Why Religion Is the Best Safeguard for Liberty

Sept. 13 2018

The Swiss-born philosopher and politician Benjamin Constant (1767-1830), one of the founders of 19th-century liberalism, sought in his five-volume treatise On Religion to provide a comprehensive history of religion in its various forms and manifestations. Despite his commitment to the separation of church and state and to religious toleration, Constant argued that religion—any religion—is necessary to the flourishing of society. On the occasion of the publication of the first complete English translation of On Religion, Gianna Englert writes:

“By studying the epochs when the religious sentiment triumphed,” [Constant] concluded, “one sees that in every one liberty was its companion.” For Constant, the choice was between religious sentiment and self-interest, or to put it more strongly, between self-sacrifice and egoistic materialism. Absent the direction of religion, he worried that human beings would accept self-interest as the foundation of both individual morality and public life. In so doing, they would lose the beauty and nobility of religion, that which is definitively and uniquely human—and their political freedom as well.

Constant regarded self-interest as a thin, unstable foundation for societies that would lead eventually to isolation and “the hunger for wealth,” . . . arguing that the private life governed by self-interest is less than human, fit only for “industrious beavers . . . or the well-regimented activities of bees,” not for human communities. He worried that a society so constituted was susceptible to tyranny, since it was simply a collection of isolated persons who cared little about protecting free institutions.

What exactly does religion do to counteract these tendencies? Constant offers many answers throughout the book. Religion tells us “what is evil and what is good,” “reveals to us an infinite being,” and creates “order.” . . . On an individual level, religion sets our sights above material wellbeing to encourage the capacity for self-development. It gives us spiritual goals that extend beyond our immediate wants and needs. Most importantly, it encourages us to sacrifice for those goals, promoting a “certain abnegation of ourselves.” This, in turn, serves political institutions that can become “empty forms when no one will sacrifice for them.”

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More about: Liberalism, Political philosophy, Religion & Holidays, Religion and politics

Iran Is Back on Israel’s Doorstep

Feb. 15 2019

On Monday, the IDF shelled Iranian-linked targets—most likely held by Hizballah—in the Quneitra province, which lies in the Syrian part of the Golan Heights. There can thus be little doubt that the Islamic Republic has positioned its proxies in deadly proximity to Israel’s borders. Yossi Yehoshua comments:

Hizballah is trying to entrench itself in Syria now that Bashar al-Assad has reclaimed the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, precisely as it did in 2014 and 2015, [before Syrian rebels retook the area]. This was when one of the terror organization’s more prominent members, Jihad Mughniyeh, was appointed by Hizballah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to be in charge of the Golan Heights area and of planning terror attacks against Israeli civilians. Mughniyeh was killed in a 2015 airstrike attributed to Israel. . . .

In addition, an increase in the number of incidents along the Syrian border was noted over the past two months, with the Israeli strikes in Syria . . . meant to signal to the enemy that it is best not cross any red lines. This is similar to the message Jerusalem conveyed to Iran when it [previously] attempted to entrench itself in [this part of] Syria and was pushed out of there after a series of Israeli airstrikes.

Unlike the situation of four years ago, Iran now has a real presence along the Syrian border, while Hizballah is working to resume its confrontations with Israel. And since the organization is up to its neck in domestic problems and thus cannot allow itself to face Israel on the Lebanese front, it finds Syria to be a more comfortable staging ground from which to take on the Jewish state.

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More about: Golan Heights, Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Syria