This provocative book argues that in Europe, the nation-state emerged after centuries of violent experimentation, but that in the Arab world, that process was inverted: first came the states, and then came the messy experiments. In the immediate postcolonial period, Arab states quickly formed. Arab nationalists tried to create strong governments by centralizing power and depriving their citizens of all autonomy. That approach failed, and by the 1970s, Islamists, inspired by the theologians Abul Ala Maududi and Sayyid Qutb, offered an alternative vision that valued individuals—but only as members of the Islamic community, the ummah. Neither movement had any use for social sciences, which Addi argues are vital to nation building. In Addi’s view, modern economic life promotes individualism and secularization. In the Arab world, that process will take a long time. Yet Addi does not take the prospect of a revived Islamist caliphate seriously, nor does he believe the Arab world will drift into illiberal democracy, as has happened in Russia and Turkey.
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