by Emmanuel Siaw
Although there is a popular drive towards a much-touted ‘pragmatic’ understanding of global events, an ideological theory of international relations has become more important due to the complexity of these events. This means the creation of new methodologies and conceptions to demonstrate that the adaptability and everydayness of ideologies has become even more essential in a dynamic world. One way of doing this is to treat ideologies as living variables that can interact with contexts to shape policies and the substance of the ideas themselves. What this also means is to further enhance the bid to see ideologies as phenomena that are “necessary, normal, and [which] facilitate (and reflect) political action”. In this piece, I argue that a contextualisation of socialism and classical liberalism into the Nkrumah and Danquah-Busia-Dombo ideological debate, respectively, has been the ideological binary pervading Ghanaian politics since independence despite the changes in government and personnel.
Making a case for thought and action through ideological contextualisation
Many African governments have not hidden their love for or association with existing macro-ideologies like liberalism, Marxism, and socialism. Yet, for most of the journey of ideological studies, since its beginnings with Antoine Destutt de Tracy, Africa has been overlooked due to the preoccupation with the assumption that African states have little room for policy manoeuvre due to foreign influence—a position captured in the extraversion and dependency arguments. This has been consolidated by the view that the rhetoric and actions of policymakers do not conform to dominant ideologies, or external influences appear to override the ideological objectives of African governments. In this article, I argue against this position, emphasising that dependency is not akin to a lack of ideology; and demonstrate that ideology is indeed relevant in Ghanaian politics as it will be in the rest of Africa. What I suggest is that although the ideas of Ghanaian governments may not be pure or conform fully to the core tenets of existing macro-ideologies, paying attention to contextually relevant ideological variables and how they interact with macro-ideologies is a viable way of understanding the dynamic role of ideas in Ghanaian and African politics, in general.
Several studies have shown that events and politics in Africa are as dynamic and interesting as politics elsewhere. Hence, I agree with Thompson that “if the study of ideology helps political scientists to understand the politics of the West, then the same should also be true for post-colonial Africa. Any book seeking to explain the politics of this continent, therefore, needs to identify and explore the dominant ideologies that are at work in this environment”.
I first admit that the African context is unconventional and atypical. Unconventional because ideologies are embedded in context and the existing macro-ideologies evolved from contexts and situations outside the African conditions. Interestingly, in a lecture by Vijay Prashad (Indian historian) he demonstrated how India and China have integrated Euro-American ideologies, similar to the point I am making here. Second, I acknowledge the tight spaces in terms of structural institutional constraints, history and the level of dependency of African states that makes it quite unique from the politics of the global North. Therefore, to embark on this analysis of ideology in an unconventional setting requires certain theoretical adjustments to reflect the dynamic conditions of the politics in African states.
My approach to these adjustments is what I call an Ideological Contextualisation Framework (ICF). Ideological contextualisation is a coined concept that connotes that ideologies and ideological analyses should consider the immediate environment and historical experience of the cases being explored. It is inspired mainly by the works of Michael Freeden and Jonathan Leader Maynard on ideology. In the process of policy-making, large abstract political ideas must be translated into actual decisions, policy documents, plans, and programmes of action. To do that, ideological concepts need to be made to ‘fit’ a particular place, time, and cultural context. Part of this bid to make ideologies ‘practicable’ in different contexts flows from the field of comparative social and political thought to a more recent conception of comparative ideological morphology by Marius Ostrowski. For instance, James McCain’s experimental analyses of scientific socialism in Ghana, published in 1975 and 1979, reveal that it does not conform to the assumptions of orthodox ‘African Socialism’. Instead, what a leader like Nkrumah meant with this ideology was to exploit its political mobilisation feature within the Ghanaian cultural context. This is because it was a response to the needs at the time. Emphasis is, therefore, placed on the “native point of view” and “whatever that happens to be at any point in time”.
The essence of contextualising ideas is to avoid the analytical shortfalls dominant in the African context occasioned by analyses that focus on either the overbearing role of ideology, which leads to policy failures, or the non-existence of ideologies at all. These analyses fail to capture the dynamics of ideology and what falls in-between these extremes.
While Ghana is unique, its conditions resemble what happens in many African countries. This year, Ghana’s celebrates 65 years of gaining its independence and of being the first sub-Saharan African country to do so in 1957. Since independence, there have been highs and lows on the development spectrum. Ghana has experienced military, authoritarian, civilian, and democratic governments over the last six and half decades. At independence, Ghana was among the most economically promising countries in the world, but the 2020 Human Development Index Report ranked Ghana 138th in the world. Ghana has not experienced a full-blown civil war or war with other countries but has had pockets of internal conflicts. Over the years, Ghana’s politics and policy-making have also been a dynamic mix of successes and challenges that characterises many African states.
Just like many exegeses of politics in other African states, it is common to hear commentary in Ghana about how genuine commitment to ideology has ended or how it has lost its traction for understanding Ghanaian politics, especially after the Nkrumah era. In one of such instances Ransford Gyampo, in his study on Ghanaian youth, emphasises that ideology does very little in orienting party members, especially the youth. He further insisted on ideological purity as a conduit for organising the youth members. However, scholars like George Bob-Milliar have argued that political parties supply ideologies for their better-informed members who vote based on ideological differences. For Franklin Obeng-Odoom and Lindsay Whitefield, such ideological differences rarely exist as neoliberalism has become a supra-ideology that pervades the different ‘isms’ to which parties subscribe. Although the challenge here lies in the mischaracterisation of ideology, the jury is still out on ideology and its role in Ghanaian politics, just like many other African countries. A recalibrated look at the history of Ghanaian politics from the perspective of contextualisation presents a situation where ideology stretches far beyond magniloquence.
