Saturday, June 29, 2024

Musings on Morality as a Critical Component of Democracy, but as the Enemy of Peace

By Rudy Barnes, Jr., June 29, 2024

Stephen Walt has asserted that morality is the enemy of peace.  By way of contrast, Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man.”  It’s summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors of other races and religions as we love ourselves, and was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and accepted by Muslim scholars as a common word of faith.  It’s a moral imperative for Jews, Christians and Muslims to be reconciled as children of God.

Reconciliation is a moral imperative that doesn’t require consensus on contentious political issues--only a commitment to minimize issues of race and religion that polarize politics.  Race and interfaith differences exacerbated by nationalism have polarized politics and stifled religious and political reconciliation in both the U.S. and Israel more so than other moral issues.

Morality in politics comes in many forms, with some moral standards more fundamental to peace than others.  Religious and political leaders often fail to acknowledge the importance of racial and political reconciliation as moral priorities that can prevent political polarization and violence.  Hatred, not the moral imperative of reconciliation, is the primary enemy of peace.

Mysticism and morality are both the province of faith.  Mysticism is about belief in God, while morality is about how we relate to each other.  Exclusivist beliefs that limit salvation to a specific religion can create religious hatred and polarize politics.  Jesus was a Jew who never favored any one religion--not even his own--over others.  The moral priority of religion and politics should be to promote reconciliation, not to condemn morality as the enemy of peace.

Stephen Walt noted that “overzealousness, rigidity and excessive moralizing in religion can be obstacles to finding effective solutions to difficult international issues.”  That may be true, but religious reconciliation has always helped resolve difficult issues.  There are many moral issues between people of different faiths that have defied resolution, but that doesn’t implicate morality as the enemy of peace.

Democracy and self-determination are valid moral principles that were applied in the American War of Independence, the Civil War, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  They led to different results with slavery a major factor in the  U.S.  Morality continues to be a major factor in those political contests and in both the Ukraine/Russia war and the Israel Hamas war.

The Civil War In America reflected the failure of the White Christian church to condemn the immorality of slavery and racism, until Dr. Martin Luther King initiated the civil rights movement in the mid-20th century.  A similar split between Jews and Muslims has continued to lead to religious wars in the Middle East.  

Will Christians, Jews and Muslims ever accept the moral imperative to be reconciled as children of God in pluralistic democracies? 


On Stephen Walt’s article on Morality as the enemy of Peace, see


On Thomas Jefferson’s belief that the moral teachings of Jesus were the most sublime moral code ever designed by man, see

On Musings on the relevance of the morality of Jefferson’s Jesus in the 21st Century, see

On Civil Religion, Christian Nationalism, and Cancel Culture in the U.S. and Russia, see (March 26, 2022).

Jon Meacham described the critical relationship between democracy and morality at (thanks to Sid Gates; start watching a 1:09). 

An afterword for my readers:  Like you, I’m worn down by the heat.  I apologize ahead of time for the lack of regular weekly commentaries for the rest of the summer.  Stay cool, if you can.


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