The Theology Of Political Movements

In an incisive essay on Alain de Botton and Simon Critchley's recent books that, from a secular perspective, seek to reclaim the structure of religion for meaning-starved moderns, David Sessions argues that the liberal project is faltering:

The rise of radical political religion in the U.S., most recently in the forms of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, is not, as almost any mainstream pundit would put it, a dying gasp before the final triumph of liberalism. Rather, it is re-awakening of the theological desire that was always latent in liberal democracy, resting beneath its supposedly secular principles. As Jacques Derrida argued, Western politics have an auto-immune disorder: they are structured to pretend that their notions of reason, right, and sovereignty are detached from a deeply theological heritage. When pressed by war and economic dysfunction, liberal ideas prove as compatible with zealotry and domination as any others. Citizens see the structure behind the façade and lose faith in the myth of the state as a dispassionate, egalitarian arbiter of conflict. Once theological passions can no longer be sublimated in material affluence and the fiction of representative democracy, it is little surprise to see them break out in movements that are, on both the left and the right, explicitly hostile to the liberal state.