Margina­lia and mis­cel­lanea: Michael Ig­nati­eff and the de­fence of the open so­ci­ety

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - An­gelia Wil­son is pro­fes­sor of pol­i­tics at the Uni­ver­sity of Manch­ester.

By Michele F. Mar­go­lis Uni­ver­sity of Chicago Press 336pp, £71.50 and £24.50 ISBN 9780226555645 and 9780226555782 Pub­lished 10 Septem­ber 2018

Some ques­tions are provoca­tive whether one finds one­self in the calamity of pol­i­tics or the calm of the pews: what val­ues de­ter­mine our pol­i­tics? When do we ac­quire those val­ues? Is there a dis­tinc­tion be­tween our po­lit­i­cal val­ues and our re­li­gious be­liefs? And which comes first, our re­li­gion or our pol­i­tics?

At some point around the 1980 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, which pit­ted Ron­ald Rea­gan against Jimmy Carter, Amer­i­can vot­ing pat­terns be­gan to split along the lines of re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tion. To­day, the non- or less re­li­gious tend to vote Demo­crat, while more re­li­gious vot­ers, par­tic­u­larly white evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tants, will al­most cer­tainly back the Repub­li­cans.

Con­sid­er­able po­lit­i­cal science re­search has mined this deep di­vi­sion in the Amer­i­can polity.

For the most part, these in­ves­ti­ga­tions have con­cluded that re­li­gious be­liefs and val­ues in­form vot­ing be­hav­iour and party af­fil­i­a­tion.

The ev­i­dence seems to re­flect the cul­ture war-fu­elled pol­i­tics ig­nited by the Chris­tian Right. Fol­low­ing the 1972 Supreme Court de­ci­sion in Roe v. Wade le­gal­is­ing some abor­tions, the pre­dom­i­nance of moral wedge is­sues in po­lit­i­cal dis­course ap­peared in­creas­ingly to de­ter­mine po­lit­i­cal be­hav­iour.

Nor­mally, we as­sume chil­dren raised in re­li­gious homes may rebel in their teens, only to re­turn to the church when they start a fam­ily. They may go through a phase of be­ing more ad­ven­tur­ous or po­lit­i­cally more rad­i­cal, but they set­tle back once they grow up, be­com­ing more con­ser­va­tive in both re­li­gion and pol­i­tics. In From Pol­i­tics to the Pews, Michele Mar­go­lis turns that rea­son­ing on its head by ar­gu­ing that it is po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion that has come to de­ter­mine re­li­gios­ity.

Mak­ing use of the lon­gi­tu­di­nal Youth-Par­ent So­cial­iza­tion Panel Study, she finds that when they marry and set­tle down, peo­ple fol­low par­ti­san routes. Fo­cus­ing on this “po­lit­i­cal life course”, she ar­gues that the im­pres­sion­able years of ado­les­cence and young adult­hood mark the time when par­ti­san iden­ti­fi­ca­tion be­comes crys­tallised. Af­ter this point, you will likely choose to re­turn to church, if a Repub­li­can, or not if a Demo­crat.

Of course, Mar­go­lis is not the first po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist to ar­gue that pol­i­tics can in­form re­li­gious be­hav­iour. Michael Hout, Claude Fis­cher, Stratos Pa­trikios, even David Camp­bell and Robert Put­nam and a few oth­ers es­tab­lished this di­rec­tion of travel. How­ever, her range of ev­i­dence and com­pelling anal­y­sis guide the reader ex­pertly along this thought-pro­vok­ing path.

Mar­go­lis be­lieves pol­i­tics in­forms re­li­gion. If this is the case, par­ti­san-in­duced so­cial cleav­ages help us ex­plain the re­li­gios­ity gap, as well as the Trump­van­gel­i­cals, at the heart of Amer­i­can po­lar­i­sa­tion

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? In pos­ing this ques­tion one is usu­ally demon­strat­ing the fu­til­ity, or com­plex­ity, of any an­swer.

Mar­go­lis clearly be­lieves pol­i­tics in­forms re­li­gion. If this is the case, par­ti­san-in­duced so­cial cleav­ages help us ex­plain the re­li­gios­ity gap, as well as the Trump­van­gel­i­cals, at the heart of Amer­i­can po­lar­i­sa­tion. If, as Mar­go­lis sug­gests, pol­i­tics is a key de­ter­mi­nant in re­li­gious be­hav­iour, then wide­spread, non­par­ti­san civic ed­u­ca­tion has a huge role to play. Maybe that is why Amer­i­can evan­gel­i­cals baulk at its sug­ges­tion.

Euro­peans, es­pe­cially the British, will not be shocked that pol­i­tics can de­ter­mine re­li­gion. Henry VIII proved that long be­fore Mar­go­lis. But both sides of the At­lantic would do well to avoid bi­nary cause and ef­fect ap­proaches to ex­plain­ing the com­plex de­ter­mi­nants of val­ues – re­li­gious, po­lit­i­cal or oth­er­wise.

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