Various myths have been forged to account for the foundation of nations, not only in stories such as those of Romulus and Remus, but also in the famous myths of political philosophy, such as those offered by Hobbes and Locke. Although it might easily go unrecognized in this respect, the narrative of the Passover should be read as another such national foundation myth. It is through the Passover that Israel is constituted as a nation and from it Israel derives its fundamental meaning.
Reading it in such a manner proves instructive: Israel achieves its foundation, not through a contract or compact between its members to ameliorate a violent or uncertain state of nature, but through the divinely instituted ritual of a sacrificial meal within a crucible of apocalyptic judgment. Through this event, the nation of Israel, celebrating in its constituent families, is established as the bearer of a divine meaning—as the firstborn son of YHWH (themes of birth pervade the first half of the book of Exodus).
In Putting Liberalism in Its Place, Paul Kahn observes the blindness of liberalism to the constitutive role played by sacrifice in the establishment of the state. Liberalism’s assumption of a contractarian basis for the state dulls our awareness to the manner in which our politics continue to be shot through with principles of sacrifice, faith, and love. The state presents itself as worthy of sacrifice, as the bearer of an ultimate meaning, worth dying and even killing for. On account of liberalism’s thrall to reason, it has neglected the importance of the will and thereby failed to recognize some of the most powerful forces that animate its own political communities.
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