, a common fate joined the powerless and colonialized Arabs with the undefended communities of Jewish Diaspora in Europe, a fate determined by the role that both of them were going to play as embodiments of the evil within the terrifical fantasies of power of the emerging european empire. (A third conclusion that is naturally drawn from these correlations has to do with the most profound affinity between the dominant imperialistic course of european civilization and that undesirable offshoot of it, which Europe was forced to face by the end of the fourth decade of our century: the nazi monster).

8.  The problem of Zionism.

One of the most tragic ironies of modern history is the fact that the Jewry which survived the Holocaust (or at least a large part of it) would become one of the major heirs of that type of orientalism from which anti-Semitism originated as a political ideology as well as a psychological tendency the ideology which was earlier determined to destroy them.  This new heir of orientalism was a new nationalism which is known by the term Zionism.  Its history, in spite of all the messianic and liberating promises through which it was constructed as an ideology during the last decades of the previous century, is the history of a nationalism parallel to all other nationalisms of the nineteenth century; helped by some accidental factors it would lead to the founding of the state of Israel in Palestine, after a rapid colonization that would be identified with the outspoken massacre and afterwards the banishment, the exile, the imprisonment to miserable work camps, and the deprivation of the most basic political and human rights of the only legitimate owner of the land: the native arab population of Palestine.

The dramatic events of Palestine were obviously feasible thanks to the climate of anomy that the British colonialism caused during the period between the two Wars in Middle East.  However, this development would not have been the same without the intervention of the new powerful factor that after World War II has come to intervene in the chessboard of Middle East: the great neocolonial state of U.S.A. whose economical interests in the region are relevant to the control and trading of oil.  Under the U.S.A.'s political protection and with its military help, Israel has risen to the status of a regional superforce.  Thus it became a real terrorist-state that many times has invaded neighbouring countries (Lebanon, Jordan, Syria), defying all the decisions of the U.N. and without hesitating to strike civilians, while at the same time has repeatedly crushed (in 1956, 1967, and 1973) every effort of military confrontation from the part of Arabs.  Nowdays, U.S.A. have in a way taken the position left by the collapsed old colonial empires.  As economical sovereign and political regulator in this inflammable zone, U.S.A. tends to produce a kind of area expertise in order to manipulate whole regions and populations, becoming thus the heir of all classic Orientalist stereotypes.  As they obviously think of Israel as a deputy of their general interests in that region, an ideological apart from the military-- alliance between the two states has handed over to the modern zionist "expert" all the traditional arsenal of orientalism along with its anti-semiti-c stereotypes: the only difference is that now its racist aggression is directed towards the Arabs, adopting the perspective of the western orientalist-colonialists (with methods occasionally resembling the tactics of nazism itself).

As any agressive nationalism and fundamentalist ideology, zionism tries to justify an usurpation.  Its strategy is the old and well known strategy of "traditional" nationalism: reality has to be submitted to ideology, inconcistencies must be stiched together by all means, unity should be coerced and history fixed, calling forth mythical justifications of what exists now.  And, of course, it would be reasonable and expected to find such elements in current political rhetoric, or at least at the works of "expertise", whether of area studies or other; what shows, however, the width and efectiveness of the modern Zionistic ideology is the fact that it has imbued the entire cultural sphere, and can be found where one would not expect to meet it4 The following example is very indicative.

Emmanuel Levinas is a prominent modern philosopher, a Jew of Lithouanian origin, who lived in France since 1923.  A student and commentator of Husserl and Heidegger, having himself lost almost all his family at the nazi concentration camps, conscientiously turned to the Jewish origins in order to develop an existential and personalistic philosophy which wanted to be an answer to all anti-humanistic ideologies of crude force.  In 1968 (one year after the Israeli-egyptian clash of 167), he published his Four Talmudic Studies, a material he had already presented during the previous years in the form of lectures adressed to the Congress of the Jewish Intellectuals of France.  The third of those lectures, which refers to a talmudic comment on Joshua (the book that describes the invasion of the Jews into Chanaan), has the eloquent title, "Promised Land or Permissible Land?" In the introduction of the work, Levinas commends:

  The third lesson, about the birth of the State, precedes by two years the discussions generated everywhere by the Xix Day War, which the State of Israel was forced to win in June 1967.... Our lessons, despite their weakness, would like to sketch the posibility of a reading of the Talmud which would limit itself neither to philology nor to piety toward a "precious but outdated" past nor to the religious act of worship.  It suggests a reading in search of problems and truths and that, no less than a return to an independent political life in Israel, is necessary for an Israel wishing to preserve its self-consciousness in the modern world but that may yet hesitate in the face of a return that would see itself in purely political terms.  The sages of Talmud contrasted the coming into possession of the land of Israel to the idea of a heritage.  The latter transmits the patrimony of the fathers to the children.  The former restores the estate of the sons to the patriarchs, the fathers of sacred history, the only ones with a right to possesion.  The history of this land cannot be separated from sacred history.  Zionism is not a will to power.... To give to such a study all the breadth it requires, to translate into a modern idiom the wisdom of the Talmud, to confront it with the problems of our time devolvs, as one of its highest tasks, upon the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  Is this not the most noble essence of Zionism?  Is it not the solution of a contradiction dividing both the Jews integrated within the free nations and the Jews who feel dispersed[9] [Our underlines].

9.The Arabic Reaction and the Political Essence of Fundamentalism.

And which is the reaction of the Arabs to all this? Certainly it is not always united and consistent with its rhetoric.  During the recent past, colonialism forced the Arabs to pay attention for the first time to what was going on the West.  This led to a long period, during which at least for the middle classes of these populations-everything western (ideas, values, institutions, products, technology, education) was regarded as an absolute value and an essential prerequisite for the exodus from a prolonged infirmity and cultural downgrading.  After World War II, however, when colonialism broke its links with the Middle East and the African Mediterranean, new arabic states were formed, and the entire zone entered into a period of national awakening.  This awakening is taking place under modern terms; it insistently demands national and cultural emancipation from the West without at the same time denying whatever western element can be proved usefull and practically exploitable.  Concerning the form of political Organisation it inclines to that type of state which is known as "arabic socialism", and is based on nationalizations, one-party system, and the leading role of the militaries.  In any case, the dominan rhetoric and system of values are populistic and nationalistic, not religious.  It is the nation and the common anti-colonialist interests, not religion, that form the coalition of the Arabs during this phase.

The open wound of Israel and the Palestinian refugees was to entangle those nations into serious adventures during the following years.  The ideology of panarabism, occasionally expressed by heroic and ambitious leaders (such as the Egyptian Abdal Naser), failed to overcome the given situation against the Arabs, since it became clear to everyone that the state of Israel, with the support of U.S.A., was practically undefeatable.  During the 1970s, the oil embargo seemed for a moment to give the Arabs the only effective weapon for negotiation, but their very dependence on other american products and the american market, technology and scientific knowledge, led these countries to a kind of political and diplomatic manoeuvering that finally bound them to the american neocolonialist policy.  The Egyptian president Sandat was one of the first who gave the signal for a reconciliation with the West, and the same policy has been followed after his assasination by president Mubarak during the 1980s.  Although that policy displeased the Palestinians and many of their allies, resulting in Egypt's formal expulsion from the Arabic League, the advantages of a closer relation with U.S.A. were so obvious that other countries as well started moving towards the same direction: Morocco, Tynesia, Jordan, and especially the oil-producing countries of the Gulf, which, after the zenith of their influence in 1973, realized that the wealth of oil could in the long term create more infirmity than strength.

