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Too much scholarship went into this short treatise to call it a meditation, but that's what it is anyway. The author of Just and Unjust Wars, Spheres of Justice, and numerous political essays reflects on the political meaning of the Exodus story, as well as on the use to which it has been put since the Puritan Revolution of the 17th-century. Walzer (professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study) concludes that there are two basic interpretations of the story of the Israelites. One, which he calls Exodus politics, is grounded in a specific set of circumstances of oppression and corruption (i.e., Egypt, where the bondage of the Israelites was coupled with a revulsion against and longing for the luxury of their oppressors). Exodus politics is about the journey from Egypt to Canaan, a journey in which Moses plays the role of guide and teacher, forming the Israelites into a new people fit for the Promised Land. The Promised Land is itself about the transformation of Canaan into Israel--that is, the disappointment of reaching the goal only to discover that the journey is not over. This is a kind of social democratic politics, says Walzer, whose mode is education, realism, and moderation, and it is the interpretation and the politics that defines his position. The other dominant strain he calls messianic politics, and here the story is universalized: rather than Egypt, the deliverance is seen as being from oppression tout court, and the goal of the Promised Land takes on an immediacy and joy in the Final Days. This latter is the politics of some radical groups of the left (in Leninism, Moses and the Levites take on the guise of a vanguard party, an interpretation rendered by Lincoln Steffens, among others), as well as of the messianic right in Israel today. Walzer's method is to proceed through the stages of the story, offering alternative interpretations and political glosses as he goes. The trip is well worth taking, even more for the ease with which he handles the biblical interpretation, and the richness the story acquires, than for the relevance of the story to political theory. All in all: satisfying and exciting at once.

Pub Date: Jan. 21st, 1984
ISBN: 0465021638
Publisher: Basic Books