Moral Technologies of the State from Samuel Huntington to Taha Abderrahmane: A Reaction to Trust State Treatise
Michael Bevers 28 September 2017

I stared out the window of a small alcove located on the second floor of a square stone house overlooking a sandy courtyard that framed a manicured plot of thick grass. The yard extended out from the front of a second stone building that housed the compound’s security detail. The green of the lawn sparkled against the dull layer of dust and sand surrounding it that covered the rest of Basra. I had begun to question why I had postponed my doctoral program with the Center for Constitutional Democracy at Indiana University and accepted a third position in Iraq working on the USAID Local Governance Program. The man I came to replace as the regional team leader responsible for managing the program in southern Iraq said something to the effect of: “Sometimes I like to work looking out this window over the compound, it gives you a real sense of purpose.” While I am still not sure what he meant exactly, he seemed to me in that moment as an updated American version of a British colonial officer from the previous century. I asked myself three questions while staring at that patch of lawn while listening to him describing the operations of the compound; first, a rhetorical question wondering how long the Americans would remain in Iraq, second, an existential question to myself as how long it would be before I resigned, and third, which was for the man with a Master’s degree from Harvard standing next to me, why in God’s name is there a manicured lawn in the middle of this compound? The answers to the first two questions ended up being 15 months and 3 months respectively.  I did not find out the answer to the third question until the former manager had left for his new assignment in Baghdad.  The staff told me that he had wanted to bring a sense of home to the three-dozen or so Western expatriates that occupied the compound. He had only issued a single rule for that patch of lawn, – Keep off the grass!

The first image that come to my mind after reading Mohammed Hashas’s use of the word backyard as a metaphor for understanding the asymmetrical relationship between the West and the Arab World: first in his article, “Part I: A Treatise on Trust State for a New Arab World: Overcoming Dichotomous Thought” – “European and Arab histories are intertwined and cannot – and should not – be totally separated; still, they should be severely and separately criticized, until the different Other is recognized as a partner, and not as one’s backyard or colony” was that manufactured lawn in Iraq.[1] He repeats the metaphor in “Part II: Context and Features of Trust State in Fifteen Arguments,” – “The Arab world has become the preferred backyard where Euro-America plays as it wishes; to ward off this arrogance, one should face it intellectually with terms other than its own.” For me that patch of green lawn gleaming against its sandy frame in Basra was the private backyard for the satisfaction of one man. It has always symbolized for me the United States’ involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as an arrogant attempt at creating a government in its own image on foreign soil. From my vantage point looking out from an air-conditioned alcove towards that manicured backyard tended by Iraqis smacked of hubris, the same human quality that helps to manifest the dichotomous thought that Hashas seeks to overcome. Hubris as an attitude, a belief in the superiority of self over the other bolstered by presumptuous claims that can only lead to an asymmetrical relationship between individuals, groups, communities, cultures, and civilizations. A posture of hubris can never engender a space of trust.

My initial reading of Hashas’ treatise is that he is seeking to theorize a trust state out of the rich philosophical ferment of Taha Abderrahmane’s intellectual project. My own work on Taha Abderrahmane centers on reading him through Michel Foucault’s concept of technologies of the self-combined with the Islamic practice of jihad. Jihad has been referred to as a moral technology of the self by two prominent scholars of Islam, Asma Afsaruddin in her book, Striving in the Path of God: Jihād and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought, and Wael Hallaq’s The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament. They both enhance Michel Foucault’s concept of technologies of the self he developed in the latter half of his career by adding a moral dimension to it. He defined technologies of the self as a set of techniques which permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality.[2]

