Tag Archives: Religion and Democracy

Hamid, “Temptations of Power”

9780199314058_450Next month, Oxford University Press will publish Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East by Shadi Hamid (Brookings Doha Center). The publisher’s description follows.

In 1989, Francis Fukuyama famously declared that we had reached “the end of history,” and that liberal democracy would be the reigning ideology from now on. But Fukuyama failed to reckon with the idea of illiberal democracy. What if majorities, working through the democratic process, decide they would rather not accept gender equality and other human rights norms that Western democracies take for granted? Nowhere have such considerations become more relevant than in the Middle East, where the Arab uprisings of 2011 swept the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties into power. Since then, one question has been on everyone’s mind: what do Islamists really want?

In Temptations of Power, noted Brookings scholar Shadi Hamid draws on hundreds of interviews with Islamist leaders and rank-and-file activists to offer an in-depth look at the past, present, and future of Islamist parties across the Arab world. The oldest and most influential of these groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, initially dismissed democracy as a foreign import, but eventually chose to participate in Egyptian and Jordanian party politics in the 1980s. These political openings proved short-lived. As repression intensified, though, Islamist parties did not — as one may have expected — turn to radicalism. Rather, they embraced the tenets of democratic life, putting aside their dreams of an Islamic state, striking alliances with secular parties, and reaching out to Western audiences for the first time.

When the 2011 revolutions took place, Islamists found themselves in an enviable position, but one they were unprepared for. Up until then, the prospect of power had seemed too remote. But, now, freed from repression and with the political arena wide open, they found themselves with an unprecedented opportunity to put their ideas into practice across the region. Groups like the Brotherhood combine the features of political parties and religious movements. However pragmatic they may be, their ultimate goal remains the Islamization of society and the state. When the electorate they represent is conservative as well, they can push their own form of illiberal democracy while insisting they are carrying out the popular will. This can lead to overreach and, at times, significant backlash, as the tragic events in Egypt following the military takeover demonstrated.

While the coup and the subsequent crackdown were a devastating blow for the Islamist “project,” premature obituaries of political Islam, a running feature of commentary since the 1950s, usually turn out to be just that – premature. In countries as diverse as Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Yemen, Islamist groups will remain an important force whether in the ranks of opposition or the halls of power.

Drawing from interviews with figures like ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, Hamid’s account will serve as an essential compass for those trying to understand where the region’s varied Islamist groups have come from, and where they might be headed.

Hamid, “Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East”

Next month, Oxford will publish Temptations of Power:9780199314058_140 Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East, by Shadi Hamid (Director of Research and Fellow, Brookings Doha Center). The publisher’s description follows.

In 1989, Francis Fukuyama famously declared that we had reached “the end of history,” and that liberal democracy would be the reigning ideology from now on. But Fukuyama failed to reckon with the idea of illiberal democracy. What if majorities, working through the democratic process, decide they would rather not accept gender equality and other human rights norms that Western democracies take for granted? Nowhere have such considerations become more relevant than in the Middle East, where the Arab uprisings of 2011 swept the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties into power. Since then, one question has been on everyone’s mind: what do Islamists really want?

In Temptations of Power, noted Brookings scholar Shadi Hamid draws on hundreds of interviews with Islamist leaders and rank-and-file activists to offer an in-depth look at the past, present, and future of Islamist parties across the Arab world. The oldest and most influential of these groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, initially dismissed democracy as a foreign import, but eventually chose to participate in Egyptian and Jordanian party politics in the 1980s. These political openings proved short-lived. As repression intensified, though, Islamist parties did not — as one may have expected — turn to radicalism. Rather, they embraced the tenets of democratic life, putting aside their dreams of an Islamic state, striking alliances with secular parties, and reaching out to Western audiences for the first time.

When the 2011 revolutions took place, Islamists found themselves in an enviable position, but one they were unprepared for. Up until then, the prospect of power had seemed too remote. But, now, freed from repression and with the political arena wide open, they found themselves with an unprecedented opportunity to put their ideas into practice across the region. Groups like the Brotherhood combine the features of political parties and religious movements. However pragmatic they may be, their ultimate goal remains the Islamization of society and the state. When the electorate they represent is conservative as well, they can push their own form of illiberal democracy while insisting they are carrying out the popular will. This can lead to overreach and, at times, significant backlash, as the tragic events in Egypt following the military takeover demonstrated.

While the coup and the subsequent crackdown were a devastating blow for the Islamist “project,” premature obituaries of political Islam, a running feature of commentary since the 1950s, usually turn out to be just that – premature. In countries as diverse as Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Yemen, Islamist groups will remain an important force whether in the ranks of opposition or the halls of power.

