The State
Political Order and Political Decay

Volume two of the project I started writing in 2011, titled Political Order in Changing Societies, hits bookstores later this month. It is an attempt to map out how modern states have evolved out of patrimonial ones, and tries to show how simplistic understandings of how development works can lead to disastrous policy.

Published on: August 28, 2014
show comments
  • qet

    This is excellent. So excellent, in fact, that I sent it to my daughters (who won’t read it except under threats). It speaks volumes about the entrenchment of the left-liberal mentality in this country over the past 40 years that such an article needs writing at all. Anyone who has ever been around a self-avowed atheist or secularist knows with certainty that the person is not in fact deeply and personally wounded by the presence of religious symbols in his field of vision; not even a little. Instead, such a person is an example of the type of man described by Seneca as one “who nourishes his grief and has the as the measure of his affliction not what he feels but what he has decided to feel.” The point about the progressives’ desire to abolish history is just so correct, and it really ought to alarm people more than it seems to.

    • Gary Novak

      Yes, Berger’s post is excellent. And this reader doesn’t mind that Berger sometimes returns to curiosities that don’t go away. “Put differently” is one of his favorite ways of starting a sentence. But that doesn’t make me think “Here we go again,” but “Maybe I’ll get it this time.”

      But I think you overlooked one point: When Berger doubts that many people are really offended by religious symbols in public, he exempts “members of militant secularist pressure groups.” Put differently, they ARE really offended. But you seem to think that you are agreeing with Berger when you claim to know with certainty that “self-avowed secularists” are not offended by such symbols, “not even a little.” The fact that they have decided to feel offended is not . . . decisive. Religious people are also making a decision when they take a sacramental view of the world, but the feelings they experience as a result of that choice (including the “secular cheer” noted by johngbarker above) are quite genuine. Berger’s point is that the self-appointed guardians of the delicate sensibilities of the masses have a tiny following among ordinary sane people. And, quite apart from that empirical question, there is no constitutional right never to be offended. I hope your daughters listen to you!

  • Anthony

    Wherever reasonable (or unreasonable ) men can reasonably disagree, as they can about questions of religious celebration/practice in a pluralist democracy, their decision in favor of one way or alternative (to some minds) is a preference that closely resembles preferences in what are more obviously matters of “taste”. To my mind, in the sphere of all matters subject to individual thought and decision, pluralism is desirable; but on the eve of the Christmas season (without casuistry) Christian symbols, i.e. Christmas, represent cultural norms associated with Western civilization. And if you are citizen thereof, its celebration ought not be deeply hurting nor intrusively offensive (unless of course intrusion extends into prescriptive religious judgment on how to conduct your life in a free society). Still Peter Berger, we must remember that the Kemalists think elevating parochial values to the realm of the sacred is license to dismiss other people’s interest. So as we enter Christmas season, a word to the wise…

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Bradley Millier, a law professor from
    Western University in Canada, has an interesting article on a related issue in
    the December issue of Foreign Affairs on “Quebec’s Secular Charter.” Miller describes how secular fundamentalists
    in Quebec have appropriated the symbols, architecture, language, and rituals of
    Catholicism to advance their formal Secular Charter. In contrast to fundamentalist secularists in
    the U.S. who want religious symbols banned in the public sphere, in Quebec these
    religious cultural elements now are in the service of the state, not the

    Quebec’s Secular Charter affirms the
    values of State secularism, religious neutrality, equality of men and women,
    and provides a framework for “accommodation requests”. Employees of all public institutions must
    “exercise reserve with regard to expressing their religious beliefs.”

    Quebec’s Ethics and Religious Culture Course,
    mandatory in even religious and home schools, restricts teaching religion that
    provides meaning to the lives of students.
    It must be taught along with other religions and cannot favor one religion
    over another. This religious education
    policy is to be reviewed by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2014 under the case
    Loyola vs. Quebec.

    The appropriation of the outer symbols
    of Catholicism in the service of a monistic secular public culture is also the
    tactic taken by many Episcopalian churches in the U.S. that have been
    infiltrated by the secular, political Left.
    The clash between secular fundamentalist Episcopalians appropriating
    religious culture for their cause and sometimes equally religiously
    fundamentalist Anglicans is what has led to the legal fight in the U.S. courts
    over who owns the church buildings. Not
    surprisingly, even Anglican churches that owned title to their properties on a
    deed lost their church buildings to Episcopalians by convincing secular courts
    that those property rights were superseded by church government arrangements.

    Imagine the American Baseball League
    exerting it owns Yankee Stadium over the rights of George Steinbrenner’s
    investment group! What would be
    considered an illegal, hostile takeover in business is de rigueur when property
    rights over religious buildings get into U.S. courts. I can only imagine that the same type of
    judges hears these property rights cases that Peter Berger considers in a
    category for which his respect is generally minimal.

    Something like this conflict is also
    playing out in California where the City of Richmond exerts that they can
    condemn a bank’s loan on an over-mortgaged home and leave the bank’s depositors
    and investors with the loss all in the name of secular justice. One can only imagine that such cities got such
    a confiscatory idea from the religious property rights cases that preceded it.