While many theoretical and epistemological differences exist between technologies of the self as imagined by Foucault and those of moral technologies of the self as suggested by Afsaruddin and Hallaq do exist, however a central core similarity can be uncovered. Both Foucault and Abderrahmane seek to define a set of techniques in which an individual can utilize in the face of a hegemonic force field of relations that animate the apparatus of an increasingly global modernity, that remains entangled with and supports in a mutually reinforcing dynamic the phenomenon of dichotomous thought.  Abderrahmane articulates the pervasiveness of this hegemonic modern architecture within contemporary society, as does Foucault. They both also develop a set of practices that an individual can perform in order to resist the hegemony of modernity and constitute the self from an alternative standpoint. However, Abderrahmane draws upon the moral reserves of the Islamic weltanschauung of ethics, where Foucault draws on pre-modern Greek and Hellenistic thought.  Throughout his work Abderrahmane develops a set of techniques that emerge from the Islamic tradition necessary to not only resist the universalizing drive of modernity, but to also form the basis from which to create a trust state, in the reading and wording of Hashas, based upon his trusteeship paradigm.[3] While his set of techniques seek human perfection as does Foucault’s, Abderrahmane’s begins from a moral imperative where these techniques seek responsibility of caring for the other and the natural world, as a priori considerations to caring for oneself.  True human perfection and caring for the self can only be purchased through first seeking care of that which exists beyond the self.

In my opinion Hashas seeks to evolve the work of Abderrahmane in order to develop what the trusteeship paradigm, or in his terminology, the trust state would resemble in reality. In Hashas’ vision of a trust state, trust first seeks to overcome dichotomous thought. By dichotomous thought he means a binary thought that sees the world in reified tones of black and white, with one of the colors in the couplet being superior to the other.  He points out that this type of thought is characterized by “mutual suspicion and diabolization“.[4] The trust state according to Hashas “has no space for arrogance”[5] as well, but holds as its teleological ideals “altruism (al-ghayriyya), compassion (arrahma), recognition (atta‘āruf), and transformative dialogue (attahawur) for justice (al‘adl) and peace (assalām)”[6] The trust state would exist with this set of principles as its teleological purpose, just as Abderrahmane sees the ennoblement of the human as humanity’s teolological purpose.

How does a state ensure the achievement of these purposes and overcome the obstacles to them? How does one construct a “trust” state? What are the set of institutions, policies, processes, that can ensure the emergence of such a state?  I interpret the trust state to be a state where trust, both as a social commodity and as a practice becomes a thread that would need to weave throughout all levels of society in order to make it possible for a diverse community to cohere, and overcome the obstacles produced by the paradigm of dichotomous thought. I would humbly suggest the possibility of envisioning the act of trust as one technique among a possible suite of techniques that would comprise a set of moral technologies of the state. A moral technology of the state would be an operation that becomes circularly reinforcing with the moral technologies of individuals that forms a cohesive relationship between citizens and their institutions built upon the trusteeship paradigm.

 As an initial foray into uncovering what this technology might look like I will submit a preliminary definition of what constitutes trust.  First, trust would require a sufficient level of confidence in the intention, integrity, competency, and general good will of the other – the other in this case would be other humans – as well as trust in the institutions, processes and the social architecture of the state.  Second, this would require the anticipation of mutual cooperation amongst the sets of actors that inhabit the state and that animate the state institutions both public and private. Abderrahmane suggests that in the contemporary world dichotomous thought can be overcome by (ta’āwun) cooperation in the sense that the more politically powerful group of a pair of interlocutors will dominate the weaker requiring them to cooperate with their goals, values, and ideals in the subject matter at hand. He argues for ta‘aruf, i.e. mutual recognition between interlocutors, that creates an egalitarian discursive space, where the a priori assumption that all parties may have something of value to contribute to the subject matter at hand.[7] In his work he points to Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations (1996) as the highest intellectual articulation of binarism or dichotomous thought in the world today.[8] Interestingly enough, prior to his “clash” thesis Huntington outlined the attributes required for the political development[9] of a state based on a modernization process, as well as a group of other attributes required to create a stable political order.[10] He argued that a deficiency in the “art of associating together”[11] as not receiving enough attention in understanding why some states modernize and others lag behind. A deficiency in the art of associating implies a decrease or weakening of the practice of trust relationships between citizens and groups of citizens within a state.  For him the solution to this problem lies in a modernization process that becomes manifest through the institutionalization of political processes and governing bodies.[12]  According to Huntington the problem of political development places the level and speed of mobilization/participation of citizens in a state as a measure to be correlated against  the state’s level of institutionalization of its legitimized political procedures and organizational apparatus in anticipating the creation of political stability within a society. He notes four measures in which to evaluate the effectiveness of institutionalization: adaptability-rigidity, complexity-simplicity, autonomy-subordination, coherence-disunity.[13] I argue that nothing in this set of criteria suggests in any way a moral ethos, but act as measures of efficiency and effectiveness in creating a stable state.  However, he does articulate a morality of the state, and his understanding of that morality is worth quoting at length:

Political institutions have a moral as well as a structural dimension. A society with weak political institutions lacks the ability to curb the excesses of personal and parochial interests.  Politics is a Hobbesian world of unrelenting competition among social forces – between man and man, family and family, clan and clan, region and region, class and class – a completion unmediated by more comprehensive political organizations. … Morality requires trust; trust involves predictability; and predictability requires regularized and institutionalized patterns of behavior.  Without strong political institutions, society lacks the means to define and to realize its common interests.  The capacity to create political institutions is the capacity to create public interests.[14]

He goes on to define public interests as:

not something which exists a priori in natural law or the will of the people. Nor is it simply whatever results from the political process. Rather it is whatever strengthens governmental institutions. The public inter­est is the interest of public institutions (emphasis added). It is something created and brought into existence by the institutionalization of government organizations. In a complex political system, many governmental organizations and procedures represent many different aspects of the public interest. The public interest of a complex society is a complex matter.[15]

While it might seem unfair to judge an entire intellectual project based on only a few lines, I think these selections from Huntington work for the purposes of establishing a starting point for understanding how we might articulate a trust state as expressed in Hashas’s treatise. It provides an articulation of the place of dichotomous thought within a theory of state development. First, Huntington’s insistence on the use of institutionalization to assure morality emerges from an understanding of society that is itself dichotomous. It envisions a world based upon an inherent competitive nature that posits society to be a continuous Hobbesian struggle between human collectives. This binary worldview is also the central signifier within his more familiar work The Clash of Civilizations that insists that a violent clash between civilizations is an inevitable outcome. Second, morality requires trust amongst primordially competing human groupings, differentiated by various identity markers that for him find their highest level of articulation in civilizational blocs. Trust becomes the requisite human quality necessary to overcome humanity’s current habit of expressing reality in terms of a stark binary opposition. The only way to assure trust according to Huntington is the modernization of society through a rational institutionalization process that manages diverse, particular interests with the capacity to create public interests. I interpret this capacity of the state to manufacture interest to be a suite of technologies of the state that constitute the common public interest thought a legitimized narrative of Western secular modernity, where rationalization becomes the central narrative signifier for the entire system.

While I am not saying one cannot find valuable concepts within Huntington’s work on political development and political order, his work does not aim at morals as the primary channel through which a state achieves its highest level of development.   As I stated above, I do believe that Huntington’s work does provide a point of departure for reimagining a suite of moral technologies of the state. Beginning with Huntington’s measures of political development one could modify them by utilizing the same methodological tools that Taha Abderrahmane employed in constructing his concept of an Islamic modernity.  He deconstructed modernity into its core essences and then reinterpreted them through the lens of the Islamic ethos.[16] I propose a similar tactic could be employed to construct a suite of technologies of the state by attempting to reimagine Huntington’s measures of political development and political order through the same moral lens.

Abderrahmane conceived of a counter-narrative to a binary driven narrative of the clash of civilizations.  He proffered an “ethical jihad” that when cooperating with the other; the self must exert the utmost level of effort in creating a humble attitude and sincerity of intention for the sole purpose of integrating the other into oneself.  It is necessary to seek, apprehend, and attain the feelings of the other to the degree that one experiences the other as if the other was oneself.[17] In Abderrahmane’s schema diverse interests become managed through the moral imperative of humble empathy in order to see past difference for the purpose of cooperation without negating difference itself.  This narrative runs counter to Huntington’s proposal for the management of diversity of human interests and human identities through a set of institutions that then constitute what the public interest should be in and of itself.  In fact, these institutions become the public interests in and of themselves.