Drawing from interviews with figures like ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, Hamid’s account will serve as an essential compass for those trying to understand where the region’s varied Islamist groups have come from, and where they might be headed.

Tocqueville’s America and Ours

The County Election (1852)

The “democracy” that Tocqueville observed in the United States was a pervasive social condition, not simply a matter of political or legal equality. Indeed, he opened Democracy in America by saying that “[o]f all the novel things which attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, none struck me more forcibly than the equality of social conditions.” The “extraordinary influence” of “this fundamental fact” shaped both “civil society” and “political customs and laws.” Democracy at 11.

Tocqueville is sometimes misrepresented as opposing liberty to equality. The fact is that he was a partisan of both. In the chapter immediately succeeding his analysis of soft despotism (which he called a “Continuation” of the latter), he says unequivocally that “all those who now wish to found or guarantee the independence and dignity of their fellows should show themselves friends of equality.” Preventing democracy from slipping into despotism is a question, he says, of “drawing freedom from within the democracy in which God has placed us.” Id. at 809. True, he acknowledges that “[e]quality introduces into men’s minds several tendencies which are a danger to liberty.” Id. at 813. But he holds the “firm belief” that “the dangers imposed by the principle of equality upon human independence” are “not insurmountable.” Id. at 817. Inequality, no less than equality, may pose a danger to liberty in a democracy.

Democracy and social equality

Tocqueville observed social equality everywhere in America. In a short section of Volume I of Democracy entitled “Remains of the Aristocratic Party in the United States” (Vol. I, Pt. ii, ch. 2), Tocqueville invites his readers to consider the situation of “the wealthy man,” “this opulent citizen.” “Within the four walls of his house he adores luxury; he invites only a few chosen guests.” But in public, “[h]is clothes are simple and his demeanor is modest.” When “he emerges from home to make his way to work . . . everyone is free to accost him. On the way, his shoemaker might pass by and they stop; both then begin to chat. What can they say? These two citizens are concerned with affairs of state and will not part without shaking hands.” True, the rich feel “a deep distaste” for their country’s democratic institutions, and “both fear and despise” the people. But they bow before the force of democratic social conventions. Democracy at 208-09.

Elsewhere Tocqueville describes the manner of Americans towards one another as “natural, open, and unreserved.” “In America, where privileges of birth have never existed and where wealth grants no particular right to its owner, strangers readily congregate in the same places and find neither danger nor advantage in telling each other freely what they think . . . . [T]here is practically nothing that they expect or fear from each other and they make no more effort to reveal than to conceal their social position.” Id. at 656.

Fishtown and Belmont

It would be unrealistic to think of America in such terms nowadays. Consider Charles Murray’s recent work, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 (2012). Murray argues that America is “coming apart at the seams – not seams of race or ethnicity, but of class” (id. at 12). The white working class, he contends, has become estranged from the nation’s “founding virtues” of “industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religiosity” (id. at 131). Basing his Continue reading

Tocqueville on the naturalness of religious belief

In considering the relationship between Christianity and modern democracy, Tocqueville was bound to offer some explanation of the fact that democracy in America was hospitable to that faith while democracy in France was hostile to it. Such an explanation could of course also help explain why, in America, the Reformation and the Enlightenment were and have remained allies while, in much of Europe, the Enlightenment and the Counter-Reformation were, until recent times, vehemently opposed. And it could also shed light on the persisting phenomenon that Americans even now are typically more “religious” than Europeans.

One might have thought that the difference between French and American had something to do with the origins of the two democracies: American democracy took hold in an overwhelmingly Protestant environment, while French democracy arose in opposition to the Catholic Church. Indeed, Tocqueville himself observed that the early Puritan settlers of America brought with them “a form of Christianity which I can only describe as democratic and republican,” and that the circumstances of America’s founding were thus “exceptionally favorable to the establishment of a democracy and a republic in governing public affairs.” Democracy in America at 336 (Bevan trans.). To understand America fully, Tocqueville suggests, we must keep its Puritan origins in mind: “[i]t is religion which has given birth to Anglo-American societies: one must never lose sight of that.” Id. at 496.

In fact, however, Tocqueville’s explanation of the (sometimes amicable, sometimes antagonistic) relationship between Christianity and democracy followed another course. The crucial distinction, he argues, is not between Protestant and Catholic forms of Christianity, but between religion in its “natural” state and religion as a “political” institution. When a political régime permits religion to remain in its “natural” condition, and religion for its part does not seek a “political” role, religion will flourish and, moreover, the régime may find itself stronger for that fact. On the other hand, if a régime seeks to instrumentalize religion or if religion seeks political power, religion will inevitably suffer and any benefits to the régime from its alliance with religion will be fleeting.

