Professor Aballah Laroui (b. 1933), a Moroccan thinker and novelist, a defendant of the "epistemological break" with Arab/Islamic heritage, and the necessity of embracing modernist Western values as human values, defends the historical orientation in understanding philosophy and Marxism in its Modernist philosophical form.
has been born in the city of "Azmour",
His intellectual journey
started publishing on 1964 under the disguised name Abdallah
Alrafedy when he published a play titled
'The man of memory' in the first issue of the new magazine "Aqlam"
(means Pens). His intellectual and creative production includes
studies in Ideological criticism, history of ideas and systems, and
several novels. He published his works in a number of magazines: "Aqlam"
The year 1967 represented a decisive mark in his thought as well as in the Moroccan thought in general. In this year, his book "contemporary Arabic ideology' has appeared in French language announcing the birth of the philosophical project of professor Laroui. The Arabic translation of the book has appeared on 1970 from Alhaqeqa publishing house. Since then, the name of Abdallah Laroui became essential in the Arabic philosophical arena. For, critics have realized that an important project is in a state of formation. The project of Laroui is characterized by indulging into the core of the Arabic reality, and by introducing radical criticism of the dominating thought.
has been studying in
After an in-depth study of the Egyptian experience, enriched by his deep readings of the literature of the Moroccan National Movement as expressed in the writings of Allal Al-Fassi and Mohammad hassan, Laroui's project appeared comprehensive and critical. It analyzed the Arabic realities and facts in its widespread intellectual, political and cultural aspects, uncovering the points of defect suggesting ways of overcoming such defects. His project became more clear after the year 1973 when he published "The Arabs and the historical thought", which was followed by "The crisis of the Arab intellectuals" in French on 1974, and with the appearance of his series of "concepts" from 1980 till 1996.
The starting point in the philosophy of professor Abdallah Laroui is history. History is related to methodology as a human science, and to reality with respect to its subject of study. Hence, this starting point has been reflected on Laroui's thought and philosophy. Professor Laroui presents his philosophy in two forms, the theoretical methodological form and the novelist artistic form. The first expresses the scientific methodological side of his thought, and the second expresses the social and realistic side. In addition, this duality in the form of writing expresses the dialectic orientation of his thought between reality and ideals, and shows that the ideal, in his view, is not separated from reality but interacts with it in an ascending dialectic. Laroui expresses this dual form as follows,
I say that I write fictions and novels from one side and concept criticism from the other. We start from reality without definition or demarcation otherwise our talk will extend, I call it sometimes the "described". This "described' I deal with it from two sides: the first is the literature description, the second is analysis. (A dialogue: Afaq magazine)
With respect to the theoretical side of his thought, professor Laroui, while dealing with problems of contemporary Arabic thought, is essentially concerned with the question of the method. Therefore, his orientation is epistemological not ontological. The epistemological methodology in Laroui's thought is based on two lines of thought. The first, is the historical line, for "he uses on a wide scale material of the Arabic history". In this respect, he writes,
The book 'contemporary Arabic Ideology' has been issued on 1967. It expresses similar motives as Al-bytar [a prominent writer at that time], but it reflected a greater interest in the question of methodology, and used on a wide scale material of Arabic history…in its introduction an explanation of the concept of ideology has been expounded as follows: this research uses the term ideology in three meanings:
A mental image that is not identical to its realistic origin, as a result of inappropriate comprehending tools. A mental system shields reality due to difficulty or impossibly of analyzing such reality. A theoretical structure imported from another society, which functions as a model to guide praxis and to be realized within it…
We say then that 'Ideology', in this use, is the mental image that is not identical to the social base related to it… This identification is characterized by relating the ideology with a specific historical circumstance, and this relation is the basis of historicity which have been outlined in the book 'Arabs and the historical thought'. In the second book there is an evolution to a higher level, which defines 'Ideology' with respect to the historical role in which it appears.
This conflation between social and historical criticism of the Arabic ideologies exists in the works of all contemporary Arabic writers. However, I followed a methodology that is more relevant to historical thought. I did not extract an ideology from the west, as Al-bytar did, to say: this is the determinate historical law, of which Arabs have no escape. Instead, I studied the spreading ideologies in the Arab world since one century or more, and I classified it and concluded from each one its structure. Then, I showed that each ideology is imported from a specific phase of the phases of the modern western history. Dismantling the western heritage and choosing part of it according to circumstances is the reason of failure of reform policies in the Arabic arena. Afterwards, I concluded the necessity of generality in our view to the west, whatever is the reason behind importing its experience. (the concept of Ideology: 122-125).
