Margaret Canovan believes that liberalism can be defended only by recognizing and drawing openly on its great myth. “For liberalism never has been an account of the world,” she writes, “but a project to be realized. The ‘nature’ of early liberalism, the ‘humanity’ of our own day, may be talked about as if they already exist but the point of talking about them is that they are still to be created. The essence of the myth of liberalism-its imaginary construction-is to assert human rights precisely because they are not built into the structure of the universe. The frightening truth concealed by the liberal myth is, therefore, that liberal principles go against the grain of human and social nature. Liberalism is not a matter of clearing away a few accidental obstacles and allowing humanity to unfold its natural essence. It is more like making a garden in a jungle that is continually encroaching. . . “
Making a garden in a jungle that is continually encroaching… How truthful! If we look at discourses emerged from the modern secular state and the thoughts of early liberal philosophers such as Locke, it is evident that there is and has always been an attempt to form a normative definition of the human nature and claim its universality. It is most often such assumptions that lead to imaginary formations of superiority-inferiority hierarchies among cultures. When a colonial set off from his homeland, it was precisely that person’s thinking that ‘the Other’ was acting against his/her human nature and needed to be ‘modernized’ which led that person to his colonial actions. Centuries later, the same mentality is evident in liberal movements. As an example, it is the liberal notions of equality, tolerance, liberty and such which needed to be imposed to those that ‘lacked’ such traits and it was these notions which were the motivation of the invasion of Iraq. And its aftermath is now obvious to all: disruption of a culture. The same behavior is still evident when looked at the assumptions of today’s liberal feminists claiming that women of a specific tradition need to be liberalized from the patriarchal and oppressive society that they are in, without a proper understanding of that tradition.
Therefore, it is important to realize that such ideologies which intend to ‘liberalize’ people and grant them their human rights which they cannot claim themselves, are built on vast number of assumptions yet sound so innocent; be it regarding the human nature or the regarding the ‘universal’ human rights.
This is a wonderfully thought-provoking and engaging post, and it makes me fall in love with your blog all over again. Huzeyfe. As it happens, you and I do not agree on much in this post, but no one is better than you at getting to the heart of a matter. That is a public service in this day and age of so much confusion. It makes meaningful thought possible.
I do agree with you to some extent, though. I agree that people claim their values are objective and universally applicable, then impose their values upon others in the name of the “universality” of their values. To me, it’s a widespread ruse that is not limited to any one group.
I have a question. Is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) ever morally justified? What about imperialism? Is it ever morally justified? In other words, are there any truly universal, truly objective human values? That is a question that has troubled me for ages.
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Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words.
When it comes to FGM, I find the topic something beyond me to have a firm opinion about it. Because I would have to know more about the motives that lead to it.
When it comes to imperialism, I think that the word is too broad in containing many intentions that could lead to it. For instance, can colonialism be considered a form of imperialism? If so, looking at history, I would find this form of imperialism requiring condemnation. However, history also shows that there were people under the rule of a tyrant who has willed some other empire to expand their territories so that such people could benefit from the just rule of that empire and get rid of the tyranny they were under. And such cases make it harder and more complex to define something as morally justifiable or not.
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