Ideology and the history of Ghanaian politics
What I do here is to briefly explore Ghana’s political history and demonstrate that ideology is and has indeed been relevant to Ghanaian politics. This ideology is typified by the ideological dichotomy between Nkrumah and the Danquah-Busia-Dombo group, which has lasted from the late 1940s to date. As I will explain below, the late pre and early post-independence period was characterised by two groups: one led by Dr Kwame Nkrumah, leader of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) that eventually won independence for Ghana in 1957. On the other hand was the opposition United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC)—the party that brought Nkrumah to Ghana from London—led by Joseph Boakye Danquah, and later by Kofi Abrefa Busia and Simon Diedong Dombo. These two groups agreed and disagreed on many policy issues based on their ideologies and such duality has characterised Ghana’s political milieu since independence. I limit this discussion to the period from independence to the end of Kufuor’s administration in January 2009.
The beginnings of the politics of ideas in Ghana was more profound during the late colonial period after the split between Kwame Nkrumah and other members of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) that manifested in the formation of different political parties till Nkrumah’s overthrow in 1966. After this split in 1949, Nkrumah formed the Conventions Peoples Party (CPP) and went ahead to win independence for Ghana in 1957. The UGCC, on the other hand, transformed into different parties which contested and lost to Nkrumah in all the pre and early post-independence elections (1951, 1954, 1956 and 1960). On the internalised level, the two groups were split by their commitment to socialism, African socialism, scientific socialism, or what later came to be known as Nkrumaism for the CPP and classical liberalism or what came to be known as property-owning democracy for the UGCC. One thing to note here is that the changes in vocabularies, as mentioned above and a common feature across subsequent administrations, is a practical manifestation of the constant search not just for a vocabulary that fits the Ghanaian context but ideas that reflects the aspirations of governments.
These party formation dynamics have even deeper ideological outcomes for the Nkrumah and Danquah-Busia-Dombo group on some key issues. For instance, beyond their internalised socialist ideas, the CPP had what they called ‘African personality’ while the Danquah-Busia-Dombo group preferred the ‘Ghanaian personality’ beyond classical liberalism. What the CPP or Nkrumah administration meant by ‘African personality’ was for “recognising that Africa now has its personality, its own history and its own culture and that it has made valuable contributions to world history and world culture”. According to Nkrumah, ‘African personality’ was to demonstrate to the world Africa’s “optimism, cheerfulness and an easy, confident outlook in tackling the problems of life, but also disdain for vanities and a sense of social obligation which will make our society an object of admiration and of example”.
The Danquah-Busia-Dombo group introduced the idea of Ghanaian personality counter the CPP’s African personality. By Ghanaian personality, they meant “giving more meaning to this freedom [republican status] to express our innermost selves”. This meaning was contextual as it was the period after two harsh laws were passed by the Nkrumah government, CPP. The Avoidance of Discrimination Act (ADA) of 1957 banned all regionally based political parties and forced all opposition parties to merge into the United Party (UP). The Preventive Detention Act (PDA) of 1958 allowed for people to be detained without trial for five years if their actions were deemed a threat to national security. For the opposition, the best way to project an African personality, in the spirit of freedom (decolonisation) and unity (African integration), was first to project a Ghanaian personality that prioritised the same rights.
The two ideas—African and Ghanaian personality—represented their contextual aspirations and significantly impacted their policy preferences and approach. They manifested in policy differences in issues such as how and when independence should be granted, how much Ghana should be involved in the politics of other African states, perceptions about colonial metropoles and future relations with them, how to approach regional integration, economic diplomacy and foreign policy, in general. It also influenced the domestic development goals and approaches.
To give some few policy examples, the CPP fundamentally wanted independence ‘now’ regardless of the consequences while the Danquah-Busia-Dombo wanted independence within the shortest possible period through what they perceived as legal and legitimate means. Parsimoniously on regional integration, while the CPP preferred rapid regional political unity on the continent with all African states, the Danquah-Busia-Dombo group preferred functional regional integration starting with economic and from within the West African subregion. In terms of domestic developmental approach, the Danquah-Busia-Dombo group always preferred alternative routes to Nkrumah’s state-led and managed Import Substitution Industrialisation and common or state ownership.
Throughout this period, the interpretation of ideological components such as economic independence was a key part of the ideologies of the two groups. Even though they both considered it a crucial concept, their interpretations varied, leading to some significant differences in policies and approaches. However, the growing power of contextual structures such as the Bretton Woods has occasioned similar ideas and policy path-dependence over time since the overthrow of Nkrumah in 1966. A cursory look at the IMF and World Bank interventions in Ghana since 1967 shows a common neoliberal trend in approaches to resuscitate Ghana’s economy. This has later accounted for some sort of ideological convergence that some scholars have identified in their study of Ghana’s Fourth Republic (since January 1993). For a developing country that is yet to address some of its basic needs, like infrastructure and education, there are points of convergence in terms of common components that address basic developmental needs. They translate into policies that can, in most cases, appear similar because they have similar inspirations. One of such examples is how even the different ideological factions within the CPP and other political parties acknowledged the need for independence and formed some sort of ideological convergence on that regardless of their fundamental ideological differences. This late colonial and early post-independence period of ideological dichotomy and similarities set the stage for subsequent administrations amidst variations. I explain these dynamics below.
