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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Only for the genuinely interested
There are three things that you should consider before buying this book. Firstly, are you a general reader or do you have a genuine interest in religion and politics? Secondly, do you prefer "neutral" commentary, or to read through the lens of the author? Finally, do you have a better than average background knowledge of C20th politics? The answer to these questions will...
Published on 5 April 2007 by M. McManus

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but not always easy
"Sacred Causes" is an interesting read about the combination of religion and European politics in the 20th century. I thoroughly enjoyed a number of chapters, yet I was puzzled by the scope of this book and initially taken aback by the lack of the writer's neutrality.

The subjects seem to have been chosen rather randomly and length & depth of each chapter vary...
Published on 18 Feb 2009 by Basileus


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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Only for the genuinely interested, 5 April 2007
By 
M. McManus - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
There are three things that you should consider before buying this book. Firstly, are you a general reader or do you have a genuine interest in religion and politics? Secondly, do you prefer "neutral" commentary, or to read through the lens of the author? Finally, do you have a better than average background knowledge of C20th politics? The answer to these questions will largely determine whether you buy this book in the first place, as well as whether or not you manage to finish it.

Concerning the first question, the book interweaves politics and religion to the point where only a genuine interest in both would be enough to sustain the reader's interest. The subject matter is "heavy" anyway, and this coupled with the book's length mean that only the most interested need apply. Concerning the second question, this is most certainly not neutral, with Burleigh's views abundantly clear throughout, no more so than in his chapter on Northern Ireland, with his views expressed with somewhat unnerving ferocity. Having said that, his frankness throughout is a refreshing change to many history books, with their historians desperately trying to walk a neutral tight-rope so as to be all things to all readers, but not Burleigh. As a result, the heavy subject matter is much more digestible, punctuated with his frank statements that can at time genuinely amuse.

Concerning the third question, Burleigh's vocabulary is aimed at a highly educated audience, and he writes in such a way that assumes the reader has a very good background knowledge of the C20th and its political history. For instance, when talking of Poland he makes reference to the Home Army and the ZOMO, in both cases not offering a definition of what they were, on the assumption the reader will have sufficient knowledge about what they are already (or assumes that at very least they will be sufficiently motivated to find out).

One part of the book that is interesting to highlight is Burleigh's detailed and spirited defence of Pope Pius XII, and he conclusively rehabilitates Pius' ill deserved reputation as "Hitler's Pope". Alas, this section of the book is too detailed, to the point one could be forgiven for thinking this rehabilitation is a personal crusade on Burleigh's part. Indeed, the whole chapter is punctuated by long, at times quite droning quotes and vignettes about what the Catholic Bishop of this German province said or what a Protestant Bishop said in that province etc.

Another point to bring up is one or two obvious conflicts that Burleigh could have made more reference to, most notably the Yugoslav war where religious identity played a major role in the conflict and its political settlement, yet he makes next to no reference to it. Instead he focuses on Nazism and Communism, and as such often regurgitates that which is already widely known about their evils. In this respect, he almost falls into the trap of doing what he ironically criticises other historians of doing earlier in his book, namely going over old ground on topics that are already widely known. Whilst as an award winning historical author he is better qualified than most to criticise this, he should also be better qualified than most to avoid it.

All in all, this book is a mammoth text, and I liked much, much more than I disliked. It covers the two deepest and most complex topics possible (religion and politics) and attempts for the first time to weave them together in an encyclopaedic account of their inter relationship. Nevertheless, the book has a few weaknesses: whilst Burleigh's undisguised views are at times genuinely refreshing, at times they are stated too frequently (as with Pius XII) and at times too fiercely (as with Northern Ireland). Also, he overlooks certain conflicts (e.g. the Yugoslav war) and certain social developments like the rise of the Christian Right in American politics in the 1980. In summary, the book is a powerful and serious attempt to bridge a gaping hole in the historical literature about the inter relationship between politics/religion the C20th, one that will be rarely attempted again, and thus for the foreseeable future the book will perhaps be the definitive text on the matter.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent... until..., 25 Dec 2011
This review is from: Sacred Causes: Religion and Politics from the European Dictators to Al Qaeda (Paperback)
I would have to concur with other reviewers here that this is an excellent book that does a fine job of bringing the reader through the tumultuous events of WWII and so on, including a fair and balanced and long overdue defence of Pope Pius XII, but falters on the subject of Northern Ireland. The author has hitherto been nuanced and balanced, and then suddenly can't contain his disgust and displays prejudices of his own, after hundreds of pages highlighting the prejudices of others. His disdain for all things Irish extends to Nobel Prize winning poets who are dismissed as "minor" poets and Irish television hosts and pubs and makes one wonder if the author has constantly been spelling certain Irish names wrong throughout his book by mistake or because anything Irish doesn't deserve his respect or attention. As excellent as the preceding chapters are, the Ireland chapter brings his entire thesis into question, not because he may or may not be right, but because it's so over-the-top and so extremely bitter. I actually agree with most of his points, but this is a historian who seems unable to restrain himself on one chapter and so harms his entire project. An extremely interesting book then leaves an uneasy taste. As one other reviewer has pointed out, the fault perhaps lies with the editor. As another example, when discussing the prisoners convicted of the Birmingham and Guildford pub bombings, is it not worth mentioning to the reader that these men and women were later found innocent, or does this historian assume we are fully aware of all facts involved? If that is the case, what else has he misrepresented throughout the previous chapters? It's such a galling disappointment to go along with the author for so long through this book (which isn't an easy read) and then suspect him of being bigoted himself. His defence of Pius XII is admirable. It's a shame that he got carried away for the last third of the book.

