Interview with Abdolkarim Soroush.
By SA’ID RA’I for the Iranian Labour News Agency,January 2004.
Translated by Nilou Mobasser.
Intellectuals: The Powerless Wielders of Power. (page 3 of 3)
SA’ID RA’I: In a speech you made ten years ago, under the title Shariati and the Theoretical Reconstruction of Religion, you said: « Some of our clerics have been unfair and unkind to Shariati and some of Shariati’s reactions against the clergy may have resulted from this hostile behaviour… In Shariati’s works, you can see that at times he speaks glowingly of the clergy, supplying beautiful and effective arguments. He says at one point that they never placed their signatures on a colonialist document. He says elsewhere that our quarrel with the clergy is an internal quarrel and stupid is the child who drags a quarrel out of his house and into the street. On other occasions (because he was upset) he wrote things that even we do not find pleasing today and the words used are perhaps harsher than they ought to have been. » This was your judgement on the tenth anniversary of Shariati’s death. Don’t you think people may come to the same conclusion about you in the future? But with the added pro viso that you never praised the clergy in your works, you only criticised them. Our present conversation is a case in point. In your opinion, has the clergy served any positive function in Islam and Iran or has its function been wholly negative?
Soroush: You should first bear in mind that I’m engaged in analysis, not praise. I would have to be standing before a truly magnificent beloved like Jalaleddin Rumi in order to praise it helplessly and « The prayers of the unreservedly-in-love are of a different stuff»! Secondly, I have no quarrel with the clergy and, even if I did, it would be an internal quarrel, as Shariati put it. Thirdly, there can be no doubt that the clergy have treated me unkindly. Were some of the people who cut off my speech and tore my shirt in Isfahan not clerics? One of them said explicitly that he was a seminary teacher. I later learnt the name of the person behind the attack and he was a cleric too. Did a single cleric say a word in protest after the attack against me and the gathering at the Technical College (October 1995) and the heinous deeds that were committed in the name of the defence of the clergy? Did some of them – and I know this for certain – not go so far as to express pleasure over it? Did they not e xpress support for it in their Friday prayer sermons? Bear in mind that no academic has ever attacked a cleric, although the reverse has happened, and we have witnessed it and patiently not said a word. Fourthly, when Shariati says no cleric has ever put his signature to a colonialist document, he is being generous and polite, since clerics didn’t hold any official posts to be expected to put their signature on anything. It also has to be said that people like Seyyed Zia and Seyyed Hassan Taqizadeh, who were from clerical backgrounds, did unfortunately sign such documents.
As to the question of the function the clergy has served in Islam, the truth of the matter is that the clergy, which is generally the bearer of the outer layer of religion and consists of people who perform religious rituals, serves a positive function in terms of the understanding they themselves have of religion and pass on to the people. That is to say, the clergy suits that religion and that religion suits the clergy. And, if they didn’t serve any positive function, they wouldn’t have come into existence or survived (I’m speaking from a purely functionalist perspective). Yes, if the understanding of religion changes; if progressive thinkers – who have fortunately appeared in seminaries now – gain strength and become the dominant force and present a new and purified conception of religion; and if they avoid having their this-worldly interests entangled with other people’s other-worldly concerns, then the standing and role of the clergy will change and it will serve a different function. The clergy h as so far not demonstrated any sensitivity to such important topics as human rights, religious tyranny, the pitfalls that plague a religious community, making a living off religion and so on, and even when they do speak about these things, they just repeat the same old phrases. The development of sensitivities of this kind will transform the institution.
SA’ID RA’I: You suggested that interest in the idea of civil society can bring about a fundamental change in religious thinking. The question is, what kind of change? And of what reason or cause is civil society itself the effect? Also, what exactly do you mean by civil society?