The National Liberation Council (NLC) that overthrew the CPP government pursued policies that showed ideological consistency with the anti-Nkrumah group, Danquah-Busia-Dombo. This was buttressed by the fact that a one-time opposition leader during the CPP administration, who later went into exile, Prof. Kofi Abrefa Busia, became a leading member of the administration and headed the Centre for Civic Education—an organisation responsible for public education on civil liberties and democracy. The administration shifted Ghana’s domestic and foreign policy based on that ideological dichotomy flowing from the Nkrumah and the Danquah-Busia-Dombo debate. More instructively, they shifted to framing liberal-oriented development programmes and building stronger relations with the West—something the Nkrumah-led CPP administration was wary of.
When the Progress Party (PP) took power in 1969, it continued what the NLC began after the overthrow of Nkrumah’s CPP in 1966. Led by Prof. Busia himself, the PP government pursued policies that were ideologically at variance with Nkrumah but in line with ideas espoused by the UGCC before independence. For instance, the belief in non-violent decolonisation occasioned their policy to discontinue Ghana’s financial support for the African nationalists in South Africa, preferring dialogue with apartheid South Africa instead. In 1969, the Aliens Compliance Order promulgated by the government to return undocumented migrants affected many Africans and had implications for Ghana-Nigeria relations under subsequent governments had to address. For instance, in 1983 the Shehu Shagari government of Nigeria’s decision to deport undocumented migrants (half of the about three million deportees were Ghanaians) was popularly interpreted as a retaliation for Ghana’s 1969 deportation policy.
Although economic reasons were cited for Nigeria’s decision, it is obvious that what Ghana, or the PP government did in 1969 made the Nigerian government and people more relentless to follow through with their decision in what came to be known popularly as ‘Ghana must go’—a name also associated with the type of bag the migrants travelled with. Based on Nkrumah’s relations with African settlers, the Aliens Compliance Order is a policy the CPP government would not have embarked on or fully encouraged. Under the CPP government, Ghana was touted as the Mecca for African nationalists due to the government’s warm reception.
Another point of difference between the two groups was the disagreement of large-scale industries of Nkrumah and the role of the state their building and operation. Therefore, a lot of Nkrumah’s industries were either discontinued or privatised. Some of these industries include the Glass Manufacturing Company at Aboso, in the Western Region, GIHOC Fibre Products Company and the Tema Food Complex Corporation, both in the Greater Accra Region.
The PP government was overthrown by an Nkrumaist oriented junta, the National Redemption Council (NRC), who tried to restore Ghana to its putative glorious years under Nkrumah by resuming Ghana’s contribution to African nationalist movement against Apartheid South Africa, supporting African states in several endeavours, resuming Nkrumah’s industrialisation agenda, pursing a domestication policy that aims to at food self-sufficiency, and repudiating foreign (especially Western) debts. These policies were grounded in the contextual ideological components of economic independence and Pan-Africanism, whose interpretations were closer to the CPP administration’s intentions.
This Acheampong-led NRC government, and later Supreme Military Council (SMC I) administration, was overthrown by an Edward Akuffo-led Supreme Military Council (SMC II) who, though they orchestrated a palace coup to overthrow Acheampong, did not deviate much from the previous administration’s pro-Nkrumah policies. Instead, they were more focused on restoring Ghana to multiparty elections. However, this administration lasted for only eleven months and was overthrown by a group of young militants, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), who took power until after the 1979 elections and handed over to a democratically-elected People’s National Party (PNP).
The PNP government, led by Dr Hilla Limann, was one of the latter attempts to bring introduce a full-fledged Nkrumaist party after the CPP was banned before the 1969 elections. Although to the disappointment of many Nkrumaists, this government did not pursue politics based on the ideas of Nkrumah’s CPP, its policies were somewhat closer to what the Danquah-Busia-Dombo group preferred—for instance, in attempting to the IMF for bailouts and broader pro-West economic relations. This was one of the reasons why the Rawlings-led military junta, now the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), returned to overthrow the PNP government in 1981. Although this group (PNDC) was generally touted as radical and anti-West, their internal ideological dynamics resembled the broader ideological dichotomy between the Nkrumah and Danquah-Busia-Dombo groups. Within the PNDC government was a group that aligned itself to Nkrumah’s CPP ideology and, for instance, were wary of the West, former colonial metropoles and programmes like the Structural Adjustment Policies. On the other side were those who were touted as less radical and ideologically closer to the Danquah-Busia-Dombo group, who were rather willing to engage the World Bank and IMF through the Structural Adjustment Programmes.
This internal dialectic shaped the government’s domestic and foreign policy. However, from 1984, there seemed to be a broader consensus within the party as one whose ideology and politics was shaped by contextual structures, which made it difficult for the government to pursue policies just based on its internalised ideology. The PNDC later metamorphosed into the National Democratic Congress (NDC) when the government, under several domestic and international pressures, adopted multiparty democracy and elections from December 1992. After leading Ghana democratically for eight years, the NDC lost the December 2000 elections to the New Patriotic Party (NPP).
Coming directly from the Danquah-Busia-Dombo tradition, the NPP government led by John Agyekum Kufuor pursued policies mainly in line with what the forerunners have proffered, especially against Nkrumah’s policies. For instance, they created an enabling environment for private property ownership and entrepreneurial development, including encouraging foreign investors, a strengthened relationship with the West, and for a greater emphasis on its economic and democratic values. To further the idea of Ghanaian personality that was based on respect for humanity and human rights, the government opened itself up for review by other African states through the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), and took steps to pursue regional integration from a functional economic perspective.
From the discussions above, a few things must be clarified regarding Ghana’s ideological history. Socialism (for Nkrumaists) and classical liberalism (for the Danquah-Busia-Dombo group) have been the two dominant internalised macro-ideological leanings in Ghana, since independence. However, in an ever-changing, developing, and dynamic context like Ghana and the rest of Africa, these ideologies cannot function in their pure form, in their influence on policies. Therefore, in Ghana and Africa, I argue that context matters.
