Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War Review
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In his account of the French Revolution, Burleigh shows how the Jacobin suppression of the church led to the cult of nationalism that followed. The Jacobins were not opposed to religion per se, they were opposed specifically to the Catholic Church for being partner in the throne-and-altar tyranny. They did see the need for a civil religion to garner loyalty to the state. In the process they established various cults and rituals that mimiced religious ceremonies. The Jacobins were the precursors of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini.
The French Revolution, according to Burleigh, secularized religion. Religion went from "world-transcendent" to "world-immanent," a distinction he borrows from Eric Voegelin, an early 20th century Austrian writer who had written a book called "The Political Religions." The new "creed" was no longer other-worldly, it was the nation-state, and the new god was no longer God, it was the new secular leader.
Burleigh pulls together many historical strands showing how both Protestants and Catholics negotiated the uneasy relationship between church and state throughout the 19th century. He gives a fascinating account of how secular forces in France's Third Republic and Bismark's Germany tried to eradicate religion from their educational systems. At the same time, he shows how O'Connell of Young Ireland and Mazzini of Young Italy used religious imagery to attract followers to their respective nationlist causes. And he goes on to show how utopian thinkers such as Saint Simon, Fourier, Comte, and Marx - to mention the most obvious - were actually prophets of political religions.
The interplay between politics and religion is particulary relevant to our current age. Although it is safe to say that the Europeans have put the religious impulse, political or otherwise, to rest after the totalitarianisms of the 20th century; they now firmly belong to the secular camp, in the traditional sense of the term. However, since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Islam is rapidly becaming the toxic brew of religion and politics in our time, not only in the Middle East but in the West as well. Volumes have already been written about the Islamic threat in Europe, and as this book reminds us, it should not be taken lightly.
This book is extensively researched and very well-written. I look forward to the projected sequel "Sacred Causes," dealing with the political religions of the 1920's and 30's.Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War Overview
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