Last Friday, I sat down (virtually) with Geoff Shullenberger to record an episode of “Compact Conversations,” Compact Magazine’s podcast series. Geoff and I discussed my recent essay in Compact on Azerbaijan’s invasion of Armenia–specifically, on how the West’s indifference to the invasion of this aspiring democracy by a dictatorship reflects a combination of hypocrisy, cynicism, and shortsightedness. Here’s the link. Listen in!
Last week, an aspiring democracy–Armenia–was invaded by an authoritarian neighbor–Azerbaijan. The invasion threatens to reduce Armenia by half and start a new round of ethnic cleansing in the South Caucasus. And yet the West, so eager to defend Ukraine, has mostly turned a blind eye. The reason, I argue today in Compact, lies in a combination of hypocrisy, cynicism, and shortsightedness. Here’s an excerpt:
Yet the initial Western reaction to Azerbaijan’s aggression has been tepid, limited mostly to expressions of concern and calls for calm on both sides. American neoconservatives have generally been disgraceful, mocking Armenian losses and rooting for the Azeri dictatorship, mainly because they see Baku as a useful speartip against Iran and Russia. The Christian right in America, which one might think would feel affinity with the world’s first Christian nation, has remained silent.
Indifference doesn’t quite capture the Western posture. On the contrary, the West has been courting Azerbaijan in recent years, inking new gas deals and supplying millions of dollars in military assistance annually.
The contrast with the Ukraine crisis, another conflict in which an authoritarian state has attacked an aspiring democracy, is jarring. President Biden has described that war as part of an existential struggle “between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression”—a grandiose framing shared by the hawkish usual suspects on the American right. The United States alone has committed a staggering $50 billion to Kiev since the Russian invasion, in the name of democracy, self-determination, and international borders. Blue-and-yellow flags fly everywhere. So why ignore Armenia?
The answer lies in a combination of hypocrisy, cynicism, and shortsightedness. The West’s indifference to Armenia reveals once more that its concerns for democracy are highly selective, operative only where the West sees its interests at stake. Here, the West has concluded that its interest lies in appeasing Azerbaijan, which can help supply gas to Europe and check Russia and Iran in the South Caucasus.
You can read the whole article here.
In May, Routledge will release “Constitutionalism, Democracy and Religious Freedom: To be Fully Human,” by Hans-Martien ten Napel (Leiden University). The publisher’s description follows:
In both Europe and North America it can be argued that the associational and institutional dimensions of the right to freedom of religion or belief are increasingly coming under pressure. This book demonstrates why a more classical understanding of the idea of a liberal democracy can allow for greater respect for the right to freedom of religion or belief.
The book examines the major direction in which liberal democracy has developed over the last fifty years and contends that this is not the most legitimate type of liberal democracy for religiously divided societies. Drawing on theoretical developments in the field of transnational constitutionalism, Hans-Martien ten Napel argues that redirecting the concept and practice of liberal democracy toward the more classical notion of limited, constitutional government, with a considerable degree of autonomy for civil society organizations would allow greater religious pluralism. The book shows how, in a postsecular and multicultural context, modern sources of constitutionalism and democracy, supplemented by premodern, transcendental legitimation, continue to provide the best means of legitimating Western constitutional and political orders.
In February, Yale University Press will release The Rise and Fall of the Christian Myth:
Restoring Our Democratic Ideals by Burton L. Mack (Claremont School of Theology). The publisher’s description follows:
A preeminent scholar explores the evolution of the Christian worldview and argues that it no longer offers a satisfactory vision for our democratic, multicultural society
This book is the culmination of a lifelong scholarly inquiry into Christian history, religion as a social institution, and the role of myth in the history of religions. Mack shows that religions are essentially mythological and that Christianity in particular has been an ever-changing mythological engine of social formation, from Roman times to its distinct American expression in our time.
The author traces the cultural influence of the Christian myth that has persisted for sixteen hundred years but now should be much less consequential in our social and cultural life, since it runs counter to our democratic ideals. We stand at a critical impasse: badly splintered by conflicting groups pursuing their own social interests, a binding common myth needs to be established by renewing a truly cohesive national and international story rooted in our democratic and egalitarian origins, committed to freedom, equality, and vital human values.
At the Library of Law and Liberty site this morning, I have a post on the elections of 2016. Across the West this year, the unthinkable has occurred again and again: Brexit; the election of Donald Trump; the popularity of the National Front in France and Euroskeptic parties like Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement in Italy. What explains these developments?