Looking at the Ghanaian case teaches us three main things analytically about the African continent. First is the dominance macro-ideologies or the fact that we cannot ignore ideologies like liberalism, Marxism and socialism as they are usually primary to the ideological structure of many governments. Second is the power and relevance of contextual structures, like regional organisations and the Bretton Woods, to produce ideas that African governments take on or adjust to because of their putatively weaker position. Constructivists have long emphasised the learning function of states. Third is existence of historical conditions that have evolved into ideas over time. Chatterjee Miller’s study of India and China’s foreign policy reveals a longue durée ‘post-imperial ideology’, comprising a sense of victimisation and driven by the goal of recognition and empathy as a victim of the international system to maximise territorial sovereignty and status. In the Ghanaian case, some of these conditions include economic independence, Africa consciousness and good neighbourliness. While these conditions pervade across different governments, the interpretations and approaches vary. Across the continent, these conditions of ideological value may vary, but they are very relevant to any analysis of ideology. This affords us the laxity to focus on ideological components, treating the macro-ideologies as part of the components.
One of the reasons why ideology has been overlooked is the assumption that African states are weaker and have very little policy options because a lot of their policies are dictated by foreign powers. However, looking at ideology in itself is a bid to explore existing spaces, shed more light on those that have so far been neglected, and begin analyses of African politics from a perspective that acknowledges a certain contextual relevance and policy constraints. To do this, we should see ideologies as living variables that can interact with contexts to shape policies and the substance of the ideas themselves.
The place of ideology in global politics has been evolving in methodologies and vocabularies. This article is borne out of the bid to take Africa more seriously in that conversation by paying more attention to the contextualisation of ideas. This is not to say that ideologies explain everything, but it is to highlight the relationship between the interpretive value of ideology and contexts, and to emphasise that such relationships have a significant effect on African politics. The Ghanaian ideological context has been dominated by different shades of the Nkrumah and the Danquah-Busia-Dombo ideological dichotomy, characterised by an interaction between big-isms, contextual components and structures. These varieties of Ghanaian nationalism is bound to manifest differently in other African cases, but its conceptual proposition of interaction between context and ideas is very relevant. It demonstrates an understanding of African politics from within. Therefore, while this application gives us an indication and confidence to probe more into ideologies and policy-making in other African states, it also responds to the agency question which is fundamental to domestic and foreign policies.
 Freeden, M. (2006). Ideology and Political Theory. Journal of Political Ideologies, 11(1), p. 19.
 Bayart, J. F. (2000). Africa in the World: A History of Extraversion. African Affairs, 99, 217–267; Robertson, J., & East, M. A. (Eds.). (2005). Diplomacy and Developing Nations: Post-Cold War Foreign-Policy Structures and Processes. Routledge Taylor & Francis.
 Brown, W., & Harman, S. (Eds.). (2013). African Agency in International Politics. Routledge Taylor & Francis.
 Thompson, A. (2016). An Introduction to African Politics. In Routledge Handbook of African Politics (4th Edition). Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, p. 32.
 Vijay Prashad (2021) What's the Left to Do in a World on Fire? | China and the Left. Public Lecture Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vd8w3ONjv6Y&t=453s Accessed 13th March 2022
 Ostrowski, M. S. (2022). Ideology Studies and Comparative Political Thought. Journal of Political Ideologies, 27(1), 1–10.
 McCain, J. (1975). Ideology in Africa: Some Perceptual Types. African Studies Review, 18(1), 61–87; McCain, J. (1979). Perceptions of Socialism in Post-Socialist Ghana: An Experimental Analysis. African Studies Review, 22(3), p. 45.
 Ibid, p. 46
 Gyampo, R. E. Van. (2012). The Youth and Political Ideology in Ghanaian Politics: The Case of the Fourth Republic. Africa Development, XXXVII(2), 137–165.
 Bob-Milliar, G. M. (2012). Political Party Activism in Ghana: Factors Influencing the Decision of the Politically Active to Join a Political Party. Democratization, 19(4), 668–689.
 Whitfield, L. (2009). “Change for a Better Ghana”: Party Competition, Institutionalisation and Alternation in Ghana’s 2008 Elections. African Affairs, 108(433), 621–641; Obeng-Odoom, F. (2013). The Nature of Ideology in Ghana’s 2012 Elections. Journal of African Elections, 12(2), 75–95
 Frempong, A. K. D. (2017). Elections in Ghana (1951-2016). In Ghana Elections Series (2nd Edition). Digibooks.
 Potekhin, I. (1968). Pan-Africanism and the struggle of the Two Ideologies. Communist, p. 39.
 Kwame Nkrumah: Official Report of Ghana’s Parliament of 4th July, 1960, col. 19
 S. D. Dombo: Official Report of Ghana’s Parliament of 30th June 1960, col. 250
 Aluko, O. (1985). The Expulsion of Illegal Aliens from Nigeria: A Study in Nigeria’s Decision-Making. African Affairs, 84(337), 539–560.
 Graphic Showbiz (21st May, 2020) Ghana Must Go: The ugly history of Africa’s most famous bag. Retrieved from https://www.graphic.com.gh/entertainment/features/ghana-must-go-the-ugly-history-of-africa-s-most-famous-bag.html#&ts=undefined Accessed 13th March 2022
 Although in 1954, when Nkrumah was the Prime Minister and three years before Ghana’s independence, some Nigerians were deported; but not on the scale, in terms of number and government’s involvement, of what happened in 1969. After independence, Nkrumah’s support for African immigrants and other African states seems to have overshadowed the 1954 deportation of Nigerians.
