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Civil Religion
A Dialogue in the History of Political Philosophy

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  • Date Published: October 2010
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9780521506366

$ 104.00 (P)

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About the Authors
  • Civil Religion offers philosophical commentaries on more than twenty thinkers stretching from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. The book examines four important traditions within the history of modern political philosophy and delves into how each of them addresses the problem of religion. Two of these traditions pursue projects of domesticating religion. The civil religion tradition, principally defined by Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Rousseau, seeks to domesticate religion by putting it solidly in the service of politics. The liberal tradition pursues an alternative strategy of domestication by seeking to put as much distance as possible between religion and politics. Modern theocracy is a militant reaction against liberalism, and it reverses the relationship of subordination asserted by civil religion: it puts politics directly in the service of religion. Finally, a fourth tradition is defined by Nietzsche and Heidegger. Aspects of their thought are not just modern, but hyper-modern, yet they manifest an often-hysterical reaction against liberalism that is fundamentally shared with the theocratic tradition. Together, these four traditions compose a vital dialogue that carries us to the heart of political philosophy itself.

    • The theme is 'religion and politics', which can hardly be more topical (living in a post-9/11 age)
    • The book offers a comprehensive treatment of modern political philosophy, beginning with Machiavelli and concluding with Rawls
    • The interpretations offered are in many cases 'revisionist' or unexpected ones, breaking with conventional traditions of interpretation
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    • A Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2011

    Reviews & endorsements

    “The relationship between politics and faith remains a deep conundrum in the West, and it shows no sign of receding as an issue. Beiner’s book brings a much-needed historical depth to these debates, and in so doing introduces questions that are at once timely and enduring. It both deepens our understanding of the relevant traditions, and in its forceful and critical engagement with that history, casts new light on the problems we face today. It is a remarkable achievement!”
    —W. James Booth, Vanderbilt University

    “Ronald Beiner has written an extraordinary book. He makes an audacious and unblinking effort to show how a great portion of political theory is devoted to purging religion of its destructive fanaticism. When religion is purged and made over into civil religion, it can serve such diverse purposes as political docility, social cohesion, and cultural energy. For most of the great political theorists, the test of every religion is not truth but usefulness. Beiner gives a sensitive and often original reading of many works in political theory and backs up his eye-opening interpretations with impressive learning. In an already distinguished career, Beiner has now written a magisterial work.”
    —George Kateb, Princeton University

    “Ronald Beiner has written a fascinating book on the question and place of civil religion in Western political thought. He manages to go from Machiavelli to Martin Heidegger without ever being superficial, and at every page we learn something. Just as important, he shows how the texts he considers have what Samuel Beckett called ‘the power to claw’: by a direct and unmediated engagement with them, he shows us how they work upon their readers, thus how and what we learn from them. His is an important achievement.”
    —Tracy Strong, University of California, San Diego

    "...those of us who have been in debt to Ronald Beiner for previous works that have enriched our understanding of those men he calls the 'master thinkers' of political theory find our debt to him deepened by Civil Religion.
    —Robert P. George, Princeton University, Political Theory

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2010
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9780521506366
    • length: 448 pages
    • dimensions: 240 x 161 x 29 mm
    • weight: 0.76kg
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau: Three Versions of the Civil Religion Project:
    1. Rousseau's problem
    2. The Machiavellian solution: paganization of Christianity
    3. Moses and Mohammed as founder-princes or legislators
    4. Re-founding and 'filiacide': Machiavelli's debt to Christianity
    5. The Hobbesian solution: Judaicization of Christianity
    6. Behemoth: Hobbesian 'theocracy' versus the real thing
    7. Geneva Manuscript: the apparent availability of a Rousseauian solution
    8. Social Contract: the ultimate unavailability of a Rousseauian solution
    Part II. Responses to (and Partial Incorporations of) Civil Religion within the Liberal Tradition:
    9. Baruch Spinoza: from civil religion to liberalism
    10. Philosophy and piety: problems in Spinoza's case for liberalism (owing to a partial reversion to civil religion)
    11. Spinoza's interpretation of the Commonwealth of the Hebrews, and why civil religion is a continuing presence in his version of liberalism
    12. John Locke: the liberal paradigm
    13. 'The gods of the philosophers' I: Locke and John Toland
    14. Bayle's republic of atheists
    15. Montesquieu's pluralized civil religion
    16. The Straussian rejection of the enlightenment as applied to Bayle and Montesquieu
    17. 'The gods of the philosophers' II: Rousseau and Kant
    18. Hume as a successor to Bayle
    19. Adam Smith's sequel to Hume (and Hobbes)
    20. Christianity as civil religion: Tocqueville's response to Rousseau
    21. John Stuart Mill's project to turn atheism into a religion
    22. Mill's critics
    23. John Rawls's genealogy of liberalism
    24. Prosaic liberalism: Montesquieu versus Machiavelli, Rousseau, Nietzsche
    Part III. Theocratic Responses to Liberalism:
    25. Joseph de Maistre: the theocratic paradigm
    26. Maistrean politics
    27. Maistre and Rousseau: theocracy versus civil religion
    28. Carl Schmitt's 'theocratic' critique of Hobbes
    Part IV. Post-Modern 'Theism': Nietzsche and Heidegger's Continuing Revolt Against Liberalism:
    29. Nietzsche, Weber, Freud: the twentieth century confronts the death of God
    30. Nietzsche's civil religion
    31. Heidegger's sequel to Nietzsche: the longing for new gods
    32. Conclusion.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Graduate Seminar in Religion, Secularism, and Modernity
    • Religion and Liberal Democracy
    • Theology and Political Theory
  • Author

    Ronald Beiner, University of Toronto
    Ronald Beiner is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He has edited Hannah Arendt's Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy; his other books include Political Judgment; What's the Matter with Liberalism? (winner of the Canadian Political Science Association's 1994 Macpherson Prize); Philosophy in a Time of Lost Spirit; and Liberalism, Nationalism, Citizenship.


    • A Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2011

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