Although traditional conservatism, including religious conservatism, has had a role, I argue that the most important factor has been the revival of nationalism across the West:
In short, although traditional conservatism has been on the winning side in recent political contests, it has been a junior partner in a larger project: the revival of nationalism. Nationalism is a complicated phenomenon that takes different forms. A good working definition is the following: a political program that unites a people with a common ancestry or culture together with a sovereign state. Nationalism rejects attempts to subordinate the state to outside governance. Often, it seeks to protect local traditions from being diluted by an aggressive global culture. In its present iteration, it sets the nation-state against supranational, liberal regimes like the EU or NAFTA, and local customs and traditions, including religious traditions, against alien, outside trends….
One can easily perceive nationalism’s role in the politics of 2016. Repeatedly, the side advocating a recovery of sovereignty from supranational bodies and a limit on immigration prevailed. In the Brexit campaign, the “Leave” supporters argued that Britain must take back control from EU bureaucrats and assert authority over its borders. Here, Trump famously called for withdrawal from the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty and for renegotiation of other free-trade agreements, including NAFTA; for a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants; and for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.
In France, the National Front’s Marine Le Pen has proudly declared that “the time of the nation state is back” and calls for restrictions on immigration and an end to multiculturalism. She maintains that the EU should be reconceived as a loose collection of sovereign states and that France should withdraw from the common currency. The ideology of Italy’s Euroskeptics is more fluid; nationalism is weaker in Italy, too. But important elements within Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement express skepticism about the EU and seek to withdraw from the euro, and also disfavor allowing large numbers of immigrants into the country.
The rise of nationalism upsets the conventional wisdom, which for some time has been predicting its demise. But, in times of crisis, people return to the nation state. I explain more here.
From Fordham University Press, a new collection on Orthodox perspectives on the relationship between Christianity and liberal democracy: Christianity, Democracy, and the Shadow of Constantine, edited by Fordham professors George Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou. The publisher’s description follows:
The collapse of communism in eastern Europe has forced traditionally Eastern Orthodox countries to consider the relationship between Christianity and liberal democracy. Contributors examine the influence of Constantinianism in both the post-communist Orthodox world and in Western political theology. Constructive theological essays feature Catholic and Protestant theologians reflecting on the relationship between Christianity and democracy, as well as Orthodox theologians reflecting on their tradition’s relationship to liberal democracy. The essays explore prospects of a distinctively Christian politics in a post-communist, post-Constantinian age.
The International Consortium for Law and Religion Studies (ICLARS) will host a conference, “Religion, Democracy, and Equality” next month in Virginia. The conference will be split among Richmond, Williamsburg, and Charlottesville. Seventy law and religion scholars from around the world, including CLR faculty Mark Movsesian and Marc DeGirolami, will participate. The most recent version of the conference program is here.
ICLARS is an international network of scholars and experts of law and religion begun in 2007. Its purpose is to provide a forum for exchange of information, data, and opinions among members, which are then made available to the broader academic community. Currently, ICLARS has members from more than 40 countries.
Fordham’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center will host a conference, “Christianity, Democracy, and the Shadow of Constantine,” on June 11-13:
Perhaps the two most enduring legacies of Hellenism are Platonic philosophy and democracy. Yet the two are seemingly antithetical–Plato denied that democracy could lead a population to truth and, consequently, rejected the notion that democracy was good for the state. This conference explores the modern relationship between Christianity–with its Platonic roots–and democracy, and the extent to which it was shaped by the Constantinian revolution.
Details are here.
The International Consortium for Law and Religion Studies (ICLRS) will host its third annual conference, “Religion, Democracy, and Equality,” in Richmond this coming August and has issued a call for papers on the following themes:
- Religious pluralism and treatment of religious minorities
- Religion and anti-discrimination norms
- Hate speech, hate crimes, and religious minorities
- Religion and gender issues.
Details are here.
This month, Ashgate Publishing will publish Religion, Education and Governance in the Middle East: Between Tradition and Modernity edited by Sai Felicia Krishna-Hensel (Auburn University at Montgomery). The publisher’s description follows.
The Middle East is a key geopolitical strategic region in the international system but its distinctive cultural and political divisions present a mosaic of states that do not lend themselves to simplistic interpretations. A thoughtful analysis of the Middle East requires an understanding of the synergism between tradition and modernity in the region as it adapts to a globalizing world. Religious education and activism continue to remain a significant factor in the modernization process and the development of modern governance in the states of the Middle East.
This interdisciplinary book explores the historical and contemporary role of religious tradition and education on political elites and governing agencies in several major states as well as generally in the region. The relationship between democracy and authority is examined to provide a better understanding of the complexity underlying the emergence of new power configurations. As the region continues to respond to the forces of change in the international system it remains an important and intriguing area for analysts.