Law, Religion and Authoritarianism: From State Shinto to Religio-Trumpism

In recent years authoritarianism has become an increasing threat to democratic institutions, human rights, and the rule of law. Authoritarian regimes have taken hold throughout the world. One of the most troubling trends has been the rise of authoritarian movements, leaders, and policies buoyed by populist politicians in longstanding democracies such as the United States. This has occurred at the same time as authoritarian regimes in Russia and Turkey have increased their holds on power.

Law has proven an inadequate tool to stem this tide and in some cases has been used to reinforce authoritarian agendas. Moreover, even in democratic countries constitutional structures have sometimes proven inadequate to prevent authoritarian actors from inflicting significant harm to human rights and the rule of law. To protect against the damage that is being inflicted we must first understand the dynamics underlying authoritarianism and dispel some myths that may confuse policymakers and social justice advocates as they work to stem the tide.

One such myth involves the relationship between religion and authoritarianism. This talk will address that myth, which confuses the relationship between authoritarianism and religion by assuming that religion is a driving force for authoritarian leaders and especially for many of their followers and acolytes. Certainly religion is an especially powerful tool in the hands of authoritarians, but without that tool authoritarians and their followers will, and have, found other tools to use.

A better understanding of the real relationship between religion and authoritarianism (where religion is a tool rather than a cause of authoritarianism) can be explored by studying two seemingly different situations: the role and use of State Shinto in Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa periods in Japan and the use of religious culture war issues and religio-patriotism by Trump and his followers in the U.S. today. Eerily, these two seemingly different situations have significant commonalities.

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Posted by IAFOR