Soroush: There are a host of issues here. I believe that civil society is based on the two concepts of « pluralism » and « right ». Pluralism first came about in western societies with the growth of the population, the accumulation of capital and the increasing number of groups, classes, strata and professions. In order to be able to contain all these groups and maintain harmony between them, society had to create a theoretical framework. This theoretical framework is the concept of right. In other words, they said that all these strata and groups have rights and they can live peacefully alongside one another, without any group having advantages or mastery over the others. Thus, civil society is based on two pillars: one is the causal pillar that consists of that actually existing plurality and the other is the theoretical pillar or the reason/concept that is known as right. These two have given rise to civil society. The growth of civil society depends on the growth of the underst anding people have of instances or applications of rights. In primitive society, which is seen as the precursor of civil society, rights did exist but its applications were extremely limited and ambiguous. And, most importantly, the right-bearing human being had not yet been born.
At the present time, civil society is described as a society that has institutions that defend the individual against the government. This definition is correct but it does not give us an idea of civil society’s roots and history. What is meant by civil society is a society in which, first, pluralism is officially recognised, that is to say, different groups are acknowledged to have the right to exist; and, secondly, in which the human being has rights (as opposed to having duties). The fact that civil society is also based on the rule of law, too, is a consequence of it being a rights-based society. The law in these societies speaks of the people’s rights and has been established to protect those rights. Rulers become rulers as a result of the people exercising their rights and, because people have rights, they expect their rulers to act responsibly and be accountable. The existence of a parliament and the separation of powers is also based on the people’s rights. Law and order in themselves are, of c ourse, not the only measure of civil society. Strict discipline and order also exist in a prison, but a prison is not a civil society because the prisoners have not voluntarily opted for that order. A law arising from rights and emanating from volition and rights-bearing human beings characterises civil society, not any order, any law and any human being. This civil society is not really in keeping with our current religious thinking and the existing reading of religion, unless we amend our reading. As I’ve said elsewhere, in the new world, we describe people as citizens, which is a translation of a western word. This is a completely new concept, as against the term peasant or a member of the ummah. In the past, people were either members of a religious community [ummah] or they were the sultan’s peasants. But today an individual living in society is known as a citizen and this concept in itself is a recognition of the fact that they have equal rights with everyone else; whereas, in the past, if anyone was considered to be a member of a religious minority, it was assumed and accepted that they would enjoy fewer rights. Or, if someone was defined as a peasant, he was thought to have a great many duties and very few rights. Therefore, the term citizen cannot be associated with peasant or a member of an ummah. Combining and reconciling rights and duties is not an easy task. I hope that Mr Khatami, who has spoken about rights and focused his efforts around this idea, can succeed in resolving these theoretical problems and establishing a society of this nature.
SA’ID RA’I: So you believe that a reading of religion that revolves around duty is incompatible with civil society?
Soroush: According to Contraction and Expansion we have to refer to our definition of a human being. The duty-bearing human being is the basis of the classical understanding of religion. It goes without saying that the right-bearing human being gives us a different conception. I’m of the opinion that the duty-bearing human being corresponds to the Ash’ari conception and the right-bearing human being to the Mu’tazili conception. So, the bases for both of them can be found in the Prophet’s Tradition.
SA’ID RA’I: It would seem that some people have become aware of this problem and said, because the human being has duties, we cannot have a civil society. The society that is in keeping with the duty-bearing human being is the velayi society [based on religious guardianship]; this is why there are people in our country who have spoken of the velayi society as opposed to civil society.
Soroush: This is demagoguery. I have rarely seen anyone who has reached the conclusion that the velayi society is a duty-based society, whereas civil society is a right-based society and that the two cannot co-exist. I have even come across ill-read individuals who have argued that a religious society is the best form of civil society. These people seize any new term and distort and emasculate it. At any rate, civil society is a rich, modern concept and much work needs to be done to allow it to sit comfortably within religious thought. In social classifications, masses can be divided into religious and non-religious masses, but societies cannot. Societies are classified as industrial or pre-industrial, etc., and any one of them may be religious or non-religious.
SA’ID RA’I: I remember you saying on numerous occasions that it is not a good idea for spiritual people and mystics to gain power and position, thereby sullying spirituality with politics. You have also said that, in view of the master-follower relationship in mysticism, one of the pitfalls looming before a spiritual state is dictatorship. Can you say a bit more about this?
