THE FIRST DISSIDENT: The Book of Job in Today's Politics by William Safire
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THE FIRST DISSIDENT: The Book of Job in Today's Politics

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The Book of Job as a guide to modern political dissent: on the face of it, a risky, if not goofy, enterprise that Satire (Language Maven Strikes Again, 1990, etc.) pulls off with wit and moral passion. Safire admits upfront that he ""is reading into this""--the text of Job--""more than there is."" Nonetheless, he argues persuasively that this story of an innocent man tormented by God is not, as tradition would have it, a paean to patience, but rather ""a sustained note of defiance."" As such, Job's outrage at his treatment is a ""metaphor for principled resistance to authoritarian rule,"" and Job himself is the granddaddy of Mandala, Solzhenitsyn, Havel, and all other moral dissidents. Satire offers an unorthodox exegesis of the text (describing the peroration by God out of the whirlwind as ""blustering"" and ""bombastic""), and notes how translators have watered down Job's words, diluting protest into acquiescence. He finds lessons in Job for believers (""don't ask God to do you a favor"") and skeptics (""you will surely never find the answer by fearing to ask""). The amusement and moral intensity rise when Satire turns to 20th-century politics. Mulling over party loyalty, for instance, he praises Nixon and Kennedy as ""the two Presidents who did inspire lasting loyalty among the troops,"" and he reveals how a diary detailing a JFK extramarital affair was destroyed out of misapplied fealty. Here and abroad (Mandela gets applause for sticking by Castro), the corridors of power echo with Job-inspired lessons. To wit (Satire loves to aphorize): ""Use it or line it""; ""dose counts only in horseshoes and hand grenades""--but also, on the upbeat side, ""persuade yourself that no need is more urgent than the need to know""; and, the unassailable refuge of the moral dissident, ""make higher laws."" To be sent immediately in plain brown wrapping to all freedom fighters--and their foes.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1992
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Random House