 Ghana News Agency (28th September 2020) Ghana: 'Revive Nkrumah's Industries'. Retrieved from https://allafrica.com/stories/202009280728.html Accessed 13th March 2022
 Miller, C. M. (2013). Post-Imperial Ideology and Foreign Policy in India and China. Stanford University Press.
by Tejas Parasher
It is difficult to overstate just how much of a watershed moment the immediate aftermath of WWI was for modern democracy. No previous global crisis had revealed on such a scale the self-destructiveness and the fundamental unsustainability—political, economic, and military—of the European states-system. Writing from London in 1917, the British economist John Hobson predicted the rise of new movements which would increasingly seek to disentangle democracy from the military-industrial state; as a result of the war, Hobson argued, “not only the spirit but the very forms of popular self-government have suffered violation.” The war had made clear in stark terms the ever-present possibilities of autocracy and violence underneath the veneer of democracy in modern states.
Hobson’s observation proved prescient. The months after November 1918 witnessed a proliferation of political experiments, ranging from the council communism of the Spartacus League in Berlin to pluralism and guild socialism in Britain, France, and the United States, bringing together political and legal thinkers like Rosa Luxemburg, Léon Duguit, Harold Laski, and G.D.H. Cole. Though distinct in their respective ideologies, these movements were all propelled by disillusionment with the representative, parliamentary republics created in Western Europe through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
That diagnosis was not restricted to pacifists and democrats. Carl Schmitt asserted confidently in The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (1923) that nineteenth-century liberal models of representative government inherited from John Stuart Mill and François Guizot had outlived their usefulness in a new age of mass politics, and only remained standing “through sheer mechanical perseverance as an empty apparatus.”
But how the problem that Schmitt called “the crisis of parliamentary democracy” was perceived beyond Europe and North America after 1918 still remains a largely untold story. In recent years, historians have uncovered the depth of interaction between subject peoples in the colonial world and the various political ideologies and institutional proposals circulating in Europe in the wake of the Great War. A notable example is Susan Pedersen’s exemplary study of petitions submitted to the League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission by groups in the Middle East, the South Pacific, and south-western and eastern Africa, demanding political independence from imperial rule. A much less examined aspect of this period, though, is the orientation of anti-colonial thinkers and leaders towards the critiques of nation-state sovereignty and representative democracy consuming European political thought of the time. To put it differently, how were Hobson and Schmitt’s diagnoses of the post-WWI situation understood in Bombay or Cairo, instead of in London or Berlin? The point of such an inquiry is both to provide a more global historiography of the early twentieth-century crisis of parliamentarism and to better understand the full range of political thought precipitated by the crisis.
My recent research explores these themes through an examination of the rise of a normative challenge to representative democracy, particularly its nineteenth-century parliamentary variant, within Indian political thought between 1918 and 1928. My focus is on a group of historians and philosophers based at the north Indian universities of Allahabad and Lucknow and at the southern University of Mysore. Identifying themselves as political pluralists, these writers turned to pre-modern Indian history to unearth forms of classical republicanism and participatory law-making. Their books, pamphlets, and draft constitutions contained the earliest theories of direct democracy as a tangible constitutional ideal in modern South Asia.
By the mid-1910s, there was an established, well-organised nationalist movement in the Crown Territories of British India. For three decades, the Indian National Congress (INC) had been lobbying for political and economic reform within the empire. Politically, the INC sought the introduction of a parliamentary system elected through adult suffrage, modelled on the settler colonies of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Parliamentarism was seen both as a distinctively English achievement and, as an arrangement wherein only representatives deliberated and legislated, as the most effective way of selecting members of an educated, urban elite to govern in the interests of the wider population.
Thus, between 1885 and 1915, Dadabhai Naoroji, a key figure in the evolution of Indian nationalism, repeatedly defined the Indian demand for self-rule (swaraj) as an extension of parliamentary principles established in England after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and imported to the satellite states of the Anglosphere by the late nineteenth century. Even as nationalist politics came to be divided between liberal and revolutionary camps from the first decade of the new century, the embrace of parliamentarism remained secure. For the revolutionary leader Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who constantly linked Indian nationalism with the struggles for Home Rule in Ireland and Egypt and was hailed by Lenin as a “democrat” in 1908, swaraj meant the election of members of political parties into self-governing representative institutions. For all the disagreement over tactics, early nationalist arguments in India converged on a view of popular self-government as an indirect electoral enterprise, exercised by a limited number of deputies on behalf of the citizenry.
From 1918, the nationalist attempt to mediate popular sovereignty through the established procedures of parliamentary representation provoked a reaction amongst a new group of writers who held a different understanding of swaraj. A key moment in the fracturing of the consensus around parliamentary government was the publication of Radhakumud Mookerji’s Local Government in Ancient India in 1919. Mookerji was born in rural Bengal in 1884 and trained as a historian at the University of Calcutta. The backdrop to his political formation was the upsurge of anti-British agitation in eastern India in 1905, known as the swadeshi movement, which highlighted to him the role of historical narratives in shaping anti-colonial nationalist politics. Radhakumud eventually settled at the University of Lucknow as Professor of Ancient Indian History.
Local Government in Ancient India was a strikingly presentist political book to have been written by an academic historian. Radhakumud challenged the Indian National Congress’ uncritical acceptance of parliamentary government. He insisted that WWI had made clear not only that parliamentary republics did not always express the full will of their people, but that representative institutions under the conditions of modern economic life, electioneering, and party politics could easily be co-opted by political and economic elites and interest groups. In seeking to transpose the nineteenth-century English system of electoral representation into India in the 1910s, the Congress was essentially introducing “self-rule from above,” leaving the power to make and amend law in the hands of a relatively small political class.