Soroush: It is as you said. First of all, mysticism is a theory for the minority, not for the majority. If we want to rule the majority with a theory that’s meant for the minority, we are bound to move towards ideological thought and totalitarianism. Secondly, one of the pillars of mysticism is the master-follower relationship, and this is another thing that should not be reproduced in government. In government, the relationship between the ruler and the ruled must be one of equality and criticism. This is why mysticism is a fringe theory addressed to a minority; it addresses the followers of that particular creed. What’s needed for ordinary people is an ordinary morality and a religion that everyone is able to practise. The vast majority of the people are negligent and it is only the rare exceptions who can overcome this negligence; mysticism is for those very rare few. In any socio-political theory, that general negligence must be taken into account, otherwise it will be unfair to the majority.
SA’ID RA’I: In the opinion of Franz Neumann, the intellectual is society’s critical conscience and the intellectual’s main task is to produce ideas. Under democratic regimes, he can live freely in the open market by selling his products, but, under dictatorial regimes, the intellectual is faced with two options: one is physical migration and the acceptance of a life of exile; the other is to « make an inner homeland » or to « migrate within ». Neumann believes that, politically speaking, people like Kant and Spinoza migrated to an inner world in order to make great theoretical contributions to the world. But the only option for dissenting intellectuals under totalitarian regimes is physical migration. « Fleeing within » in such circumstances would entail a complete abandonment of theoretical activity. The answer to the question, what was the theoretical contribution of those who chose inner migration in Italy and Germany, is: nothing. The desks of all the people who migrated within remained empty. There were no scribbled notes written under the dictatorship and hidden in the desks’ drawers for publication after the collapse of the totalitarian regime.
But the intellectual who migrates physically (going into exile) doesn’t just move from one location to another. He has to cut himself off from an entire history and a host of shared experiences. He has to learn a new language in order to think in that language and experience the world anew. In a word, he has to create another life. What he has to adjust to is not losing a job, a profession, wealth, position and social standing – although this would be painful enough – he has to adjust to the weight of a different culture.
In view of the fact that many Iranian intellectuals have experienced physical migration and that you yourself were forced to live abroad for a little less than a year recently, what do you think about it?
Soroush: With respect to Franz Neumann’s good phrase, I have to say that migration is one of the defining characteristics of intellectual life, be it under dictatorial states or otherwise. I said in my book Intellectuals, Insight and Religion that an intellectual won’t become an intellectual until he has experienced migration from his natural habitat – and, especially, his natural theoretical habitat – and lived in other environments before returning home. Whatever else migration may be, it is a concept that occurs in the Koran. If someone is prevented from carrying out his duty, he must migrate, otherwise, according to the Koran, when he dies, he will face the wrath of the angels who will ask him: « Was God’s earth not big enough for you to migrate elsewhere? » We are also familiar with what Toynbee has said about the civilising effects of migration. Yes, it is impossible for anyone who is familiar with only one source to become an intellectual. One of the characteristics of intellec tuals is that they are multi-sourced. This characteristic can be acquired in a number of ways, one of which is voluntary or involuntary migration. Either way, the migration will prove beneficial. There are times when the migration is internal; at other times, it can be external. That is to say, there are moments when the external circumstances are such that an intellectual can find no space or opportunity to breathe and nothing is of any avail. Then, it’s his right to escape the suffocation and to seek air and sunlight elsewhere, so that he may eventually rise again like a splendid, glowing sun. The prerequisites of such a migration are, first, an assessment and understanding of the situation; secondly, refusing to succumb to a host of attachments and temptations and not growing fond of trivialities; and, thirdly, possessing great capital. In brief, it is not as if anyone who falls silent or seeks refuge in some isolated corner or flees his homeland is destined to rise like the sun one day to shed light upon the world. Some people die when they are descending into their dusk and are in decline and they leave no impact whatsoever. In our own culture, we have had the likes of Ghazzali, who benefited from both internal and external migration. Ghazzali travelled both within – where he started from doubt – and without, from whence he returned after many years to bring great offerings and gifts to the people of his own time, as well as future generations.
