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.