Friday, April 12, 2019

Musings on Religion, Nationalism and Libertarian Democracy

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Over 3,000 years ago Moses led the 12 tribes of Israel from Egypt in search of their promised land.  They were a wandering nation looking for a home and believed that as God’s chosen people they would have their own nation if they obeyed God’s holy law.  Once Moses found the Holy Land, Joshua was left to do the dirty work of cleansing it of its pagan usurpers.

Israel ceased to be a Jewish state after an abortive revolt by Jewish Zealots against  Rome (66-73 CE). It would be 1948 before Israel was re-created as a Jewish nation by the UN, and since then it has been a cauldron of religious and political conflict.  Israel represents the volatile role of religion in politics in the evolution of nationalism and libertarian democracy.

In the 7th century Islam followed Judaism as a nationalistic religion.  Like Judaism, Islam emphasized its holy laws (Shari’a) as God’s standards of legitimacy; but unlike Judaism Islam has been a religion of conquest.  The Ottoman Empire was the last of its powerful caliphates. It was defeated in World War I, partitioned by European powers and then disbanded in 1924.  

Jesus was a Jew who challenged Mosaic Law as God’s standard of legitimacy and taught the primacy of love over law.  His teachings are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves, including those of other races and religions.  It was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus, and has been affirmed by Islamic scholars as a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

Christianity has been the dominant religion in the Western world for 2,000 years.  It has supported libertarian democracies and nationalism, along with slavery, colonialism, and fascist regimes in Europe--as well as American exceptionalism.  But while Islam is predicted to become the world’s largest religion this century, it has not yet fostered a truly libertarian democracy.

In the 19th century an unholy mix of Christianity, nationalism and slavery fostered the American Civil War.  In the 20th century another toxic mix of Christianity, nationalism and racism led to the rise of Mussolini and Hitler and World War II.  Today authoritarian nationalism is again on the rise, stoking racism to challenge libertarian democracy in America and around the world.

Israel’s long-time prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is a nationalist who has used conservative Judaism to promote his politics.  He has stoked the fear and hatred of Jews toward Arabs by promoting a “nation-state” law that would favor Jews over Arabs. Netanyahu’s populist politics are much like those of Donald Trump, and the two leaders have praised each other.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is a Muslim version of Netanyahu who has built his oppressive regime on Islamism and denied the human rights of his opponents.  Egypt’s president Abdel Fettah al-Sissi is another authoritarian Muslim nationalist who has denied the human rights of his opponents; and Trump has supported both Erdogan and al-Sissi.      

Immigration is a flash point exploited by Trump and populist demagogues in Europe.  America’s immigration policies are in disarray. A politics of reconciliation is needed to overcome America’s polarized partisan politics and provide realistic and enforceable immigration reform.  It must emphasize building bridges rather than walls while providing border security.
Christians and Muslims represent over half of the world’s population and are a majority in many of the world’s democracies.  Supporters of populist nationalists like Trump, Erdogan and al-Sissi ignore unpleasant truths as fake news and promote distorted religious doctrines and politics that foster hate and hostility. Their divisive politics are ushering in a new era of evil.

Aspiring demagogues are using religion to support authoritarian regimes around the world.  Since religion is part of the problem it must also be part of the solution. Jews, Christians and Muslims must promote the altruistic moral imperative of the greatest commandment to save libertarian democracy from the creeping corruption of populist nationalism--before it’s too late.


Moses and Joshua created precedents for ethnic cleansing to establish political dominance in the name of God.  See Old Testament Holy War at pp. 8-9 in manuscript of Barnes, Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium, posted in Resources at (see pp. 6-7 in published book, Frank Cass, 1996).

