chapter  8
17 Pages

The constructive norm constituting power of religion in political Realism

ByCHRISTOPH ROHDE

The crisis of legitimacy of the global (economic and social) order has led to a rediscovery of religion in the theory and practice of international relations. This does not mean that religion has ever disappeared as a potent social and political force in large parts of the world. But it was more or less suppressed by the overwhelming influence of modernization theory (Fox and Sandler 2004: 10), at least in Western-dominated human sciences. Some gradual developments, however, have supported the renaissance of religion in International Relations. These are (1) the growing influence of non-state actors in global politics, such as peace, ecological, and social transnational movements that form alliances with religious groups (Juergensmeyer 2006); (2) the overcoming of crude positivistic attitudes and the return of normative theory in this discipline (Thomas 2005: 69); and, most importantly (3) real-world events like the replacement of a secular by a religious regime in Iran in 1979. But another development is (4) the institutional separation between religion and politics in Western societies like the US and France, which support the neglect of this factor in the Realpolitik domain. (Otis 2004: 13) With the events of September 11, 2001, a strident new religious activism

has shattered global affairs. Some observers predict a whole century of religious violence andwarfare. (Otis 2004: 11) Do religious conflicts become the dominant danger for the world in the twenty-first century that political ideologies posed in the twentieth? (Lovin 2008: 193) But is the existence of religion the root cause of conflicts in social affairs in general? Or is it an abusive version of religion that leads to violent conflicts in the way Christianity was abused in World War I and II for “demonic purposes?” (Otis 2004: 13) Even a controversial scholar like Carl Schmitt claimed that the European continental powers successfully managed to deescalate political tensions by “de-theologizing” and neutralizing international relations after the religious wars of the seventeenth century. (Scheuerman 2007: 65) Religion need not be the root cause of international conflicts in order to play a decisive aggravating role in a conflict. (Juergensmeyer 2008: 256)

Drawing on a “postmodern” interpretation of political Realism, I intend to show that religion that is widely considered destructive as a social force contains important, if not necessary, elements that solid social entities can be built on: Religion “unifies individuals, stabilizes societies, creates social imagination and sanctifies social life; but it also perpetuates ancient evils, increases social inertia, creates illusions and preserves superstitions.” (Niebuhr 1932a: 49) First, I will reconstruct Reinhold Niebuhr’s understanding of “religious man,” which explains a lot of human behavior in terms of humanity’s quest for meaning. The hypothesis here is that “an essential part of human nature-and of human dignity-is a built-in ‘thirst for the transcendent.’” (Seiple and Hoover 2004: 6) Philosophically, this assumption requires the conception of a unified self. A disregard for the transcendent human aspiration can cause dim results in political contexts. In Lovin’s words, “persons without some determinate identity and understanding of the good would not know enough to choose the neutral principles by which politics could operate on its own terms. Our political and our personal identities cannot be so neatly separated.” (Lovin 2008: 184) In this context I will build a bridge to the image of man in Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society. His famous dichotomy is helpful in explaining effects of collective identity in religious contexts. Second, I will introduce research results that are intended to explain the origins of political fundamentalism, a version of religion that distracts its constructive potential. Using an interdisciplinary psychological approach, I try to identify root causes of religious conflicts. Here insights of Christian Realism and modern psychology meet. Social psychological insights explain the step from individual ideological or religious attachment toward the execution of violent acts of religious fundamentalists in the most appropriate way. In part three, I search for constructive elements in religion that can be made fruitful for the construction of liberal, tolerant societies. In this, I make use of resources that stem from communitarian ethics. (Walzer 1994; Etzioni, 2004) The result of my investigation is that nations that do not respect people’s need for religion will be vulnerable to a number of threats to stability and security. Nations, however, that have the courage and ability to protect a principled, robust religious pluralism in their civil societies are the most likely to enjoy sustainable stability achieved by means of dialogue and peaceful conflict resolution. Under certain conditions, “there can be a positive nexus between religion and security.” (Seiple and Hoover, 2004: 6) Religion is necessary because modern politics is unable to satisfy the anthropological need for meaning. (Lovin 2008: 183) One serious obstacle to religious pluralism is, however, that there are some

religious traditions that have problems accepting core concepts of democracy (Anderson 2009: 202), while some liberal states have problems giving religion its appropriate space in society. A process that resolves such ideologically sensitive conflicts would be the fostering of small religious units to integrate them into civil society in a communitarian sense. This bottom-up approach could mitigate ideological conflicts.