The Age of Materialism Is Over

“The Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has said the age of materialism is over and the world is moving towards spiritual values” (“Ahmadinejad: Materialism Is Outdated,” Press TV 15 August 2007).  Is it?

His dear imam wrote a letter to Gorbachev in 1989.  Among other things, Khomeini said, “However much the Western world may appear to be the land of economic dreams, due to the wrong methods of the previous communist rulers, that is an illusion.  If you seek to solve the problem of socialism by adhering to the Western heart of capitalism, not only will you not help your society revive itself but you also will need yet another group of rescuers to come and compensate for your mistakes.”  He was right.

(Khomeini also urged the Soviet leader to study Islam seriously.  I doubt that Gorbachev did, but Putin, or his advisers, must have.  Putin is the only non-Muslim leader who fought a bloody “war on terror” against Muslim separatists, earned respect from the entire Islamic world, across the political spectrum from Hamas to the House of Saud, and won observer status for the Russian Federation at the Organization of the Islamic Conference — all at the same time, besting the empire’s power elite.)

Khomeini also said that the West faced the same crisis of faith as the Soviet Union.  On this his diagnosis proved to be premature, but only by less than two decades.  Just as Soviet socialism faced the crisis of faith, so does market fundamentalism today, as faith in credit is now being shaken up, for the seemingly material foundations for credit — Americans’ continuing ability to consume far more than they produce, “Americans make a living selling each other houses, paid for with money borrowed from the Chinese” (Paul Krugman, “Safe as Houses,” New York Times 12 August 2005) — were in truth a flimsier ground for faith than any religious belief.

Yes, indeed, the age of materialism is over, but it was already over by the time Marx criticized Feuerbach:

The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism — that of Feuerbach included — is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively.  Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism — which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such.  (“Theses on Feuerbach,” 1845)

The “active side” has been “developed abstractly by idealism,” such as Islam.  The question today is, Can Islam learn to know “real, sensuous activity as such,” to better resist the empire?

Yoshie Furuhashi is editor of MRZine.

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