Modernity for the Poor

Ahmed Al-Moslemany
Sunday 4 Sep 2022

Modernity should not just be a project for the elite and the wealthy, but should educate the common people and benefit the poor.


It is a grave mistake to consider modernity a lofty thought that does not suit the masses and the needy, or that it is a luxurious culture that has no place for those who want to make ends meet and strive for satiety.

On the contrary, without modernity for the poor, and the opening of that broad class of society to the realisation of reason and a commitment to logic, the elite become separated from the society. And while a modernist veneer dominates on the surface, what is under the surface stagnates in the pre-modern era.

Modernisation of the poor, the illiterate, and those with limited education naturally needs an intermediate cultural layer, where mediators simplify science and ideas, explain visions and theses, and transfer what is elitist at the ceiling to what is simple and understandable at the base.

In his presentation of the European experience in modernity, the Algerian philosopher Mohamed Arkoun argues that the philosophers of the Enlightenment lived in 18th century France amid the poor and miserable people around them. However, these philosophers criticised the methods that created the backward conditions and put forward a method that could allow the people to overcome the impediments to progress and advancement.

The philosophers presented to the poor their theses relying on reason as a basis for thinking, and on scientific thinking in achieving dreams of renaissance and ascent. It was these philosophers who convinced the miserable masses of the attractiveness of reason and the power of its proposition.

When the poor watched the successive stages of modernisation, it increased their convictions, their fascination with the capabilities of science and the ability of rational thinking to confront poverty, disease and humiliation of impoverishment. It was the success of modernity in pushing their lifestyle forward from the tragedies of the Middle Ages to the horizons of the modern mind that paved the way for subsequent waves of modernisation, enabling science to comprehend the smallest units of space and time, and its vehicles and mechanisms to travel from Earth to the moon, Mars and the universe.

Today, centuries after the inception of enlightenment and modernisation in the West, the political crises brought about by modernity are exacerbated – from World War I to World War II, and then to a series of wars extending from the Korean War to the Ukrainian War – which has led to a wave of people questioning the ability of the mind to protect itself and protect human beings.

Today, modernity is the enemy of modernity, reason is the enemy of reason, enlightenment is the enemy of enlightenment. It is the modernist civil war, where all enemies are rational, and all combatants are modern.

Modernity has also led to the transition from misery to a life to prosperity, and from poverty and destitution to sufficiency and growth. However, it quickly led in its extreme capitalist aspects to conflicts and wars between states and individuals, and between institutions and companies, leading to capitalism against capitalism and liberalism against liberalism.

The deviation of modernity can be corrected, and the detour can be rectified, but the Arab world is still in another place, as most of it lives in the pre-modern era. If the Arab world needs to start or complete the journey of modernity, the most important thing to focus on along the journey has to be modernity for the poor.

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