Radhakumud’s response was to turn to constitutional models from ancient and medieval South Asia. Relying on recent archival discoveries of Sanskrit and Pali-language treatises and archaeological inscriptions from southern India in the ninth and tenth centuries CE, Radhakumud made the claim that pre-modern Indian states had been elaborate federal structures consisting of semi-independent local jurisdictions overseen by a central monarchy. The jurisdictions themselves were governed by large citizens’ assemblies (sabha) consisting of adult house-holders; the sabha performed all legislative, executive, and judicial functions, and chose sub-committees for specialised functions on the basis of sortition.
Radhakumud was not the first modern Indian writer to give a republican re-interpretation of states which had frequently been denigrated in terms of either Oriental despotism or ungoverned anarchy, as in James Mill’s History of British India (1817). But Radhakumud was the first to consider a medieval federation of citizens’ assemblies as a viable political model for the twentieth century, as a real alternative to parliamentarism. Much to the chagrin of other historians, Radhakumud proposed that replicating a system of citizens’ assemblies provided a coherent model of direct democracy, much more participatory than the models of representative government espoused by the INC leadership.
Local Government in Ancient India went through two English editions in 1919 and 1920. Its core thesis was reproduced in a number of other Indian texts from the 1920s, including Brajendranath Seal’s Report on the Constitution of Mysore (1923), Radhakamal Mukerjee’s Democracies of the East (1923), and Beni Prasad’s A Few Suggestions on the Problem of the Indian Constitution (1928). Radhakamal Mukerjee’s Democracies of the East—from which I draw the title of this post—was the most detailed example of the genre. Radhakamal Mukerjee decried the nationalist acceptance of the English model of electoral representation, premised on suffrage, political parties, and parliamentary supremacy, as insufficiently democratic. Nationalist politics limited legislative sovereignty to “a certain small and well-defined class which packs and directs the assembly, and speaks in the name of the people.” Radhakamal accordingly presented the creation of directly democratic assemblies patterned on medieval Asian states as a way to overcome the structural hierarchies of sovereignty embedded within parliamentary government. As in Local Government in Ancient India, the reconstruction of pre-modern republicanism was a response to the perceived inability of parliamentary states to allow for wide political participation.
Democracies of the East framed its program of historical recovery as an attempt to avoid the fate of European parliamentary regimes during WWI—in particular the threat of unaccountable governance by a class of periodically elected political elites, the conversion of popular rule into the rule of a few. Indeed, Radhakamal Mukerjee saw his proposals as part of a wider trans-national backlash against statism and representative democracy between 1918 and 1923, praising movements such as syndicalism, pluralism, and guild socialism in Western Europe, the Middle East, East Asia, and beyond. Indian history was for him a repertoire of intellectual resources to aid these movements in the imagination of new democratic futures. He was especially drawn to the guild socialist G.D.H. Cole, aligning his own intellectual project with the latter’s attempts to revive medieval practices of self-management in associational life in lieu of electoral forms of labour politics. While there is no evidence that Democracies of the East was read in the British guild socialist circles around G.D.H. Cole, in the mid-1930s Radhakamal did travel to London to meet with Cole’s fellow pluralist Ernest Barker at the Institute of Sociology.
The Indian pluralists’ visions of participatory democracy remained academic experiments in the 1920s, never really taken up by political movements on the ground. By the late 1940s, the dominant constitutional paradigm in India came to be narrowed into a demand for sovereign statehood and parliamentary democracy. As John Dunn has argued, in such circumstances the mid-century transition from imperial rule was unable to be a truly transformative rupture with the state-form of representative democracy ubiquitous in Western Europe following the Second World War.
Given these subsequent developments, returning to the defeated democratic traditions emergent in the immediate aftermath of WWI in British India is an exercise of intellectual retrieval. It allows us to reconstruct the contours of a discourse and ideology at odds with the tradition of self-government which eventually triumphed with independence. The existence of the pluralist discourse indicates, above all, how the profound crisis of liberalism and modern democratic thinking that Carl Schmitt associated with the European 1920s was a global phenomenon stretching far beyond Europe.
In South Asia, these years were similarly an opening for thinkers to challenge the principles of representative government consolidated in the region’s political thought and practice by the 1910s—principles which, in the hands of nationalist leaders, would re-assert their dominance by the 1940s. The civilisational language that Indian pluralists adopted in their opposition to representative democracy—turning to an invented tradition of ‘Asian’ republicanism—was of course strikingly different from Schmitt or Hobson. Yet their turn to history was a response to similar underlying political dynamics, produced by a shared global moment of transformation and experimentation in theories of sovereignty and collective self-government.
 J.A. Hobson, Democracy after the War (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1917), 15.
 Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, trans. Ellen Kennedy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), 21.
 Susan Pedersen, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
 Tejas Parasher, “Federalism, Representation, and Direct Democracy in 1920s India,” Modern Intellectual History (January 2021): 1-29. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/modern-intellectual-history/article/federalism-representation-and-direct-democracy-in-1920s-india/625B0116F57186A02ABE261B001012CE.
 Radhakumud Mookerji, Local Government in Ancient India, 1st ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1919).
 Radhakamal Mukerjee, Democracies of the East: A Study in Comparative Politics (London: P.S. King & Son, 1923), 356.
 Mukerjee, Democracies of the East, 340-41. Also see G.D.H. Cole, Self-Government in Industry (London: G. Bell and Sons Ltd., 1918).
 Radhakamal Mukerjee, India: The Dawn of a New Era (An Autobiography) (New Delhi: Radha Publications, 1997), 166.
 John Dunn, Setting the People Free: The Story of Democracy, 2nd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), 154.
by Meir Hatina
The development of Islamic Studies during the twentieth century and beyond has found little favour with Islam as a religious phenomenon. The body of knowledge on Islam has expanded, and new genres based on new sources have gained momentum, such as social history, urban studies, public space, holy landscape, religious practices, gender, and the documentation and empowerment of subaltern voices (women, minorities, and slaves). But it seems that this wealth of scholarship has touched on Islam as a culture and civilisation, much less on Islam as religious thought, especially in terms of theology and jurisprudence, religion and state, jihad and martyrdom, war and the treatment of captives and non-combatants, international relations—issues that continue to provoke debates and polemics in the modern era as well.
The twentieth century witnessed a religious resurgence in all three monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, depicted by sociologist Jose Casanova as the “de-privatisation” of religion and its return as a contentious issue to the public sphere. The Enlightenment project, which raised the banner of secularisation, confining religion to the private sphere, was contested, whereas manifestations of blasphemy remained on the sidelines. Thus, while modernity indeed constituted a significant challenge to the established faiths, it was also a fertile breeding ground for religious redefinition, innovation, and rejuvenation. In essence, modernisation had spawned new religious ideas, communities and movements. Some of these movements, like neo-evangelical Christianity, messianic Zionism, Israeli ultra-orthodoxy, or Islamists, questioned and often defied the prevailing “secular” order. In the Islamic milieu such defiance was accompanied by assertiveness, protest and violence, affecting intellectual and scholarly discourse, which also became dominated by rigid paradigms of tensions and antagonism among the Abrahamic creeds.
These paradigms lacked a comparative historical perspective and an awareness of the diversity of Islam and the complexity of interfaith encounters. One such paradigm, nurtured by post-colonial climate, was that of Edward Said’s book Orientalism (1978), which accused Western discourse of harbouring demonic perceptions of Islam and the East as archaic and intolerant entities, in contrast to a rational and progressive West. The contribution of Orientalism to the craft of history and to Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies has been extensive. It has significantly altered the way we think, write and present the history of the peoples of Islam and the East by displaying sensitivity and empathy towards them. Orientalism heightened our awareness that non-Western societies can develop their own modernity without necessarily breaking away from indigenous identities and cultures—what Shmuel Eisenstadt called “multiple modernities.” Yet, in spite of its merits, Said’s concept precisely because of its sweeping assertions sharpened the dissonance between East and West and gave further impetus to the politics of identities. Orientalism portrayed a Western plot to uproot indigenous cultures, and it permeated not only Islamic protest movements, but also academic institutions in the Arab-Muslim world.
The rise of the “culture of criticism” (al-thaqafa al-naqdiyya), carried out by socialists and liberal circles, which challenged and even dismantled Islamic traditions and norms, has been largely marginalised in the Western scholarship. Rather, many researchers were preoccupied with political Islam or Islamism and its call for the restoration of past legacies.
Another paradigm that drew the attention of scholarly discourse in the early 1990s was Samuel Huntington’s book Clash of Civilizations (1996). It delineated a built-in tendency in Islam to violent conflict and to “bloody borders” between Muslims and non-Muslims, and demonised Islam as a religion of tyranny, intolerance and violence. The emergence of global jihad—especially in the wake of the September 11 attacks—played into Huntington’s thesis, creating a climate of cosmic war, of a permanent state of dissonance and confrontation.
The militancy image of Islam was reinforced by the rise of ISIS at the threshold of the twenty-first century and its chain of victories in Iraq and Syria. The question, posed by early Islamists in mid-twentieth century, as to whether there would be a revival of the religion of Muhammad has now been replaced by the question posed by global jihadists whether someone would be able to stand against the religion of Muhammad. Kasr al-hudud, namely the dismantling of geographical and political boundaries was ISIS’s driven force. This self-confidence mood was also reflected in ISIS’s English-language online magazine Dabiq, which opened one of its issues with the title “Break the Cross” and closed it with “By the Sword.” The cross had become a code phrase for the “new crusade,” which harboured humanity’s deviation from the path of God—such as democracy, liberalism, feminism, and atheism. It served as a trigger for violence as a purifying force.
Yet, even analysts who were not convinced of such paradigms as Orientalism and the Clash of Civilizations continued to focus on the political aspects of modern religious revival, while downplaying historical legacies and ignoring other, more ecumenical voices, in favour of such labels as “fundamentalism,” “puritanism,” “scripturalism” and “strong religion.” Accordingly, fundamentalism in world religions was explained in the five-volume Chicago Fundamentalist Project (1991–1995) as a product of pressures of modernity and reactions to these pressures: thus secularisation led to religious revivalism; the consolidation of feminist ideologies caused a backlash favouring modesty and family-based ideologies; and technology and free access to knowledge have led to religious confinement and censorship.
Neither Said’s Orientalism, nor Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, and nor the Chicago “Fundamentalism” project reflect the complex nature of interfaith encounters. Viewed from a historical perspective, civilisations were never fixed polities, but rather heterogeneous and diverse, with changing boundaries and intellectual orientations. Moreover, they were exposed to inner frictions, which at times overshadowed external conflicts with other cultures. This is true with regard to the religious wars in European history, as well as to clashes within Islamic societies, as the global jihad of al-Qaʿida and ISIS represented only one small radical fraction in a multifaceted Islamic spectrum.
