Time and time again, I have touched on the four remaining ontological states (“essence of being”) in the postmodern age, namely, liberalism, populism, Marxism, and natural religion. The world system and its accompanying economic, political, and social dimensions are essentially a manifestation of the competition between these various ontological states. Aside from having their own set of assumptions, characteristics, and discourse, each ontological state also carries with itself a unique analysis and view of world history. As I mentioned previously, Marxism has a well-defined view of world history, which consists of viewing world history through the prism of a class struggle between the elites and the working class that will end with the victory of the latter.
On the other hand, liberalism is left with more questions than answers as to how world history should be defined and what world history actually means. Thus, there is a certain degree of hollowness and superficiality associated with liberalism when it comes to defining and elucidating the meaning of world history. Populism is concerned mainly with the preservation of the culture and social traditions of the masses, as well as anger and frustration towards the elites. And natural religion – based on an interdisciplinary and pedagogical approach – suggests that world history is a process by which religion and religious awareness will grow over time because of basic human nature and inclinations (“Fitra”).
In turn, the most educated and well-read individuals gravitate towards either Marxism or Islam, whereas the masses maintain their orientation towards populist culture, discourse, and social traditions. Liberalism is the mainstream discourse that has carried over from the modern period into the postmodern period. But as mentioned before, liberalism does not define world history, nor does it provide a clear analysis or meaning to world history. Historical analysis in the liberal tradition was defined by the British diplomat and historian E.H. Carr as “a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past.” As a result, history is left to the individual to be subjectively defined and is left to the whims of the historian as to whether history has meaning or not.
Thus, the most educated people end up choosing between either Marxism or Islam as the most viable interpretation of world history because of a desire and need for clarity and meaning. But Marxism falls short in experience and practice while holding up quite well in theory. Marx shed light on a number of truths that are undeniable, while overlooking the consequences of his basic conclusion. The reason why Marxism falls short in experience and practice has been elucidated by the late Islamic philosopher and scholar Ali Shariati in a book titled “Marxism and Other Western Fallacies: An Islamic Critique.”
What Shariati argued was that Marxism – when applied – eliminates the elite class, only to produce another elite class that is more abusive, exploitative, and extractive than the elite class which existed before. Thus, Marxism and Islam diverge in the sense that the former emphasizes and stresses armed revolution, whereas the latter emphasizes and stresses the preservation of political and social order. In the Islamic view, change and progress have to take place within the confines of political and social order. Absent of political and social order is anarchy and chaos, which Islam prohibits.
While Marxism and Islam agree that change and progress are the inevitable ends of world history, the two discourses and ontological states diverge on the issue of means and strategies. As Marx famously said: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” Whether Islam’s interdisciplinary and pedagogical strategy and techniques prompt changes and reforms to the world system in the coming years and decades is something to watch for. Moreover, projections and trends suggest that the interdisciplinary and pedagogical approach and style of Islam will be quite viable.