Migration teaches you many things. In the first instance, migration diminishes one’s attachments and nothing can be more harmful and deadly to an intellectual as attachments. These attachments can be of many different varieties: Attachments in terms of power, family, environment, familiar circles, material wealth, profession and so on. A migration will prove beneficial when this breaking away from attachments is carried out intentionally and deliberately, not for the sake of fleeing. These useful migrations are a kind of voluntary death and, even if they yield no benefit at all, they will at least release you from trivial and futile worries and concerns. If one uses the opportunity to reflect on things and reassess past experiences, if one looks at other people’s experiences and observes things from outside, many lessons will be learnt. As a rule, you will learn a great deal when you look at things as a bystander, rather than as a player. At any rate, all things being equal, I believe that migration ca n be very beneficial, be it involuntary or voluntary. But let me add that some migrations are nothing but a pretext for disguising a lack of talent and ability, and a way of fleeing from responsibilities and the hardships of struggle. These cases should not be described as migrations at all. Human beings have the greatest capacity for deceiving themselves and then for deceiving others. One must not indulge in self-deception. Intellectual work demands determination, strength of character and prophet-like patience. It is fraught with difficulties, breeds many enemies, gives rise to much hardship and deprives one of the sweet attachments of friendship, family life, a job and so on; although it also arouses admiration and acts as a magnet to many people. If an intellectual does not possess a firm determination and a wealth of capital and profound ideas, he will break in the face of these hardships, abandon his calling and lose all his capital and gains.
SA’ID RA’I: In the book The Opium of Intellectuals, Raymond Aron described Marxism as the opium of intellectuals. I think if we were to write a book about the opium of intellectuals in Iran, we would have to give pride of place to hatred of government as the opium of Iranian intellectuals. In their theories, Iranian intellectuals almost always call the legitiNawaaty of the government into question and say that it is utterly lacking in theoretical justification or popular backing. In such circumstances, all doors are shut to dialogue between the state and intellectuals, foreclosing every option other than violence and revolution. This is the impasse we have experienced many times. Do you agree with this description of Iranian intellectuals and how do you think we can get away from this approach?
Soroush: A great many things can be said about Aron’s ideas, but I’ll confine myself to the point you mentioned about Marxism turning into the opium of intellectuals. I agree with him. Marxism really became some kind of religious dogma and closed ideology. It demanded that intellectuals should join a highly-disciplined party organisation, switch off their brains and follow the party line blindly and mindlessly. This runs completely counter to the nature of intellectual activity and freedom of thought. And this is exactly why communist parties became increasingly impoverished and emasculated, losing all capacity for theoretical innovation. As Toynbee put it, they proved incapable of offering new answers to new questions. And in the end they disintegrated and died. So nothing should be allowed to act as an opium, especially in the realm of intellectual activity. Strict party discipline is just such an opium.
Of course, powers and governments may be illegitimate, but viewing power as intrinsically reprehensible is another matter. The bases of legitiNawaaty or illegitiNawaaty is itself worth thinking about. This has to do with our theory of justice. An unjust government is illegitimate; it has nothing to do with it being non-Shi’i or non-Islamic. I believe that the question of whether a government is religious or non-religious is not the criterion for measuring legitiNawaaty. It is justice that must be given pride of place here and it goes without saying that, with justice, true religion will also develop and flourish. And I’m speaking about a justice that manifests itself in the state, not in the individual. Today, there are eulogists who exonerate the clerics who, under the Safavid dynasty, cooperated with oppressive rulers and the cruel masters of the world, because the rule of the Safavids was the first Shi’i government that had come to power after hundreds of years and it had to be supported. This argument is co mpletely unacceptable. It is based on the same logic that is used by clerics in Saudi Arabia who support the rule of Fahd and his family because it is the only Wahhabi state in the world and it has to be supported and its mistakes overlooked. Bringing sectional interests into consideration in assessing the legitiNawaaty of states forces you to close your eyes to its injustices and makes justice synonymous with the system, whereas justice must precede the system. On the question of legitiNawaaty, we must rely on concepts that apply to all creeds and sects alike, such as justice, development and so on. And you already know what my views on justice are. I believe (as I said in the article Ethics of the Gods) that justice is not a virtue that is superior to the other virtues or in the same category as them; justice is, in effect, to act upon ethical principles and virtues. Ethical principles