In This Review

Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, From the Great War to the War on Terror
Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, From the Great War to the War on Terror
By Michael Burleigh
HarperCollins, 2007, 576 pp

With great erudition and an eye for strange characters who offer spiritual revelation with a political tinge, Burleigh takes up the story of religion in international (although mainly European) politics where his previous book, Earthly Powers, left off. This provides a fascinating analysis of the interaction of the church with the totalitarian movements of the twentieth century. He is not the first to consider communism, fascism, and Nazism as political religions, but he makes that case with style, demonstrating how the propagandists knowingly picked up on religious symbols and themes. More controversially, Burleigh mounts a vigorous defense of the Catholic Church's role in World War II, arguing that it mitigated some of the worst effects of the Holocaust. He also deplores the loss of religious conviction in the West. Secular liberalism, in his view, has been surprised and confused by the religious turn in contemporary international politics -- and, as a result, is now struggling to cope with radical Islam.