What’s So Paradoxical about the Return of Religion?

In The Paradox of Liberation, the political philosopher Michael Walzer examines the recent histories of Algeria, India, and Israel: countries liberated from European rule under the aegis of secular socialist movements. For Walzer, the “paradox” is that all three countries experienced a politically potent religious revival, for which he blames the left-wing movements’ desire “to . . . remake fellow citizens in a secular and progressive mold.” Peter Berkowitz writes in his review:

According to Walzer, the principal problem with what he calls “the liberationist project” has been its arrogance and absolutism. The liberators’ laudable purpose was to “improve the everyday lives of the men and women with whom” they shared a heritage. But in seeking “to create new men and women,” secular nationalists failed to appreciate the grip of traditional faith on the people they sought to emancipate. . . .

[Thus, Walzer argues that the] left must undertake a “project of critical engagement” with tradition and faith. Only by recognizing the power that faith exercises in the lives of real people and working within and through it, [he] concludes, will the left advance the cause of emancipation.

Walzer is correct about the need to engage with tradition and faith and to temper leftist arrogance. But he cannot quite escape that arrogance’s powerful gravitational pull. . . . The major characters in the history he recounts are “liberators”—men and women of the left—and “zealots” who are religious and conservative. He leaves little room for opponents of the excesses of the liberationist project who are prudent, honorable, and cogent preservers of tradition. . . .

The flaws in Walzer’s analysis of the liberationist project stem from his inclination to see religious and conservative counter-movements as problems to be solved rather than as expressions of genuine and worthy human aspirations. If he were to heed better his own forceful admonitions about engaged criticism, he would find in traditional resistance to secular liberation reasonable opinions that make a critical contribution to a democracy devoted to protecting individual rights.

Read more at First Things

More about: Algeria, Conservatism, History & Ideas, India, Israel, Religion and politics, Secularism


How America Sowed the Seeds of the Current Middle East Crisis in 2015

Analyzing the recent direct Iranian attack on Israel, and Israel’s security situation more generally, Michael Oren looks to the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. That, and President Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal after Donald Trump left it, are in his view the source of the current crisis:

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Barack Obama’s singular foreign-policy achievement.

In order to achieve that result, the administration has repeatedly refused to punish Iran for its malign actions:

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran repeatedly to assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one.

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. . . . Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity.

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

Read more at Free Press

More about: Barack Obama, Gaza War 2023, Iran, Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy