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What Abraham Lincoln called “the mystic chords of memory” are Hebraic rather than Anglo-Saxon. America retained Britain’s regard for individual rights, but it shifted the source of these rights to the direct and immediate relationship of God and the individual citizen. In different ways, Britain and America anchor their identities in that most ancient and robust of all national cultures, namely Israel. The Americans are Hebrews of the imagination; their mother country hopes to build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land, and identifies its monarchy in symbolic as well as mythological fashion with the throne of David. Curiously, this divide mirrors a Biblical ambiguity over the desirability of monarchy which persisted through ancient and medieval rabbinic commentaries. Selden and Milton cited rabbinical sources who eschewed monarchy on the strength of I Samuel 8. Yet Jewish redemption is founded on the restoration of the Davidic monarchy. Jewish tradition remains ambivalent on the issue. Michael Wyschogrod proposed to resolve Israel’s difficulty in choosing between secular and religious nationalism through monarchy: Israel’s head of state, now a president, would become instead the regent for an absent king, namely the successor of David who can be identified only by prophecy. All other political functions would remain as they are, but the regent would embody Israel’s messianic hope.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points to a precedent in the biblical covenant for the modern notion of social contract. “What God and Samuel were proposing was a social contract, on the lines later expounded by the founders of modern political thought: Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau,” he wrote in 2008:

A group of self-interested individuals will find it worthwhile to appoint a leader who will defend them from lawlessness within and enemies outside. To do so they will have to sacrifice some of their liberty and wealth, but the alternative is anarchy and foreign conquest. Samuel’s appointment of Saul is the first recorded instance of a social contract.

Rabbi Sacks’s insight is important, but it begs the question of what causes a social contract to endure beyond the perceived self-interest of the participating parties. That is the sense of the sacred, which cannot be a philosophical abstraction, but rather must pervade daily life and the ordinary culture of the people.

It is noteworthy in this context that the revival of the Jewish nation-state and its startling success in arms, enterprise and the arts remains a source of inspiration to other nations who have taken Israel as an exemplar. Israel’s victory in the 1967 war was a watershed event for the American evangelical movement, which viewed the outcome as “fulfillment of Biblical prophecy,” according to Rev Stephen Sizer, the author of the 2004 book Christian Zionism. That is an exceptional response, to be sure, but Israel has been the “exemplar and paragon of a nation” (Franz Rosenzweig), the model for Europe’s nascent monarchies from the Low Middle Ages onwards, as Professor Adrian Hastings has shown in his 1996 volume The Construction of Nationhood.
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Pan Cogito
December 10th, 2017
4:12 AM
@Alan Vainman Do not dispense the f-word before trying the perfect fit it makes for you. You no more understand Trump than you do, it appears, the greater mysteries of life. God--and you may translate it as "the Energy of the Universe," the Great Wheel of Karma or whatever--often chooses a broken vessel to carry the most precious nectar. Maybe Spengler would consent to write an essay titled "The music and the men," illuminating for fool vainmen what shits the vessels we know as Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner and Chopin were and why their music attained the highest degree of luminosity.

December 5th, 2017
10:12 PM
Anonymous: America is indeed experiencing a wave of fascism, but it is not at the hands of the nationalists. It is at the hands of ANTIFA, BLM, and university students, faculty, and staff beating to a pulp, or attempting to murder, those people who believe that nations are allowed to have borders. What name would you apply to the belief system that commanded the decapitation of a British policeman, and the systematic rape of a continent's women? AnonymousHegelman: Most of the world's sacred systems prohibit murder. Only one religion's scripture commands the murder of all non-believers.

Rick Groves
December 5th, 2017
3:12 PM
In America, enlightenment values used to be held sacred. This was the key differentiating point about America. It was not based on arbitrary lines on a map nor wrongly held ideas about the superiority of one's own tribe. It was an idea of a polity held together by the commitment to liberty and justice. Cultural practices evolve by their nature. That's what they are and what they do. Holding cultures sacred is misguided and destined to create conflict as that inevitable evolution pushes forward. The path forward is not through embracing the arbitrary and superficial and trying to entrench and protect it. It is finding core, deep values that benefit all peoples and following those ideas where they lead us.

December 5th, 2017
9:12 AM
When people talk of the sacred, they usually mean murder. All of us have a sense of the sacred. We just differ as to what precisely.

December 5th, 2017
4:12 AM
there is no such thing as a new nationalism, as there is no such thing as an illiberal democracy. There is a good, old fascism.

December 4th, 2017
9:12 PM
Anglo-American identity is built on the individualism of Appalachia and the pragmatism of Colonial Virginia as much as the Utopianism of the Puritans.

Warren Bonesteel
December 4th, 2017
4:12 PM
A great start...but... imposing your own belief system upon a movement comprised of several billion people, from a wide variety of ancient and modern cultures and sub-cultures, who hold a wide variety of religious and spiritual beliefs? That supposition is unfounded. Instead of religion, try 'freedom' and 'personal liberty'. I think you'll find a better fit, with that premise.

Marvin J. Greenberg
December 4th, 2017
8:12 AM
I greatly appreciate the way Goldman takes the usually superficial level of political discussion to a much deeper level, as he does in this essay emphasizing the vital importance of the sacred.

December 4th, 2017
2:12 AM
Alan Vanneman, America will not go gently into that bad night of sharia. Enjoy Europe, while its women are not yet required to wear burqas!

Alan Vanneman
December 1st, 2017
3:12 PM
"occasionally vulgar"? Don't you mean "constantly vulgar and utterly meretricious"? What fools these mortals be.

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