Does Religion Kill Democracy?

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Several commentators (such as the book-writing team of John Micklethwait and Adrian Woodridge) have documented the recent rise of religion across the globe. The resurgence of religion is a direct challenge to the “secularization thesis,” the idea that as enlightenment, scientific knowledge and technology spread, the force of religion contracts. Other writers (Larry Diamond, for example) have called attention to the decline of democracy on a global scale, and in particular the “democratic deficit” in parts of the world where religion remains a powerful force. Is there a relationship between these two trends? Does religion undermine democracy? There may be a…

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Why We Need Angels and Demons

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In a 1991 essay on being a Christian in the 20th century, the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, discussing the decline in religious belief in the West, posited a hypothetical scenario: One can imagine a state (let this be science fiction for the moment) in which most of the population is educated from childhood in a mundane, materialistic philosophy, only the highest elite has religion, and the citizens of that country are not allowed to concern themselves with religious problems until they are at least forty years old. These rules are imposed on Milosz’s imaginary state “not to preserve privilege” but because “the…

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Liberalism’s Ungrounded Present

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First and foremost, modern liberalism aimed at ending the moral, political, and intellectual conditions underlying the savage religious wars which wracked 16th and 17th century Europe. The concurrence of the Protestant challenge to the Roman Catholic Church with the founding of centralized states capable of raising and funding large armies made these wars both uncompromising and devastating. Although the earliest liberals—Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes—advocated religious establishments strongly supported by the new states as a means of imposing civil peace on warring factions, liberalism took a new turn with John Locke, who argued for republican politics and religious toleration. In the…

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Islam, the Self-Critical Version

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Reforming Islam: Progressive Voices from the Arab Muslim World is an imposing anthology of articles taken from the reformist website www.almuslih.org, composed originally in Arabic  and translated accurately into English by Stephen Ulph. It contains dozens of articles, from three to 12 pages long, by contributors from across the Arab world including Lafif Lakhdar of Tunisia, Babikir Faysal Babikir of Sudan, Mohamed al-Sanduk of Iraq, and Abd al-Hamid al-Ansari of Qatar. Editors Stephen Ulph and Patrick Sookhdeo have added section introductions that ably summarize the content of each section and the work as a whole. A number of Arabic terms…

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Herbert Hoover: Resourceful on Policy, Removed on Politics

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Imagine a highly successful businessman choosing the presidency of the United States for his first political race. Running as an outsider, he campaigned like no other, defeated the politicians,  and won the office. As President-elect, he held court in a suite of rooms at a fancy hotel, vetting prospective cabinet members. He had his own policy ideas, such as sharply curtailing immigration as a threat to American jobs. Donald Trump? No, Herbert Hoover, as described by Charles Rappleye in his new book, Herbert Hoover in the White House: The Ordeal of the Presidency. History has been simplistic and unkind toward President Hoover.…

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How Tradition Renews Civilization and Challenges Conservatives

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In our post-Enlightenment world, the word “tradition” often carries negative connotations. When coupled with adjectives like “regressive” and portrayed as that which impedes whatever has acquired the label of progress, the idea of tradition conveys a sense of being antithetical to humans’ wellbeing. Hence we encounter phrases like, “She’s rigid and traditional.” A rather different and more creative understanding of tradition is found in the writings of the German philosopher Josef Pieper (1904-1997). Perhaps most famous for his book Leisure as the Basis of Culture (1948), Pieper spent his life engaged not only in lecturing at the University of Münster, but…

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The Price of Ireland’s Independence

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Last year saw the centenary of the Easter Rising, a quixotic rebellion led by poets and playwrights which sparked a revolutionary struggle against British rule in Ireland leading, eventually, to independence. The most striking feature of the centenary was its pluralism, with the commemoration of previously overlooked participants such as women rebels, and even members of the Crown Forces who suppressed the rebellion. The largest section of fatalities in 1916—the Dublin civilians unwittingly sacrificed in the cause of Irish freedom—were also prominently remembered, demonstrating a new  willingness to embrace the complexities of a much-mythologized event. The dissimilarity with the Rising’s 50th commemoration in…

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Going Nowhere: Utopian Constitutionalism in the 21st Century

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James E. Fleming, an orthodox confessor in the moral-philosophic church of Ronald Dworkin, has a problem. He declares himself an avowed enemy of constitutional originalism in any form on account of the debilitating effect it has on the American public conscience. Yet Fleming contradicts himself when he defines “the originalist premise” as the “assumption that originalism, rightly conceived, has to be the best—or indeed the only—conception of constitutional interpretation.” Why does it have to be? “Because,” writes Fleming, “originalism, rightly conceived, just has to be. By definition. In the nature of things—in the nature of the Constitution, in the nature of…

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Turn On, Tune In, Recycle

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Anyone familiar with environmentalist literature of the past decades will immediately recognize the form of Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu’s argument in Unfit for the Future: The Need for Moral Enhancement. The structure of such books, going at least as far back as Rachel Carson, goes like this: We face the following existential threats to life on earth . . . (extended discussion). After this comes a tour of the ways in which current modes of thinking and/or current institutions are inadequate to address those threats, if not outright contributing causes. The conclusion: we therefore need some radical revision of our present normal…

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Jeffersonian Public Relations

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American politics operates through building narratives to create certain impressions that spur people to action. Stories about our history, particularly “the Founding,” have long shaped our self-understanding and influenced government. Was the American Revolution radical or conservative? Was the U.S. Constitution a counter-revolution to the Declaration of Independence? Was the Union formed in 1776, in 1781, or in 1789? Controversy over each of these questions has a history dating back to the early years of the Republic. Partisans of each position crafted an account that supported their answers and used it to explain the way that U.S. politics and institutions developed,…

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