The other side of the methodology of professor Laroui is a 'Foundational' one. Rational thought is to be founded on clearly defined concepts upon which we can construct the whole rational construction. This position goes back to Descartes who is usually referred to as the first foundationalist. This side of Laroui's thought appears clearly in his series of 'Concepts' (the concept of ideology, the concept of freedom, the concept of the state, the concept of history, and the concept of reason). He expresses the foundational side of his methodology as follows,
We do not perform research in abstract non-limited concepts with respect to time and space; rather, we do research in concepts that are used by a specific nationalistic contemporary group, the Arabic group. We analyze those concepts and discuss it not only to reach a clear understanding and definite meaning of it, but also because we belief that the success of the Arabic development is constrained by this clearness and that definition. For this reason, we are careful to start by describing the social reality: taking first the concepts as a banner defines the goals and enlightens the national activity. Based on these banners we purport to reach rational and clear concepts, from one side, and to explore the reality of the current Arabic society, from the other, refusing to start from specific understanding of those concepts through which we make our judgment on the correctness of such banners. Moreover, we give up the game of assuming an imaginary reality taken as an ideal through which we judge those banners, because we believe that the easiest rout to the soule of any society is the collective of banners of that society. (the concept of freedom: 5)
He also adds,
I said that this concept, with the meaning I used, is not a mere title, as a name for the linguistics or a hypothesis like that which mathematicians start from, rather, it is an epitomizing conceptual system, even more, it is the system in a concrete form. (the concept of mind: 14)
His Philosophical Position
Laroui embraces the conceptual and theoretical thought of modernism
in general. Modernism, in his view, is equivalent to the
There is no justification to this call except one assumption that is extracted from history itself. It is that the historical role of the West, which extends from the age of renaissance to the industrial revolution, is the only reference to the concepts upon which the revolutionary politics that aim at getting non-European countries from mediating unsettling positions to industrial modernist positions. It is the only justification to our judgment on fundamentalism and technocratic liberalism as superficial and on Marxism as the critical theory of the modernist West, the clear and rational theory that is useful for us in the historical era in which we live. (the concept of ideology: 125), and,
Many has cited Marx, but for political purposes only, I said that the useful Marx for us is the epitomizer, interpreter and theorizer of the general European thought, which represents modernism in all its manifestations. It is better for us, the Arabs, in our current cultural situation, to take Marx as a teacher and guide to science and culture than to take him as a political leader. (dialogue: Afaq magazine)
Based on this philosophical position Laroui deals with the problematic of the Arabic renaissance and takes his stance from the Arab/Islamic heritage. He does that with complete consciousness that he is positing his judgment on the Arab/Islamic heritage using concepts from outside, but he sees that this is the correct position. This is based, naturally, on the concept of unity of humanity and the modernist 'advancement' principle. He expresses this position as follows,
I make my judgment on the Arabic/Islamic heritage through concepts that are not part of it. I claim that any one who lives in our time, who thinks of himself as a son of this time, cannot do other than this; and he who reverses the case gets out from his time to another time. I start up from a concept that is a result of an historical evolution and I apply it on a material that I think is going to be coincident with it. I do this while I am full conscious with the hardships related to this procedure, however, I claim that there is no other procedure for the reason mentioned before. I am conscious that I make a concept that its evolution is 'non-guaranteed as evidence on the validity of applying the concept. This is circular but fruitful not otiose. I am conscious, as well, that the clearly defined concept leads me to illuminate some things and hide others, so I stay necessarily within the circle of the concept. However, I claim that this is the case any way, whether the concept complete or not, and that the concept used here is imposed upon us as a result of our commitment to contemporary humanity. These conditions are, in reality, necessary for a specific position from history and society. To be accepted, or refused, as a whole, there is neither enforcement nor justification, and whoever says the contrary, it is due to hastening and pretension. (the concept of mind: 17)
The Future of Arabic Renaissance
When it comes to the Arabic future, with respect to the conditions of its transformation to the state of modernization, Laroui introduces a general conception. His view is that the transformation of Arabic societies into the modern state can be achieved, only, by embracing the modernist Western thought with its basic categories of 'Rationalism', 'Criticism', 'Advancement', and 'Responsibility of the human being', on the theoretical level, and 'Secularism', 'Marxist social system' and the 'Centrality of the state', on the practical level.