    Apparently, just as the legal system
    gives church governmental bodies the unlimited right to confiscate property, there
    aren’t laws against confiscating the cultural elements of a religion in the
    state’s cause. As Miller describes it,
    in Quebec the churches stand empty and the marriage and birth rates are the
    lowest of any Canadian province, thus necessitating the immigration of
    religious people the secular government wants to culturally neuter.

    There is some vestige of common sense
    left in the U.S. However, apparently
    there is no common sense left in Quebec.

    • Gary Novak

      Your post raises an interesting question about the malleability of religious symbols. Berger has warned about the theological dangers of supping with the devil. Are the secular fundamentalists of Quebec overlooking the dangers to secularism of supping with the angels? If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, perhaps the secularists who co-opt religious culture are angels unaware. Let’s be glad there are no laws against the confiscation of the cultural elements of religion.

      • Wayne Lusvardi

        One could argue that Christmas is an appropriation of Christian symbols by the commercial culture. Of course, if one wants to go back far enough Constantine also appropriated Christian symbols to socially construct a Roman Empire in the face of a collapsing Western Roman Empire

        I would recommend that you, and other readers, you buy yourself a Christmas gift of a copy of Selina O’Grady’s remarkable “And God Created Man” (2013) which explains how religion has been used by empires to bind their populations and for social control. O’Grady is what might be called a lay sociologist who writes from a Weberian interpretive sociological viewpoint (“beliefs matter’) and who uses as her thesis Berger’s observations about religion and legitimation (“…religion has been the historically most widespread and effective instrumentality of legitimation”….Berger – The Social Canopy, 1967).

        O’Grady’s book is not an “apology” for Christianity or an apology for atheism. Like Berger, O’Grady is musically religious.

  • johngbarker

    I have often wondered if the “secular cheer” of Christmas suggests that there is an aspect of Christian faith that promotes human flourishing and a conviction that the life can be made joyful– I sense this more in Christian music than text.

    • Gary Novak

      Despite Berger’s use of the felicitous concept of “signals of transcendence” to link the secular world of mundane experience to the transcendent world of religion, he is careful not to conflate the two worlds. (So, he celebrates the birth of Christ and ALSO celebrates secular cheer.) Likewise, Rudolf Otto says (in “The Idea of the Holy”) that the aesthetic experience of the sublime can arouse the religious experience of the numinous– but that art is not religion. Your suggestion that “secular cheer” may be a form of human flourishing promoted by Christianity raises some interesting questions regarding the permeability of the boundaries. Can secularists be as cheerful as Christians? Is it only Christian music that can foster “secular cheer”? What about sublime secular music? And if human flourishing is the bottom line (as secularists typically think), why not promote it directly instead of getting it as a spin-off of Christianity with its potentially obstructionist texts? “Smile, God loves you”? Well, why not just “Blue skies, smiling at me . . .”? Or Bach’s music without the gospel of Matthew? (Or is the music itself already religious?). For my part, I fully expect to find salvation tomorrow night at Tulsa Ballet’s “Nutcracker”– “a source of happiness for many people, especially children.”

  • Monkish

    As for “Turkey: Jews did quite well under Ottoman rule; serious anti-Semitic measures were enacted under the Turkish Republic.” This statement is simply preposterous, as any historian of the Ottoman Empire would tell you. Legal inferiority (dhimmi status), the head tax (jizya), mandatory dress codes, bans on self-defense (Jews and Christians couldn’t carry weapons), laws against riding on horseback, to say nothing of the smaller symbols of humiliation and abjection foisted upon them by the Sultan… The Damascus affair and the Armenian genocide didn’t happen during Kemal’s watch.

  • wigwag

    One would think that a man who hasn’t published a post on his blog in almost a year (after promising his loyal readers that he was going to post more regularly) would make his triumphant return with something a little more substantial than a glorified advertisement for his new book. This essay provides almost nothing other than an invitation to explore Fukuyama’s erudition in greater detail this September when his book is finally published. There’s nothing wrong with using a site with which you are intimately affiliated for a little self-promotion, but it doesn’t show a lot of respect for your readers when self-promotion is all that’s on order.

    With that said, Fukuyama’s book is sure to be provocative. September looks like it will be an interesting month for people interested in international affairs. In addition to Fukuyama’s book, Henry Kissinger has a book coming out on September 9th entitled “World Order.” The Wall Street Journal published a fascinating excerpt from the new book yesterday,

    Reading Kissinger’s essay makes it clear that he is still one of America’s most gifted commentators on world affairs well into his 91st year and despite his recent surgery to replace a defective heart valve.

    Perhaps American Interest readers will get lucky and the editors of the site will select some interesting reviewers for the books by Fukuyama and Kissinger. At the appropriate time, it would be particularly valuable to get Walter Russell Mead’s take on what these two esteemed authors have to say.

  • Anthony

    “…how simplistic understandings of how development works can lead to disastrous policy” – perhaps a fundamental tenet for political order and political decay (without being tautological).

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2018 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.