After the death of Mohammed in 632, Islam began a triumphant century of conquests. These victories, which left Islam the dominant force in the wealthy Eastern Mediterranean, destroyed what was left of the urban cultural base of the Roman Empire.--Dick Howard (2010) The Primacy of the Political: A History of Political Thought from the Greeks to the French & American Revolutions (Columbia UP), 140.
The quoted passage is just about the only mention of Islam in Howard's book. The passage represents Islam as a powerful military force. It also treats it -- I will grant that this is unintentional -- as destructive of civilization. The contributions to political theory by Islamic thinkers go unmentioned. Howard's book is a survey. It claims to be a History of Political Thought, but outside of Europe and North Atlantic, it fails to cover the other traditions of political theory inspired by Plato. Of course, Islamic-Platonic political theory was also practiced in Europe (e.g., Spain), so the previous sentence is far too generous. This is not the only oversight. While Howard mentions the significance of women and family relations throughout the book, he fails to discuss any female thinkers let alone treat any of them (or a group of them) as worthy of a chapter.+
Alan Ryan's (much larger and) more sophisticated On Politics, mentions some of the leading Islamic philosophers in chapter 6, titled "Between Augustine and Aquinas." But it treats them as metaphysicians and contrasts them with the (somewhat later) Ibn Khaldun, who is considered as the first Islamic political theorist. Now as regular readers know, I am a huge fan of Ibn Khaldun (recall here and here), but this is ignorance about Al-Farabi and those he inspired as well as the roots of key moves in later history of political thought.** (It's not that Ryan ignores their role as transmitter of the Ancients.) Ryan does better on more recent, anti-colonial, twentieth century Islamic thought; he is clearly fascinated by Sayyid Qutb. And it is not impossible that Sayyid Qutb's polemical rejection of the Islamic philosophical tradition as somehow not really "true Muslim philosophy", may have encouraged Ryan to treat it as a topic that can be safely ignored. (That can't be the whole story because Ryan also recognizes that Qutb himself is being extremely inventive about the history of Islam.)
On women's role in the history of political theory, Ryan does somewhat better than Howard. While no woman gets her own chapter, the text is at least sprinkled with references to female thinkers and De Pizan gets serious attention. Peculiarly, feminist manifestos are seen as responding to foolishness and lacking political implications. (Because Ryan is unaware of Ibn Rushd's political theory and Platonic feminism (recall), he also suggests that other than Plato nobody drew the conclusion that political capacity and authority had nothing to do with birth and sex)*
Okay, so much for my polemic and brief survey of the field of historical surveys of political theory. Some other time I'll reflect on the presuppositions that make this kind of practice normal. This post was prompted by my search for a decent textbook to use in a rather massive (300-400 students) first year, Intro to History of Political Theory lecture course (from Plato to Marx) that I have been asked to teach. Our teaching coordinators frown on teaching such first year courses from primary texts alone and -- because an exam is given -- encourage the use of a text-book.
As an aside, most of my scholarly friends in the profession prefer to teach through primary sources. (This has as nice side-effect that our teaching is both research-led and can lead to fruitful research.) And, having gone through The University of Chicago, I, too, share the prejudice. But even for us -- text snobs -- surveys are not trivial; they provide the narrative arc that, if they are written by somebody influential and creative, hovers in the back of our minds and quietly seeps into our teaching and research. In addition, these surveys are also the face of our discipline to many students and wider public.
So, right now, I am still looking for a survey of the history of political philosophy/theory that, in addition to ordinary requirements (competence and nicely written), has three more, moderate desiderata:
(i) some coverage of political theory outside of Europe/North America, and coverage of Islam (within Europe).
- We are constantly being told about globalization and clash of civilizations, but we allow ourselves to be ignorant of the theories that inspire alternative forms of political reflection.
(ii) no ignoring of demography, imperialism, racism, eugenics, and slavery (and theoretical debates about these)
- With the rise of concern of global warming and trans-humanism, there is renewed interest in demography and eugenics; these are perennial topics in the history of political theory (and so are questions over social hierarchy).
(iii) some interest in history of feminism female and male -- (and the theoretical debates about it)
- Feminism has a long history. We flatter ourselves and our students by pretending its novel; such flattery only promotes conformism.
So, this gets me to my question: anybody have suggestions for a history of political theory from a cosmopolitan perspective?* I need a text rather urgently.:)
If non exists, who will step up to write it and which publisher will commission it?
+I skimmed both Howard's and Ryan's book (I was not writing a book review--I was checking these on suitability for assigning it in a class); I may have missed important details, and I am happy to be corrected.
**Obviously, this claim needs to be backed up more fully (but see my backlist of posts on Al-Farabi and Ibn Rushd).