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The Natural State

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    Posted: 14 August 2007 at 1:16am
The Natural State

By Aisha Bewley

Once we discuss the natural form of man, then the question must arise - what is the natural form of man in a social, and by extension, political situation? Before moving on to stating what that actually consists of, it is necessary to point out what it is NOT, because we are all living in variations on a situation which we have come to think of as natural, but which is in fact completely UNnatural.

The first thing we must do is explode a basic premise of Western liberal thought. This is an idea which is, historically speaking, very recent, but has become so engrained as to be accepted as true without question - this is the concept of man as being innately a fully autonomous individual whose original natural situation is located in a sort of nebulous primitive state outside of any political or social dimension. This implies the prior existence of a pre-social condition, often called the 'State of Nature'. This is viewed as a negative condition where, as Thomas Hobbes states:

... there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the earth, no Navigation . . . no commodious building . . . no account of time; no arts, no letters, no society. [Furthermore in such a state, the life of man is] solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.

From this primitive state of absolute and unbridled freedom man then theoretically enters into a social contract, surrendering his primal freedom and accepting absolute subservience in return for guaranteed order, and thus becomes part of society. Society then consists of an aggregate of autonomous, sovereign individuals - something akin to a federation in that the members enter into this agreement from outside of it from a pre-social condition. Society is thus viewed as being an artificial construction invented by man.

This negative pre-social concept is not found in ancient Greece or Rome, nor in Christian countries prior to the Reformation, or among the Muslims. It is, in fact, ridiculous. It describes a state of affairs that has never existed. Man is a sociable creature. Outside of your occasional hermit (who posits his isolation in relationship to society), human beings are found in social situations, not in isolation. It would be fair to use the term contract in terms of assent to governance, but not to becoming a social creature.

This may seem to be an innocuous idea, but, in fact, it has serious consequences because it turns the entire basis of society into something which is subject to deliberate and conscious manipulation. So where did this fallacy originate and where, more importantly, has it led us?

The current view of man and human nature has to do with the rise of certain relationships which were based largely on the growth of an usurious economic system - the rise of bourgeois society in which men were freed of their old social bonds which were, in turn, replaced by self-gratification and acquisition as an end in itself. The competitive drive for material gain became the dominant character of man. This view of man is crucial for the development of the modern state.

It should be noted here that this event was preceded by a breakdown in the traditional order which was progressively usurped by the establishment of a feudal and papal power structure. There was, indeed, a reaction to this which manifested itself in various forms of criticism of the system (as in Northern Italy with Marsiglio of Padua and Bartolus in the fourteenth century). But, at this point, all that the critics could do was to switch the source of power to the people, who had usually lost access to the earlier more dynamic social forms. There was nowhere to develop to - other than what was to become the state.

This degression was accelerated by the removal of old strictures, particularly by the legalisation of usury. In the new view, men are fundamentally hostile to one another because they all have appetites for the same things. They all want the largest share of the pie. Hence the relationships between men necessarily become market relationships, relationships between individual contractors. It is no wonder that the term 'social contract' is stressed. All they had to do was to look at the nature of the society that had developed around them to find their justification - that it was people were up to.

Hobbes, the arch exponent of this view of the state, said, 'the Value, or Worth of a man, is as of all things, his Price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his Power,' (Lev. p. 151) or 'The manifestation of the Value we set on one another is that which is commonly called Honouring.' (p. 152) It is at this point, at the very beginning of the modern concept of human relations which are couched in economic terms, that the market economy we see today become inevitable. Indeed, the doctrine of market forces is already laid out as Hobbes says, 'The value of all things contracted for is measured by the Appetite of the Contractors; and therefore the just value, is that which they are contented to give.' (p. 208)

The function of the state therefore becomes the maintenance of the freedoms of the contract, labour, exchange, and capital accumulation. Its job is to preserve the market from anarchy. Political stability means optimum conditions for stable capital growth and debt collection. The desire for gain and increase underlies all. Greed is a powerful stimulant and is itself stimulated by the system. Indeed, the system runs on greed. Greed is the lubricant. That which was previously a sin becomes an asset.

The claim is made by proponents of democracy that the modern liberal democratic state 'maximizes the aggregate of individual satisfactions equitably.' In other words, it satisfies the greatest amount of appetites which are all equally valid. Everyone has free access to self-gratification. Then what man becomes is a consumer of utilities - a bundle of appetites which must be satisfied, and the best society is the one which maximizes the self-gratification of its members. This is tantamount to saying that the best society is the one which distributes the corn to a herd of pigs in the most equitable way - so that no pig is too hungry. The idea of getting out of the pig-sty does not arise. If that is the underlying view of man, then it's no wonder that things are in the state that they are in!

In such a state of affairs, here is no way of judging right and wrong because all is relative, as the appetites of everyone are equally valid. William Godwin sums it up, 'The end of virtue is to add to the sum of pleasurable sensations.' Nothing more. This view underlies the very foundation of the modern nation-state. It is inseparable from it.

