Catholic Media Association Book Award: Faithful Citizenship/Religious Freedom, Honorable Mention
Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award: Political and Social Studies, Bronze Medal
Faith, Nationalism, and the Future of Liberal Democracy highlights the use of religious identity to fuel the rise of illiberal, nationalist, and populist democracy.
In Faith, Nationalism, and the Future of Liberal Democracy, David Elcott, C. Colt Anderson, Tobias Cremer, and Volker Haarmann present a pragmatic and modernist exploration of how religion engages in the public square. Elcott and his co-authors are concerned about the ways religious identity is being used to foster the exclusion of individuals and communities from citizenship, political representation, and a role in determining public policy. They examine the ways religious identity is weaponized to fuel populist revolts against a political, social, and economic order that values democracy in a global and strikingly diverse world. Included is a history and political analysis of religion, politics, and policies in Europe and the United States that foster this illiberal rebellion.
The authors explore what constitutes a constructive religious voice in the political arena, even in nurturing patriotism and democracy, and what undermines and threatens liberal democracies. To lay the groundwork for a religious response, the book offers chapters showing how Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism can nourish liberal democracy. The authors encourage people of faith to promote foundational support for the institutions and values of the democratic enterprise from within their own religious traditions and to stand against the hostility and cruelty that historically have resulted when religious zealotry and state power combine.
Faith, Nationalism, and the Future of Liberal Democracy is intended for readers who value democracy and are concerned about growing threats to it, and especially for people of faith and religious leaders, as well as for scholars of political science, religion, and democracy.
Introduction: Why We Write
1. Facing Liberal Democracy’s Challenge: Why We Highlight The Role Of Religious Identity In Populist Nationalist Movements
2. How To Understand The Populism Of Europe
3. The Assault On Liberal Democracy In The United States
4. A Catholic Response To The Errors Of Catholic Nationalism
5. The Post-Holocaust Protestant Church As The Defender Of Pluralistic Democracy
6. Each Human Being As An Image Of God: A Jewish Response To Religious Nationalism
Epilogue: Religious Leadership, Civil Discourse, And Democracy
David Elcott is the Taub Professor of Practice in Public Service and Leadership at the Wagner School of Public Service at NYU and director of the Advocacy and Political Action specialization.
C. Colt Anderson is the outgoing dean of the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham University.
Tobias Cremer is a Junior Research Fellow at Pembroke College, Oxford, and a recent Ph.D. from Cambridge.
Volker Haarmann is the chair of the Department of Theology of the Protestant Church in the Rhineland.
"The four writers of Faith, Nationalism, and the Future of Liberal Democracy, all of them religious, are unusually frank in recognizing the possible affinities between their religions and a nationalist politics. At the same time, they are wonderfully (and thankfully) persuasive in providing an account of Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism that can stand alongside and support liberal democracy." —Michael Walzer, author of The Paradox of Liberation
"A timely, constructive, and empirically grounded exploration of the tensions among religion, identity, and liberal democracy in the United States and around the world." —Robert D. Putnam, co-author of American Grace
"Engaging and insightful, Faith, Nationalism, and the Future of Liberal Democracy helps us recognize the striking patterns of dangerous nationalisms that threaten to divide humanity and distort democracy around the globe. The authors' comparative perspective helps us see our own context in a clearer light, and the activist reading of history and the present ask us, as readers and people of faith, to take action." —Jeannine Hill Fletcher, author of The Sin of White Supremacy
“This is a solid, timely book on a surprisingly neglected topic: the religious views and responses to the rise across the West of national populism. It succeeds at being both a scholarly and an activist and prescriptive look at the Christian and Jewish reactions to the populist surge in the twenty-first century.” —José Pedro Zúquete, author of The Identitarians
"It is vital for citizens of liberal democracies to understand the populist movements that are challenging democracy from within. By explaining how religion has been co-opted by nationalist populism, and by showing how religion can help provide an antidote to populism, this learned and insightful book helps us appreciate the dilemmas of contemporary democratic politics." —Andrew Preston, author of Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith
"Faith, Nationalism, and the Future of Liberal Democracy is an impassioned defense of the sane and sound forms of religion that engender and protect democracy, human rights, and love of neighbor. It is obviously a labor of love produced by those who have lived their lives in support of those values that will mend our broken world." —Jim Winkler, president and general secretary, National Council of Churches
"Faith, Nationalism, and the Future of Liberal Democracy . . . impart[s] a cogent, academic, and rich way of understanding how religion has been turned political weapon; it gives significant advice about what to do to address the problem . . . [and] explains how religious claims have been warped and understood to be more about belonging than believing." —Foreword Reviews (starred review)
"In this trenchant analysis, Elcott . . . teams up with other researchers to explore the ways religion impacts politics in the U.S. and Europe. . . . This is a startling reminder of the insidious potential of religious identity being overtaken by extremist political forces." —Publishers Weekly
