Paradox or Pluralism?

The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions

by Michael Walzer

Yale University Press, 192 pp., $26

The distinguished political philosopher and public intellectual Michael Walzer has written many excellent books, and this slim, suggestive volume is no exception. Walzer is at heart a man of the left, so he is sympathetic to the post-World War II secular revolutions he describes in the newly established secular states of India (1947), Israel (1948), and Algeria (1962). More to the point, he is dismayed by the religious counter-revolutions that have followed them within a generation or two. But he also has an open mind and is bereft of ideological hang-ups. Walzer is of course aware that there are important differences among the three (Algeria is, in several respects, an outlier), but he thinks that the tension between secularism and a resurgent religion in each case makes the comparison instructive. Having been trained in the tradition of Max Weber and thus internalized a fanatical belief in the value of comparison, I cannot help but agree.

Walzer’s paradox of liberation, if that is what it is, is that religion is back, or that despite the extraordinary success of secularizing revolutionaries it never quite went away. He writes:

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About the Author

Peter L. Berger is a professor emeritus of sociology at Boston University. His most recent book is The Many Altars of Modernity: Toward a Paradigm for Religion in a Pluralist Age (De Gruyter).


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