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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

2 - Political Cultures and Social Movements: The Social Rationality of Cultural Change


We would do well to remember that ideologies and political thought do not produce themselves. The Marxist literature has described this as the base-superstructure phenomenon. In A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Karl Marx wrote: ‘In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society – the real foundation, on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness’ (Marx 1904 [1859], 11). From Marx's point of view, it would be legitimate to regard schools of thought such as secularism or political Islam as codes whose roots are deep in specific socioeconomic structures. We need not share Karl Marx's economic determinism in order to recognize the need to scrutinize the comparative debate on modernity and development in the Islamic and Western worlds with a view to uncovering their foundations in everyday life.

By modernizing the Islamic world, secular state ideologies and political programmes have undoubtedly racked up concrete achievements since the First World War. One example is the abolition of the feudal landowner class in Egypt during the agrarian reforms implemented by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who placed strict limits on the ownership of land.