And these concrete data validate eminent Western scholarly appraisals of Islamic despotism, or in modern parlance, totalitarianism. Repeatedly for 100 years, between the mid-19th through mid-20th centuries, important scholars and intellectuals — for example, the historians Jacob Burckhardt, Waldemar Gurian, and Karl Wittfogel, philosopher Bertrand Russell, Carl Jung (the founder of modern analytical psychiatry), Protestant theologian Karl Barth, sociologist Jules Monnerot (one of the pre-eminent 20th century scholars of Islamic law), G.H. Bousquet, and even the contemporary Western eminence grise on Islamic civilization, Bernard Lewis — have all referred to Islam as a despotic or totalitarian ideology.
For example, being imbued with fanaticism was the ultimate source of Muhammad’s great strength and led to his triumph as a despot, according to Burckhardt. Jacob Burckhardt (d. 1897), an iconic figure in the annals of Western historiography, believed it was the solemn duty of Western civilization’s heirs to study and acknowledge their own unique cultural inheritance — starting with the culture and heritage of classical Athens. Burckhardt emphasized how the Western conception of freedom was engendered in Athens, where its flowering was accompanied by the production of some of history’s most sublime literary and artistic works. Moreover, while Burckhardt affirmed the irreducible nature of freedom and upheld equality before the law, he decried the notion — a pervasive, rigidly enforced dogma at present — that all ways of life, opinions, and beliefs were of equal value.
Burckhardt argued that this conceptual reductio ad absurdum would destroy Western culture, heralding a return to barbarism. And contra the Western legacy of Athens — epitomized by freedom — Burckhardt referred to Islam as a despotic, or in 20th century terms, totalitarian ideology:
All religions are exclusive, but Islam is quite notably so, and immediately it developed into a state which seemed to be all of a piece with the religion. The Koran is its spiritual and secular book of law. Its statutes embrace all areas of life … and remain set and rigid; the very narrow Arab mind imposes this nature on many nationalities and thus remolds them for all time (a profound, extensive spiritual bondage!) This is the power of Islam in itself. At the same time, the form of the world empire as well as of the states gradually detaching themselves from it cannot be anything but a despotic monarchy. The very reason and excuse for existence, the holy war, and the possible world conquest, do not brook any other form.
The strongest proof of real, extremely despotic power in Islam is the fact that it has been able to invalidate, in such large measure, the entire history (customs, religion, previous way of looking at things, earlier imagination) of the peoples converted to it. It accomplished this only by instilling into them a new religious arrogance which was stronger than everything and induced them to be ashamed of their past.
A century later, historian Waldemar Gurian, in 1945, sees Burckhardt’s description of Muhammad as critically important for understanding Hitler’s temperament and historical role, both leaders having been consummate practitioners of reductionist demagoguery — “radical simplifiers.”
Slightly earlier, during an interview conducted in the late 1930s (published in 1939), Karl Jung was asked: “ … had [he] any views on what was likely to be the next step in religious development?” Jung replied, in reference to the Nazi fervor that had gripped Germany:
We do not know whether Hitler is going to found a new Islam. He is already on the way; he is like Muhammad. [emphasis added] The emotion in Germany is Islamic; warlike and Islamic. They are all drunk with wild god. That can be the historic future.
Also published in 1939 was Karl Barth’s assessment (from The Church and the Political Problem of Our Day) of the similarity between Fascist totalitarianism and Islam:
Participation in this life, according to it the only worthy and blessed life, is what National Socialism, as a political experiment, promises to those who will of their own accord share in this experiment. And now it becomes understandable why, at the point where it meets with resistance, it can only crush and kill — with the might and right which belongs to Divinity! Islam of old as we know proceeded in this way. It is impossible to understand National Socialism unless we see it in fact as a new Islam, its myth as a new Allah, and Hitler as this new Allah’s Prophet.
Jules Monnerot’s 1949 Sociologie du Communisme was translated into English and published as Sociology and Psychology of Communism in 1953. Monnerot elaborated at length upon a brief but remarkably prescient observation by Bertrand Russell, published already in 1920, which compared emerging Bolshevism to Islam. Russell had noted in his The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism:
Bolshevism combines the characteristics of the French Revolution with those of the rise of Islam. … Those who accept Bolshevism become impervious to scientific evidence, and commit intellectual suicide. Even if all the doctrines of Bolshevism were true, this would still be the case, since no unbiased examination of them is tolerated. … Among religions, Bolshevism is to be reckoned with Mohammedanism [Islam] rather than with Christianity and Buddhism. Christianity and Buddhism are primarily personal religions, with mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation. Mohammedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of this world.