(AI) Yehudah Mirsky–The Religious Fate of Secular Liberation

There is a larger point here””that materialism works with a misleading picture of the human beings it seeks to liberate. Central to that humanity, to our fundamental sense of who we are, are our primal identities that, in turn, regularly link us to another anchor in our world””namely, transcendence. People stand on the earth but their heads are in the sky, and so too there is a middle conceptual term between the primordial and the transcendent””between blood and God””and that is the civic, the public square. Indeed, the national liberationists of Walzer’s tale were all committed to creating states that would include citizens not part of the national group (Indian Muslims, Algerian Berbers, Israeli Arabs). As a result, he says,

it makes little sense to claim that religious zealotry in Israel today follows naturally from the nationalism of the Labor Zionists. It follows instead, as it does in India, from the democracy that the Labor Zionists created and then from their failure to produce a strong and coherent secular culture to go with that democracy. The zealots represent the return of what was incompletely ”˜negated.’

So democratic civic life, known only to liberal nationalisms, gives rise to the antithesis of the liberal founders. Why is that? Because, as Walzer has powerfully argued for years, the best and most efficacious moral and political arguments are ones that “derive from or connect with the inherited culture of the people who need to be convinced.”

This is what the liberationists never squared up. They were nationalists, but nationalists of such a progressive cast of mind that they “imagined that they were struggling toward a single universal vision, with minor variations reflecting national/cultural difference.” Yet, as Walzer shows, “Particular engagements with particular cultures and histories . . . produce particular visions of secularism and modernity.” This means that “modern, secular liberation is ”˜negotiated’ in each nation, in each religious community” and “a highly differentiated universe is the necessary outcome. . . . Traditionalist worldviews can’t be negated, abolished or banned; they have to be engaged.” In short, liberal nationalist elites cannot launch a nation out of its own culture, no matter how deeply they believe in their own version of universalism.

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