Undoubtedly, there are many other aspects of these facts, facts which are much more complex than it is suggested by this rather brief outline we attempted to give here.  What we want to believe has been shown, is the reccurring and decisive experiences through which a sense of injustice, humiliation, and fair (though powerless) rage has been intelibly instilled in the soul of those peoples (at least beyond some corrupt elits).  The social degradation and the lasting contradictions are becoming deeper because of the position these countries have as national/state entities within the international distribution of wealth and power.  Under the present circumstances non large-scale change of the situation can be seen.  Moreover, a certain part of the intelligentsia of these countries, which has been in a very close contact to western culture, and studied at european and american universities, experiences a feeling of profound humiliation and inferiority due to the current western stereotypical representations which this inteligentsia is frequently obliged to accept of the Arab identity.  Displeasure overflows, and conventional political solutions have been proved tragically insufficient.  Thus, the demand for national regeneration and redefinition becomes more and more urgent; and, as it happens in such cases, the easiest way is to withdraw into tradition whatever this term means today-- of which an important part is allways religion.  Under these circumstances, religion, using its power to affect the subconscious of the masses (something that political ideology through propaganda, or tecnology through advertisement, achieve to a lower degree and with much more exertion), becomes a kind of language that expresses collective demands: national, cultural, or social.  These demands are not only the arabic.  Considering the polarization of modern world (which has after the collapse of the Eastern Block become more evident) between its developed part that usurps the lion's share in wealth and power one one hand, and those easily manipulated regional countries which experience tremendous shortages in economic opportunities, political self-determination, democracy, and human rights on the other hand, some ambitious, authoritarian leaders of the arabic world hope to become the voice of the supressed Third World.  This was obvious, for example, in the case of Sadham Husein and the so called Gulf Crisis.  It is noteworthy, however, that these modern preachers of Islam do not come from the uneducated masses, but mainly from the middle classes (doctors and lawyers who have studied and lived for a long time abroad, and especially in the West); it is also noticeable, as more and more observers point out, that mosks are crowded whenever they are to be used as meeting places against a suppressing goverm but are emptied as soon as the Islamists come to power.[10]

If these thoughts are correct, it seems that the problem of religious fundamentalism is not simply an islamic or an arabic phenomenon, but a broader modern tendency where traditional solutions have been proved insufficient or have evidently failed towards the expression of national problems and demands; these in turn must be considered as cultural and social problems, since nationalism is at the same time the language in which similar problems are expressed within the context of international ballance of power.  If such a generalization is permissible, we could say that fundamentalism is a belated nationalism.  Religious faith, whose historic phase should normally have been dialectically surpassed after the national integration, is called forth once again as a rhetoric weapon, wherever and whenever unfavourable conditions make this integration impossible or hardly feasible.  But under these conditions, religious faith looses its traditional content and must be judged by specific, mostly political criteria, as a form of modern political allegory.

10. Neo-orthodoxy: A Case of Fundamentalism in Modern Greece.

At this point it would be worthwhile to exam-Lne briefly the Greek matters.  From the very begining of the post-war period, after a murderous civil war during which the communist party was militarily and politically defeated, the entire political life of the country as well as the dominant ideology were organized around the national security dogma, in order to confront the communist threat.  The fusion of nationalism and anti-communism created the notorious mythology of "the northern danger" that culminated during the period of the military dictatorship (1967-1974).  After the restoration of democracy, the failed coup dletat and the turkish invasion to Cyprus, and mainly after the dramatic developments in Eastern Europe, this ideology was drastically transformed.  The idea of the "northern danger" declined ' and its place has been taken by an old ghost (elaborated in such a way to reflect the new situation): the "turkish threat".  What has been dramatically changed, however, is that now the dominant ideology a means for the promotion of specific interests of particular social classes and leading groups-obtains without resistance a wide consent of all the social strata, and the entire political spectrum, something that the anti-commumist rhetoric never managed to achieve.