cannot, therefore, be violated in the name of justice. You cannot insult and degrade people, accuse them of crimes you kno w they haven’t committed, torture them and behave duplicitously and then claim that you’re forced to do this for the sake of justice and the interests of the system (as the communists did) and argue that the end justifies the means. No, justice means precisely acting upon ethical principles and virtues and that is all. A government that predominantly uses unacceptable means (under whatever name or banner and on the basis of whatever ideology, creed or sect), inflicting suffering and hardship on the majority of the people, is an unjust and illegitimate government. General dissatisfaction and discontent among the people is a sign of or, rather, identical with God being discontent. Seeking excuses and turning hither and thither trying to invent a legitiNawaaty on some other basis is either sophistry or ignorance. Yes, our progressive thinkers – particularly in Iran – have derived their inspiration from two theoretical sources: Marxism, which was anti-authoritarian and anti-state, and Sufism, which struggled against and was opposed to power. In fact one of the characteristics and even virtues of progressive thought in our society has been its left-wing nature and its opposition to power and the state. I believe that the task of intellectuals now is precisely to redress this excess. We cannot and must not fight power simply because it is power; we must try to understand the particular cultural fabric of power and struggle against its pitfalls. We cannot fight wealth and knowledge simply by virtue of their being wealth and knowledge; we must combat excessive accumulation and the fact that things aren’t distributed fairly.
At any rate, intellectual work is not some kind of pious abstinence or self-denial. It is to wage a pious struggle against injustices, crimes and corruption, while maintaining one’s integrity and righteousness and not succumbing to the charms of power. This is what intellectual work demands. We must be vigilant and keep it in mind that power is not confined to politics. We must recognise that it also manifests itself in cultural power, the power of propaganda, and so on. We must acknowledge that the intellectual, too, is a powerful creature and that escaping power altogether is an impossibility.
One of my objections to the Sufis and mystics has always been that they attached very little value to life and saw human beings as lacking in volition. They flew at such great heights as to leave only their shadows on this earth, as if they themselves were not living here. Hafez was a thinker who understood life very well and was neither ashamed of the life we lead on earth nor wish to flee from it. He believed that it was our destiny to live here and to enjoy our earthly blessings. But even this life-loving and pleasure-seeking poet, was only prepared to partake of the blessings of a merry, festive life and shunned any kind of legendary ethics or the blessings relating to ambition and power, and said:
The king’s crown in which the fear of death is reflected
Is a glorious headpiece, but scarcely worth a cracked head…
You’d best turn away and not beckon the admiring horde
For the joy of conquering the world isn’t worth the sorrow
That is to say, even in the eyes of this great critic of Sufism, power seemed to be something undesirable, such that he obviously attached much higher value to the other blessings. Unfortunately, this cultural patrimony has continued to affect our thinkers to this day. Criticising and sifting out these traditions and casting away some of their unsavoury segments is one of the duties of intellectuals.
SA’ID RA’I: In your writings, you always seem to be trying to make religion and modernity compatible. That is to say, you present a reading of religion that is intended to make religiosity possible in the modern world. And, when you want to analyse modern concepts, you usually do so in a traditional mould. In the article Straight Paths, you speak about pluralism, which is a modern concept, in a wholly traditional language, to such an extent that you make it seem as if pluralism was a part and parcel of our tradition and mysticism. Now, if a phenomenon of this kind is really intrinsic to our tradition or to the works of Jalaleddin Rumi – and bearing in mind that you are of the opinion that theoretical change precedes social change – the question arises as to why this idea hasn’t had any impact on our actions? Again, in Religious Intellectualism, you say that intellectualism is a modern phenomenon, but, by way of an example, you refer to Hafez as an intellectual, although he belongs to the pr e-modern erSoroush:
Soroush: In response to the last part of your question, I have to say that intellectualism has a number of different aspects. One aspect of intellectualism is criticism of one’s own society. It is on this basis that I see Hafez as an intellectual, because he was without a doubt a stronger and bolder critic of his society than Mowlavi Jalaleddin Rumi. If you look high and low in Mowlavi’s works, you will not find as much criticism of duplicity and hypocrisy in his sixty thousand verses as you will in the four thousand verses written by Hafez. Hafez saw duplicity and hypocrisy as the actually existing ills of his society and acted against it. But I do not make such foolish claims as to suggest that Hafez used modern concepts or that he was treading along the frontiers of modernity and tradition. It was in view of a single aspect of intellectual work that I described Hafez as an intellectual of his time.
