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“The Abusive Exploitation of the Human Religious Sentiment”: Michael Burleigh as Historian of “Political Religion” - Burleigh’s Project
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Article Index
“The Abusive Exploitation of the Human Religious Sentiment”: Michael Burleigh as Historian of “Political Religion”
The Church and the New Barbarism
The Theory and Practice of Political Religion
Burleigh’s Project
The Totalitarian Political Religions
The Church Between Liberalism and Totalitarianism
Today’s World: Islam and Secular Europe
Paying Tribute to Those Who Understood
Aron’s Faith Without Illusions
All Pages

Burleigh’s Project

In Earthly Powers, Burleigh surveys the prehistory of the twentieth-century totalitarianisms. He provides a fascinating account of Puritan messianism, the proto-totalitarianism of the Jacobins, the quasi-religious cult of the nation, the rise of humanitarianism as a self-conscious social ethos and even as a “religion” in the pseudophilosophical expression given to it by August Comte. A powerful chapter inspired by Dostoevsky’s Devils explores the deep convergence of moral nihilism and political fanaticism in nineteenth-century Russia. Burleigh also expertly chronicles the response of the Christian churches to the rise of secular ideology, as well as their responses to the modern “social question.”

His book breaks off with the bloody apocalypse of 1914, when liberal and Christian Europe confronted the abyss and was on the verge of committing suicide. Sacred Causes picks up where Earthly Powers leaves off. The twentieth century witnessed a radical intensification of Sturzo’s “abusive exploitation of the human religious sentiment”—an exploitation that, like “earlier attempts to realize heaven or earth,” would result in “hell for many people.”

In the nineteenth century the “dystopian strain” mainly occurred at the level of thought (Burleigh provocatively refers to “the hare brained schemes” of August Comte and Charles Fourier, the “moral insanity of Russian nihilists,” as well as “the scientific socialism” of Marx and Engels “which was morally insane in other ways”). The twentieth century turned out to be the century of applied ideology, of secular religions warring against the tripartite Western heritage of biblical religion, classical wisdom, and liberal constitutionalism.

Last Updated on Friday, 09 October 2009 13:00