I would suggest that the ethical jihad of Abderrahmane has a subset of moral technologies of the self that are meant as a practice of ethics that emerge out of the Islamic tradition of jihād b-al-nafs (jihad of the self).  These can be found in the literature on the fadā’il al-jihād (excellences of jihad). The two key virtues of jihad of the self are patience (sabr) and patient forbearance (musābara).[18] These become a priori imperatives incumbent on the self in relation to the other. Furthermore, I would suggest that a more fundamental moral practice exists a priori to patience and patient forbearance, i.e. that of humility.  In my dissertation examining Taha Abderrahmane’s intellectual project, I argue that humility of the self towards others, the natural world, and to the Divine or the Sublime Good is the driving capacity that humans require in order to operate at the best version of themselves within a diverse world in order to create a global society more effective than the one we currently inhabit.  I can find nowhere in these two works of Huntington that speak to either one of these ethical practices.  I am not suggesting Huntington to be amoral in his capacity as a human or an  intellectual, I am only suggesting that these and other virtues akin to them do not play a prominent role within his conception of the modern state.

My modest proposal is that we might begin to theorize what a trust state might look like from the standpoint of a suite of moral technologies that would provide a narrative alternative to the technologies advocated by the modern secular nation state system. This project would seek to conceptualize the essences/technologies/measures of a state, to include its institutions by beginning from Huntington’s measures and then reinterpreting through Hashas’ model of a trust state.  This would be a state based upon a model of a trust practice that forms a moral discursive space between both citizen and citizen, and citizen and institution born of humility.  While it would be easy to characterize the project of developing a trust state rooted in humility as imagining a utopian state rather than engaging in more pragmatic conceptual work, one can level the same criticism towards the project of the modern Western secular nation state with its utopian narrative of perpetual progress through modernization, secularism, and rationalization.

I went to Iraq because at that time I held a sincere belief in the rhetoric of rebuilding Iraq on just such a utopian vision.  I spent a total of 15 months in Iraq working on local governance initiatives aimed at decentralizing authority and democratizing governance systems.  The sincere belief in this Westernization project I brought with me to Iraq was left behind in the sand, the blood, and the struggles that Iraqis still encounter on a daily basis.  The last official act I performed in Iraq was to turn that small plot of grass into a soccer field for the Iraqi employees to play on after work. I donned a pair of shorts and played in the first game, sharing that backyard with my friends. That small vanity project of a manicured oasis in the middle of Basra was the least of the arrogant schemes that the West hatched over the course of 8 years in Iraq.  But it symbolizes for me the possibility of building a backyard that all can enjoy together in trust, friendship, and humility instead of a backyard that only satisfies the singular gaze of the West.

[1] Mohammed Hashas, “Part I: A Treatise on Trust State for a New Arab World: Overcoming Dichotomous Thought,Dialogues on Civilizations: ResetDOC,

[2] Michel Foucault, “Technologies of the Self,” in Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, eds., Huck Gutman, Patrick H. Hutton, and Luther H. Martin (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988) 16.

[3] See Taha Abderrahmane, al-ʿamal al-dīnī wa-tajdīd al-ʿaql [Religious Practice and the Renewal ofReason] (Beirut and Casablanca, al-markaz al-ṯaqāfī al-ʿarabī,1989).

[4] Hashas, “Part I: A Treatise on Trust State for a New Arab World: Overcoming Dichotomous Thought,” op. cit.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Taha Abderrahmane, al-haqq al-islāmī fī l-ikḫtilāf al-fikrī [The Islamic Right to Intellectual Difference] (Beirut and Casablanca, al-Markaz al-ṯaqāfī al-ʿarabī, 2005).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Samuel P. Huntington, “Political Development and Political Decay,” World Politics, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Apr. 1965), 386-430.

[10] Samuel P.  Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968).

[11] Samuel P. Huntington, “Political Development and Political Decay,” World Politics, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Apr. 1965), 386.

[12] Ibid. 387

[13]  Ibid. 394-403

[14] Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies, 24.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Taha Abderrahmane, rūḥ al-ḥadāṯa: naḥwat al-ta ʾsīs li-ḥadāṯah islāmiyyah [The Spirit of Modernity: An Introduction to Founding an Islamic Modernity] (Beirut and Casablanca, al-Markaz al-ṯaqāfī al-ʿarabī, 2006).

[17] Taha Abderrahmane, al-haqq al-islāmī fī l-ikḫtilāf al-fikrī [The Islamic Right to Intellectual Difference] (Beirut and Casablanca, al-Markaz al-ṯaqāfī al-ʿarabī, 2005).

[18] See Asma Afsaruddin’s Striving in the Path of God: Jihād and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

Credit Marwan Naamani / AFP