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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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Jenny Retief
May 7th, 2018
1:05 PM
I find Dr Jordan Peterson's lectures on western nihilism and his interpretation of stories in the bible as archaic archetypal tales fascinating. One needs to look beyond postmodernism's neo-Marxism and its mask of compassion for minorities at the cost of the rest of society. The "sacred" is perhaps a contemporary adaptation of tradition and value systems without blowing the postmodern trumpet. My stance is somewhere in the middle between the extreme right and the neo-Marxists on the left.

February 1st, 2018
1:02 PM
Matt, your comment on what Anglo-American identity is built on neglects so many things, two of which immediately spring to my mind: the pragmatic tolerance of the New Amsterdam Dutch, and the vicious racism of the Deep South slave lords. The Appalachians were indeed individualistic, but easily swayed by Southern racism. The bandying about of the word "liberty", meaning the right to oppress others, has always been persuasive to whites who feel powerless.

January 5th, 2018
3:01 PM
Vast emptiness, nothing holy ( Lao Tzu). The universe/Nature is inhumane. Scientists say humanity has peaked. Tory membership has shrunk to 70,000. What`s public sacred in the UK is Brexit and voting Labour.

Arnold Ward
January 3rd, 2018
9:01 AM
This appeal to romantic sentiment aka The Bible opens a pandoras box of confused irrationality. A better approach is principle based, i.e how can we create the conditions whereby all the individuals in a society are best able to achieve their full potential? Markets tempered by democracy are the tried and tested route and national sovereignty is the most reliable basis for democracy. There is no "New Nationalism". Belief without evidence is delusion.

Lawrence James
December 26th, 2017
12:12 PM
What makes me suspicious of the promotion of the 'sacred' as an antidote for contemporary woes are its historic stage props: priestcraft, intolerance, fairy stories and the coercion of the sceptical.

December 22nd, 2017
3:12 PM
It was inevitable that the fall of Western Civilization would occur as history attests to the objective truth that man, severed from God and thus relieving himself from his obligation to worship and serve God, simply acts according to his lower, animalistic nature. Human nature does not and will not change although man, playing God, has always believed he can construct all of creation, including and especially, humanity to his own liking. 21st century man has come to the point where he no longer has even a natural survival instinct as he has placed all his faith and trust in both himself and in science to create this idealistic but fruitless life and future as the "new man", created by him and for him. God has other ideas and since He is Creator and ruler over Heaven and earth, man's designs for himself will always be thwarted and his self-destruction inevitable.

Andrew Hamilton
December 19th, 2017
6:12 PM
Spengler gives true intellectual depth and seriousness to the existential issues facing the West. Weaving threads of great philosophers with current trends, he gets to the nub of the catastrophe and provides a way forward.

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.

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