Archive for August, 2020

Short note on Radical Descartes

Saturday, August 15th, 2020

In his history of atheist thoughts, the famous Italian Catholic priest and scholar Cornelio Fabro wrote that “this radical libertarian tendency will gradually reveal itself as responsible for that positive and constructive atheism which is typical of modern philosophy.” The radical libertarian tendency in question was the philosophy of Rene Descartes. Fabro criticized this philosophy because in Descartes God is no longer “posited as creator of the world and Father of men” and He instead created “the philosophy of freedom, considering freedom an ultimate and therefore a viable first principle”.

“Cartesian immanentism concentrated itself in man’s most intimate and all-embracing act, that of willing; it was therefore bound to close to man all avenues of escape from the long straight road leading down to d’Holbach, Feuerbach, Nietzsche and Sartre.” The roots of this concentration on “willing”, i.e. freedom of will and thought is explained by Descartes scholar Harry Bracken as “Descartes had good reasons for introducing a second substance (res cogitans, “thinking things”), for e.g., that our creative use of speech cannot be understood in terms of the mechanics available to him”. The essential character of humans, for the Cartesian, is this creative and willing aspect of the intellect.

Which in Calvinist terms of the time was also the “Way Of Examination” – which alone can judge the truth of religious texts and teaching. Cartesian, like Bayle developed the ideas and gave this freedom and Way Of Examination the primacy over the Way Of Authority. The state or church cannot dictate what the individual must believe because it is against the faculty of free judgment that God has endowed us with. While dethroning God from the paternalistic position Cartesian thoughts also laid the foundation of radical freedom of thought and speech, where the privacy of the intellect takes the priority.

Bracken says that “when we read Bayle’s views on toleration, we should recall that he is perhaps the first person to separate the domains of religion and morality by arguing that there is no logical anomaly in conceiving of a highly moral society of atheists. One can be religious and immoral and also nonreligious and moral. His rationalist views on universal natural (moral) law, that is, independent of religion or culture, should be seen in that context.” One can also, perhaps add the separation the domains of national laws and morality.

This was a radical break from those who advocate authorities’ right to hold our tongue because they have the right to hold our hands. A principle advocated and adhered till this date by those who do not (and for reasons of power cannot) give primacy to the individual’s intellect and her expressions.

This distinction also separated the rationalist-cartesians from the empiricists like Locke and Hume. For the empiricist there is no distinction between the tongue (the expression of one’s thoughts) and the hand (actions and physical attributes). Where for the Cartesian the essence of being human and our most important characters are our intellect and freedom of will, for the empiricists the physical features play as important or more important role in defining the essence of human beings. And from here begins the philosophical justification for racism and sexism.

In these spheres too, the Cartesian philosophers were among the first to (at least theoretically) defend freedom for All human beings. While the racists and sexists were debating over color, physical abilities one of the most prominent French Cartesian philosopher, Poullain de la Barre simply stated that “the mind has no sex.”

Among the people who think about these things, for most Descartes and his ideas have been reduced to caricatures of positions that were for the most part secondary to him and are for us. While, many also sideline him for ideological reasons. But people in radical political circles might still find fruitful insights in the work of the Cartesian.

(Dis)Integration At Gunpoint – Aug 5 2019-2020 J&K Report

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

I contributed a chapter on militarism to this very important and comprehensive study of life and politics in J&K in last one year: (Dis)Integration At Gunpoint.


Indians who read it with eyes (and mind) open should realize how deep our hands are in blood. And hopefully that should shake off some of the apathy and equanimity that makes this crime and violence possible.

A year ago, Indian state finished the task of completely alienating Kashmir from India and its puppet government in J&K. Ex-RAW chief Dulat and few other army commanders are worried and wonder if New Delhi is actually prepared for what is coming? One can speculate the direction local protests and militancy will take in the valley but one thing is clear that Indian state had once again made Indians insecure in name of “national security”.

One very unfortunate thing we can expect is more attempts and few successful attacks in mainland India in coming years. Indian state has known for years that whenever there are moments of hope for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue militant attacks (and even cross border infiltration) stops almost completely.It shows who and what is the cause of violence. What happened on August 5th was an invitation to a prolonged war of counter-insurgency that will be fought all over India. Who cares if that puts Indians at risk?

This is just one reason why more Indians should be concerned about Kashmir and our State policy there. But basic sense of humanity should be sufficient to see what is happening is grossly unjust, that we should stop the violence and resolve the issue peacefully with Kashmiris. No country, especially not India, can afford militarism and a war economy when almost half of its youth population is unemployed, health care is among the worst performing in Asia and inequality is rising faster than in any other country in the world.