Edit: Reading this book for the second time, I decided I should change my review from 3 stars to 4. While I can just grit my teeth through the Northern Ireland chapter, I have to admit this is an excellent book, which should be widely read.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but not always easy, 18 Feb 2009
This review is from: Sacred Causes: Religion and Politics from the European Dictators to Al Qaeda (Paperback)
"Sacred Causes" is an interesting read about the combination of religion and European politics in the 20th century. I thoroughly enjoyed a number of chapters, yet I was puzzled by the scope of this book and initially taken aback by the lack of the writer's neutrality.

The subjects seem to have been chosen rather randomly and length & depth of each chapter vary greatly. Burleigh spends for example a disproportionate part of the book in explaining the role of the Catholic Church before and during the Second World War, but barely explores the role of the Protestant churches in the same period.

My second point is that the writer is not the neutral scientist, but a historian on a (political) mission. Burleigh makes a (convincing) case for the rehabilitation of "Hitler's Pope" Pius XII and exposes IRA's behaviour and attitude in Northern Ireland as something that has nothing to do with religion. In addition, he accuses the "Left Church" of the marginalization of (Christian) religion in Europe and of "political correctness" obstructing common sense.

Burleigh seems more neutral when dealing with older topics. In the chapters on more recent topics, he seems a grumpy old man having a political rant... and I loved it. More than once, he made me smile and nod in agreement. All in all, this book can be read as a collection of independent chapters or as one book. Either way, this is not a read for casual readers.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable, 5 Dec 2006
Burleigh has probed the nooks and crannies of the history of faith (and non-faith) in order to provide us with a vast and rich array of cautionary facts and anecdotes. We find enough stray characters in his account (mostly with severely damaged psyches) to supply a dozen novelists for several decades. His narrative of the uses and abuses of spirituality constitutes a timely warning that we in the West are getting quite a lot of things wrong. Remarkable for its scale and vision and also for still being a good read.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insights and observations, 4 Jun 2008
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This review is from: Sacred Causes: Religion and Politics from the European Dictators to Al Qaeda (Paperback)
In this sweeping and comprehensive work, Michael Burleigh examines the role played by religion in politics and politics in religion from the end of the First World War until the Islamic terrorist onslaught taking place today against the free world.
It is written from a strongly Catholic perspective, and Burleigh puts forward a robust defense of the Roman Catholic church against charges that it did nothing to try to prevent the Holocaust.
One of Burleigh's most important contributions in this book is his outline of the sterling role played by the Christian Democratic Parties in Western Europe, in both helping their countries to overcome the evil legacy of Nazism, and preventing the spread to their countries of the equally evil Communist tyranny.
As a traditional Jew, I can say that my communitarian pro-traditionalist and pro-national self-determination outlook (and my belief in a socially responsible market economy as opposed to laissez faire libertarianism), is very similar to an equivalent of the Christian Democrat philosophy, and I believe to prevent a victory by the dark forces of Satanic Islamo-Nazism, a variant of this philosophy needs to be re-established.

