The Genesis of Secular Politics in Medieval Philosophy: The King of Averroes and the Emperor of Dante

Sabeen Ahmed


In contemporary political discourse, the "clash of civilizations" rhetoric often undergirds philosophical analyses of "democracy" both at home and abroad. This is nowhere better articulated than in Jacques Derrida's Rogues, in which he describes Islam as the only religious or theocratic culture that would "inspire and declare any resistance to democracy" (Derrida 2005, 29). Curiously, Derrida attributes the failings of democracy in Islam to the lack of reference to Aristotle's Politics in the writings of the medieval Muslim philosophers. This paper aims to analyze this gross misconception of Islamic philosophy and illuminate the thoroughgoing influence the Muslim philosophers had on their Christian successors, those who are so often credited as foundations of Western political philosophy. In so doing, I compare the ideal states presented by Averroes and Dante – in which Aristotelian influence is intimately interlaced – and offer an analysis thereof as heralds of what we might call the secularization of the political, inspiring those democratic values that Derrida believes to be absent in the rich philosophy of the Middle Ages.



Averroes, Dante, Aristotle, medieval philosophy, political philosophy, secularism, democracy, religion

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