On the Jewish-Christian axis recent years have witnessed an abundance of research reflecting a revived Christian interest in Jewish tradition, for example in Kabbalah. The revised scholarship has changed the long-standing stereotype of a monolithic divide between Judaism and Christianity in pre-modern times that was fed by sustained polemic traditions and modern anti-Semitism. It demonstrated the diverse nature of the study of Jewish esoteric lore among Christians, and, simultaneously, presented the Jews as agents of cultural transmission functioning within the framework of a wider society. The existence of a more diffused reality applies all the more to the multiethnic and culturally diverse Muslim world, where Jewish and Christian communities were influenced by Muslim values, norms and practices, and vice-versa, revealing deeply acculturated processes.
Approaching prevailing paradigms in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies as relative concepts that should be examined cautiously will highlight cross-cultural features and introduce a more constructive analysis of modern Islamic resurgence. Such an approach will also eschew a binary picture in favor of a diffuse reality of intertwined worlds: on the one hand, religions striving for the sole possession of revelation and holy places; and on the other, mutual recognition by religions of a shared background of myths, founding figures, injunctions, values, cosmology, social behaviour, and interactions across time and space.
Moving away from artificial precepts to examine more concrete communal realities, using sociological insights and fieldwork, is more productive and insightful. Thus, for example, many speak of religiosity and its manifestations in the public sphere. However, in the context of Islam in Israel, for instance, an increase in the number of mosques and welfare associations is clearly not a sufficient indication of the strength of the Islamic Movement and the degree of Islamisation of the Arab public domain. Public polls conducted in recent years among Muslims in Israel show that only 20% of the respondents indicated that religion should play an active role in the public sphere; the rest saw it as a moral and cultural code, and adopted a pluralistic approach to religion. Moreover, field studies conducted in mixed localities in which Muslims and Christians live, such as Haifa, Nazareth, and Kafr Qana, show cordial interethnic relations based on interpersonal and family acquaintances, joint activities in local institutions, and common interests related to their positions as minority groups vis-à-vis state authorities.
A similar picture of Islamisation as a relative process can be traced in the Middle Eastern environment. For example, with regard to the veil or head covering which stem from a social, not only a religious, trigger that allows women to move freely in public. In addition, opinion polls and interviews conducted in various Arab countries from the 2000s onward showed that a significant percentage of respondents, mainly young people, expressed a desire for the shielding of personal freedoms and the establishment of a democratic regime. Some of them even displayed indifference and skepticism to religion. These indicators, together with the different approaches regarding the place of Islam in the polity, are clear signs of religious diversity.
Perhaps it is, after all, not surprising that the Arab revolutions of 2011 (dubbed the “Arab Spring”), did not erupt on religious demands for the implementation of the shariʿa (Islamic law), but against the background of mundane issues, such as individual and civil rights, social justice, and democratisation. It is also plausible that the failure of the elected Muslim Brethren to promote these secular issues eventually brought on their downfall in 2013 only a year after they had gained power. The 2011 uprisings overturned entrenched research paradigms about the endurance of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and the inherent submissiveness of the people. The Arab public space changed both its face and its historic role. It was no longer a background against which rulers projected their authority in public processions and official festivals, while the masses played a submissive role, cheering and granting them legitimacy. The demonstrators, led by educated and embittered youths, stormed the symbols of sovereignty of the Arab state, creating new modes of collective action. The dramatic events attested to a Middle East that was an integral part of the global village in terms of its exposure to modern technology, communication networks, and Western ideas.
The post-2011 scholarship was seemingly reorganising its patterns of thought, but this was not the case. Two years after the Arab revolutions, and in the shadow of civil wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen, and against the backdrop of the rise of ISIS, another paradigm emerged—the failed state. The failed state model refers to the breaking of the state’s authority, which is reinforced by the renewed vitality of ethnic, religious, tribal, and regional identities. Hence, ethnic-religious sectarianism became a central component of the Middle Eastern landscape and provided a platform for bloody confrontations. This conclusion seems too sweeping, and completely eliminates 100 years of state-building project in the Arab world, which witnessed the consolidation of geographical borders and the construction of national identity, even if feeble one.
Critical review of prevailing paradigms in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies does not aim to draw firm conclusions, but only to highlight the importance of having a historical and sociological perspective. Historical monitoring will keep us from falling into essentialist concepts, such as “Islam is the religion of the sword” or “the army of shrouds,” referring to suicide bombers. Of course, one cannot ignore society’s formative ethos and judicial rulings anchored in classical texts, but one must closely examine their historical evolution and the new interpretations that have permeated them. After all, social agents and movements play a crucial role in remoulding of the “truth” of scriptures, in accordance with the circumstances and aspirations of their time.
 José Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), mainly chapters 1, 8.
 Said, Orientalism (new ed., London: Penguin, 2003).
 S N. Eisenstadt, "Multiple Modernities," Daedalus 129/1 (2000): 1–29.
 Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), mainly 254–265.
 Dabiq, 1437 Shawwal, no. 15. In: http://clarionproject.org/wp-content/uploads/islamic-state-magazine-dabiq-fifteen-breaking-the-cross.pdf
 Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (eds.), The Fundamentalist Project (University of Chicago Press, 1991-1995).
 Muhammad al-Atawneh and Nohad Ali, Islam in Israel: Muslim Communities in Non-Muslim States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 73-101; Muhammad al-Atawneh and Meir Hatina, "The Study of Islam and Muslims in Israel," Israeli Studies 24/3 (Fall 2019), 101-125.
 Brian Whitaker, Arabs without God: Atheism and Freedom of Belief in the Middle East (California: Createspace, 2014).
 Kobi Michael and Yoel Guzansky, "The Nation State vs. the Failed State and the Arab Upheaval in the Middle East,” in Vladimir Sazonov et al (eds.), Cultural Crossroads in the Middle East (Tartu: University of Tartu Press, 2019), 220-235.
 Meir Hatina, Martyrdom in Modern Islam: Piety, Power and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).