Beginning with the rise of Nazism and Fascism in Germany and Italy,the author explains how the knee jerk reaction of the Left to label everyone to the right of them as a "Fascist" blinded them to the genuine phenomenon, and how Leftist parties refused to co-operate with the moderate and Christian forces to stop Nazism and Fascism, thus bearing some responsibility for the the rise of these regimes.
Already by the 1920s predictions abounded of apocalypse and the end of days. A move to the right took place as a reaction tot he horrors of Bolshevism and the 1919 orgy of violence by Bela Kun in post-war Soviet Budapest.
Burleigh quotes the penetrating observation, by Russian religious philosopher Semyon Frank, about the Communist infatuation with the idea:
"Sacrificing himself for the sake of this idea, he does not hesitate to sacrifice other people for it. Among his contemporaries he sees either the victim of the world's evil he dreams of eradicating or the perpetrators of that evil...This feeling of hatred for the enemies of the people from the concrete and active psychological foundation of his life. Thus the great love of mankind of the future gives birth to a great hatred for people; the passion for organizing an earthly paradise becomes the passion for destruction".

Interestingly in outlining the bloody mass politicide and deliberate creation of famine as as a political weapon by the Bolshevik, the author notes that the Bolsheviks raided and destroyed churches and synagogues but not mosques.
Was this because Islam is not part of the Judeo-Christian tradition and ethic.
Perhaps this could go some way to explaining the hatred of the extreme left for Christianity and Judaism, but their mania to defend and side with Islamic extremists, and never to condemn, even in passing, Islamic excesses.
The author compares the modus operandi of the Soviet Communist Party and Cheka/NKVD during the Stalinist purges with the Spanish Inquisition, the differences and similarities.
While he does not approve of praise Franco's administration in Spain, he puts this in some context, describing the massive outrages and massacres against the Catholic clergy and believers in Spain prior to Franco by the leftist Republican forces.
He also points out that in the case of Dolfuss in Austria, this was a brave man who courageously opposed both evil systems of Communism and Nazism.
Dolfuss chose a benevolent form of authoritarianism in order to combat the totally ruthless and genocidal totalitarianism. before being murdered by the Nazis.
Interestingly in the 1938 plebiscite the Austrian Social Democrats supported Aunscluss while the Christian Socialists and most of the Catholic Church opposed it.
I completely agree with Burleigh's analysis of the Salazar government in Portugal. Salazar was anti-Communist, anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi.
He saw little difference between Communists, Fascists and Nazis, all of whom were wedded to the totalitarian ideal "to whose ends all the activities of citizens are subject and men exist only for it's greatness and glory'.
The Salazar administration disassociated itself from Nazi anti-Semitism, welcoming Jewish refugees fleeing their oppressors.
The author does not not hide the participation of elements of the Catholic Church in the atrocities against Jews and other minorities in the Nazi puppet regimes,during World War II of Slovakia and Croatia, but also highlight the activities of the the Vatican and many Catholic clergy to save Jews and prevent further atrocities, such as the sterling role of Father Caselli in opposing Nazi genocide.
According to the author the Catholic Clergy were far more prominent and active in resisting Nazism in Germany and Italy than were their Protestant counterparts, and a large part of the book is a spirited defense of Pope Pius XVI, who the author puts forward as doing all he could to prevent the genocide of Jews.
The author strongly states that there is not a shred of evidence to refer to POpe Pius XVI as "Hitler's Pope", pointing out that this is a title more befitting Hitler's Mufti, the anti-semitic Haj Amin al-Husseini, if one seeks seeks a spiritual leader who endorsed Hitler's racial views.

The author outlines the role of clergy, priests and nuns in hiding and rescuing Jewish children from the Nazi killing machine, and the role of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in influencing the King of Bulgaria to save that country's Jews during World War II.
This is contrasted to the horrors perpetrated by Romania's Fascist regime during World War II, often with the support of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

The author details the role of the Communist dictatorships in violently suppressions religion in all the countries they held under their yplk in Eastern Europe.

Moving forward to more recent times I congratulate the author for pointing out the obscenity of German terrorists waving guns over the heads of Israel Jewish hostages when Baader Meinhof gangsters helped Arab terrorists take the Jewish hostages that were rescued at Entebbe in 1976.

Moving to Northern Ireland, the author's Catholicism does not at all make him sympathetic to the terrorist IRA.
He points out that the father of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams father lit bonfires lit bonfires on the Black Mountain to guide Luftwaffe bombers towards Belfast, where they killed over a thousand people in devastating air raids that wiped out 50% of the housing stock. Sinn Fein also annually celebrates around a statue of Sean Russel, an IRA terrorist whose organization declared war on the British in January, 1939, putting the Nationalist community under the protection of Nazi Germany, to where he was sent to train as a spy.
Sinn Fein and the IRA is a long standing supporter of Basque and Palestinian terrorists.
he media, in it's decades long love affair with the IRA, has highlighted IRA casualties( such as the 'martyrdom' of IRA terrorist Bobby Sands) and events such as "Bloody Sunday", we are reminded less of IRA atrocities such as the "The Claudy Day Massacre" of 31st July 1972, in which nine innocents dies including nine year old Kathryn Eakin.

