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


Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship