“Political religion” and “religion as politics”

One of the better books written on political or secular religions is still Emilio Gentile’s Politics as Religion (2006).

The best part of Gentile’s approach is to speak of the “sacralization of politics”, which is the exact opposite of the Schmittian concept of politics as “secularized theology.” At least it acknowledges that terms like “secular”, “secularized”, or “secularization” are extremely hard to define. Should he be ready to say that a “sacralized politics” is no different from any other forms of the sacred, this would be a great achievement.

The problem is that toward the end of his book he falls back on the usual distinction between “a religion of politics” and religion per se, without reflecting on the non-empirical character of both political and religious absolutes. Moreover, his definition of the “religion of politics” has very little to do with the definition of “religion” in general. It rather sounds as a description of apocalyptic fanaticism.

“A religion of politics manifests itself when a political movement or regime

a. Consecrates the primacy of a secular collective entity by placing it at the center of a set of beliefs and myths that define the meaning and the ultimate purpose of the social existence and prescribe the principles for discriminating between good and evil;

b. Formalizes this concept in an ethical and social code of commandments that binds the individual to the sacralized entity and imposes loyalty, devotion, and even willingness to lay down one’s life;

c. Considers its followers to be community of the elect and interprets its political action as a messianic function to fulfill a mission of benefit to all humanity;

d. Creates a political liturgy for the adoration of the sacralized collective entity through the cult of the person who embodies it, and through the mythical and symbolic representation of its sacred history – a regular ritual evocation of events and deeds performed over a period of time by the community of the elect.”

(Emilio Gentile: Politics as Religion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006, 138-139.)

If this – otherwise accurate – description of totalitarian millenarism (but not of politics and religion) is the best that one of the best scholars can come up with, what do we expect from others?