The last chapter deals with the rise of Islamic terrorism, with the author tracing the roots of the Al Qaeda terrorist network. The arch terrorist Abu Musab Al-Zaqarwi formed his organizational network in Iran, whose evil regime is perpetrating terror in Iraq in order to deflect any attack on their illicit quest for nuclear capability.
The author exhorts Europe to gain some backbone in the face of the Islamic onslaught praising leaders like President Bush, and Spain's courageous former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who was repacked by the appeaser of Islamic terror and tyranny, the Socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Governments that have taken a stand against terror in Europe have often been victims of the mania in Europe to appease Islamo-Nazism together with a sick anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism.
While much has been made of the minor successes of the far-right parties in Europe as a direct result of the Islamicization of the continent, less has been said about politicians who have gained success by courting Islamic extremism, and anti-Israel hate such as the demagogue George Galloway in Britain.
He condemns those who howl about the rights of terrorists arrested and imprisoned, while ignoring the rights of innocents not to be blown up.

He also traces some of the Islamo-Nazi terror in recent years in Europe.
It is a fascinating and enlightening book, one which I will not forget and has taught me a lot.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A "thinker", 5 July 2008
By 
Davey (Dorset, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Sacred Causes: Religion and Politics from the European Dictators to Al Qaeda (Paperback)
This isn't an easy book; the author has his views, based on a Conservative [his brother-in-law is/was a Tory MP], Roman Catholic perspective, a perspective I don't share. But even where you don't agree with him, it can lead you to question your own views, and he's often sympathetic in places where you don't quite expect it. His section on Al-Quaeda, with the concept of a terrorist "franchise", rather than a monolithic organisation single-handedly run by [a possibly dead] Bin Laden, is one of the best treatments I've seen. And the much-commented on chapter on Northern Ireland is, at least in part, an attempt to remove some of the misty-eyed Celtic romanticism and get it into perspective; "hell around a parish pump", as he describes it, a situation which has had such an impact on British politics, is actually based on a population which would easily fit into one of the major conurbation such as the West Midlands or Greater Manchester, and several times into London. So even where you don't agree with the author, read it as a big question mark.
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15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 3 Nov 2006
Everyday we hear something or other on the theme of religion and politics. Together with Burleigh's brilliant Earthly Powers, Sacred Causes is the single best guide to these subjects available. He covers an enormous geographical area with tremendous erudition and wit. This is also one of the funniest books I have ever read by a masterly historian
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a sacred cause indeed, 5 April 2012
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This review is from: Sacred Causes: Religion and Politics from the European Dictators to Al Qaeda (Paperback)
I read the first 150 pages and then couldn't endure it any longer. Bleak, bleak, bleak. Fragmentary information. Affirmations. (the Inquisition wasn't really an instrument of the catholic church... massacres of the Franco side in the Spanish civil war were (at least ?) organized by the authorities... in the Sixties: sexually voracious young women...
As a journalist, not an historian, i'd refer to a review of this book by Burleigh's colleague Tony Judt. It was published in the New York Times of March 11,2007. It is fairly long but very readable. Just Google Michael Burleigh/Tony Judt.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great, except for THAT chapter..., 30 Dec 2007
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This review is from: Sacred Causes: Religion and Politics from the European Dictators to Al Qaeda (Paperback)
Absolutely brilliant book. Until you get onto that barmy chapter about Ireland! A few hundred pages of balanced, insightful history then, out of nowhere, the rummest rant imaginable. Its clumsy abusiveness is all out of keeping with the general tone of the book. It's as if it were written by an entirely different author. And an angry, teenage one at that.
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7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Overrated??, 29 May 2008
This review is from: Sacred Causes: Religion and Politics from the European Dictators to Al Qaeda (Paperback)
Am I alone in thinking that this title is overrated by the critics? I found it very turgid and heavy going. The author seemed to be relying upon bombarding the reader with vast amounts of info at the expense of clear, incisive, interesting and original THOUGHT. Maybe it's just me who thinks this...
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