As to the first part of your question: I am aware of the relative epistemological break between the new world and the old, and I believe that, if someone doesn’t take this rupture into account, they won’t be able to understand the new world. In some of my writings I have tried to give a more or less exhaustive list of the ruptures or differences between the new world and the old and to say that modernity consists precisely of those modern concepts, with all the rest following therefrom. If we take these new concepts away from the modern world, there’ll be nothing left but lifeless figures and images. It is not computers, aircraft, railways or chemical medications that make the new world what it is; the new world stands upon the new concepts that were absent from the old world. But it is not as if there has been an absolute epistemological break between the past and the present. There are certainly modern concepts that can be traced into the past. The fact of the matter is that some of the new concepts did occur, in a vague form, totheminds of thinkers in the past, but the veils and barriers impeding their way did not allow them to enter into the new world. I said in one of my lectures about Ibn Khaldun that he did not arrive at sociology in the modern scientific sense because the Aristotelian conception of nature acted as a barrier. In fact, all the necessary preliminaries for the creation of a new science by the name of sociology were to be found in Ibn Khaldun. There was just one barrier and that was the prevailing conception of nature. One particular writer who writes in repudiation of thought misinterpreted what I had said and unfortunately mentioned it in his book in a distorted form, not having understood what I meant by nature and in what sense and in what way it impeded Ibn Khaldun’s entry into the modern world. He decided that, since the ultimate purpose of things is latent in nature and since purpose is value-laden, nature poses a barrier to modern science. There is much confusion and error in this argument. Let me add that the concepts of right and duty, too, are ideas whose roots go back into the past, but the birth of the right-bearing individual undoubtedly occurred in the modern age.
The fact remains that a moat separates the conception that we have of ourselves and of nature and the conception that the ancients had of themselves and nature. The new nature, discovered by Galileo and written in the language of mathematics, and the old nature, discovered by Aristotle and written in the language of natural inclinations, are two different things. The pre-Aristotelian nature that was depicted in the language of the actions of the gods was yet another conception. Aristotle was of the view that when thinkers established the idea of the natural inclinations and substituted them for the habits and actions of the gods, philosophy was born. Thus speaking about natural inclinations was the start of philosophy and discovering the language of mathematics marked the start of modern science. Science also transformed the language of modern philosophy and dressed it in new garments. So, recognising and acknowledging this rupture is a pre-condition for understanding the new world. But this rupture ha s a causal link with the past. This is a point that some people who study the relationship between the old world and the new have not adequately taken into account. The new world is the effect of the old world; modern concepts are themselves the effects of developments in the past. This must be fully borne in mind. This is why I tend to look into the world of the past and try to give the people of the past their due and benefit from them in any way I can. I am also sensitive to the conceptual or causal link between the old and the new. At the same time, I take strong exception to people who present the terms allegiance, consultative council and so on – which existed in the past – as the progenitors of the new concept of democracy. My objection is that this is absolutely impossible, because the foundation stone of modern democratic thought is the concept of right and there was no such creature as the right-bearing human being living on this earth in the past, there was only the duty-bearing human being. This i s the enormity of the gap between the old world and the new, and this gap cannot be filled with ideas such as allegiance and consultative councils. In order to defend Islam, some people say that, since the concept of allegiance exists in Islam, it carries the idea of democracy within it in abstract form. These people seem to overlook the fact that the idea of allegiance already existed among the Arab tribes before Islam and it is of no particular credit to Islam to have used this concept. I should add that allegiance conveys a sense of duty, whereas democracy is based on right. At any rate, I use the views of past thinkers for two reasons: first, some of their ideas continue to shine brightly to this day and new gems can be discovered among them. (Take, for example, my use of the expression gratitude or the etiquette of ability versus patience or the etiquette of poverty. I demonstrated that the ethics of development and seeking success in this world is even compatible with the classical conception of religio n. Ethics entails the etiquette of the able: be rich and be grateful to God. Why seek poverty and revel in patience?) Secondly, in order to bring the meaning of words home to people and make them familiar, it is essential to trace their historical roots (causal or conceptual) and to enter the new world by understanding and criticising the old. In my use of language, I try to maintain continuity; that is to say, I preserve what I can from Sa’di and Hafez and so on. Whenever the language of the past proves absolutely incapable of carrying the burden of a new concept, I use new, innovative terms. I should add that I am totally against ideological translations, by which I mean trying to convert « citizen » in modern political terminology into the term « peasant » from the past. Or to convert democracy into allegiance. I describe this as ideological translation. This kind of translation doesn’t take into account the epistemological break and amounts, in some instances, to scientific or theoreti cal piracy.
