Unseen Theology II: The Ghost of an Image, Research Time, 07/10/2015

Continued from last post . . . So what does this mean? That the animating spirit of W-era neoconservatism was Christian supremacy in disguise?

It's a pretty heavy and simple statement to say about a writer whose ideas and works are as complex as Georg Hegel's. But because Fukuyama takes up an oversimplified version of his ideas, I suppose that can be my playing field.

You could say that this is the most powerful face in the
Arab world: Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, who's
become the de-factor ruler of Saudi Arabia, thanks to
the dementia and possible Alzheimer's of King Salman.
Fukuyama pitches his idea – history bends toward capitalist liberal democracy – as having universal scope. He gives a brief dismissal of Muslim cultures from being part of this trajectory. Oil wealth, he says, perverts the natural character of their societies so much that the supposedly universal yearning for democracy and freedom fades away.

Fukuyama dismisses the Muslim world too quickly. Quickly enough that probing why can reveal a very deep problem with his program.

His philosophical roots in Hegel inadvertently – and invisibly, even to Fukuyama himself – cut not only the Muslim world, but the entire non-Western or non-Christian world out of consideration. 

When I read Philosophy of History, I found an important limitation of the book was that the progress of human history culminated in Europe, in the West. Typical for the early 19th century in Europe. But that story of humanity can't work in an era after colonialism, when we can't really hide anymore from what European colonialism really was.

Any philosophical conception of humanity's history has to account for our plurality, our diversity. Go ahead and think messianically about the history and development of human civilization. The notion that human freedom will have a single, unified form is a deservedly tough sell these days.

You know what’s an even tougher sell? That the single, unified form of human freedom is fundamentally Christian. In the peculiarly Christian idea of the Kingdom of Heaven, Hegel saw the culmination of human politics. It’s the restoration of paradise, where everyone is equal in status and lives in harmony.

When I worked full-time in academia, I rarely found
authors or colleagues who took Fukuyama seriously
as a political philosopher. We really should, if only
because of how effective his ideas were.
European humanity becomes God by building a system of civil government where everyone in society perfectly and mutually recognizes each other’s equal dignity and rights. 

When I think about how Derrida described Hegel, I see parallels to my discussions over this Winter with Steve Fuller about his book Knowledge

There, we talked about how a very peculiar theological conception of humanity as being "in the image of God” sparked a revolution in our knowledge institutions. We started learning about the world because that knowledge brought us in tune with God, more like God. For Christians, humanity and God share a common nature.

God and Christianity doesn't figure in Fukuyama’s messianic vision of a planet full of capitalist liberal democratic regimes. Globally omnipresent democracy would be the paradise in which everyone recognized each other's inherent dignity and inalienable rights. 

These dignity and rights are grounded in human nature alone. Nothing about the image of God here. Fukuyama has, to his credit, learned the post-colonial lesson: We shouldn’t fit all peoples into a world-view that’s the product of only one culture.

But his break isn’t clean enough. Fukuyama still relies on Hegel for the framework of his political thinking. And Hegel's philosophy is so firmly rooted in Christian culture that, long after the ideology of Man as the Image of God faded from Europe’s scientific culture, he’s still riffing on it. 

You could also say that this dead fruit salesman is
the most powerful face in the Arab world. It's
a case I could certainly feel safe making.
Fukuyama’s entire conception of this universal yearning of humanity as human bends all the peoples of the world to a Western cultural narrative. His supposed liberation in Western democracy is an imperialist ideology in its heart.

This is Jacques Derrida's basic criticism of The End of History in chapter two of Spectres of Marx.

And you think it’s over. You think Derrida, the established philosophical genius so famous as to have an adjective made of his name, would have schooled this right-wing upstart. Fukuyama's just a booster for capitalism, after all.

Then came Bouazizi and the revolution.

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