Michael Walzer, whose “Exodus and Revolution” (1986) is one of the seminal works on the influence of the Bible on liberal and radical politics, has a new collection out, covering some of his most important essays from over 50 years as a political theorist: “Thinking Politically: Essays in Political Theory” (Yale University Press).
Here is an interesting excerpt from his essay “Nation and Universe:”
There are two very different ways of elaborating on a historical event like the exodus of
Or it can be made exemplary, pivotal only in a particular history, which other people can repeat – must repeat if the experience is ever to belong to them – in their own fashion. The exodus from
In this second view, there is no universal history, but rather a series of histories . . . in each of which value can be found. . . [This view can result in the following]: that we will be overwhelmed by the sheer heterogeneity of human life and surrender all belief in the relevance of our own history for anyone else.
And if our history is irrelevant to them, so will theirs be to us. We retreat to inwardness and disinterest. Acknowledging difference makes for indifference. . . . We are not engaged; we have no world-historical mission; we are, if only by default, advocates of nonintervention.
Call it neocons versus realists.
For those with the first view, what is happening in Iraq -- the attempt to create representative government in the heart of the Arab world -- is a potentially world-historical event, the latest chapter in what David Gelernter has termed the “fourth great Western religion:” “Americanism:”
From the 17th century through John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Americans kept talking about their country as if it were the biblical
Freedom, equality, democracy: the Declaration held these truths to be self-evident, but “self-evident” they were certainly not. Otherwise,
Hence the fervor and passion with which Americans believe their creed. Americans, virtually alone in the world, insist that freedom, equality, and democracy are right not only for
George W. Bush is only the latest in a long line of American presidents -- including Lincoln, Truman, Kennedy and Reagan -- who considered Americans “an almost chosen people” (in Lincoln’s phrase), living in a country whose beginning in 1776 “really had its beginning in Hebrew times” (in Truman’s phrase), that is a “shining city upon a hill” (in Reagan’s phrase) and stands ready to “bear any burden and oppose any foe” to insure the survival of liberty (in Kennedy’s phrase).
All five presidents (three Republicans, two Democrats) thought