SA’ID RA’I: In my previous question, I criticised the fact that you express modern ideas in a traditional language. I’d like to make the same point in a different way now. Popper believes that one of the responsibilities of intellectuals is to prevent the muddying of language. He says, we have to speak in a way as to ensure that, if there is an error in what we’re saying, others can find it easily and point it out to us. He objects to the obfuscatory, pompous, incomprehensible and ambiguous language of people such as Hegel, Heidegger and Habermas. Now, wouldn’t Popper be annoyed if he read your article Freedom as Method or Straight Paths? Why don’t you use the language of analytical philosophers any more?
Soroush: Popper was right when he said, obfuscation in writing is a sin, but pretentiousness is a crime. And it is true that Popper himself wrote simply and pleasantly, not in the sense that the writing didn’t have depth, but it left the way open for readers to comment and criticise. I don’t go out of my way to make my writings incomprehensible, nor, God forbid, do I wish to be pretentious. If there are signs of twists and turns in my writings on occasion, it is because of my attachment to our classical literature. But when reasoning is called for, I try to make my reasoning clear and comprehensible. I am a critic myself of the style of writing that piles claim upon claim without making any effort to guide the reader through the underlying logic. In any case, there is nothing wrong with using classical literature in one’s language, unless – God forbid – it aims to hide something that ought not to be done.
SA’ID RA’I: If you were not enraptured with Sa’di, Mowlavi and Hafez and wrote in the style of analytical philosophers, wouldn’t your Straight Paths and Freedom as Method have turned out very differently?
Soroush: This could be said of anyone; that is to say, if they had a different mind, they would write in a different manner.
SA’ID RA’I: What I’m trying to say is that your reasoning becomes lost amid the literary and mystical allusions and references to Mowlavi, Hafez and Sa’di. In other words, in your articles Ethics of the Gods, Straight Paths and Freedom as Method, the reader cannot see what your main arguments are. An analytical philosopher doesn’t hide his reasoning behind mystical concepts.
Soroush: Maybe some of my articles could do with a logical reconstruction, in which case they would no doubt become very terse and dry. One of my friends rewrote Contraction and Expansion based on logic alone. This kind of reconstruction may be useful for experts, but what about beginners? I do use argumentation in my articles but maybe I combine the logical and philosophical argumentation with other ideas because of the influence of the methods used by Mulla Sadra and Mowlan Soroush: The fact of the matter is that, in my writings, I respect the free association of ideas that flows through my mind and I don’t try to capture them and bind them. I allow the wildness in my mind to be reflected on the page. The critics put their fingers on the darker and deeper recesses and say, you should write more clearly. I have two types of writing: jungles and gardens. The gardens appear only when many years have passed since their birth. In the jungles, the words just pour out uncontrollably, trying to leap wildly and mercilessly over one another in their haste to jump out. This interview was more like a garden than a jungle. Had it been a jungle, it would have been more wild.
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