Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror

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9780060580957: Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror

Populated by many of the most iconic figures of the 20th-century, ‘Sacred Causes’ provides a brilliant examination of how religion has shaped 20th-century Europe from the Great War until the modern-day War on Terror.

Beginning with the chaotic post-World War I landscape in which religious belief was one way of reordering a world knocked off its axis, ‘Sacred Causes’ is a sweepingly assured critique of how religion has often been camouflaged by politics. Covering a vast canvas, Burleigh examines the many ‘secular’ religions the 20th-century produced, analysing how successive totalitarian leaders fantasised and aped the hierarchy, rites and ritual of the churches in the desire to return to the day where ruler and deity were one.

All the many bloody regimes and movements of the century are here, from Stalin's Soviet Union, Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco's Spain through to the current ‘War on Terror’. Often blackly comic, the book shows how the churches, in their various guises, have been swayed by – and contributed to – conflicting secular currents. He traces religious beliefs and institutions from a time when the church, disenchanted with both democracy and fascism, began to search for political alternatives. He brilliantly exposes the way in which fears of socialist movements tempered the churches’ response to the threat of totalitarian regimes. During World War II, the churches faced agonising dilemmas, notably how to respond to the Holocaust. Controversially, Burleigh uses new evidence to show that Pope Pius XII performed well.

Combining the deeper workings of history with an urgent sense of the contemporary relevance of his material, Burleigh challenges his readers to consider why no one foresaw the religious implications of massive Third World immigration, as well as what is driving current calls for a ‘civic religion’ with which to counter the terrorist threats that have so shocked the West.

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Review:

‘This is an even better book than the author's erudite, dense sprawling triumph of last year, “Earthly Powers”…[“Sacred Causes”] benefits from a continual drip feed of very dry and very black humour…There is still Burleigh's great gift, the mark of the very best historians, to wring meaning and significance from those most arcane footnotes in history, stuff which others might designate mere ephemera…History is rarely rendered in such thrilling breadth, with such wit or with such terrible topicality.’ Rod Liddle, Spectator

‘Michael Burleigh forged a formidable reputation as a historian of Germany and consolidated it with “Earthly Powers”…“Sacred Causes” takes the story up to the present day. Its first half addresses in masterly fashion the relationship between the churches and the totalitarians…impressive…formidable…his book deserves the widest possible readership.’ Sunday Times

‘It is this that makes “Sacred Causes” so valuable: the tiny details that might be written off as mere human interest but that over and again reveal a subhuman sump of murderous impiety.’ New Statesman

‘Michael Burleigh is a man of formidable erudition and remarkable percipience…Burleigh last year published “Earthly Powers”…“Sacred Causes” brings the story up to the present date…Burleigh has, if anything, surpassed his earlier achievement…Burleigh's book is epic in its range…refreshingly unjudgemental…compelling…outstanding…this brilliant book proves that history has no end.’ Literary Review

‘This work should be read by everyone…Burleigh is one of our brightest historical stars – his massive erudition and passionate moral sense tempered with merciless wit. Beautifully written, fearlessly outspoken, full of superb portraits of heroes and monsters, “Sacred Causes” is an exuberant tour-de force.’ Evening Standard

‘Compelling…hugely ambitious…Burleigh is a writer who pulls no punches and seldom leaves a difficult question unasked.’ Sunday Telegraph

‘This is an even better book than…“Earthly Powers”…terrific and very funny…history is rarely rendered in such thrilling breadth, with such wit or with such terrible topicality.’ The Spectator

‘Splendid…magnificent…few historians would be able to cover such enormous tracts of ground so convincingly, but Burleigh also leavens his narrative with hefty chunks of opinion, wit and sheer mischief that make it a pleasure to read…a terrifically entertaining book.’ Daily Telegraph

‘In years to come, Michael Burleigh's two-volume study of secular hubris since the French Revolution may well be judged to be the most significant work of history published this decade…Burleigh is a fine and contentious writer and a hugely accomplished historian’ The Observer

‘“Sacred Causes” is a challenging history book with the power to scandalise its readers…Michael Burleigh is a trenchant, conservative historian who does not waste or mince words. His sharp judgements…bring alive his extensive research…for those who think that the Christian religion provides only footnotes to the history of the 20th century…this book is an important corrective.’ Financial Times

‘A brilliant account of the sinister fusion of religion and politics…frank and never afraid to ruffle any feathers…a powerful indictment of our uneasy times.’ J.G.Ballard

Sunday Times:

'impressive...formidable...his book deserves the widest possible
readership'

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