Despite the real problems in the relationship between Greece and the neighbouring country --which are absolutely substantial and would be extremely dangerous to be misinterpreted--, the "turkish danger" has attained the dimensions of anational psychosis, which the opportunistic policy of almost all the goverments inhesitatingly incite; a psychosis that occasionaly comes to be a real racist hysteria, such as the one related to the emergent problems of the muslims of Thrace.  Of course we cannot analyse here the political complications of the greek foreigh policy; more important for the present argument is to examine a specific point of the nationalist rhetoric which has been coherently developed by adherents of almost all the political spectrum during the last fifteen years.  According to this rhetoric, the anti-turkish propaganda assumes to be a of resistance against muslim fanaticism (!) Thus, in the context of this concert which is orchestrated by a large part of the Press, we here of I'muslim arrows in the Balkan", of the "troj'an horse of Islam", that "the yataghans of Islam are threating once more Europe", etc. etc.  And all this while everyone knows that Turkey is not an islamic state, that is not governed by theocratic laws, and that it is one of the first states of the broader islamic zone that took its own way towards secularization, drastically suppresing religion... In modern terms, Turkey is an extremely nationalistic state, whose leading group is the military, a state that is constantly engaged in an expansionist policy due to unresolved internal social conflicts and a very serious demographic pressure.  The fact that Turkey is not an islamic state is the very reason that the West aspires to use it as an umbrella against islamic fundamentalism.  These invested interests, just as in the case of Israel, lead the western governments to become actual defenders of every obviously illegal claim of Turkey against neighbouring countries, as well as of its brutally suppressing policy against its own minorities.  Everyone knows all these; however, the Orientalist stereotype of the "bloodthirsty Islam" is a theme that serves better the needs of propaganda than dozens of such kind of analyses.

Of course, from the part of professional politicians everyone expects such a cynism and manipulative tactics (when it is not about mere and pure stupidity); but without doubt contemporary greek politics would not have been shifted with such self-complacent ease to this cheap and dangerous-nationalistic ideology that insults every sesible man's intelligence, if a part of the intelligentsia under of course the tolerance of the political "left" had not paved its way, methodically smoothing any resistance, whispering day and night a monotonous though suggestive rhyme, creating a kind of plastic language which is able to justify anything and at the same time to repulse the challenges of critical thought.  If we are interested in this language here, that is because it has emerged within the frame of a supposed religious revival with ambiguous at the begining meanings, to receive later a blatant nationalistic turn according to the style of an real fundamentalism.  If it was to give this revival a name, the most appropriate would this be "neo-othodoxy".  It can also he used as one more sample of the changing meanings of irrationalism.

The hard core of this ideology (which despite the personal differences of its advocators seems to be always the same, at least to the degree it can be rationally articulated) can be summarized into two major points: first, the greek identity, Unquestionably identified in a way with the greatest values that human civilization has ever produced, is a uniform, unbroken and continuous formation that includes classic antiquity, byzantine theocracy, and a part of modern poetic and prose litterature; second, this greek identity, u@'-mostly isolated and different from everything else in the modern world, is threatened on one hand by the West, whose secularized values are about to dissolve its singularity, and on the other hand by Islam (and by this we are refering always to Turkey) that plots against its territorial and cultural boundaries.  But the real recipient of this discourse something that is never admitted openly, but is suggested in various ways is the West itself: since the West is the source of power in the modern world, "we" demand from it a more favourable distribution of funds, war expenses and power, using an aggressive concept of national identity for this very reason constructed and this "we" refers in fact, as already has been noted, to some leading groups and dominant classes, which are eager to participate in the over-accumulation of power which characterizes the international "new order". The same old story: that kind of orientalism which the West used occasionally to drive Orhthodox East out to its periphery, now becomes a weapon in the hands of the latter, in order to verify its. participation in the western cultural community, and to aquire a place in it, Obviously, this type of discourse has an irrational base (and this is verified by the evidently absurd, quasi-paranoic identification between byzantine Orthodoxy and classic antiquity, western secularisation and national threat, Turkey and Islam, etc.) whose origin and effectiveness must be traced into a pre-politic sphere: that of a certain collective psychopathology.  However, its use and rhetoric exploitation complies with the more austere, grim we could say, rationalism, as an articulation of partial interests within the international network of contemporary power antagonisms.  And this applies very well to any type of older nationalism, as well as to any form of contemporary fundamentalism.  At this point it seems that we have touched the core of the entire problem.