Jill Lapore has advocated political history rather than the political histrionics of demagogues to understand American nationalism in A New Americanism: Why a Nation needs a National Story.  See
In the strongmen strike back, Robert Kagan has traced the rise of authoritarian nationalism as the greatest threat to liberal (or libertarian) democracy.  Kagan sees authoritarian nationalism as “a profound ideological, as well as strategic, challenge,” and asserts “that we have no idea how to confront it.”  See

Michael Lind has challenged what he calls Robert Kagan’s big wrong idea.  Lind criticizes Kagan’s “idea that something called ‘authoritarianism’ is ‘a profound ideological, as well as strategic, challenge’ to liberal democracy is a big idea, and it is wrong.” But Lind’s attempt to distinguish between Kagan’s political categories of liberalism and nationalism seems a distinction without a difference.  See

Henry Olsen has asserted that religion is not antithetical to liberalism.  He challenges Kagan’s suggestion “that traditional Christianity is inherently authoritarian and hence inconsistent with liberal democracy.”  Olsen then notes that “Kagan approvingly cites Abraham Lincoln and John Locke as authorities of liberal views. Neither contended that Christianity was incompatible with liberal democracy.”      
On how Netanyahu has descended into new depths of demagoguery, see
On how Israeli democracy is rotting from the inside, and how election results indicate that Netanyahu will likely continue to be the prime minister for a fifth term and create an Israeli apartheid for Arabs, see
On Turkey’s Erdogan as an Islamist nationalist demagogue, and his AKP Party’s challenge of recent elections, see

David Frum has advocated immigration policies that would “cut the annual intake of immigrants in half... and shift that intake sharply from family highly skilled, high earning immigrants.” Frum relates immigration restrictions to nationalism and democracy this way: “Without immigration restrictions there are no national borders.  Without national borders, there are no nation-states. Without nation-states, there are no electorates. Without electorates, there is no democracy.  If liberals insist that only fascists will enforce borders, then voters will hire fascists to do the job liberals refuse to do.”    

Trump’s immigration policies are in disarray with his indecision on closing the border and talk about getting tougher on immigration have left his top officials with little direction or support to fix the complex problems.  While Trump’s rhetoric gets tougher, quick solution are elusive. See  

On the resignation of Homeland Defense Secretary Kristjen Nielsen on April 7 after bumping heads with hardliners Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton and Stephen Miller, who support Trump’s attempt to get tougher on immigration, see   

Related commentary:

On the greatest commandment and love over law:
/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims
(2/23/19): Musings on Loving Your Enemy, Including the Enemy Within

On religion and politics:
(12/8/14): Religion and Reason
(12/29/14): Religion, Violence and Military Legitimacy
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity
(8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(8/23/15): Legitimacy as a Context and Paradigm to Resolve Religious Conflict
(8/30/15): What Is Truth?
(11/15/15): American Exceptionalism: The Power of Persuasion or Coercion?
(1/16/16): Religion, Politics and Public Expectations
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
4/30/16): The Relevance of Religion to Politics
(5/7/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(5/28/16): Nihilism as a Threat to Politics, Religion and Morality
(7/2/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in the Wake of Globalization
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(9/24/16): The Evolution of Religion and Politics from Oppression to Freedom
(11/5/16): Religion, Liberty and Justice at Home and Abroad
(12/31/16): E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(1/7/17): Religion and Reason as Sources of Political Legitimacy, and Why They Matter
(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17): Religion and Progressive Politics
(7/29/17): Speaking God’s Truth to Man’s Power
(8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism  
(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion
(10/21/17): The Symbiotic Relationship between Freedom and Religion
(11/18/17): Radical Religion and the Demise of Democracy
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?
(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(1/13/18): Nationalist Politics and Exclusivist Religion: Obstacles to Reconciliation and Peace
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics
(2/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion, Freedom and Legitimacy
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(4/7/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Need for a Moral Reformation
(4/28/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality
(5/12/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again
(5/19/18): Musings on Morality and Law as Symbiotic but Conflicting Standards of Legitimacy
(7/21/18): Musings on America’s Moral and Political Mess and Who Should Clean It Up
(8/4/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Problems and Solutions in Politics
(8/11/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Changing Morality in Religion and Politics
(8/25/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moral Priorities in Religion and Politics
(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads
(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism
(10/6/18): Musings on Moral Universalism in Religion and Politics
(10/27/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Migrant Tidal Wave
(11/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and the Legitimacy of Democracy
(1/5/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Building Political Walls or Bridges
(2/16/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America the Blessed and Beautiful--or is it?

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