Moments of disorienting despair, or of painful honesty, can strip away our comforting self-conceit and force us to recognize what a disquietingly thin barrier it is that separates the decency of civilized life from the brutality of barbarism. If the barrier is thin—and there is too much evidence to deny it—do we have the strength, character, and means to maintain, and thereby meet the challenge of defending, that decency?
On March 4, 1629, John Selden, the most learned man in England, was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He had been arrested on charges of conspiracy and sedition against King Charles I. The question is: what did Selden choose to read while imprisoned?
“The bizarre disappearance of the Hebrew Bible from political philosophy and ethics”
One of the more bizarre, intellectual occurrences in the Wissenschaften of the Occident has been the disappearance of the Hebrew Bible from politics, political philosophy, and ethics. There are several reasons for this disappearance: the destruction of the Jewish state by the imperial Romans, made complete by the so-called “Bar Kokhba war” of 132-35 CE, that forced the Jews into communal existence; the hermeneutic approach, already manifest by the mid-second century in the work of Justin Martyr, to the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament, the deplorable, philosophical consequences of which find expression in Kant’s and Hegel’s dismissive caricatures of both the Old Testament and Judaism; and a conceptually crude, but nonetheless fashionable, contrast between reason (of the university) and revelation (of the Church), between Athens and Jerusalem—a contrast that leaves one incapable of understanding not only the Hebrew Bible and the traditions of Jerusalem, but also religion in general (and reason, too).