by E.J. Dionne
The rise of fundamentalism and religious ultra-orthodoxy has taken much of the West by surprise. But the shock is not limited to the world’s well-off democracies.
For most of the 20th century, secular and usually left-leaning advocates of national liberation in developing countries fought twin battles: against Western colonialism, and against what they saw as the “backward” and “passive” religious traditionalists among their own people.
Suddenly, those supposedly backward believers are no longer passive. They are fighting to reimpose the faiths of their forebears. And in its most extreme forms, the religious pushback is genuinely frightening. That the Islamic State is, in certain respects, even more extreme than al-Qaida justifies our alarm.
Ultra-orthodoxy in more benign forms is also on the rise in democratic countries with long traditions of religious tolerance. Marx derided religion as an opiate that was destined to fade away. What happened to make faith one of the most dynamic forces in the world?
Political philosopher Michael Walzer has spent an exemplary life grappling with the intellectual mysteries at the crossroads of modernity, religion, democracy and justice. His latest book, “The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions,” examines the history and trajectory of national liberation movements in Israel, India and Algeria. It could hardly be better timed. It asks why the secular revolutionaries, far from marginalizing religion to the private sphere through what they saw as “consciousness raising,” actually produced a backlash, calling forth often radical forms of religious assertion.
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