The theoretical necessary mechanism, in his view, to fulfill such a transformation is to make an 'epistemological break' with the Arabic/Islamic heritage. The epistemological break means, here, to impose a break with the classical reasoning and methodology used in the history of the Arab/Islamic heritage, and replace it with the modern and contemporary reasoning and methodology. This is the central concept in the thought of Laroui and we find it fused in almost all his works, he says,
I tried in all my writings to clarify that the historical status within which we live today, which we cannot negate, makes all of our judgments, on definite cases, pragmatic and apologetic. There is no use of judging it as right or wrong, against what measure? It is either consistent with its proclaimed purposes or inconsistent. Then the problem turns out to be, only, one that is related to consistency in methodology.
If it became clear that the age of dictation (be informed that…) as well as the logic of the age of debate (if he says the answer is…), has been finished through the decline of its material, rational and social base. Then it becomes clear that there is no more a ready intuition, a necessary logic, over which everybody resort instantly and through which our thought becomes coherent. It becomes necessary, then, to obtain a new intuition. This cannot be through jumping over an epistemological obstacle, an obstacle of accumulation of classical information, in which partial criticism is useless, rather what is useful is to overturn the page, and that is what I called, and still calling, the methodological break (I used this expression before it became used in the studies of philosophy of science).
With respect to methodology, which is the subject of the series of 'Concepts', it is something else, other than convention and positing. Its topics are related to the position in which we live since two centuries, where our relation to our previous accomplishments and logic of our intellectual heritage has been cut. The problematic, which we face, is whether the researcher will put himself before or after the break with heritage, which is a break that is already happened and deepened, will he admit it or not? Moreover, we have no right to conflate methodology and style. We may choose between the style of, say, this economic school or that, but still, there is one basic methodology represents the basis for the 'science of economics'. On this level there is no choice: either science or opinion. When I talk about method, I mean in reality the logic of modern thought after it has been separated from ancient classical thought. (the concept of mind: 9-12)
On the practical level, the basic mechanism, through which transformation toward the modernist state, should go through is to start to construct the modern state. There is no meaning, for Laroui, to try to realize partial transformations toward the different modernist principles (such as democracy, liberalism, civil society, etc) except after establishing the modern state, and that is the central claim in his work (the concept of the state).
Obstacles of Modernism
For Laroui, there are several obstacles for modernizing contemporary Arabic societies. The first is its insistence on keeping with its heritage, i.e., with its method of thinking that is bequeathed in Arabic thought, which entails steadiness and prevents evolution. This reflects itself on the structure of the Arabic language in which priority is for noun over verb. He explains this as follows,
The conclusion of the first part is that the mind of the absolute, with its different origins and methods, leads inevitably to failure to distinguish between the two concepts. Mind is active by its nature: this is said with different expressions with no internal contradiction, the wise, sophist, the Islamic judge, the 'Islamic theology thinker', and Islamic fundamentalist. Those have been fighting strongly together, but on the peripherals not on the heart of the subject. They differ around the expressions and judgments, but the basic concepts and orientations remain the same, which paved the way for eclectic thinking. Reason for them all is interpretation, an inclination for the premier and the elementary, it is the reason of the order and the noun, and science is the knowledge of orders. It is clear what are the consequences of such a cognitive position on every level, the most important is related to the understanding of time and space.
Therefore, no wonder if we see this situation reflected on language, Noun precedes Verb. There is no movement except after rest, no Verb except as reformulated from Noun. Grammar is the logic of the Arabs as much as the logic is the grammar of the Greeks. (the concept of mind 359-360)
The second obstacle, in his view, is the belief - of Arab intellectuals - that it is possible to get into postmodernism by surpassing modernism, or taking a critical stance from it. His vision is that it is not possible to make a leap over modernism, Arabic society must pass first through the modernist state, which is in his view an inescapable destiny. He expresses this position as follows,
I am not one of those ho stand beside the grave of Linen and Mao. But I see today that the experience of the twentieth century points out to that it is impossible to oppose modernism except through surpassing it, and it is not possible to surpass it except through assimilating it. I said this years ago, and attacked me for it whoever attacked me, I repeat it today, and I am sorry for the necessity of repeating. Modernism is a wave; swimming against it is jeopardy. What is left, either to stay until the wave passes over our heads, and we stay marginalized, or to swim with it with all our power and we become of the survivors, at any level.
You ask me what are the obstacles? the first obstacle, as you can see from my thought, is the ignorant idiot resistance or the cunning support. To say that 'modernism was an insurgence and ignorance of which its advocates have regretted' is an obstacle that there is no way to eradicate. Its situation is left to modernity itself, either modernity overcomes it or to be destroyed by it, if it is the last, we are all losers.
However, the other obstacles we can deal with it, at least by characterizing it. It is those, which is related to one of the components of modernity. All what hinders emancipation of the individual from different forms of subjugation: the political, social, tribal, thoughtful, hinders modernization. Every thing that hinders political and civic freedom hinders modernization. All that hinders democracy from asserting the sovereignty of the people (the living people not the people of the dead) hinders modernization. All that hinders scientific rationalism (the logic of experience and induction) through resorting to superstition in our daily live, in all our movements and stand still, in our eating, dresses, curing, in what we read and see, hinders modernization. (a lecture: Obstacles of Modernity)
Laroui expresses his pessimism about overcoming such modernity obstacles, as follows,
The frightening question is: is it too late for all the calls for rationalization after we have entered an age of intellectual chaos that we don’t see for it an end? We read today books criticizes modernity and depend on it to say that the problematic of modernity has been surpassed, is it true? Is it legitimate for us to act as if we have surpassed modernity as the Europeans who lived within it more than three centuries, more or less, according to the countries? (a dialogue: Afaq news paper)
The third obstacle for modernity, in view of Laroui, is the spread believe that the superficial application of the modernist systems is sufficient for accomplishing modernity transformation. He sees that this is wrong because what is required to be accomplished is in depth modernity transformation, on the level of the ways of thinking of the whole society, in his words,
We call, today, for modernism from different portals, the portal of the state, the portal of the civil society, and the portal of political parties, and others. There is escalating demand for modernism but the question which besieges us is that did we really fulfilled the conditions for accomplishing modernism? In reality, there exists a process of westernization, we demand every thing on the margins of modernity, but the depth of modernity is absent. What some of intellectuals say; they speak about postmodernism as if we have accomplished modernism. Now we live 'after' modernism as if modernism is a fashion; no, now we live in postmodernism, in what country, under what sky. (A dialogue: Alalamiya newspaper).
The Future of Arabic Renaissance
Laroui introduces his conceptions about the future of the Arabic renaissance on two general levels. The first is criticizing heritage and accomplishing the epistemological break with it. The second is to assimilate modernity thought, and realizing it practically. Theses general conceptions are in need for delineation on reality.
Hence, the question about the mechanisms that are capable of realizing such conceptions arises. The historical view, which Laroui embraces, stresses on establishing the relation between the social, political and economic circumstances and the thought that is introduced in the society. Hence, the thought introduced by Laroui should be linked to the Arabic living reality to show how it could be realized in real life.
What are the intellectual mechanisms through which the idea of the 'epistemological break' with heritage can be implemented (for example replacing Western alphabetic by the Arabic one). What are the intellectual mechanisms through which we can realize the deep intellectual transformation toward modernism (for example: adopting Western social values and calling to eradicate the manifestations of Islamic religion in the street and civil space). These are some of the mechanisms, which have been seriously presented without receiving a positive response. Is it possible to present new creative mechanisms that are more effective and can bridge the gab between exemplar and reality?
The writings of professor Laroui don’t present an answer to such questions, and stays at the theoretical level. Hence, it is in essence critical writings. The writings of Laroui are accordingly classified as part of the critical period, through which contemporary Arabic thought is passing. This critical period represents an essential preparatory stage for the appearance of creative authentic Arabic thought. Such a creative thought should establish a relation to, both, realities of Arabic societies and contemporary advancements of humanity. This situation becomes clear from the following dialogue in which he draws attention to the necessity of taking a stance form the question of modernization,
I don’t have to remind that I, as an intellect, don’t have a means for execution. All that I can is to make a specific choice, and to make a logical deduction for that choice, to show that it is subject to general purposes not for self-purposes, and to call for embracing such a choice. It is easy to respond: what are the benefits of wishes?, which is a valid respond for every one, even those who pretend to have a power. This is because social reform undertakes time, and its development takes long time. When I speak about the necessity of taking a stance, I mean making a choice between this or that, not enforcing a specific choice. (A dialogue: Afaq newspaper)
Laroui's futuristic and realistic
position supports implicitly isolation or even separation of
I said explicitly that we are Moroccans and Morocco is far from the arena, this is not a secrete, and I repeated it – it shouldn’t be asked from us, we the Moroccans who live 3000 or 4000 km from the east, to share the Easters their problems, sympathetically we share them, but we are far.
then we share who, share Africa for
I require that we
think in an essential point, and that the Moroccans think of it,
§ Contemporary Arabic Ideology, translated by Mohammad Eitany, Preface by Maxime Rodinson,, Dar Ehaqiqa, Beirut , 1970.
the Historical Thought, Dar Elhaqiqa,
§ The Crisis of Arab Intellectuals, 1974.
§ The Basis of the Moroccan Nationality, 1977.
The Concept of
Ideology, Dar Elfaraby,
Concept of Freedom, Dar Elfaraby,
Concept of the State, Dar Elfaraby,
Culture in View of History, Dar Eltanweer,
The History of the
Maghrib: An Interpretive Essay,
§ Ibn khaldoun and Machiavelli, Dar Elsaqui, 1990.
§ Historical Approaches, 1992
Concept of History, two parts, the Arabic cultural center,
The Concept of
Mind, the Arabic cultural center,
§ Obstacles of Modernism, a lecture on 15/12/2005, published with commentaries, Union of Moroccan Writers, 2008.
§ L'ideologie Arabe Contemporaine: essai critique. Preface de Maxime Rodinson Paris, Francois Maspero. 1967.
§ Islam et modernité, Découverte, 1987
§ Islamisme, modernisme, libéralisme : esquisses critiques, Centre culturel arabe, 1997.
§ Islam et histoire - Essai d’épistémologie, Flammarion, Champs 2001,
Maroc et Hassan
II – un témoignage,the
Arabic cultural center, University press,
§ Origines du nationalisme marocain, Découverte
In Spanish (translated)
§ Marruecos : Islam y Nacionalismo : Ensayos, Alfonso de la Serna, Mapfre,
In English (translated)
The Crisis of the
Arab Intellectual: Traditionalism or Historicism?
, Diarmid Cammell,
§ The History of the Maghrib: An Interpretive, Ralph Manheim (translator), Princeton University Press, 1977.
Alienation, Dar Elnashr
Orphan, Dar Elnashr
The Team, the
Arabic cultural center,
the Arabic cultural center,
Biography, the Arabic cultural center,
Morning Thoughts –
a diary, the Arabic cultural center,
Dialogues (in Arabic)
§ A dialogue with the Moroccan thinker Abdallah Laroui – Alaalamia newspaper, 2007.
A dialogue with Abdallah Laroui,
§ A dialogue with Abdallah Laroui, 'from history to love,': Fiction, criticism and the creative experience, Alzaman newapaper.
Articles About Him (in Arabic)
§ Critique of the Arab/Islamic mind – Abelsalam ben Abdelali
§ Abdallah Laroui and reformulation of the problematic of freedom in the Arab/Islamic thought - Darar Bany Yaseen – Arai Newspaper.
§ The ideology of Abdallah Laroui: thinking in French and writing in Arabic – Almustafa Alsufi
§ The space of Casablanca in the 'Alyateem' novel of Abdallah Laroui – Sadouk Nour Eldeen.
§ Morning thoughts for Abdallah Laroui – Jihad Fadel.
§ Morning Thoughts – a fortune that doesn’t protect forgetting – Turkey Ali Alrabee'o.
The eclectic intellect between the state and
§ Democracy and the illusions of the Arab intellect – Alkhaleej Alemaratya.
§ Abdallah Laroui as a critical to the thoughts of Almahdy Ben Baraka – Yahia ben Alwaleed, Albadeel Aliraqi.
§ The fundamentalist alternative in the thought of Abdallah Laroui – Almustaqbal Alaraby magazine.
§ The Embourgeoisement of Revolutionary Regimes: Reflections on Abdallah Laroui - MARK N. KATZ (in English)
By: Samir Abuzaid