Although Tocqueville says that “[a]longside every religion lies some political opinion which is linked to it by affinity,” id. at 336, and acknowledges that “Catholicism resembles absolute monarchy,” id. at 337, he nonetheless insists that neither Protestantism nor Catholicism is especially fitted to or congruent with any specific type of political régime. “[I]n the United States there is no single religious doctrine which is hostile to democratic and republican institutions.” Id. at 338. If anything, Tocqueville believes that Catholicism, despite its apparent affinity for monarchy, would be a better form of Christianity from the standpoint of democracy than Protestantism. Catholicism leads men towards equality, while Protestantism leads them towards independence, id. at 337; and the former condition is more favorable to democracy. Thus, although Catholics retain “a firm loyalty” to their form of worship and are “full of fervent zeal” for their beliefs, they are “the most republican and democratic class in the United States” id., at once “the most obedient believers and the most independent citizens,” id. at 338.

Such, in brief, is Tocqueville’s main line of argument. But as we shall discover, many qualifications to it are needed and some significant problems for it arise. Let us begin by considering his analysis of the situation in pre-Revolutionary France.

Two Trends in French Enlightenment Thought

The French Revolution, Tocqueville thought, saw two great passions at work: political and religious. Of these, the anti-religious passion was “the first to be kindled and the last to be extinguished.” Alexis de Tocqueville, The Ançien Régime and the Revolution 21 (original ed. 1856; Bevan trans. 2008). The Revolution’s hatred of religion was largely the handiwork of eighteenth century French Enlightenment philosophy which, he says, “is correctly considered as one of the main causes of the Revolution” and which was “profoundly anti-religious.” Id.

Continue reading

Mansfield on Tocqueville, Aristocracy, and Democracy

As a complement to Robert’s ongoing series of learned posts on Tocqueville and religion, do see this decidedly mixed review (which I am late in noting) by eminent political theorist (and Tocqueville translator) Harvey Mansfield, “The Aristocracy in Democracy,” of Lucien Jaume’s Tocqueville: The Aristocratic Sources of Liberty (2013). The subject of the book, according to Mansfield: “Can a democracy sustain itself without the help of its rival, apparently its enemy, aristocracy?” And here is an interesting bit:

Yet democracy in America has certain features that date from aristocracy but are now democratized: the notion of rights that originated in the willingness of feudal nobles to stand up against the monarchy; juries of one’s peers, once fellow nobles, now fellow citizens; democratic associations that arise through the “art of association” rather than, but in imitation of, the feudal responsibilities of a single aristocrat; the devotion of lawyers to the traditions of the law; religion that restrains human excess while connecting heaven and earth. Moreover, these inheritances from aristocracy are grounded in the intractable nature of democratic peoples that makes them desire to rule themselves rather than be ruled by others. This is an assertive impulse contrary to aristocracy that resembles the very desire to rule that constitutes an aristocracy. Intractability is the untaught basis on which democrats build the constructions of self-government—in America ranging from the spontaneous cooperation of the township to the theoretical artifices of the American Constitution (whose Federalist framers Tocqueville praised as a party of aristocrats) . . . .

M. Jaume refers to Tocqueville’s use of classical style in writing as opposed to democratic floridity, but he does not discuss the two most prominent themes in Democracy in America: political liberty (or self-government) and greatness. Tocqueville ends his book by looking at politics from the standpoint of God, in which democracy and aristocracy appear as two aspects of one whole. This standpoint is available at least dimly to a legislator or political scientist like Tocqueville, because it uncovers God’s intellect rather than piously accepting God’s mysteries (for Tocqueville, God’s providence in bringing democracy is not hidden, as M. Jaume has it, but apparent in history). But God’s standpoint is not available to most human beings, because their partisanship prevents them from seeing the whole impartially, thus forcing them to construct their own partial wholes, typically democracy and aristocracy as Tocqueville contrasts them. That is why he says that there are almost—don’t forget the “almost”—two humanities in the two regimes and that a mixed regime is a chimera—though a necessary one in his own mind! Paradoxically, the desire of partisans to make their favorite part, the few or the many, into a whole makes compromise with the opposing part seem unnecessary as well as unwelcome.

Conference, “Religious Freedom, Legal Pluralism and Democratic Constitutionalism”

Our friend Claudia Haupt (Columbia) reaches out with news of an interesting looking conference organized by political scientist Jean Cohen: “Religious Freedom, Legal Pluralism and Democratic Constitutionalism” at Columbia University on February 22-23.  Details follow.

