In This Review

The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions
The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions
By Michael Walzer
Yale University Press, 2015, 192 pp

In this searching meditation on the trajectory of nationalism and politics, Walzer asks why postwar experiments in secular modern democracy have so frequently failed. The book does not offer any sweeping global theories. Instead, Walzer looks closely at three cases: India, Israel, and Algeria. Each achieved independence from colonial powers and statehood through the efforts of elites who wielded a vision of secular modernity. But each has since experienced an erosion of its founding secular, modern principles and institutions and a revival of religious fundamentalism. Walzer argues that lurking in the background of these “liberated” societies are people who never really became fully modern, secular, liberal democratic citizens. The liberating elites passed from the stage, memories faded, and appeals to fundamentalism and conservative religious identity gained power. Ironically, the achievements of democratic politics and modernized political institutions facilitated the mobilization of religious and traditional groups. Walzer searches for ways to salvage secular modern democracy in all three places, concluding that the governments will likely need to forge compromises with their countriestraditional Hindus, Jews, and Muslims, through which both religious thought and secular institutions will be reformed.