11. Intersecting rhetorics, interwaving interests.

Some further thoughts on this topic are triggered by an intereview that Hasan al Turabi, general secretary of the Organisation of the Arabic and Islamic Popular Conference (founded in 1991 at Hartum), architect of the policy for the Islamization of the sudanic society since 1982, has given at the end of 1995 to the Lebanese newspaper Al Nahar.  Here are some illuminating extracts from the interview:

For several decades we lived in a period of decay, but today we are experiencing a period of recovery and awakening... without forgetting the tragedies of the past and their consequences, such as the boycott from abroad.  With the first signs of an islamic renaissance they tried to destroy us .... It is difficult to ascribe this enmity to the entire West: some of the western countries have discarded the spirit of the crusador, a spirit derived from colonialism, not from religion...

I do not assume that this Conference alone represents the islamic world.  But I do not accept the history of Islam to be distorted because of a tragedy that divides Muslims from the very begining.  I am neither a Sounnit, nor a Shiit; I am a Muslim.  The muslim masses are always close to their faith, their doctrine, and they do not look but in the past.

I did not have any problem to inaugurate a dialogue with the Vatican, because it is the closest to religion authority in the West.  Between them and us there are no differences on principles: the doctirne is the same since the time of Abraham.  I have visited the Vatican and talked to the Pope and the Cardinals.  The Pope has visited Sudan, and the people of Sudan, both Cristians and Muslims, hastened to meet him.... And I have called all Christian doctrines to create along with us a unified religious front ... [11]

"We lived", "we are- experiencing", "we forget": that is, "we", the Arabs (as the title of the Conference wisely puts first) and afterwards Muslims.  Just as with the zionist propaganda and the neo-orthodox rhetoric, it is the national determination that pulls the religious one, not vice versa ... When a Muslim declares that "I an neither a Sounnit nor a Shiit, I am a Muslim", what he obviously means is, "I am not (interested if I am or not) a Muslim, it is not religion the real field of my oppositions and alliance5".  In front of the sole opponent which is the real target of this rhetoric (namely, the agent of a spirit which "is derived from colonialism, not from religion"), all muslim sects, all religions together Christian, muslim, even the Pope himself can easily be allied in the same strategic coalition.  The most significant aspect of this rhetoric is perhaps its readiness to anticipate an alliance with Vatican, since it could find in the latter a political ally within the camp of the enemy itself.

And what about the Pope's reaction?  Does he:aknowledge his inclusion in this alliance, and accept the calling that is addressed to him by the voice (or, at least, one of the voices) of Islam?  It seems that the answer is yes: Pope Vo4Ltyla is a great friend of Islam, despite the fact that Islam is the cause of many of his headaches and ambivalences.  During the Gulf War he made every possible effort to dissociate the position of the Roman Catholic Church from the war which the joined western forces conducted against the Iraq of Sadham Husein.  This was obviously not only because of the vulnerable position of the cristian communities in Middle East (which would easily be exposed to retaliation), but also because he would endanger his whole missionary work around the world.  His position in the case of Salman Rushdi, who had been convicted to death by the Shiit authorities of Teheran, is even more indicative: the Vatican never expressed a substantial protest against an action which aimed to hit the muslim intelligentsia, and more specifically those immigrants who attempted a critical elaboration of western modernity within an islamic context.  Such a protest would obviously be for Vatican a kind of excessive defence, while the very problem of the freedom of opinion for those who could turn against a faith woulf be much more serious.  The Pope of Rome and the spiritual leaders of Islam always converge whenever they have to confront- a universal demand for democracy and social tolerance that is derived from the rules of liberal western democracy itself -- something that could challenge their spiritual authority and endanger their material interests.  Pier Rossano, a bishop at the Vatican and a notable interpreter of the Bible, expresses this position almost utterly when he writes:

