Michael Walzer, The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions. Yale Univ. Press, 2015. 178 pp. (including notes and index).
Movements for "national liberation," which seek to free a people or "nation" from colonial rule or from other kinds of statelessness or national 'oppression', have a sometimes complicated relationship to the traditional culture and religion of the "nation" on whose behalf they act. That relationship is the focus of Walzer's The Paradox of Liberation, which considers three national-liberation movements -- the Algerian FLN, the Indian National Congress, and Labor Zionism -- all of which achieved their goal of founding independent, (more-or-less) secular states only to be met with fundamentalist religious reactions roughly 25 years after independence.
Walzer's main argument is that these three movements, in their drive to create "new men" and "new women" and new polities, were too dismissive of the religion and culture of the peoples they were seeking to liberate. Of the leaders of these movements, only Gandhi consistently spoke to 'the people' in a traditional religious idiom (p.20). Although the FLN and early Zionists made some religious noises (the FLN said it respected "Islamic principles"), their "long-term political agenda" was not "significantly influenced by their people's religion" (p.22). According to Walzer, "[i]t is the absolutism of secular negation that best accounts for the strength and militancy of the religious revival" (p.109).
On this account, the results of this "secular negation" were: an Islamist movement in Algeria that led to civil war in the 1990s; the growing strength of Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) in India (where the BJP, the political party of this movement, currently is in power); and ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Israel (and its offshoot, the settler movement). Walzer thinks an attitude of "critical engagement" with traditional religion on the part of the national-liberationists could have led to the creation of some kind of middle ground (though he doesn't use that phrase).
Walzer's examination of the histories of these movements, however, suggests that this would not have been easy. With respect to the case about which he is most deeply concerned, he acknowledges that the gulf between political Zionism and "the mentality of exile" (p.39) of traditional Judaism "was very wide, and it wasn't easy to find continuities" (p.46). Indeed, as Walzer points out, a key part of Zionism's self-definition was and is its rejection of the traditional commitment to waiting for the Messiah and all that idea implied in the way of passivity and (perceived) weakness. "[T]he anti-Semitic stereotype of the pale, stooped, fearful Jew is also a Zionist stereotype" (p.47), and Zionists replaced this stereotype with the image of the strong, self-sufficient pioneer. Ironically perhaps, a rather similar image was later appropriated by the Orthodox Jewish settlers of the occupied territories, who see themselves as warriors for a cause. The difference is that the Labor Zionists envisioned a state in which all citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish, would enjoy the same rights and to which, as a result, they would feel the same ties (see the quotation from Ben-Gurion on p.99).
Within the secular 'negation' of tradition, it is, Walzer writes, "[t]he demand for gender equality [that] poses the greatest challenge to traditional religion and is probably the most important cause of revivalist zealotry in all three...cases" (p.115). Citing the work of (among others) the Indian scholar Uma Narayan, he argues that the solution is to connect the quest for gender equality to "national narratives and religious traditions" (p.119), as some feminists are already trying to do. The implication is that those who are unwilling to do this cannot succeed and will only generate an increasingly intense backlash.
Hindu nationalism, ultra-Orthodox Judaism, and the political versions of fundamentalist Islam (whether, say, in Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or, in perhaps the most extreme form, with ISIS) can be seen as part of a global religious revival, but The Paradox of Liberation, largely because of its case-study approach, pays little attention to such global dimensions. The strongest criticism of this book will likely come from some on the left who will see Walzer as too accommodating of tradition and won't be mollified by, for instance, his quotations from Gramsci (see p.124) or his discussion of some Marxist and postcolonialist critiques of his argument. Even if one disagrees with or is skeptical of Walzer's position, the book provokes thought and has the advantage of being very short, and the notes contain useful references for those interested in the histories of, and debates surrounding, the three 'revolutions' and 'counterrevolutions'. In addition, there is a postscript on the American Revolution and why it differs from the three main cases.
ETA: There's some good material in the book's postscript that I may address in another post.