Please save the date for:

Religious Freedom, Legal Pluralism and Democratic Constitutionalism
Organized by Political Science Professor Jean L. Cohen, Columbia University

Room 707, International Affairs Building

Friday, February 22, 2013

10:00am–12:00pm: Panel on Constitutionalism and Legal Pluralism

Paper by Dieter Grimm (Humboldt University) with comments by Andrew Arato (The New School)

2:00–4:00pm: Panel on Religious Legal Pluralism and Family Law

Paper by Linda McClain (Boston University) with comments by Mirjam Kunkler (Princeton University) and Karen Barkey (Columbia University)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Room 707, International Affairs Building

10:00am–12:00pm: Panel on Republicanism and Freedom of Religion

Paper by Michel Troper (Paris X) with comments by Claudia Haupt (Columbia Law) and Stathis Gourgouris (Columbia University)

2:00–4:00pm: Panel on Freedom of Religion and Religious Establishment

Paper by Larry Sager (University of Texas, Austin) with comments by Nancy Rosenblum (Harvard University)

Kuru & Stepan, “Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey”

From Columbia University Press, a new collection of essays on law and religion in Turkey, Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey, edited by Ahmet Kuru (San Diego State) and Alfred Stepan (Columbia). The publisher’s description follows.

While Turkey has grown as a world power, promoting the image of a progressive and stable nation, several choices in policy have strained its relationship with the East and the West. Providing historical, social, and religious context for this behavior, the essays in Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey examine issues relevant to Turkish debates and global concerns, from the state’s position on religion to its involvement with the European Union.

Written by experts in a range of disciplines, the chapters explore the toleration of diversity during the Ottoman Empire’s classical period; the erosion of ethno-religious heterogeneity in modern, pre-democratic times; Kemalism and its role in modernization and nation building; the changing political strategies of the military; and the effect of possible EU membership on domestic reforms. The essays also offer a cross-Continental comparison of “multiple secularisms,” as well as political parties, considering especially Turkey’s Justice and Development Party in relation to Europe’s Christian Democratic parties. Contributors tackle critical research questions, such as the legacy of the Ottoman Empire’s ethno-religious plurality and the way in which Turkey’s assertive secularism can be softened to allow greater space for religious actors. They address the military’s “guardian” role in Turkey’s secularism, the implications of recent constitutional amendments for democratization, and the consequences and benefits of Islamic activism’s presence within a democratic system. No other collection confronts Turkey’s contemporary evolution so vividly and thoroughly or offers such expert analysis of its crucial social and political systems.

Egyptian Military Forces the Issue

This is a disconcerting development.  The conflict seems to be one between democracy and liberalism.  If the democratically elected majority is not permitted to assume power because the military forces an unwanted diversity of representation down the throats of the electorate, one possible outcome is backlash and further polarization.

Not spring-time for everyone

A column by Ross Douthat about the ravages of democracy and the plight of the Coptic Christians that is well-worth reading.  — MOD

Liveblogging Forum 2000: Religion, Ethics, and Law

This morning, I participated in Forum 2000’s second law-and-religion panel, “Religion, Ethics, and Law.” The panel (below) addressed the growing “divorce” between law and moral principles and the influence of secularization on law and ethics. The panel was chaired by Jiří Pehe, Director of NYU-Prague. Tomáš Halík, a sociologist and President of the Czech Christian Academy, opened the panel by discussing the different concepts of law in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. The first two religions, Halík said, are essentially about law, unlike Christianity, which is essentially about faith; the first two emphasize orthopraxy, while Christianity emphasizes orthodoxy. He noted that Western law has been influenced both by Christian roots and by the secularizing effect of the Enlightenment, which was itself “the unwanted child of Christianity.” I followed with a discussion of the distinction between moral and legal advice in American lawyers’ ethics. Over time, I showed, American legal ethics have minimized the lawyer’s role as moral counselor; although 100 years ago a lawyer had a duty to impress upon his client the need for “strict compliance” with “moral law,” nowadays a lawyer’s duty is to provide legal, not moral advice. I argued that the change could be understood, in part, as an effect of secularization. William Cook, Professor of History and Religion at SUNY, discussed Tocqueville’s insights into private associations and their role in promoting democracy.  Günther Virt, Professor of Theology at the University of Vienna, spoke about translating faith commitments into public policy arguments, specifically, his experience working on bioethics committees in the Council of Europe and the European Union. (A great line: the increasing number of ethics committees in the West today is evidence of an ethical crisis). He also discussed human rights; although human rights can be justified intellectually without religion, he argued, religion provides the necessary motivation for honoring human rights in particular circumstances. Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation, ended the panel with a discussion of the dialectic between faith and reason in all three Abrahamic religions. He argued that the key concept in all these religions is not conflict, but synthesis, between faith and reason. – MLM

*UPDATE: You can now watch the video from the “Religion, Ethics and Law” Panel here. -ARH