I would like to ask those who doubt about the usefulness of the christian-islamic dialogue: have you ever thought what it means in the context of modern western culture a culture that is historicist, materialist and scepticist to see anchored the most basic values of life concerning the absoluteness of God, instead of the Social Con act or the sensualist and utilitarian arbitrariness[12]

12. Irrationalisms in Their Historic Context.

If religious fundamentalism, as we have analysed it here, should be regarded as a kind of belated nationalism under conditions of irregular or suspended national integration, then we must admit that the great religious revival that we witness during the last decades has a broader meaning, and only partially can be identified with specific phenomena os fundamentalism.  Obviously the case of the Pope and Vatican's policy that we just sketched here does not precisely correlate to any kind of fundamentalism or active nationalism; and there are many similar cases.  In our days, religious revival is a movement that comes to play the role of the coordinator of various social and ethnic groups that resist urged by different motives and goals the fulfilment of the rationalizing process which capitalist modernity inaugurated.  It is worthwhile to note that, given the extreme ambiguity of this process of modernization, few are though the movements and groups that oppose the really problematic, inhuman and exploitatory aspects of this modernization (one can perhaps mention only some groups of "deep"), the great part of them either oppose the positive achievments of bourgois rationalization (such as civil rights, democratic control of power, equality of the sexes, and cultural pluralism), or just try to keep an antagonistic position in a world that is still being torn up by social and cultural conflicts, which by this way they perpetuate and reproduce.

What kind of motives should we suppose that urge to such a kind of religious revival, like the one we witness today -beyond, of course, the understandable motives that trigger fundamentalist action; First of all there are the tangible, meterial interests of institutional organizations such as the Churches, which cannot give up their traditional priveleges -- and they have shown in the past how violently they are ready to defend them, when it is necessary.  At a different level, the same applies for the esoteristic groups, the "professional saviours", all those who earn their living one way or another from the dramatic and, under the present social conditions, incurable insecurity of the masses.  Thus here we come at the crucial point where the basic concepts we used as a starting point in this essay cross each other.  Trying to differentiate the irrationalist ideologies of the esoteristic type from the (more or less orthodox) religious ones, we distinguished between the kind of irrationalism that is played on a nationalistic key, and the kind that is played on an internationalistic key.  Now that we have clarified what exactly this means, we can propose a more general formula: we can argue that there are forms of organized irrationalism which have an internal correlation to the structure and function of the state (and such are mostly the fundamentalist movements and ideologies), while there are others that display a similarity to the structure and function of the large business organization (and such are obviously the various esoteristic societies, and to a certain extent the Roman Catholic Church itself which represents a rather intermediary typology).  In these two types, the state and the large business, we find the major crystallizations of the most typical, instrumental bourgois rationalism, a rationalism that has been formed exactly for this kind of domination which is based on the principle of the individualist (antagonistic) struggle for survival.

In that case one can ask: what is actually irrational here?  Why do we insist to use the term "irrationality" and do not just speak of instrumental reason?  There is an important reason for this: the need to distinguish the type of rationality/irrationalism that characterizes the kind of phenomena we analyse here, from political organization itself (from which we borrowed our typology) as well as technology and science.  Because there is obviously a difference.

13. The Mechanisms of Irrationality.

A religion, an esoteristic doctrine, even a simple form of superstition, are all systems attempting to give the world a meaning and determine human actions, based on premises which are not and can never be checked by any form of empirical examination.  The same of course applies to ideas such as truth or social justice, but here he who uses these ideas as guiding principles of his action is usually aware of their axiomatic character: that is, he knows that they are just projects which he himself introduces into reality at the complex interplay with it.  In the case of the believer (whatever this means today), or the superstitious, the axiomatic ideas that guide him are regarded as if they were empirical certainties: they are used as such, and he will defend them accordingly whenever they are challenged.  What he fails to realize is precisely the psychological origin of the association of the ideas that guide him.  His convictions have the same form and meaning with the dream associations (which are symbolic and encoded representations of reality, or allegories), and as such can only acquire a certain truth value.  However, the act of decodification, the interpretation that restores the proper contextual links, is exactly what is dramatically absent from these collective faiths.  From this point of view, their mechanism is similar to that of psychotic delirium: a collapse of the awareness of the limits between the "interior" and the "exterior".