"Elcott and his colleagues are to be commended for lobbying that religion, when properly practiced, exposes “divisions between 'us' and 'them' ” not as appeals to purity but exercises in apostasy. Hope, not fear, thus paves the way forward." —The Journal Gazette
“Elcott and his colleagues . . . offer a broad perspective on how religious faith has been misused in the development of national identities. In rich, complex prose, the authors provide examples of how religion has been used for both good and evil in the development of nation states. Indeed, the authors are stark in highlighting the ways in which religious belief has been weaponized to promote intolerance and disenfranchisement.” —The Arlington Catholic Herald
"Elcott and his coauthors have come together across religious and cultural divides and exemplified a clear commitment to liberal democracy. Their work challenges faith leaders and laypersons alike to do the same and join together across seemingly insurmountable boundaries to work towards a global emphasis on human rights and dignity for all people. " —Reading Religion
"This book is a useful primer on how authoritarian leaders manipulate religion to encourage human division, tribalism, and nationalism and how religion offers the means to promote liberal democracy." —Choice
We write from a place of deep anxiety, with the awareness that one's personal biography in ways subtle and overt informs the choices and perspectives of even the most ivory-towered academic. We are easily brought to dark places watching young White Americans, with torches blazing, shouting white power" and "Jews will not replace us," reminiscent of Nazi Brown Shirts in 1930. Similar demonstrations in Poland and Hungary call for a return to the traditions of Christian Europe. The populist and nationalist rhetoric of many political leaders grinds daily against our fundamental, if unduly hopeful, belief in the goodness and compassion of humanity. Across the planet, anger towards globe-trotting elites, austerity-minded politicians, and distant bureaucrats is igniting rebellious electoral upsets in nation after nation. And, they would say, a deadly pandemic is fitting punishment for globalization as foreigners bring death.
There is a story behind this rebellion. The Enlightenment led to the American and French Revolutions, the dawn of civil rights for citizens and democratic institutions that nurtured and sustained those rights. Increasingly, religious and civic affairs were disentangled, with a concomitant focus on enhancing individual rights. While religious discrimination, as with other forms of prejudice, remained, secularism seemed ascendant and citizenship was decreasingly tethered to the majority religion. In many regions, personal autonomy and an expansion of freedom diminished the role of the "Church." As the philosopher Elizabeth Anderson lightly explained: "If you look back at the origins of liberalism, it starts first with a certain settlement about religious difference. Catholics, Protestants, they are killing each other." Finally, Germany, England, all these places began to say how tired they are of people killing each other, so it was time to make a peace settlement that would lead to religious toleration.
Following World War II, the idea that religion belongs at home and should be removed from the public square seemed to become the norm, a public value even if transgressed. Emerging nations, from India to Indonesia to Germany, refused to include the majority religion in their constitutions, while the United Nations declared freedom of religion a human right.
With the collapse of dominating empires, including the Soviet Union, and the diminished role of the United States in fostering democracy, religious fueled nationalism has made a comeback, but now in the territory of liberal democracies. And so a spotlight on the role of religion is back in vogue, not merely a return to earlier epochs, but directing us to a very different and angry future.
In 1986, James Carse wrote about finite and infinite games. As applied to western liberal democratic systems, there is a tension - liberal democracy itself is an infinite game where one never "wins" permanently and the system has a range of checks and balances to keep the game going. It is hoped that regular and free elections, permanent bureaucracies, representative legislatures, local jurisdictions, independent courts and unspoken norms and behaviors all help to keep the game alive and vital. Yet autocrats and autocratic political movements seek to permanently win, end the game with total victory and, in essence, shut down the game. These players, found around the world, have been given or taken on names: the alt-right, populist nationalists, neo-Fascists, White Supremacists or other ethnic, racial or religious supremacists. While real differences may distinguish them, country by country, as a group we unite them in their commitment to illiberal democracy, the term we will use as we explore the ways religious identity is used to give them support.
Religion, too, has historically held the tension described by Carse -- on one hand, religion can be an infinite game of change and growth. Religions also have had periods in which players sought to vanquish the other and end the game with a triumphant church.
This book is about the challenges to liberal democracies as some players, using religious identity as fuel, seek to make the game finite. While no one election, legislative vote or court decision alone signals apocalyptic catastrophe, in spite of what pundits may claim, liberal democracy can be weakened and its efficacy eroded by savvy players. These opponents hope to win by permanently destroying the competition, gutting democratic institutions by purging those seeking to uphold their historic standards and norms. They promote political violence as well as legislative and executive decisions that undermine the core institutions and processes of liberal democracies. They use all forms of media to damage faith in what is factual and true. They threaten dissent. This assault is occurring in the United States and Europe and in many vulnerable liberal democracies across Africa, Asia and Latin America. This is what illiberal democracy is all about, ending the game with a final, outright victory.