So modern society consists of nothing more than market regulation, by which I mean maximising the potential for gain for those who control the means of exchange and access to the markets, irrespective of what the political apparatus currently in power calls itself. The only 'freedoms' stressed and even allowed are those which are prerequisite conditions for the stable functioning of the market. Good is to be found in the indefinite increase of material goods. Wealth = happiness. Everyone is a consumer and has an equal right to consume or not to consume. You can go to Tesco or to Sainsbury or Safeway, but you can't change the basic structure of the whole system. You can't opt out of it. Try it and you'll find the U.N. arriving on your doorstep and American bombs falling out of the sky!

So the modern democratic state in which virtually the entire globe is enmeshed - is characterised by a system based on:

1. The encouragement of self-gratification - leading to the bestialisation of the human being and cutting him off from any access to spirituality.

2. A lack of loyalty, fidelity and trust between members of society. All are competitors for the same prize, and hence all are mutual rivals of one another. In this context, it is worth nothing that modern economic techniques are, in fact, hostile and aggressive moves - hostile take-overs, etc.

3. An imposition of the laws of the system from above in order to maintain order so that those who are in power (who are those who are accumulating more through usury in its various manifestations) can accumulate still more, and to let off pressure from those who are exploited so that they do not attempt to do anything about it. This is, in fact, a master/slave situation where the masters have no responsibilities to the slaves, and where the slaves have not even recognised that they are slaves.

Is this anything but tyranny? And in a democracy, you have absolutely no control about what the government does. If you don't like what it does, of course you can vote in the other party, and then you have absolutely no control over what the government does. All your vote does is to provide a spurious justification for the system, and once people sense this, it means that they become passive and apathetic because they know that they have no power. They are slaves. This is not a natural human situation. This is nihilism. This is the end of the free human being.

But as I said, this is a faulty modern view of society which is, in fact, a result of the acceptance of legalisation of usury which transformed society in a previously unheard of manner. The natural state - the pre-usurious society - and the Islamic model - is something else. The underlying basis of society is not mindless gain, but justice and loyalty.

This brings us back to the essential nature of man. Before this unfortunate social transformation, the real business of life was viewed as salvation of one's soul - or one's people or tribe - through good - or heroic - actions. Economic concerns were subject to that. Hence economic matters must follow certain principles of justice and loyalty so as not to impair man's spiritual state - to ensure that he remains a free human being, and not a beast and slave to his or someone else's appetites.

So what is a society? It is not, as the modern definition would have it, a 'objective collectivity' of people simply lumped together. It is a collection of people who have a common project and shared values which permeate the whole of a man's life and which provides a means for the realisation of spiritual goals. What is the common goal of democracy? An unanswerable question. It is a fellowship in which people have mutually recognised relations with one another. Early societies formed around a leader of a tribe or a people, usually in a territory. In the Islamic paradigm, the community embraces any who accept its basic tenets and offers allegiance to it. There must be something which holds a society together.

The central factor in any natural social grouping is loyalty. As Aristotle said, 'Every association seems to involve justice of some kind and friendship,' i.e. loyalty.

Loyalty takes on many forms - being faithful to one's commitments, duties and values - including following the precepts and commands of God. There is loyalty to one's spouse and relatives and friends. There is loyalty to one's business associates. There is loyalty to all sorts of people and ideas in all sorts of situations.

One expects this loyalty to be reciprocal and so there is trust. It is this trust and fidelity which underlies relationships between people in a natural social situation. This is so basic that it is even reflected in the language. Both in the Judeo-Christian tradition and in the Islamic, the terms for trust and belief have a certain reciprocity. The word for belief or faith in Arabic is iman and the word for trust is amana, both being derived from the same root. There are acts of disobedience against God both Biblically (pesh) and in Islam ('asiyya) - this is viewed as a sort of disloyalty. All relationship are permeated with this sense. An indication of what happened in Europe in the transformation of the meaning of terms like society which took place. (see Michel Foucault)

It is this sense of loyalty which permeates natural society and provides the basis for the observation of customary law rather than any central authority imposing it on a reluctant population. If you need a standing police force to enforce the law on a regular basis, there is an obvious problem in society itself. Something is wrong with society. It should not be necessary. The outlaw is an anomaly, not a persistent and pervasive problem. In a natural state, the rules are based on personal ties and what is necessary to maintain an atmosphere of mutual trust. In the modern state, there must be stronger political sanctions to enforce them because these statutes are frequently political mechanisms to maintain the extractive power of the rulers, not to maintain justice.

Which brings us to the ruler, or to the state which has taken the place of a particular ruler. Rather than being the extractor and exploiter, in a natural state the ruler is viewed as the protector of those under him, the one who ensures that justice is done and everyone with a due receives what is due to him. He is a responsible guardian. To give a concrete example of this, the word used by the first Khalif, Abu Bakr, in referring to himself, and a word that is frequently used for governors, is wali, which means a guardian, heir, or executor. He is someone who manages things for a person in their best interests. As an example of the proper attitude of a ruler, it would do well to quote what he said to the people when he became Khalif. He said:

O people! I have been put in charge over you, but I am not the best of you. If I act well, then help me, and if I act badly, then put me right. Truthfulness is a trust and lying is treachery. The weak among you is strong in my sight until I restore his right to him, Allah willing. The strong among you is weak in my sight until I take the right from him, Allah willing. People do not abandon jihad in the way of Allah but that Allah afflicts them with humiliation. Shamelessness does not spread in a people but that Allah envelops them in affliction. Obey me as long as I obey Allah and His Messenger. If I disobey Allah and His Messenger, you owe me no obedience. (Sira Ibn Hisham)

There is reciprocity between ruler and ruled. The Prophet clearly stated, 'An imam is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock.'

Otherwise governance becomes unlawful tyranny, and in a natural state when the ruler becomes the extractor and exploiter rather than the protector, that is recognised as being wrong. In other words, the ruler would have then left the bonds of loyalty. As Blackstone defines this in Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-69), Book IV, Ch. 1:

[Allegiance to the tie...] which binds every subject to be true and faithful to his sovereign, in return for that protection which is afforded him; and truth and faith to bear of life and limb, and earthly honour; and not to know or hear of any ill intended him, without defending him therefrom.'

And what of abuse of power? In Islam, tyrannical oppressors can be overthrown. There is a definition by 'Uthman dan Fodio about when such a course becomes necessary. This is also interesting. It arises when: 'Secular laws are substituted for the Shari'a, pagan customs and behaviour replace Islamic morality; oppressive taxation, usurpation and the confiscation of property replace the Islamic system of taxation and fiscal policies, and Islamic inheritance laws are abandoned in favour of pagan whims.' The transformation described could easily be transposed to the European situation.

For Muslims in cases of injustice, there is access to the qadis or judges, for the ruler is not above divine law. For the pre-feudal society, as in Ireland, there was the brithem or jurist who expounded the law - and the brithem was liable for damages if he gave a false judgement. Even within the feudal system itself, the theory was still there (as in the case of John of Salisbury), but it had been superseded by the imperial model taken from Rome.

The law was not imposed from the top. The ruler did not pass laws and then impose them on the people. In Islam, it is of divine origin. The sole function of governance is to enable the individual Muslim to practise his Deen and to fulfil his obligations to Allah, which includes what is due from him towards other members of society. This, at the bottom line, is the sole purpose of any 'state' for whose purpose alone those in authority possess any authority over others. The worth of the government can be measured by how much this is achieved. The state as an institution in its own right is a usurpation of God's sovereignty. It has no intrinsic authority on its own. By definition, a Muslim 'state' CANNOT enact laws.

In the pre-feudal European system, (again to mention Celtic law since there is such a large corpus of extant sources on it), the brehon or judge was considered to be acting on behalf of a divine power. The Irish word for judgement, 'breth', comes from the verb, 'ber', to bear. To give a judgement was expressed as 'to bear a breth', denoting his divine soure. The famous brehon of the first century, Morann, wore a collar round his neck which tightened when he gave a false judgement and expanded when he gave a true one. It involves reaching what is true and just and ordained by God.

Furthermore, the customary pre-feudal law between people was based on ties of loyalty and bonds of service/protection in a manner which did not have the extractive power of the feudal power system. In the Irish system of clientage (célsine), a man would offer armed attendance on a lord in return for protection and support, but he retained his free status. He was not a serf or a vassal tied to a bit of land. It was not a state where one group unfairly extracts from another group. A serves B in return for B serving A, not B paying A some unfair amount and losing his freedom in the process. It was a state of mutual benefit based on loyalty and trust. The highest loyalty being to God, and then derived from that, loyalty between its members. It is this sense of mutual loyalty and support which is lacking in modern society.

The major problem facing all mankind is that man has forgotten his position in the cosmos. From the inception of the modern state, and particularly since the Enlightenment, he has devoted his energies to seeking power, mastery and unlimited gain. He has tried to become the Lord of all, and forgotten who the Lord of all really is. By attempting to control everything by rational definition - often based on erroneous concepts and assumptions - or by sheer unrestrained will and greed, he has turned everything and everyone into objects. By refusing any natural restraints on his god-like mastery of all, he has in fact become bestialised, and this is reflected in the political form which modern man has chosen - liberal democracy. The end result of democracy is despair because you have no power and all your relationships are unimportant. The only possible end that this can have is political decadence, in which one resorts to elaborate methodology, structuralism and codification in a vain attempt to find some meaning in it all.

The natural state has been totally lost in the West and there no longer remains a means of real access to it. The pre-feudal state is either lost in the mists of time and dusty history books, or turned into a Romantic costume fantasy.

The one access to a natural state which we DO have is the Islamic paradigm. There IS a model and it is not lost in the mists of time. It was successfully implemented in Nigeria only in the last century in the Sokoto caliphate by 'Uthman dan Fodio whom I mentioned briefly, until it was overpowered by military force by the English colonialists. It worked. It functioned well. It can still work if we want to be human beings, and not mindless brutes or slaves. It requires the desire to get out of the pig-sty.

"I am a slave. I eat as a slave eats and I sit as a slave sits.", Beloved, sallallahu alyhi wa-sallam.
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