Now, the fact that ,these irrational associations can be deliberately used, organized into highly compact systems of behaviour, or further elaborated for certain practical purposes without all these affecting their underlying irrationality, this fact introduces them into a rationally manipulated system of means, similar to that of political organization and science.  But for what purposes are all these means?

In a society that is controlled by the principle of irrepressible competition for the accumulation and management of power, the final purpose is the survival of the individual, a purpose which is being served by any partial development of power.  At first this seems to be a rational purpose but it is not.  The idea that the basic unit of survival is the individual (in whatever levels we draw the boundaries of this certain individuality: biological, personal, class, race, species, etc.) is a characteristically false (ideological) representation of developed capitalism, whose degree of delusion can be precisely calculated by the extend of ecological destruction that is the natural outcome of the antagonism in modern world.  The only realistic unit of survival is the natural ecosystem, and the only possible survival is the ecosystemic survival.  If this is accepted as normative principle, then we cannot but accept as well that every antagonistic claim of power means in the long term the self-destruction of the subject itself - (whether individual or collective) that actualizes it.[13] Under the light of these considerations, one can argue that The modern social system, as far as its basic socioeconomic structure is concerned, constitutes (as Max Weber has remarked for Capitalism and Max Horkheimer especially for fascism) a demonic combination of rational means and irrational purposes.  Such is in our days the rationalism of the dominant political and scientific structures that serve the reproduction of the current social system.  Opposite them, the irrational ideologies which this essay has attempted to illuminate establish an irrationalism of second order: irrational faiths as rational means for the achievment of irrational purposes.



Fotis Terzakis is a Greek political philosopher who has written extensively on the Nature-society relationship, the new social movements, religious irrationalism etc. His latest works are: Philosophical reformism, dialectical problems in the philosophy and political theory of Jurgen Habermas (Athens, 1996) and Dialectics redefined (Athens, 1996) 


[1] In his classic and controversial study, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (trans.  T. Parsons, Allen & Unwin: London, 1930); for a further critical discussion of the questions that arised out of this work, from a marxist point of view, see Richard H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (Penguin Books: Harmondsworth, 1966).

[2] See Theodor W. Adorno, "The Stars Down to Earth.  The Los Angeles Times Astrological Column" Telos, 19 (Spring 19'f4), p. 13-90.

[3] In his study, Islam and Capitalism (Penguin Books: Harmonsworth, 1974).  This work is a classic and as important as the studies of Max Weber on Protestantism.

[4] New York Times, 9/9/1993.

[5] See Edward Said, Orientalism (Pantheon Books: New York, 19-18).

[6] Friedrich Schlegel, uber die Sprache und Weisheit der Ein Beitrag zur Bergrundung der Altertumstude (Heidelberg, 1808).

[7] Ernest Renan, Histoire generate et systeme compare'- des langues semitiques (Paris, 1855).

[8] Gobineau, Essai siir llinee-galite des races humaines, I-IV (Paris, 1853-1855).

[9] Emmanuel Le.'vinas, Quatre lectures talmudiques(Minuit: Paris, 1968).  E50, Nine Talmudic Readings, trans.  Annette Aronowicz (Indiana University Press, 1990), p. 3,9.

[10] A very important work among the bibliographic sources that covers both history and modern trends in the islamic world, is the study of Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples (Oxford Un'tversity Press, 1991).

[11] It is republished in the Greek newspaper To Vima, 31/12/1995.

[12] Pier Rossano, Criastianesimo e Islam (Morcelliana, 1980).

[13]   For an analysis of this eristemological illusion in an unrivalled political and epistemologic manner, see Anthony Wilden, System and Structure: Essays in Communication and Exchange (Tavistock Publications: London, 1972).