Monday, August 1, 2011

French Model (political) and the Middle East

Interesting essay by Walter Russell Mead that describes various secularist political models and the failure of the French model in the Middle East.  Mead draws a contrast between the U.S and French model, but it isn't a pure one, as this description of French secularism will attest:

The French system is the most aggressively secular Atlantic system.  It grows out of the experience of the French Revolution, when the Republic and the Catholic Church were at daggers drawn....the intense loyalty to the church felt by many French people all made the Catholic Church a potentially hostile and powerful force.

French secularism sees religion as a dangerous force that must be excluded from the public square; if you give the priests an inch they will take a mile, and civic republicanism must be constantly on its guard to prevent religion from reconquering the state.  (Modern French hostility to the burqa is not just about Islamophobia; it also represents the enduring power of the lay republican ideal in France — religion must remain a private matter and stay off the street.)

Hand in hand with this vision is the belief that religion is a backward-looking, anti-enlightenment, anti-modernizing force.  The Republic must curb the Church in order to fulfill the task of economically and politically modernizing the country.  If the Republic fails, the Church will drag the country back into economic and political backwardness.  Religion from this point of view not only debauches human intelligence and suppresses human freedom; it condemns the fatherland to impotence.  A backward, superstitious country will not be strong enough to overcome its international rivals.  The Republican vanguard is the only force capable of enabling the country to stand up against its foreign foes: the fight against religion is a fight that patriots must embrace.

Strip away the national status competition, substitute Liberal for Republican and you have a fair explanation for the cultural battles here in the U.S.

One thing that Mead leaves out is that Middle East nationalism was unfortunately timed with the ascendancy of socialist economic thought.  The failure of socialism to deliver economically while at the same time facilitating opportunites for graft and courruption, went a long way to discrediting a secularist state. 

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